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For a welcome assurance that the brighter days of spring are on their way, look no further than snowdrops, Galanthus. They are surprisingly varied in height, flower size, shape and even colouring. Given a moist soil they will multiply into drifts. Plant freshly-lifted snowdrops when the foliage is just dying back in late spring. If it is not possible to plant in late spring, buying just after flowering when the leaves are still green (‘in the green’) is the next best way of establishing snowdrops. Plant snowdrops in a partly-shaded position in a moist, but well-drained soil with ‘leafmould’ or garden compost incorporated. It is important that the soil does not dry out in summer.
Crocus are one of the best early bulbs for bridging the gap between the snowdrops and Narcissus. At Aberglasney we grow a range of different ones and use them in many different ways.
Crocus ‘Vanguard’ is one of the best performers and is a real stand out in the genus or group that is called Crocus. It is a vernus type and has much larger flowers than the tomasinianus types that we grow a great many of. However what is great about this one is that it is so early, nearly three weeks before other vernus types. The combination of large flowers early in the season means that they stand out far more than the other Crocus. The other advantage is that they flower before the grass really starts to grow so you don’t have issues with mowing.
Today there is a huge range of Hellebore (x hybridus types) available in a range of colours from black to pink to yellow; you’ll even find spotted types within the Gardens. Unlike many plants Hellebores are mainly grown as strains from seed not named cultivars. This means that each one is an individual and will have its own colour or markings. Once planted Hellebore flower from December through to May in some cases and provide lush green foliage that makes good ground cover for the rest of the year. At Aberglasney they are one of our favourite plants and we use them throughout the Gardens.
Aberglasney has developed a comprehensive collection of Daffodils with representations of all of the different sub-sections of plants in the Narcissus genus. These are seen around the Gardens in galleries and walks. The collection currently contains nearly four hundred different types including rare varieties such as Narcissus ‘Segovia’ and will continue to grow over the coming years. The Narcissus or daffodil is the National flower for Wales hence we feel we should have such a large collection. They also have a flowering period which starts in November with Narcissus ‘Cedric Morris’ and finishes in June. In season a map is available which will give you information on where to find all of the different Narcissus in our collection.
Aberglasney boasts many rare and unusual types of Magnolia. Amongst our visitors’ favourites is Magnolia ‘Felix Jury’. Bred in New Zealand by leading Magnolia breeders, Felix and Mark Jury, 'Felix' is a stunning new form which, once it reaches 5 - 6 years in age, will produce huge (up to 30cm across) bright pink flowers in early spring. Each flower is impressive in itself but as they appear in good numbers then the overall effect is really spectacular. It will perform best in a sunny spot with protection from strong winds.
Magnolia macrophylla is rare even in its native habitat of South Carolina, USA, and has the largest leaves of any Magnolia which can be up to 1 metre long, green above and silvery-grey beneath. Established plants have huge and fragrant creamy-white flowers, sometimes up to 30cm in diameter. With such bold foliage Magnolia macrophylla must be grown out of the wind in a sheltered situation and is susceptible to damage by spring frosts until mature. Once established it is fully hardy and a stunning tree. During the spring a map is available which will give you information on where to find all of our different Magnolia.
One of the highlights of spring at Aberglasney is the Tulips. Probably their biggest strength is that they come in a range of colours that are easy to mix. It is not often you see two or three Tulips that don’t match. They also work well with other spring bedding plants which means you can create good displays by mixing Tulip colours that suit the other plants that are in flower.
In traditional bedding displays we mix Tulips with wall flowers that are usually cream in colour on the parterre. In other parts of the Gardens we mix Tulips with blue Forget-me-nots which look great in large pots or traditional displays. Tulipa ‘Anthracite’ and many of the other maroon varieties look good with forget-me-nots. Although these are not the only spring bedding plants they can be mixed with, combining Tulips with Pansy and Primula can also work well. These types of bedding displays do not need to be formal but can also be inter planted between herbaceous plants and removed and cut back as they finish. This is especially effective in borders that are late into leaf where some early colour is needed.
One of the best ways of using Tulips is in a border where they mix with early flowering perennials like Pulmonaria, another plant they compliment. We have many different colour combinations at Aberglasney in various borders where they increase the season of interest. You should however always be careful that the colour of the Tulips matches the colour display of the perennials in case they clash.
Elsewhere in the gardens we have planted wild Tulips called Tulipa sylvestris in the grass in the Cloister Garden. The grass must be left uncut after flowering to allow the bulbs to die back which is an inconvenience but worth it while they flower. There are also many early flowering species of Tulips that are great for the rock garden. We use them in the Alpinum where they are planted in natural drifts. This is something that can be done quite easily at home in a sunny spot.
One of the best uses of Tulips is in pots and this is something new we have experimented with this year. We plant the bulbs in layers with the tallest at the bottom and the shortest at the top followed by the spring bedding plants. All Tulips really need is free draining soil and a sunny spot and they have a multitude of uses making them excellent garden plants.
When bedding is mentioned most people automatically think of summer bedding and not spring bedding. However some of the very best bedding displays are in the spring not summer.
More often than not what is sold as winter bedding only really comes into its own in the spring. This has been the case at Aberglasney where the combination of alabaster wallflowers and Tulips look fantastic in spring.
The real star of the bedding is the Tulip as they form the bulk of the display in the parterre, terrace and Kitchen Garden. What is great about Tulips is the range of height, colour and flowering times available. There is also a huge range of flower shapes to choose from with singles, doubles, frilled parrot and many others to choose from. They also combine well with other spring bedding plants such as Wall flowers, Pansies, and Bellis (ornamental daisies). The colour choice also makes life easy when choosing a scheme.
Wall flowers are an excellent partner for Tulips as they act as ground cover before the Tulips come through, as they have a completely different leaf and flower shape they contrast really well. They also add interest before and after the Tulips start. Buying them bare root in the early autumn is a good idea as they are so much cheaper and of course peat free. The only problem is they can be damaged in very hard winters.
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.
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.
The Alpinum is found to the east of the Aviaries. There was originally a small pond in this area that dried up during the summer months. In 2007 it was transformed to accommodate diminutive or dwarf plants including Ilex crenata ‘Dwarf Pagoda’ Japanese holly, Taxus baccata ‘Green Column’ yew conifer, Rhododendron serpyllifolium ‘Thyme Azalea' shrub and Double flowered Colchicum.
The path through the Alpinum is made of limestone selected from a local quarry and is typical of the stone used in the locality for building. The stone contains a number of fossil invertebrates and so is of paleontological interest.
The term Alpinum is derived from the name of a similar garden feature created by Thomas Johnes at Hafod near Aberystwyth in the 18th century.
Stream Garden Meadow
This meadow surrounding a quaint little stream offers a contrasting garden experience to Aberglasney’s more formal areas. The Stream Garden runs into woodland leading towards the mysterious Grongar Hill which was a source of inspiration for the young John Dyer when writing his famous poems.
The meadow is not natural but has been cultivated over several years. The Trust has planted thousands of Narcissus bulbocodium “the hoop-petticoat” daffodil, which are not native to Europe and the meadow needs to be cut at precise moments in the year in order to encourage the growth of seedling bulbs.
Look out for Fritillaria meleagris lily. The Malus x atrosanguinea apple tree produces some beautiful colours in the autumn. Also in this area are Camassia and Siberian and Japanese Water Iris.
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.