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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.
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.
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.
Bolt upright flower spikes of star-shaped, blue or creamy flowers push through the grassy leaves of this elegant bulbous perennial in late spring. It's vigorous enough to use in a wildflower meadow but does need damp soil. Bulbs can be planted in autumn, arranging in drifts for a natural effect. The leaves die back soon after flowering. Camassia leichtlinii and Camassia leichtlinii Semiplena are two beautiful new additions to our woodland areas.
No matter what the weather they seem to give a good display from late May into early June with certain varieties flowering later in June. What is especially good about them is the wetter the weather the longer they seem to flower.
For all the rare and unusual pants that we grow at Aberglasney there is still something special about our bluebell woodlands. Bluebells are a British native that are dear to most people. With good management they make an excellent native plant display in most woodland but in Beech woodland they are especially good.
At Aberglasney we try to keep as many as possible and integrate them with our woodland plant schemes. This does often mean that we have to lift and transplant large numbers when they spread too far. You will either be a gardener who has to weed them out or coax them along. At Aberglasney they are either an aggressive invader or well behaved depending on the spot.
We find Trollius and Ranunculus to be particularly good partners which is no surprise as these are close relatives of the common buttercup. Both these plants form dense mounds of leaves that disguise the unsightly old leaves of the bluebells.
There are many more plants that you can mix with bluebells and it usually depends on how wild you want your garden to be. One thing to remember is that mulching will not reduce the amount of bluebells you have in fact it will probably help them multiply. One easy way to keep bluebells in check is to dead head them after flowering. This won’t get rid of them but rather slow down their spread. It really is up to you what you do with bluebells but you can have a good combination of native and exotics that is both tidy and good for the environment. Really it’s a case of the old saying ‘A weed is just a plant in the wrong place’.
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 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.
One of our newest projects has been the development of a Wisteria Arch which is truly a long term project. It would be no surprise if the Aberglasney gardeners were still pruning it in one hundred years time. A great deal of thought went into the design of the area and especially the choice of Wisteria. After much deliberation we decided to go for the most flamboyant type which is Wisteria floribunda ‘Macrobotrys’ which has arguably the longest racemes of flowers. These huge tassels of blue pea like flowers can get to over a meter in length. However it will be a few years before the plants make full maturity which is when flowering will be at its best.
The arch, which is more of a tunnel, is just short of thirty meters long and inspired by the famous Wisteria tunnels seen in Kawachi Fuji Garden in Japan. The under planting is a continuation of the Sunken Garden’s hot colour scheme. The idea being that the visitor will work through the cool blue colours and then be greeted by the vibrant oranges, reds and yellows of the Sunken Garden. The adjacent west facing wall is also planted with late flowering Clematis for a second burst of colour latter in the year.
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.
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.