The Laundry Retreat
The joy of being part of the gardening industry the friendships you develope. My husband Clive and I were invited by Stephen Gore, the head gardener at Stretton Old Hall, owned by our friends Ken and David. However, we decided to make a long weekend of it. We joined Adam Kirtland and Tom Coleman the day before to visit The Laundry Retreat, a truly unique holiday accommodation nestled in the foothills of the Clwydian Range in beautiful North Wales. We were welcomed by owners Tom and Jenny who have created a luxury romantic retreat with stunning eco roundhouses, surrounded by beautiful gardens and countryside in Llanrhaeadr. A wonderful getaway to lower the stress levels of city living. I took the opportunity to have a chat with Tom and Jenny about their home and the retreat.
The Laundry Retreat is the perfect place to visit if you want to relax, unwind, and connect back with nature. On my visit walking through the gardens, I felt my shoulders relax and I could take lungs full of fresh air.
When and how did you come by this incredible place?
The property has been in Tom’s family for around 100 years. Tom has owned it for nearly 40 years. The house was split into two flats, and we undertook a total restoration to make it our family home fourteen year ago.
Was there some hidden garden here that you discovered or was it a blank canvas?
The gardens surrounding the house were neglected. There were tree saplings, bindweed, and two small gardens that had been untouched for around five years. There were oyster shells in the ground in places, thrown out by previous generations. Much of the ground was cobbled, but unloved and without any true structure. We brought in an excavator and removed everything except the walls. It was at the point of excavation and clearance that it became a blank canvas that we could work with.
The Walled Garden at The Laundry Retreat as it was on 16th September 2010.
What was going through your mind when you first saw the site, excitement, fear, or curiosity?
We were hugely excited to tackle these areas, which were ready-made garden rooms. However, every time we looked in the walled garden we got that dreadful anxious feeling in the core of our stomachs, like the one you get when you are about to sit an important exam. It is an acre, and we just didn’t know where to start. The anxious feeling remained for a few years, and only really disappeared when we had several borders completed. The decision was made following a meeting with the local NGS coordinator, who insisted that people will be interested in the walled garden when we first open for the NGS.
With lots of hard work there was the making of a new garden in sight by 6th October 2013
Do either of you have any formal training in garden design and horticulture or have you always had a love of gardens and gardening?
Tom – I have a creative background, having trained in design (ceramics). This has given me an insight into art history, structure, and form.
Jenny – I am a hairdresser. I did a short garden design course while on maternity leave with my first son. As you can tell, we both like a challenge. The garden design course opened my eyes to the creation of borders, successional planting, and group planting, rather than singular planting. I learnt how to create a visually pleasing result. Tom’s parents are keen gardeners too, so it’s in his blood. They are not involved in the retreat, but their knowledge has been invaluable and their expertise inspirational. I (Jenny) grew to love gardening in my 20’s when I moved into my first house and wanted to make the garden look beautiful. Gardening grows on you, pardon the pun.
By 21st April 2014 the lawns had been established and the planting borders had been shaped
Who is the creative lead and who bosses who around?
It’s difficult to say, because we both have strong opinions on certain project aspects.
Tom – I am more about the structure and form. But I’d say Jenny is the boss.
Jenny – I decide on the planting and infill but I allow Tom to have the final say.
We are always talking about what we have created and what we want to create. Somehow between us the ideas emerge and evolve, sometimes through sketches, sometimes just by viewing the area involved, and some on-site instructions. We have respect for each other’s views and that is why we make a good team.
The Laundry Retreat had a proper walled garden by 4th September 2020. Now it is fully established.
It is a very large site. How did you set about creating the garden, did you have any historical plans of the site to refer to or did you start from scratch?
The site is around three acres. We have no historical records or photographs, (although we have not tried very hard to look!) In some ways it is better we didn’t, because the garden has become our own creation, rather than following past lines. We set about installing drainage, pathways, and edges first. Next came the bones of the garden with hedges, screens, and trees. It didn’t happen all at once. The areas immediately around the house were completed first, followed by the walled garden which is still developing, and the woodland. We planted small trees. They not only acclimatise better but also if there were going to be any losses we were not going to be overly out of pocket. Once settled the trees grew with vigour. We are always happy to wait for something to reach maturity. It is so much more rewarding. We wanted our immediate surroundings to be both aesthetically pleasing and usable as a family space from the get-go. We have not really had any real drainage issues. Tom’s builder background prepared him to plan for that once in every ten years occurrence when the heavens open, and everything becomes a lake.
