December- The Holly and the Ivy

Chris Flynn, Head Gardener Chris Flynn Head Gardener
A Robin among holly branches

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown, are highly likely to be at risk of removal as they can cause a lot of issues whilst trying to complete tree safety inspections. Whilst seasonal, these two festive classics can seem a little pedestrian, but get out and about in the garden and you’ll find plenty of new inspiration. Perhaps not quite as lyrical, so horticultural will have to do.

Structure and form are the name of the game during the darker parts of winter. The stately elements become the stars of the show after the colour of autumn fades.    

We’ve been greeted with another mild, if blustery start to December in South Wales. The deciduous viburnum collection on the western boundary have taken well to this and are flowering readily. The Cattleya in the Orchid house are stunning and elsewhere in the glasshouse the cacti and succulent collection are really starting to ramp up the show after enjoying the baking heat of the summer.

Throughout the spring and summer the Vine House has been full of fruit worthy of the adoration of Bacchus, at this time of year much of the hard work that makes that possible is completed. From late November the Vine House closes to visitors, but through the glass panes you can view the Walled Garden Team carrying out the work that makes it possible. First the vines are lowered to ensure that the sap rises slowly and evenly again in the spring, the seasons extension growth is then pruned to create the flowering spurs that will bear the next seasons fruit, painstakingly the flaking bark is removed to reveal the hiding places of the resting mealy bugs that could blight the following year crop and finally the gardeners and vines alike are allowed to rest until the spring.

Through the winter hedge cutting and renovation is one of our primary concerns. Where we’ve stumped back the sides of many hedges around the garden rooms, we’re now ready to take the tops out and get some views back.

Around the gardens at Dyffryn there are a number of raised viewing points that make the most of the valley setting. In the east the naturally rising ground steals views across the mansions roof scape towards the glasshouse whilst further south the exits from the arboretum garner sweeping views of the Great Lawn. The low lying west however relies on constructed changes designed by Mawson. At the top of the staircase of the Italian Terrace, above the Mediterranean and Pompeian Gardens and in the Lavender Court tower are all strategic high points from which you may enjoy the garden (the Lavender Court Folly should re-open for 2024 all being well).  One of these viewpoints and my particular favourite hasn’t functioned for many years and whilst the views back into the Pompeian Garden remain unhindered, the view across the Great Lawn has long been obscured. Cue the gardeners! The team will be taking the tops out of the hedges and right the way round the Garden Rooms to return views that were once lost. The Pompeian Garden view point will be a particular highlight during the summer as you will be able to see the recently restored canal and fountain pool in full colour to the east, as well as a fresh take on the Italianate theme in the Pompeian garden to the west.

Once plants have come out, new ones must go in. I was lucky enough to steal some time from an old friend at Cambridge Botanic Gardens the other day. If you’ve never been I can highly recommend a visit and it’s of particular relevance to us here at Dyffryn as it is where Reginald Cory really grew his passion for plants.

There’s something fantastically revitalising about visiting other gardens and speaking to people who are as passionate about plants and horticulture as you are. Spending time in the old and new gardens and then taking a tour through the fantastic glasshouses was great and of course, being able to see behind the scenes and learn about all the incredible conservation work that Cambridge are a part of was truly inspirational. I always find I return to work with a smile on my face and a renewed view of the wonderful world of horticulture.

There will be lots to come from the gardens in the New Year. Bold changes, new planting, some challenging decisions and a lot of hard work, but I’ll save those updates for another time.

Until then Nadolig Llawen,

Chris Flynn

Head Gardener, Dyffryn Gardens