Behind the scenes at our gardens: looking after Dyffryn in winter

Harvesting kale in the Kitchen Garden

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 happening in the gardens over winter?

Shorter days and misty mornings are upon us but as the end of the year approaches, the gardeners at Dyffryn are as busy as ever.  The momentous task of putting all the tender plants to bed is under way, the pots and containers are getting their winter makeover, exotic veg are being harvested and the Orchid House is full of flower.

Tender plants get put to bed

Gardener Mark Finch begins to carefully dismantle the succulent border
Gardener Mark Finch begins to carefully dismantle the succulent border

It’s a mammoth effort to lift and store the tender plants in the cacti and succulent border.  Unlike most summer bedding which makes its way onto the compost heap at this time of year, these treasures are lifted, crated and then re-potted in the nursery, before being moved to their winter home in the polytunnels. The whole operation takes about two weeks and is completed with military precision under Hazel Robinson’s watchful eye.

All the fabulous sub-tropical and tender plants Dyffryn is famous for also need TLC over the winter months which involves cataloguing, propagating and saving tubers.  The tender salvias have been propagated to increase their numbers next season and for insurance should the specimen plants not make it through the winter.

The Heart Garden is currently a horticultural playground of experimentation with tender plants that will eventually feature in Cory’s exotic garden when it’s reinstated in two years time.

" The Ginger Lilies have been spectacular this year and we’ve also been experimenting with borderline hardy bananas, like Musa arunachalensis and the giant leaved Castor Oil plant (Ricinus zanzibarensis). The bananas are cut back hard, dug up and hung upside down to allow all the water to escape to prevent them rotting over winter."
- Chris Flynn, Head Gardener

Winter container planting

All around Dyffryn, pot plant displays are themed to make the most of their growing situation and to show off the huge variety of plant pairings.  Winter is no exception and offers the opportunity to showcase less traditional schemes.

A banana is brought in from the cold and the large pots are being planted up with Hucheras and Salix for its colourful stems
A banana is brought in from the cold and the large pots are being planted up with Hucheras and Salix for its colourful stems

Pots at this time of year feature interesting shrubs that provide colour and texture in the very coldest months, among them ferns, grasses, mahonias and the small, evergreen, sacred bamboo.  As bulbs begin to emerge in the nursery, these shrubby displays form the backdrop to snowdrops, crocus, daffodils and tulips.

The displays aren’t limited to outdoors. The atriums of the glasshouse provide a more cosy  winter home for many tender plants that have spent the summer outside and continue to flower even on the coldest days.  As Hippeastrum and hyacinths come into bloom behind the scenes, they are moved into the glasshouse to provide colour and perfume to the delight of visitors on chilly, winter days.

Season of squashes and achocha

Gardener Aiofe Blight harvests chard ready for use in the café
Gardener Aiofe Blight harvests chard in the kitchen garden

Alongside traditional squashes, gourds and pumpkins, Ceridwen and her team in the kitchen garden are busy harvesting more exotic South American crops, including oca, ulloco, yakon and achocha. 

Some of these are a gastronomic voyage of discovery and the gardeners can’t wait to get cooking to find out which taste best. But even as a display, the unfamiliar shapes and colours of some of these vividly coloured vegetables is enough to delight the senses and all the crops make their way into the café or are sold via the shop.

" It’s a great way for our visitors to get their hands on some really special veg and with a very cheffy contingent in the gardens team, we’ve always got a few suggestions for what to do with our more unusual crops to get the very best from them."
- Ceridwen Davies, Walled Garden Supervisor

There are plenty of more traditional crops still to harvest but in the Dyffryn spirit, even among the kale and cabbage, the gardeners select new varieties which look fantastic and taste good too.

Living bench comes alive

Sophie Cook, Dyffryn’s student gardener placing orchids among the living bench display
Sophie Cook, Dyffryn’s student gardener placing orchids among the living bench display

As the main garden begins to slumber, the orchids are awakening. Inside the Orchid House the gardeners have been busy moving plants to create a display on the ‘living bench’ . Resembling a miniature rain forest, the bromeliads, ferns and different tropical mosses, will gradually colonise parts of the bench.  These play a supporting role for the orchids that are brought in just before they begin flowering, providing a new and exciting show for visitors.

Inside the Orchid House
Inside the Orchid House at Dyffryn

The gardeners also make the most of the way that many epiphytic orchids grow, by hanging them from the ceiling among trails of Spanish moss or tied to large tree sections that are brought in from other parts of the garden. The specially adapted roots then anchor themselves into the rough bark on the wood.

A gardener working in the autumn at Dyffryn Gardens

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

Ever wondered what it takes to look after our gardens each season? We're going behind the scenes at Dyffryn, one of the most important gardens in the country to meet the gardening team and discover what it takes to look after our gardens over the autumn months.