Mark and Gruby’s garden

This week, as Cardiff bakes in a heat wave, we learn to appreciate trees and green spaces in our cities like never before. The asphalt and walls heat up and radiate warmth all night, keeping the nights uncomfortably warm.

Mark and Gruby’s front garden has a cool woodland feel, even through the hottest days of summer. As I cycle slowly up a rather steep hill adjacent to their house every day, I have plenty of time to appreciate the beauty of the space, even with car horns beeping at me to hurry up. Worth it.

If more gardens could be like this one, we would be in a much cooler city, (in every way).

The split of labour in the household is Mark maintains the front garden, Gruby maintains the other garden at the side of the house. They moved in to their house many years ago, and really love the area.

How did your garden develop?

GRUBY: My father offered the advice about which climbing plants to choose. The evergreen climbing hydrangea offers structure throughout the year. The climbing vine is deciduous, so it provides shade during the summer, and allows light in during winter.

MARK: The purple shrub hydrangea was grown from a cutting from my grandfather’s house. He kept the plants going, and it seems to be a very good survivor. The family thinks his spirit lives on in the plants, which is why it grows so well. The other hydrangeas were just bought very cheaply, and we nursed them back to health. You don’t need to spend lots of money creating a garden. Ours is very low maintenance, but you don’t need to make a garden without plants to make it low maintenance.

The street is shaded by large trees. How do you feel about this?

GRUBY: The street can be very busy in the mornings with traffic. Without the trees, it would just be a thoroughfare, but the greenery makes it feel like a street, and drivers tend to treat it as such. The council did want to replace all the trees a few years ago, because of the leaves. Leaves are a small price to pay for the pollution reduction and the noise reductions they offer to the houses here. They keep us in touch with nature. Roads that don’t have large trees tend to be noisier. I think some of the other streets in Roath would benefit from having more large trees.


The beautiful green door picks up the tone of the vine leaves

The beautiful green door picks up the tone of the vine leaves

What would you like to see in front gardens?

MARK: Firstly, people. You can’t do work in the front garden without someone talking to you. It is a great way to meet your neighbours, which builds a local community.

I’d like to see more people growing hedges. When I see people cutting an overgrown hedge by hand I have offered my hedge cutters, because I really hope to encourage people to maintain their hedges and to work in the front garden. The older neighbours used to maintain their hedges regularly, and I got to know them well.

GRUBY: I think the older people tended to be as house proud of their front gardens as they are of their houses, and I think people now put more emphasis on the house, and less emphasis on the front garden.

Do you have any top tips for other people wanting to grow climbers?

MARK: I grow climbers all over the house. Lots of people don’t like to have climbing plants, but the ones we have chosen are suitable, and will not damage the building. The vine winds it’s way through the structures whereas the climbing hydrangea does cling but doesn’t do any damage. We were warned that the climbing hydrangea would take four years before it would do anything. They are just settling in, getting their roots sorted, before they start to climb. We thought that wait was forever.

When the children were little, they were always upset when I pruned back any of the climbing plants at the front of the house. They thought it made the house unique. I cut back the climber on the side of the house back every year to about the height of the first floor. The climber races up the house each year creating fresh, bright green new growth. To keep it out the gutters, I just cut it and it easily peels away from the wall. The National Trust cut their clinging climbers, and leave the cut section on the wall, only removing it later when the stems are completely dry a few months later, to avoid pulling out any of the mortar.

GRUBY: In the back garden, instead of raising the garden walls which would block out light, we have grown climbers on the walls, such as clematis and rambling roses, to create a natural screen on top of the walls. There are also lots of other plants that like to grow in the garden walls. My favourite are the small ferns, that I leave to sow themselves where they like.


Mark in his shady front garden on a very hot summer's day.

Mark in his shady front garden on a very hot summer’s day.

Mark’s front garden is packed full of plants to provide a natural buffer for the house from the street noise and pollution. The lush foliage surrounding the doorway is kept visually in check by the formal, sharp-edged hedges, which allow the garden to maintain its structure through the winter months. Whilst both Mark and Gruby insist they are not gardeners, they have a good eye for what will work, and each plant has been considered for its year round benefits.

For further evidence backing up Mark and Gruby’s experiences of the improvements on pollution levels due to the large street trees and their green walls, see Green streets can cut pollution, says study.


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