Surya Davies, Head Gardener at the Grove of Narberth, shares his passion for Pembrokeshire, the Preseli Hills, and planting with sustainability in mind
The picture-perfect country house often comes with pretty, well-kept gardens, but the Grove of Narberth seeds plenty of self-sustaining substance into the style of its 26 acre grounds. The painstakingly restored traditional Welsh house overlooking the rolling Preseli Mountains and Narberth Hills is continually evolving its outdoor offering, which currently includes a 17th century walled garden brimming with flowers, separate vegetable gardens which supply the farm-to-table kitchen, a cutting bed for the resident florist, sweeping lawns, a wildlife pond, and native woodland – all overseen by Surya and his small but growing gardening team.
Look out for the Considerate sage leaf on slh.com. This indicates that a hotel is part of the Considerate Collection and embodies each of the three community, culture, and environment pillars.
With 25 years of horticultural experience, Surya joined the Grove team in May 2019 and has since helped the Considerate Collection hotel’s gardens blossom into the pride of joy of owners Neil and Zoe Kedward, and their guests alike. For example, during the recent woodland project, over 5,000 trees were planted using local species like sessile oak, ash, birch, willow, alder, holly and hazel to create a new natural habitat for wildlife, flora and fauna – with the added bonus of beautiful walks for Grove guests.
Surya pictured with Lily the Dachshund, his little ‘helper’ who enjoys jumping around in bags of leaves and hiding in the flower trolley. There are six delightfully dog-friendly rooms at the Grove – choose from the Sorrel or Sage garden suites, Byre, Cwtch, Elderflower or Bramble.
Then there’s the kitchen garden, which provides a bountiful harvest throughout the year with over 70 varieties of vegetables, herbs and summer fruits grown for the fine dining tasting menus of The Fernery, and the more relaxed comfort food of the Artisan Rooms. Executive Head Chef Douglas Balish and his team can often be found in the hedgerows around the Grove foraging for rich pickings including wild garlic, nettle, elderflower, watercress, wood sorrel, pennywort, wild blackberries and strawberries to put the very best of Pembrokeshire on a plate. There is a ‘just as nature intended’ ethos in this idyllic corner of the wild Welsh countryside, which is well worth a visit whatever the weather.
There are usually at least five dishes at this food-led country retreat which are completely homegrown, depending on the season.
What is your favourite season in Pembrokeshire, and why?
All the seasons in Pembrokeshire are truly beautiful and bring their own unique splendour. However, spring is my favourite time of the year here. One of the benefits of working outdoors is that you see the start of spring in the snowdrops and the daffodils before others may have even begun to notice the change in season. Our driveway, streams and meadows are filled with early colour as winter is coming to an end, while rhododendrons introduce summertime and the flower borders then blaze with colour.
What are you currently planting and growing in the Grove grounds?
There’s lots going on in the garden at the moment, as we are planting broad beans and garlic, sowing the first early leafy greens, as well as planting spring bulbs. There is a lot of bed prepping and clearing down herbaceous borders too. Contrary to popular opinion this is actually one of the busiest times of the year for gardeners!
How do you keep the gardens green in the sustainable sense of the word?
We are currently developing many wildlife areas to encourage the natural habitats to regenerate. We have a beautiful Pembrokeshire wild flower meadow, to attract native insects. To the front of the hotel there are two stunning spring-fed ponds to encourage native aquatic life. The Grove has a relaxing woodland walk for guests to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the area where we ensure good woodland regeneration techniques are used, including leaving snags (felled logs).
Surya leads a budding team which includes a cut flower gardener, general gardener, grounds keeper, florist, and trainee gardener.
We work with local bee keepers and have bee hives on site, which in turn brings fresh, organic produce to the hotel. We use sympathetic gardening practices throughout the grounds which take into account nesting birds as well as spaces for insects to nest. We are also really keen composters and process all the garden waste to be returned into the soil, which makes for fantastic growing.
Where would you recommend for a Welsh country walk?
I would recommend a brisk walk to the standing stones of Waun Mawn (the original blue stone circle which was later moved to Salisbury Plain). If you walk to the summit above the stones, on a clear day you can see all the way to the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland – it is simply breathtaking. For the more adventurous, explore Canaston Woods and the Narberth Valley or head down to the estuary which are all within a half-day walking distance of the Grove.
What local experiences would you recommend to green-fingered guests?
I would recommend a leisurely stroll around Picton Castle’s Arboretum – the beautifully kept garden is a botanical hidden gem and only 20 minutes from the Grove.