An aerial view of the walled garden showing the formal layout of the borders. Beyond this can be seen Tom & Jenny’s home. It was important to them to work on the immediate areas around the house to create a proper home for their family.
Did you do all the work yourselves or did you have a team of people to help?
All the design work and landscaping has been done by us. Tom has the knowledge and machinery needed for this. By doing the work ourselves we were able to put our own stamp on the place right from the start. Not having any outside help, meant we were constantly battling against time as Tom had to do the work in his own time. We have managed to reuse a lot of the on-site cobbles and bricks. This adds authenticity to the place. It forms the glue to bring everything together and adds a sense of time and history. Recycling is core to our principles. Not only does it save money, but it produces a design with grounding and meaning. Cobbles have been used to create paths and resting areas. Bricks are used within walls and paths. They have always been used to give new projects a settled feel.
The established wall garden with full borders at The Laundry Retreat. It is a wonderful outdoor space to practice yoga and do your downward dog.
Was there a theme or story that you based the garden on?
There is no theme as such. As it is all listed, and there is an acre walled garden, you might see it as a formal garden with a romantic feel.
Tell us more about the planting and how you do you make your plant choices?
The planting is created by Jenny, whilst Tom tends to the trees and hedges. Jenny likes to marry different leaf shapes and colours, and plan for succession, having flowers that shine at different moments and at different times of the year. For example, our roses bloom in May June and July and Dahlias follow in August, September, and October.
Did you have a deadline to get the garden ready and did you achieve that?
We are in no hurry to finish the garden. We do have interim deadlines for projects within the garden, usually dictated by whenever we open for the NGS. It was a dream of Jenny’s to open for the NGS. Within four years of starting the garden, we invited them to assess the garden. We have raised at least £10,000, and a similar amount for local charities in five years.
There is a real soft romantic style to the gardens at The Laundry Retreat. Tom & Jenny have designed the garden with plenty of areas where you can simply sit and enjoy the space.
There are two round houses at The Laundry Retreat. The Ilex interiors are in lush, deep green and teals whist the Tilia incorporates soft, pastel shades
Did you encounter any issues and how did you overcome them?
We have managed to get over any obstacles with a sense of humour most of the time. In the long term, the challenge we face is climate change. We are making plans for dry gravel gardens over the next two or three years. We feel hotter, dryer summers are inevitable, and we are installing a water tank to store water collected over wetter months for use in drier periods.
Did you always plan on opening the garden to the public?
It was always a dream of Jenny’s to open for the NGS, showing off our hard work and helping to support charities feels like the right thing to do.
A combination of Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle and Strong Annabelle are planted for the Hydrangea walk. This is followed by the Tilia walk. Tom and Jenny planted the young pleached trees themselves.
What can the public expect when they come to The Laundry Retreat?
People can expect to see a garden that is real, filled with soul. It is not pretentious, and it is not perfect, but visitors will be able to relate to it, despite its size. If they stay in one of our roundhouses, they can expect to roam the garden in privacy. Otherwise, we open the garden to groups of 20 or more, and once a year for the NGS or other local charities. This year we hosted 11 stalls made up of local and garden related stalls. The stall sold Plants, local bee and honey related products, art, pottery, seeds, and garden ornaments. Everyone benefitted, and there was a great community atmosphere. We have also hosted yoga groups and a calligraphy course this year.
What future plans do you have for The Laundry Retreat?
There’s always a project. Future plans include some form of water feature. This will most likely be created from a slate trough that we have owned for about five years. It is so beautiful that it would be a shame not to use it. The water feature would be a perfect opportunity. A dry garden, possibly a raised stage for hosting productions, and a summer house are all things we are contemplating.
Interiors of the Tilia round house. Your perfect getaway to go and relax, unwind, and connect back with nature.
Meet Tom & Jenny owners of The Laundry Retreat
All photos are the copyright of The Laundry Retreat