Dyffrn Gardens

We nipped out to Dyffrn gardens with gardeners from a group of National Trust properties.  Having been to Dyffrn a couple of years ago, it was interesting to see how it is developing.  The garden has begun a large scale restoration, and has strong links with Hidcote.  Their design and histories overlap, particularly through the shared influences of the landscape architect Thomas Mawson. Another abridgement being Hidcote’s Head Gardener, Mr Glyn Jones, spending a year there on secondment to consult on the garden’s restoration.

Mawson undoubtedly made a strong impression on Lawrence Johnston and his designs at Hidcote.  The plant collection was endowed by Reginald Cory.  He sponsored many plant hunting trips around the world funded and aided by the family’s involvement with coal distribution.  With a shipping network of over 180 ports around the world, plants could be brought back from many parts of the world.  Expeditions were undertaken to China, South Africa and Australia for example.  As a consequence, the garden has the largest woody collection in the UK.

The walled gardens predate Cory’s influence.  It is a lovely space, delineated from the wider landscape, where a variety of specimen trees overlook the neat plots and reconstructed glasshouses .  These houses vines, tender plants, and a wonderful collection of cacti and succulents donated to the garden.   My picks being the Parodia leninghausii, Aloe plicatilis, Opuntia bergeriana, Echinocactus grusonii var albisina,

The original structure was used to house a collection of orchids.  There is a shady, moist, tropicalish section which is small in scale, but with wide interest.  The epiphytes caught my eye.

In the walled garden we see the soil of the garden for the first time, based on a substrate of Red clay.  As an aside, Oxford Sandy pigs will be added to one of the plots next season.  The walls are broken by arched doorways leading to the next compartments.

The next space is one of herbaceous borders, with grassed pathways.  Framed by the large walls, arched structures trained with climbing roses and clematis, serve as screens and focal points.  They have real presence, and once the planting matures, will add to the romance as one ambles underneath.  I love planting trained to above the viewer, particularly as flowers can be viewed with the sky as their canvas.

The borders are being reworked through the removal of plants, soil amelioration, and replanting with old and new specimens.  Larger projects are undertaken over many years, and with investment in different layers.  It requires quite a complex plan.  However, deciding on the priorities and tackling them to a high standard sets the tone for the remainder of the project.  In some ways seeing a garden being rescued like this is as joyful as seeing one in its heady prime.

The sunken garden is interesting as it could be redeveloped in different ways.  The structure could develop in the style of either a Mediterranean or Dutch garden.  The Mediterranean garden has certain benefits, being a high impact relative to cost. I think this would look stunning, hidden within the centre of these walls.  Editing this style to adapt to the local climate is interesting in itself.  Then when the sun does bless the Welsh countryside, seeing plants basking in full sun will be a high reward.

Gardens designed in compartments, embellish and play with microclimate, and seems to bring more of a complex horticultural display as a consequence.

An Australasian garden is also planned to be redeveloped. In the interim a beautiful wildflower meadow using an Edwardian palette has been established. These meadows do require the soil to be recleaned when the new project begins.  They are fashionable, but probably for the right reasons.  They soften areas which would have otherwise been fallow, having good engagement with visitors, wildlife and pollinators.  I think temporary displays should aim for high impact, and perhaps contradiction.  This tempts visitors and enables one to interpret longer term aims to them.

The garden’s renovation is guided by a series of paintings portraying the garden in its heyday.  The next room is a very formal affair, with Greek and Roman influence in its design.  A central fountain is surrounded by repeated columns, statuary, and planters.  The planting is a simple pallete of repeated silver foliage and red flowers.  One wonderful feature is the planting of the lintels held by the columns.  This aerial planting  I found interesting, an unexpected planting layer, softening the imposition of the stone structures.

The bathing pool has the problem of algal blooms.  Investing in and using water from a borehole hopes to reduce this, as well as providing balanced coverage (60% next year) with water lilies and habitat provision.  This garden room aims to reintroduce a potted Acer and wisteria collection, with the tiered white wisteria standards dripping flowers over the pool.  This room is enclosed, and its design contemplative with sun loungers encouraging repose.  However, it does make visitor flow awkward, so an exit is planned to be reinstated.

