Michael O'Leary, Winner of Nation’s Favourite NGS Garden

Were you an enthusiastic gardener before you moved to Hillcrest?

We didn’t have a clue! In our younger days we had been party and clubbing types, and when we arrived here many years ago we didn’t start with the amount of garden we now have, so we weren’t daunted. As time went on, our neighbour, Arthur, who let some land nearby to someone to graze their horse, slowly offered us small extra bits of his land over time, as he watched our garden develop. We wouldn’t have been able to deal with as much as this at the beginning. I shall be 70 this year, and I’m creaking at the edges, so I’m very grateful to have someone come in to help me move things around, like the 5 tons of topsoil I’ve just had delivered!

Hillcrest Gardens

Everything in the garden has been built or grown by Beverley, my partner, Beverley Ronald Price (I always use his full name, as so many people presume Beverley is a woman), and me. After 40 years together, Beverley sadly died shortly before the Covid pandemic began, at the age of 72. I’m delighted to be able to open the garden for the NGS to share the results of our hard work, and I can’t now move as the garden holds so many shared memories.

Did you inherit a love of gardening?

Yes! My paternal great grandfather was Park Keeper (I think possibly Head Park Keeper) for Aberdare Park in the Merthyr area. They had arrived in Wales from Ireland during the time of the potato famine.

Does your family share your passion?

Mum and Dad enjoy the garden, but not the way I do. Mum will happily do a couple of hours of gardening from time to time, but won’t garden dawn to dusk the way I do. And my sister doesn’t seem to have inherited any interest.


Which are your favourite and least favourite parts of the garden?

I honestly love most of it! I’m very fond of the Vibernums and the Cornus. One of the last Cornus we planted together, Cornus ‘Venus’, is the best! The Chilean Firebush, Embothrium, is another spectacular favourite, as is the Handkerchief Tree, Davidia involucrata, we planted 20 years ago. It did absolutely nothing for the first 12 years, but Beverley suddenly came in extremely excited to have spotted heaps of bracts!

Are there any particularly challenging spots?

The main challenge is generally trying to keep it all under control. For example, this is quite a windy spot and we made the mistake of planting a Leylandii hedge; it’s a real challenge to try to keep it trimmed. The wind-break it provided was vital at the time, but it was the worst mistake ever! We now have enough shelter, so we need to look at when and how to get it removed.

With the Box parterre dying from Box blight, we are also looking to replace that with something entirely different, and we have a small veg patch, but as growing vegetables takes a lot of work, and as the veg garden was always Bev’s responsibility, I’m currently using it for annual flowers.

Hillcrest Garden

If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change?

Someone once asked me what would I do if I won the Lottery, thinking I’d choose a flash car, but I wouldn’t change the Citroen car/van I have that can fit 15-20 bags of compost!

If I could wave a magic wand, I would ask for a dry stone wall around the whole property.

Which gardens and gardeners do you admire?

Above all others, I would say Aberglavny, which is not far from the National Botanical Gardens of Wales. But, every gardener I know has something.


Do you have a top garden or gardening tip we could pass on?

If you’re starting a garden, avoid Leylandii or Laurel. It may cost more, but go for Yew!

When did you become aware of the NGS?

Looking for things to do on a Sunday, a friend suggested we visit a garden, and we were hooked from our very first visit. When Bev suggested we start opening too, we never looked back.   

Visiting other gardens inspires you, and if you’re buying plants from an NGS garden, you are guaranteed a bargain. We got so many ideas in the early days, like the time we saw a wheel-shaped herb garden one afternoon, and by 6pm the same day we had decided where we would create our own, and had begun prepping the bed! 

Which structures do you rely on in your garden?

We have quite a few arches, which are important, but the structure with the most significance, and that is a major feature of the garden, is the gazebo we designed and built together, from scratch.

It has a welded steel structure with cedar wood cladding, including the roof. It was so expensive to build we had no holiday that year!

What will you use the £100.00 Agriframes voucher for?

It will go towards another arch which will direct the eye to an overgrown area by the house. The plan is to have a path dug through, leading towards the arch.

Garden Arch

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