August: Horses for courses

Chris Flynn, Head Gardener Chris Flynn Head Gardener
The Italian garden at Dyffryn Gardens

The summer bedding is in, the remnants of earlier projects have been rounded up and all of the tender perennials are bedded out. We’re in the thick of the maintenance season and whilst the why is clear, the idea of how is a little more fluid.

I was in the upper walled garden the other day admiring the newly planted celeriac and it reminded me of how much I love straight lines. Each one perfectly placed and carefully planted. At the risk of sounding too much like an M&S advert, the care taken to make sure that each plant has just the right amount of space to come to fruition, but to look so good whilst it’s getting there really is the art of gardening.

Summer gardens at their peak

This got me to thinking more about the gardens as a show piece and how the levels of presentation around the site vary according to its desired aesthetic. Whatever the end product it should always resonate with a quality delivery and an understanding of the why. August is a good time to look at things like this as the gardens presentation should be at its peak, but for a garden with this many varying styles of horticulture that doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing across the board. Where straight lines and manicured soil are right for the Walled Gardens, the herbaceous borders should be more rhythmic and overflowing with colour without a patch of bare soil in sight. The razor sharp edges and striped lawns found immediately south of the house return to softened edges and swathes of meadow in the north parkland.

The herbaceous border coming into life in spring
The herbaceous border in spring at Dyffryn Gardens
The herbaceous border coming into life in spring

To really understand the gardens at Dyffryn and the reason that different areas are presented in the way that they are I try to break it down firstly into two sections; those being the sweeping open parkland to the north of the house and the stunning formal gardens to the south. The gardens can be characterised further by breaking them down into the rolling open parkland to the north, the wilds of the arboretum to the east, the formality and precision of the centre of the garden, the softened romantic feel of the western gardens and then the hive of industry that are the walled gardens and nursery.  

Working out the feel for these areas really helps immerse you in their character and is the guiding hand for any planning that is being done that requires an aesthetic consideration from turf management, to planting choices, gates, benches and the pots we use.

Path restoration

The Exotics Garden in summer
The Exotics Garden at Dyffryn Gardens
The Exotics Garden in summer

Speaking of which, the old path layout is returning to the Exotics garden at pace and with the original style of stone edging being re-instated you get much more of a sense of the historic garden. Surrounding this are some real horticultural wows in the form of the scented hedychium, colourful cannas, giant leaved tetrapanax and paulownia and lots of tropical salvias. This garden has filled out so well since it was partially planted up last year and I could happily spend an hour or so talking about the collection in this relatively small garden. It really characterises both of our main restoration aims of putting back the Edwardian character and layout of the garden, with some really stunning planting that hopefully Reginald Cory himself would be proud of.

Time for me to get back to the Exotics paths, as much as I will it they just won’t seem to re-lay themselves!