A multi-layered garden at Powis Castle
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In the early 1800s, Powis passed first to the son, then the grandson of Robert Clive, the man who brought India into the British Empire, and under their care the garden was returned to ‘the most complete and perfect state of repair’.
Contemporary perfection required a softer, looser manner throughout the garden. By 1809, the Dutch water garden had been removed in favour of a simple lawn where deer grazed to the bottom of the terraces.
On the lower grassy terraces, small trees and shrubs flourished. On the upper more formal terraces, the once intricately clipped yews were allowed to become informal small trees, and the wall-trained fruit trees removed. Creepers grew up the walls of the Castle.
The geometry of the Italianate design was being washed over with naturalistic shapes.
Lady Violet’s creation
The garden jogged along through the rest of the 19th century with no major changes, until it found a new enthusiast in Lady Violet (1865–1929), wife of the 4th Earl of Powis.
Her great-grandfather had been a Lane-Fox of Bramham Park, Yorkshire, a gardening dynasty that continues to this day. Still in her forties, she persuaded the Earl to let her manage and improve the garden.
There were particular problems pressing: several of the tall elms that formed the fourth, eastern ‘wall’ around the secret terrace garden had fallen, and the last remaining trees had to be removed with the result that the walled kitchen garden and glasshouses were now in full view from the Castle. And, while the terraces were a grand place for her ambitious flower gardening, they were hardly suitable for large social occasions or children’s play.
Violet relocated the entire kitchen garden, glasshouses and all, to a new position behind the Wilderness ridge and on its empty footprint she made a new Formal Garden.
Violet's Formal Garden
The elms were not replaced and the Formal Garden became part of the view from the Castle, yet another layer of contemporary gardening, once again created not over the top but to the side of the older garden.
Violet’s Formal Garden was typically Edwardian, comprised of flat open spaces set within walls and hedges, where there was room for prettiness in flower borders and blossoming fruit trees.
At the same time, Violet set to work enriching the planting on the terraces with new varieties of shrubs and perennials, in her attempt to make Powis ‘one of the most beautiful gardens in Wales and England’.
Preservation and beyond
The garden remained unchanged after Lady Violet’s death in 1929, until 1952, when Powis Castle passed into the care of the National Trust.
Since then, we've continued to pursue her ambitions for the garden while preserving its many-layered historic structure. We've also found space for new layers of contemporary gardening, including 21st century preoccupations with meadow gardening and wildlife.