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As a group, early flowering Iris have very different growing requirements to the moisture loving and woodland types we normally grow. They prefer open sunny spots in free draining soil. Generally we grow ours in south facing spots in the ‘Alpinum’ rock garden. Normally they are planted in clumps or closely packed drifts to give the best effect. The bulbs are planted just below the soil surface with a generous covering of gravel over the top. This reduces weeds and helps with drainage, we also find digging plenty of sand into the soil beforehand is a help.
Generally these types of Iris have rounded leaves rather than flattened fans and look very like onions or leeks. They tend to be short - about fifteen centimetres in height, although there are some types that grow to about a meter tall. They have typical Iris flowers and come in shades of blue, purple and yellow. Some also have a combination of colours or are two toned in the flowers. Most also have exquisite scents that are quite different from other perfumes, although they are subtle so you often need to be on bended knee to enjoy them.
Some of our favourite types are Iris bucharica and Iris reticulata ‘Joyce’. The taller types do tend to fall over in our rich soil but they are still well worth trying. Generally the first ones come into flower at the end of January and can often be seen poking through late snow falls, which like frost never seems to damage the flowers.
What horse chestnuts best offer gardeners is nice young foliage that is often tinged as red or pink as many an Acer. The foliage is followed by striking flowers, conkers and then good autumn foliage. All these different qualities make them really good garden plants.
A particular favourite at Aberglasney is Aesculus wilsonii which has very neat dark green foliage and huge white flowers. A better one for a small garden is Aesculus californica which spreads from the base and generally has no trunk with more flowers, although these are smaller. If you want something for a particularly small garden then any of the dwarf varieties work well, for example Aesculus pavia ‘Rosea nana’ which is only about two meters tall and covered in apricot pink flowers. There is also a purple leaved form that is even better. The parent plant Aesculus pavia is more of a shrub and fills a large space well.
So far all the types we have tried at Aberglasney have done well although we find it is best to keep them out of the wind. They seem fine on most soils and even take boggy ground. Buying them is not so simple and you will need to visit a specialist tree or shrub nursery as they are surprisingly uncommon.
In recent years we have done a great deal of work with roses - building a rose arbour and planting a huge rose wall. This has led to us looking at how we can use roses in other areas of the Gardens, primarily by mixing them into other mainly informal displays. Over the years we have found that the more common Tea roses are both hard to grow and use. This is due to the climate at Aberglasney and the type of Gardens we have. As a result we have had to try more unusual or wilder roses which unlike Tea roses we have found to make excellent garden plants.
The great advantage of these roses is that they suffer less disease. Many also have attractive foliage, nice hips and sometimes autumn colour and this means they can be mixed with other shrubs. Another bonus is that many flower in midsummer, a time when it is often hard to get flower in the shrub border.
The Rugosa types are extremely useful plants as they flower all summer and make a good foliage plant with hips and autumn colour. They make excellent hedges or screens, we often use them at the back of borders to add height too.
We also grow many ramblers which provide a wonderful burst of colour as well as scent in early summer. As they are so vigorous they make a big impact and are excellent for covering large walls. They can also be grown as free standing shrubs but they do take up a huge amount of room.
There are some excellent shrub roses that are much more manageable, we grow the Gallica roses in the formal cloisters where mixed with Lavandula angustifolia and Erigeron karvinskianus put on a wonderful display.
We are also trying a great number of old fashioned and wild roses in different areas of the Gardens. This is really exciting as they allow for new combinations and add interest at different times of the year. Generally roses need a fair amount of sun and therefore what you grow with them needs to have the same requirements. When you use shrub roses in borders there is the opportunity to plant next to and under them to give a long season of interest. So far we have tried snowdrops and Hellebore for early spring, Narcissus and Tulip for mid spring and Allium ‘Purple sensation’ for late spring. By this time the roses come into flower and with some variety you will have blooms all season. Cranesbill, Delphinium and Hollyhocks will make great midsummer companions.
Every year we combine reliable performers with a few new experimental varieties. We have used different quantities of different varieties to give us different colour blends and heights throughout the display with most of the plants set out informally.
We often use pink or white Cosmos and Cleome to give height and colour at the backs of borders with Dahlia ‘Blue Beyou’ which is pink and purple for medium height. We also like Castor oil plants, Ricinus communis ‘Carmencita Pink’ in the main displays, and choose the red form in borders as its leaves are ornamental in appearance and contrast well with the other foliage. When we need shorter plants we often grow a combination of white Bizzy Lizzy or Impatiens, green flowered Moluchella or Bells of Ireland, scented Heliotrope and Cerinthe.
