Behind the scenes at our gardens: looking after Dyffryn in the New Year

Head Gardener Chris hedge cutting at Dyffryn

What does it take to look after a historic garden visited by thousands of visitors each year? 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 Edwardian glory.

What's happening in the gardens in the new year?

Even in the deep mid-winter, gardening at Dyffryn never stops. Some of the biggest annual jobs are now underway, such as the winter hedge cut and planning for summer’s colourful displays. New recruit, Rory Ambrose, is getting to grips with the arboretum and Head Gardener, Chris Flynn, is busy designing two new schemes, full of edible plants.

The big winter hedge cut

There’s lots of hedging at Dyffryn, about 1200 metres around the Garden Rooms alone, so keeping these in tidy shape is a mammoth job.

Gardeners, Cat, Sophie and Mark busy hedge cutting
Gardeners, Cat, Sophie and Mark busy hedge cutting

In winter, when the ground is too wet for other tasks, the bulk of the yew hedge work is undertaken.  These hedges form the green walls of the Garden Rooms, linking together and providing a framework for the different character, planting and features of each space.

Caring for the yew hedging requires lots of feeding, cutting and, in some cases, stumping back to bare stems in order to restore the original proportions.

Over time the hedges have grown too tall and wide, so a renovation programme is underway to gradually reduce their overall scale. Eventually this will return them to the elegant, streamlined form which existed during the garden's heyday.

" One of the keys to good hedge cutting is to get yourself lots of string! As good as a skilled hedge cutter may be cutting by eye, they’ll never be as good as a skilled hedge cutter working to a taught string line."
- Chris Flynn, Head Gardener

The new recruit

Rory Ambrose has recently joined the team to oversee work in the 22-acre arboretum, home to a large number of Dyffryn’s rare and unusual trees and shrubs from across the globe. They include early introductions brought back by famous plant collectors, such as Ernest Wilson and George Forrest, more than a century ago.

He and the team will gradually thin out over crowded areas of the arboretum to give specimen trees room to grow.  

Arboriculturist, Rory and gardener Holly, carrying out tree inspections for safety and plant health
Arboriculturist, Rory and gardener Holly, carrying out tree inspections for safety and plant health

New planting is planned to add seasonality and help show off the more stunning plants from around the world, such as Eucalyptus dalrympleana, native to Australia and Pinus bungeana, the Chinese lacebark pine, with its attractive patterned bark.

Stripping the vines

Mid winter is the time for the traditional technique of peeling the bark from fruiting grapes by hand. This take a number of weeks and is done once the leaves have fallen from the vines.This removes any winter hiding places for pests, such as mealy bug, particularly important when growing under glass which provides warmth and shelter for little nasties to hide.

Gardeners Ceridwen and Mel working in the vinery
Gardeners Ceridwen and Mel working in the vinery

Removing a home for overwintering pests, coupled with biological controls in the summer, reduces the need for the gardeners to use chemical intervention.

New edible gardens for 2017

Chris and his team are planning something a bit different for the Australasian Garden and the South Front bedding this year.  A riot of colourful, edible plants will be in full bloom by summer to commemorate and celebrate Reginald Cory’s vegetable growing during the First World War. 

The Australasian Garden planting will be tall and showy. A gourd tunnel centre piece will be surrounded by a giant pumpkin patch featuring 20 different varieties of pumpkin, gourd and squash, alongside eye-catching sunflowers and stands of multi-coloured sweetcorn.

The new plant bed plans for the South Front at Dyffryn
The new plant bed plans for the South Front at Dyffryn

The South Front beds are being designed with decorative planting, bean wigwams and cardoon thistles, bronze fennel, tree spinach, day lilies, alliums, kale, rosemary and sage. The beds will be edged with dwarf thyme and changing blocks of coloured leaves, mustard greens and some longer serving crops such as Florence fennel, show onions and kohlrabi.

Over the next couple of months, the gardeners will be busy with the ground work, constructing timber frames and supports from hazel and birch gathered from the estate.

Follow Dyffryn's gardeners over the seasons