Fiona’s Summer Blog


There has been plenty of opportunity  this summer weather to admire our local parks and gardens. My recent trip to Cardiff for the recent Garden History Society (GHS) AGM & Conference. certanly included visits filled with exuberant, colourful herbaceous borders  as well as welcome, textured, shady shrubs and trees

Before mentioning some of the lovely sites we went to, a few words about the more formal part of the weekend. In particular,  the AGM debated the proposed merger between the GHS and the Association of Gardens Trusts (AGT). Although many GHS members also belong to their County Gardens Trust (CGT), we were all there as individual GHS members. There are obviously several legal and financial issues to still be resolved as well as ensuring that both organisations can continue to focus on different aspects of garden heritage while maximising their combined impact on government policies. It was also good to hear first-hand the genuine commitment from all who spoke to go on sharing expertise and exchanging information with the CGTs. A lot of emphasis was also placed on the need to continue the work of Verena McCaig and Linden Groves training members of the CGTs through help with developing expertise, in particular research activities and planning application responses.

The informal part of the AGT event started with a chronological resume of the wide range of historic designed parks and gardens in the Cardiff and South Glamorgan area by Liz Whittle, President of the Welsh Historic Parks & Gardens Trust and a former Inspector of Historic Parks and Gardens for the Welsh Government. Visits around the theme of A Prelude to the Great War then began by paying homage to Capability Brown with a brief look at Bute Castle (Grade 1 on the English Heritage (EH) Register of Parks & Gardens, where the results of  ‘land-moving’ works within the castle walls were impressive. Nearby contrast were Bute Park with remnants of the city dock-bound canal as well as several ‘Champion Trees’ and the ornate Victorian bedding near the War Memorials and Civic Centre.

Outside the city, our first, brief visit was to Craig-y-Parc, a “strongly architectural”  Edwardian Arts & Crafts garden and house with impressive terraces. Grade II* on EH’s Register, it was designed by C.E. Mallows for a local colliery owner and is now used as a residential school by the Scope charity. St. Fagan’s Castle, is better known for its museum which has collected examples of rural architecture from all over Wales. As well as remnants of an Elizabethan garden with several brightly filled ‘compartment’ gardens on the top terraces, there is also a replanted Dutch-influenced formal parterre garden to one side of the house.  Further down, the terraces are supported by impressive stone abutments. At the bottom, the dual Italianate, symmetrical balustrade steps lead down to tranquil, reflective lakes, grass dividing “bridges” and plenty of picnic spots (pictured below)!


St. Donat’s Castle, Grade 1 on the EH Register still has several intact, original Tudor terraces, one of which has a lovely rose garden similar to that at St. Fagan’s. However, following the American newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst’s 1930s acquisition of the castle,  these terraces, which lie below in a hollow between extensive deer parks and woods, then descend to an outdoor pool, beyond which still lie an impressive Cavalry Barracks, a slipway, the beach and the wider Cardiff bay.

Finally, Duffryn, now Dyffryn Gardens, again Grade I on EH’s Register and one of the key Edwardian gardens in Wales, was quite a contrast to the most of others we saw, as it lies more or less on the level. Seriously considered as the site for a National Botanic Gardens of  Wales prior to the Second World War, the gardens were designed by the landscape architect Thomas Mawson for the owner horticulturalist Reginald Cory, a wealthy philanthropist, ship and colliery owner. Dahlias, which Cory loved, feature significantly in the formal parterre immediately beyond the house’s stone terrace, with a centrally placed small ‘canal’  (see below).


To the west side of the house lie a series of gentle terraces along the higher of which are a varieth of gardens with herbaceous borders, Mediterranean plants and Physic and wild-flower gardens. Below these, a series of themed areas, include a Pompeian garden (inspired by Hadrian’s Villa) and a paved ‘theatrical’ garden with green hedge niches. To the east is a rockery and stumpery with an arboretum beyond. A red-brick ‘mill’ folly, meandering stream and meadows, feature at the garden’s south end.

Next year, the GHS and AGT are having ‘back to back’ AGMs based in Newcastle, when their proposed merger is due to be progressed, with another set of hopefully very pleasurable trips for participants.

Fiona Hope, BGT Executive Secretary


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