The green spires of Moluchella break up the blue and white of the Heliotrope and Impatiens. The Heliotrope also gives you the added bonus of an excellent scent as does the foliage of the Cleome. However the plants that have really impressed are the Ricinus and the Impatiens as they have proved to be excellent plants for interest all through the season.
The Ricinus are planted out at the beginning of June and just get bigger and better as the season goes on. Do remember that all parts of this plant are highly poisonous and extreme care should be taken when using it. Between the foliage, flowers and seed heads there is always something to look at and the pink form goes well with the other plants. Elsewhere in the garden we have added the red form to the hardy displays where it has done equally as well.
The Impatiens have been a real success. Like many other people we had stopped growing the waleriana type due to the mildew problem. Then we tried the Sunpatiens which are a hybrid that has the New Guinea type as a parent. We have had absolutely no problem with mildew so far and they are happy in sun or shade. What we like about them is that they grow quite tall - about forty centimetres, and they flower all season.
The Yew Tunnel is thought to have been planted by the Dyer Family in the eighteenth century. This glorious fusion of thick tree trunks will live for centuries if looked after properly. Taxus baccata can be old or merely look old – and often defy dating. Experts had been fooled into thinking the half dozen or so that make up Aberglasney’s Yew Tunnel were over 1,000 years old. In 1999 dendrochronology put the trees at just a quarter of that age.
The Victorians in particular were fascinated by these strange trees and their magnificent shaping and many visitors to the house came to admire the Tunnel. It was maintained constantly throughout the 18th century and beyond, until the 1950’s that is, when it was then neglected for many years before being carefully restored to its former glory.
At Aberglasney we have to pack all our productive plants into the Kitchen Garden, which seems quite big, that is until you start to list all the things you want to grow. We have therefore spent a lot of time working out how to make the most of the space. There are a number of different ways of doing this and despite having technical names most are very simple tasks that just require some planning.
The first is crop rotation which simply means not growing the same plant in the same place; this allows you to change your layout throughout the year. New plants can then be tried and manuring and mulching can happen all year round. The second is crop succession which is closely linked to rotation and basically means replacing each crop with another one for later in the year. A third method is intercropping which is basically growing two crops in the same place and one comes out when it’s ready and then the other matures. The fourth is catch cropping which is growing a quick to mature crop. This involves growing a crop between main crops which is usually salad leaves or radish. We also use another trick which is a version of edible hedges these can be espaliers, step over fruit trees or seed grown crops. These make excellent use of boundaries or can make boundaries in themselves. It is important to remember that flowers can also be used in these displays to add colour and for ground cover.
We use all of these methods in the Kitchen Garden at Aberglasney and have found a few really good combinations of these methods. The first is to let Verbena bonariensis seed around in the herb garden. The herbs are just as good as always and you get a wonderful display of colour as well. The gaps between the herbs get filled and it reduces weeding. We find planting rows of Narcissus for spring works well for colour and interest and these are followed by Brassica’s in June or July. What is great about this combination is that you can add manure after you take the Narcissus bulbs out. Most Brassica such as Kale or Cabbage start small and fairly slow so there is the opportunity to either plant salad leaves or annuals such as marigolds under them. What we like about this combination is that if you use Calandula you can also eat the petals. Step over fruit trees make excellent hedges and the ground underneath them can be planted up with vegetables or flowers. Our main catch crops or intercrops are salad leaves and radish and our main intercrops are the same but with the addition of flowers. Courgettes are another plant where you can do intercropping or catch cropping and succession can be easily achieved with a combination of spring bulbs, annual flowers and whichever vegetables you want to grow. We find that it is very little extra work and the benefits to the production patch are huge.
We are lucky at Aberglasney to have huge walls where vigorous plants such as rambling roses or Wisteria can be given the space to go mad. However in certain areas, as is often the case in home gardens, there is not the space for these monsters and careful thought is required in choosing the right spots as well as the right plants.
Generally smaller climbing plants are the most practical thing as they are more manageable and more than one type can be planted in a spot. There are some great tricks we’ve used be used to make our rose arbour in particular look very colourful for a long period.
Planting two or three different varieties on the same pillar is one of the most effective methods for a long season of colour. We plant one rose that is vigorous and flowers once, another that is early flowering and a third which is repeat flowering. We have also chosen varieties with both slow and medium rates of growth which will not out grow their frame. We also add annual sweet peas for further scent and colour over a longer period. These plants work well together as the roses can be pruned after the sweet peas have died out for the winter. By doing this we have cut back on the amount of maintenance needed and made life a little easier for ourselves.
