Dinefwr's designed landscape inspired by Capability Brown

Autumnal view at Newton House at Dinefwr, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, Wales

In 1547 Gruffudd, the younger son of Rhys ap Gruffudd, petitioned Edward VI to restore the status of his family. This was granted, so Gruffudd ap Rhys – or Griffith Rice as he was now known – began buying back his family’s lost land.

Over the next ten years Griffith steadily reclaimed property – but in 1557 it was seized by the Crown again when he was convicted of murder. Somehow he gained a pardon and carried on building up the estate. His son Walter and grandson Henry continued this work into the seventeenth century.

Settled at last

By 1659 Henry’s son Edward owned the Dinefwr estate. He created a deer park, moved roads ‘for the enlargement of his house’, and built boundary walls. With Dinefwr back in the family, the Rice family started an important new phase of

Landscape development – and this was continued after Edward’s death (in about 1663) by his brother Walter.

Views of the house and formal gardens

Before the days of easy travel many rich gentlemen commissioned paintings of their country properties to hang in their London homes. Four ‘bird’s eye’ views, dating from around 1690, now hang at inside Newton House.

George and Cecil Rice - designing the landscape

During the eighteenth century, the gardens and parks of many large houses were redesigned to reflect a new understanding and admiration of the natural landscape – and Dinefwr Park was no exception.

The owners of the Dinefwr Estate at that time were George Rice and his wife Cecil, who was the only child of the fabulously wealthy William Talbot of Hensol in Glamorganshire. Well to do and well connected, they spent much of their time in London. They were influenced by new ideas of philosophy and culture, especially the view that nature could be art.

A major redesign

Formal features such as avenues of trees and straight-sided flower-beds were removed to be replaced with rolling lawns, sinuous lakes and clumps of trees. Carefully composed vistas were created. Some directed the viewer to the wider landscape beyond the walls of the Park, others focused on ornamental buildings. There was no division between the park and the house. Livestock was kept away from the windows by a ‘ha-ha’, an invisible ditch and wall.

The influence of ‘Capability’ Brown

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was the most famous landscape designer of the eighteenth century. Between 1751 and 1783 he designed 170 gardens and estates around Britain, and his approach was imitated in many more.

Brown at Dinefwr

Brown visited here in 1775. Obviously impressed, he wrote, ‘I wish my journeymay prove of use to the place. Nature has been truly bountiful and art hasdone no harm’.

George Rice asked Brown to suggest improvements to the landscape. Brown recommended building and moving some walls, fences and paths, combining fields into large meadows, moving the kitchen garden to the Home Farm at Little Newton, creating a new plantation, and moving the Llandeilo entrance. Some of Brown’s proposals were carried out but others, such as creating a garden in the deer park, were ignored.

Veteran trees – a Dinefwr legacy

Some of the trees at Dinefwr were already 100 years old when Rhys ap Thomas lived here in the late 1400s. This woodland contains one of Britain’s finest collections of mature trees, along with the rare insects and mosses which live in dead wood. Grazing animals in the deer park are a vital part of managing the woodland, to ensure the right plants continue to flourish.

How is the National Trust managing the Park?

As well as caring for the mature trees we need to plant new ones so there will always be trees at different stages. More will be planted in the Inner and Outer Cow Park to recreate the eighteenth century design.

Eventually these plantations will be managed like the deer park, as grazed wood pasture. In this way, we hope Dinefwr will always be famous for its veteran trees.