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Autumn colour at Aberglasney is about so much more than the vast number of trees in the Gardens and although it is a time when we start putting the greater part of the garden to bed it is also a time when some good plants come into flower. Putting the tender Dahlia and Salvia to one side there are some good hardy plants that are at their best in the autumn.
One of the stars is Clerodendrum bungei which despite its name is a great plant. It is a suckering shrub unlike almost anything else with dark green leaves and heads of pink and darker pink flowers from September through to the first frosts. Growing to about two meters in height and being bolt upright makes it really useful for the back of the border. We grow a large stand of it on a south facing slope and it does absolutely fine even coming through hard winters unscathed.
There are also a great number of late flowering bulbs that really brighten up the autumn. Nerine make excellent late summer interest. They look like bright pink Agapanthus and are a real show stopper. There are plenty to choose from and in our view they are the most spectacular autumn flowering bulbs.
The trick to growing them is to plant them in as sunny a spot as possible in rich soil without too much competition around them. Getting them into flower can be a problem but a good watering in midsummer seems to help them. When planting them keep the neck of the bulb above ground, if it’s too low they won’t flower.
Another spectacular bulb for the autumn is Colchicum which also needs a sunny spot. They will flower without leaves and do this because they produce the leaves in the spring they are then dormant until flowering in the autumn. Planted in big clumps they put on a striking show and there are plenty of different types to choose from.
In the parterre area we have a huge Parthenocissus or Boston Ivy which is a vivid purple, red colour in Autumn. It combines well with the purple and orange Dahlia in the bedding border. What is particularly good about this combination is that it lasts right up until either the leaves drop on the Parthenocissus or the Dahlia is cut back by frost.
Many of the late flowering perennials such as Aster, Rudbeckia and Helenium flower well into November. This allows you to combine them with climbers or shrubs that have good autumn colour. We have one area where a combination of Pyracantha with orange berries mixes with Aster and Rudbeckia.
Elsewhere in the garden we find combinations of shrubs can create good long seasons of interest. We have a Koelreuteria ‘Coral Sun’, a golden leaved Judas Tree and a Purple Acer which are all at their best during the autumn but they also add colour through foliage from the summer to late winter.
At the top of Bishop Rudd’s Walk we have a large stand of different exotic shrubs that make a great mid and late season display. Here the purple flowers of Clerodendrum bungei and the golden leaved Catalpa are very impressive. This area also contains the purple leaved Catalpa and rare Hydrangea relative Kirengeshoma all of which combine to great effect.
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.
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.
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.