Another favourite in the Rose Garden are Paeonia. In the right position they have many great attributes and each year will give you a display that is seldom rivalled. It is not uncommon to see a clump that is fifty years old, they will often out live trees and may have numerous owners during their lifetime. So they are a plant that needs careful positioning and planting, in fact as much care should go into positioning and planting a Paeonia as a tree.
The right place will have a fair amount of sun and be in a fertile position with some shelter from strong winds. The important thing to remember is once they are planted it will be very hard to move them so future shade problems should be considered as the garden will change many times over their life span. However once they are planted they should settle in quite quickly as long as they are planted very shallow. Paeonia resent having their crowns covered and this is often the cause of poor flowering. Once they are planted they need very little care other than staking for the large or double flowered cultivars.
The inspiration behind this feature came from years of battling overgrown rambling roses in many different gardens. Rambling roses are a type of rose that is often overlooked or shunned as people are quite correctly afraid of its triffid like growth. However they are one of the easiest types to grow if you have the right spot. In our case this is a hundred meter long wall that has been planted with a collection of over thirty different varieties. Many of these will grow three meters a year and each year we prune them severely but carefully to keep them in check.
As a group rambling roses get very little black spot and always seem to thrive, they are great for the Welsh climate and often have wonderful hips as well. Generally they only flower once but when they do, it is a sight to behold. As they are so large they create huge displays that are really sensational and most are popular with bees and other pollinators. We grow them beside a wet bulb meadow that doubles with wild flowers to give the bees a large and long feast which is no bad thing. Historically rambling roses are steep in history and heritage with many hailing from China, they have been grown and bred in Britain for a very long time.
The Ninfarium was completed in 2005 and houses many sub-tropical and exotic plants thanks to a glass atrium having been built above the ruinous central rooms of the mansion.
Amongst the most striking plants on display are Gloriosa Superba ‘Climbing Lily’, Phaleonopsis orchids, Aristolochia gigantea ‘Dutchman’s pipe’, Magnolia champaca yellow jade orchid tree, Stephanotis floribunda ‘Madagascar jasmine’ and Musa coccinea ‘Banana’.
This award winning garden is an idea derived from the gardens at Ninfa, located at the foot of the Lepini Mountains, south of Rome. There the whole of the medieval village has been imaginatively planted. The gardens at Ninfa were created by the Caetani family who gave financial support to Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
Situated on a small hill near the house, this garden was created in 2004 and offers views down the valley beyond Merlin’s Hill to Carmarthen in the distance. The garden boasts a collection of plants that originate from various parts of Asia including China, Japan, Tibet and Nepal.
The plants here have been carefully chosen so that once again there is interest throughout the year. During winter, the appearance of colourful ‘Witch-hazel’ is a highlight, while mid-summer brings with it a stunning collection of Asiatic lilies, known as ‘Toad Lilies’.
As well as ‘Witch-hazel’ in bloom during January and February Sciadopitys verticillata ‘Umbrella Pine’ is grown throughout the winter. Spring sees the appearance of Rhododendron, Camellia flowers and Azalea shrubs. Summer brings displays of rare hydrangea while in autumn you will see rare berrying trees such as the Tibetan Whitebeam Sorbus thibetanus.
This garden, like many others at Aberglasney, is always evolving and more choice rare plants are being added all the time.
The Sunken Garden has a water feature created by William Pye, renowned for his imaginative water sculptures, at its centre and whilst its appearance was originally inspired by Japanese gardens that used subtle evergreen plants the planting scheme is now as colourful as anywhere at Aberglasney.
The inspiration for the ‘new look’ Sunken Garden was drawn primarily from the gardens of Crec’h ar Pape in Brittany and Great Dixter in the United Kingdom. While the evergreen structure remains true to the original vision, the new planting adds vibrancy and colour. Tulips in hot reds and oranges mixed with maroon leaved Euphorbia kick off the season; dark blue Camassia comes later as a contrast to the hot colours. The perennial colour scheme is also one of vibrant colours with plants such as Kniphofia and Agapanthus taking centre stage.
The Cloister Garden is widely considered to be Aberglasney’s “most extraordinary and legendary feature”. The garden is bounded by a three-sided arcaded walkway made of solid stone. This parapet walkway is the only known surviving structure of its kind left in the UK.
It is believed that the Cloister Garden originates from Bishop Rudd’s time at Aberglasney during the 1600s. Almost every instance of other formal raised terraces that we know were popular in this period have disappeared having succumbed to Civil War depredations or the eighteenth century landscape movement when formal enclosures were swept away to make room for a more open parkland setting.
Plants to look out for here are Fragrant Rosa gallica var officinalis which grow along the walls during mid-summer and the Orange trees planted in lead pots. Lonicera periclymenum ‘Honeysuckle’ blooms beside the flight of steps leading to the parapet walk.