Behind the scenes at our gardens: Caring for Dyffryn over autumn

A gardener working in the autumn at Dyffryn Gardens

Ever wondered what it takes to keep our gardens in tip-top shape over the seasons? Go behind the scenes at Dyffryn with Head Gardener Chris Flynn and his team of gardeners and volunteers to discover what it takes to care for one of the most important gardens in the country.

They’ll be revealing the year-round challenges and joys involved in caring for these 55 acres of gardens, set in the Vale of Glamorgan and their plans to restore them to their former glory.

Dyffryn Gardens is one of the finest examples of Edwardian garden design, reflecting the opulence and grandeur of the period in which it was created. The gardens were the vision of coal magnate John Cory and his son Reginald, a passionate amateur gardener and plant collector.
 
Thanks to the enthusiasm of Reginald, Dyffryn was all about the brightest, rarest plants and quirky design which Chris and his team are working to restore. The dream of the gardening team is to evoke Dyffryn’s short-lived heyday between the wars. 
 

What’s going on in the gardens over autumn?

The Paved Court, one of the garden rooms at Dyffryn, is still full of colour in early autumn
The Paved Court, one of the garden rooms at Dyffryn

As early autumn arrives, the borders and pot displays are still a riot of colour, the kitchen garden is a hive of activity and one of the most important jobs in the garden, the great hedge cut, is underway.

The great hedge cut

Huge yew hedges mark out the boundaries between the different garden rooms at Dyffryn. Over the decades these have grown too tall and wide and now need a drastic haircut in order to get them back to the right proportions.  
 

As Head Gardener, Chris Flynn, explains, 'We’re just beginning a ten year programme of hedge renovation across the garden…it will restore diminishing views through the garden and help return the neat perfection and finesse which existed in Reginald Cory’s day. We feed the hedges annually to make sure they’re vigorous and healthy before being stumped back.  It seems a heavy handed approach but within a few years the yews will have regrown.'  

Don’t miss the dahlias

Dyffryn is big on dahlias and now is the perfect time to see them at their best. Reginald Cory was a great dahlia enthusiast and became President of the Dahlia Society.   
 
Dahlia ‘Union Jack’, an Edwardian variety at Dyffryn
Close-up of Dahlia ‘Union Jack’

At Dyffryn he created large trial beds to grow new cultivars and in this spirit, Chris and his team have reinstated a trial dahlia border, as well as filling beds and pots with dahlias.  These include some old varieties, such as ‘Union Jack’, seen here, which are no longer widely available.
 

Pots of colour

Hazel deadheading dahlia ‘Black Jack’ in the garden
Deadheading dahlia ‘Black Jack’ in the garden
Hazel Robinson oversees all the plant propagation and the orchid house display. You’ll find magnificent floral designs in pots all around the garden, full of colourful begonias, fuchsias, salvias and annuals, all in the spirit of the garden’s opulent past.
 

Hazel explains, 'The big displays can keep going until November with copious dead-heading and watering. Behind the scenes we take the containers apart and put them back together again to freshen them up. We inherited over 1,000 dahlias which all needed identifying and labelling, one of my biggest tasks when I arrived at Dyffryn.’  

The rarer dahlias are lifted after the first frosts and stored until the following spring but other varieties are sold off to visitors, so look out for a dahlia bargain in the shop this autumn.
 

What’s happening in the kitchen garden?

Ceridwen planting out rhubarb chard in the upper walled garden
Planting out rhubarb chard in the upper walled garden

The kitchen garden is buzzing with activity in autumn.  You’ll always find something unusual growing here and some of the weird and wonderful vegetables are now ready to harvest, including South American crops such as the oca. In the Andes, oca is the most widely cultivated tuber after the potato and the small, pink tubers are delicious raw in salads.

 
Vegetables and cut flowers in the upper walled garden
Carrots and cut flowers in the upper walled garden

It’s not all about picking crops, plenty of planting goes on in the autumn too. Japanese over-wintering onions ‘Paris White’ are very hardy and will be sown this autumn as will the French variety of lettuce ‘Marvel of Four Seasons’.

 

Last chance to see

The succulent display on the South Front of the house, inspired by the planting here in the 1920s.
The succulent display at Dyffryn Gardens

Look out for the eye-catching succulent border on the south terrace behind the house. These sun loving plants thrive in this sheltered spot, their architectural forms create bold patterns against the gravel.  A succulent border featured here during the garden’s heyday in the 1920s.

All these tender plants will be carefully removed, potted up and placed in a frost-free environment over the winter, so this is the last chance to see them before the colder nights set in.  
 
People taking a stroll through the gardens in autumn

Dyffryn Gardens

Magnificent Edwardian gardens flowing from grand vistas to intimate spaces overlooked by a large mansion