The presence of great crested newts does provide challenges for restorative works, particularly those near water and associated habitats.  It requires great planning and patience, and favourable conditions so work can be completed within the tight windows available.  The bathing pool works including, draining and refilling will need to be completed within 5 days to comply with legislation.

Dyffrn is an exciting project.  A strong conservation management plan and an understanding of the changing resources needed to fulfill this are vital.  The garden history of plant collection means there is great potential for the addition of rare plants:  historic, newly collected, and those created from modern breeding.  The exchange of plant material between gardens an important resource for development of the collection.

The rose garden, historically planted old fashioned roses, will have the collection embellished with repeat flowering varieties to extend the season of interest.  Soil exchange will be undertaken, as well as mycorrhizal inoculation, to combat replant diseases and encourage vigour in shadier pockets.

The soft and hard architecture of the garden aims to be crisp as part of the garden’s winter interest.  A comprehensive survey of hedges has been undertaken, and interpretation of this and their renovation is vital.  An important consideration will be the threat of box blight.  The timing of renovation is an interesting thing.  Sometimes the renovation can be planned, whereas at other times, fortune may dictate this.  This may involve partial or full renovation.  Getting this decision right entails a strong affinity for the garden’s needs, and the bravery to commit to it’s long term life.

The great lawn is a captivating feature.  Golden yews grown within irish yews create images of flames.  These are planted linearly, enclosing the formal area, and drawing the eye down the axis of the canal to the fountain pool.  Both the canal and the fountain have attachment for repeat visitors.  Understanding visitors and their attachments to the gardens is important in prioritizing areas for restoration and conservation, to garner further support and funding.

The canal is underlit.  These formal features, simple and geometric, provide viewpoints along axes and thrive from precise details and pinpoint displays.  Pots are used to draw the eye and coordinate the display.  The formal garden, for all its rigidity, offers within this the chance to plant exuberantly and vibrantly.  The removal of imprecise elements, for example the overgrown shrubbery is important.

The magnolia against the house is an interesting specimen and a notable plant.  Rumour has that it was planted to drift scent through Florence’s (John Cory’s daughter) window above.  The delicacy of this romantic image is juxtaposed with the plant’s slightly destructive root plate, that has caused structural issues.

A woody and herbaceous survey of the plant collection has been undertaken.  An invaluable starting point.  A group of notable plants uncovered by this are the original Acer griseums, collected by Ernest Wilson, and the first brought into the country from the wild.

The rockery is magnificent in its potential.  The imposing natural limestone formation is being gradually uncovered from its smothering weeds.  Links with the Alpine Garden Society, could provide impetus for its redevelopement.  From here, the garden is cross sectioned, with the reinstated parkland visible to the north, and the garden to the south.  This shows the two halves of mawson’s design.  Large windswept specimens stand proud amongst the rocks, some showing exposed roots, giving character and age to the area.

The garden has undertaken flood modelling, particularly of its hidden network of underground culverts.  At present the Northern lawn can flood dramatically.  On the one hand this does allow the possibility of approaching the garden by Kayak.  However, the protection of the restored formal gardens is the priority.  The rockery is a treasure trove to be uncovered.  One such treasure is a hidden water feature, allowing a subtle recreation of nature.

The arboretum houses a varied and notable, but dilapidated collection with many champion trees.  Re-envisaging the meadow swards to tempt visitors towards the collection is an interesting device.  Drainage works must be undertaken, to allow visitors regular, unimpeded access to the exceptional collection.  The collection of birches is of particular note.

the walled garden

the walled garden

the walled garden

the walled garden

wildflower meadow

wildflower meadow


grecian garden

the great lawn

the great lawn

the rockery

the rockery

Echinocactus grusonii var albisina

Echinocactus grusonii var albisina



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