Penllergare Valley Woods

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Victorian Gardening for the 21st Century

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Volunteer Researchers involved in the restoration project at Penllergare Valley Woods met on Monday to discuss the replanting of the rock work and terrace gardens above the Upper Lake. We had a range of contributors from local gardeners to historians.

The task in hand involved:

  • Researching what the terrace and rock work gardens would have looked like at the time of John Dillwyn Llewelyn
  • Discussing how the terrace and rock work gardens look today, how much we should replant in line with the budget proposed and the scope of Valley Woods and its visitors today
  • Pulling together a list of shrubs, bulbs or trouble-free plants which would be suitable for Penllergare in 2013 and beyond from those which would have been found in terrace and rock gardens in the picturesque landscapes of the mid 1800s.

    Looking down on Upper Lake - Penllergare - John Dillwyn Llewelyn c.1854.

    Looking down on Upper Lake – Penllergare – John Dillwyn Llewelyn c.1854.

Ultimately, the list compiled will need to be presented with illustrations, descriptions and source information before making its way to the landscape architects. When approved it will form the basis of our planting plan and will be implemented by our woodland volunteer team.

As a research group, we are fortunate enough to have John Dillwyn Llewelyn’s photographs which vividly evoke the past glories of the Penllergare estate. We are also well informed of the “picturesque” style of early Victorian Britain. What’s more, we have a tremendous amount of written evidence about the estate and it certainly helped to have historical contributions from Richard Morris, who gained an MPhil on the Dillwyn Llewelyn family and has since published a book “Penllergare. A Victorian Paradise”, and Jennie Eyers, author of “Penllergare. Echoes of Valley Woods” as well as more practical suggestions and ideas from experienced and enthusiastic local gardeners and horticulturists alike.

In this blog, we thought we’d leave you with a few examples of what we do know about the terrace and rockwork garden area and the plants of that time, and in a few weeks we’ll provide an update on our progress and review how the plants we’ve discovered could work in Penllergare today.

Watercolour by Amy Dillwyn c.1850

Watercolour by Amy Dillwyn c.1850

Extract from “Penllergare. Echoes of Valley Woods” by Jennie Eyers. 
Thereza Dillwyn Llewelyn’s Diary (10th August 1856)
“…Grandmama told me about Penllergare in former days, when there was a road and a row of trees between the house and the valley. The sycamore tree was one and on the south side of it there was a gap which allowed the valley to be seen from the house. In Mr Price’s (counsellor) time, he had a summerhouse there, where he could do business. Then there was a garden in terraces all down the steep bank to the river, walls were built in several places, to keep the bank up, they remain at present mostly. Grandmama had first only the border under the upper wall (close to the sycamore)…After that she got the piece of ground between the next walls for her own, and that is what we called the rockwork garden. Below that it was all kitchen garden.” p.52

Andrew Pettigrew. The Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener (June/July 1886)
“The banks on both sides of the valley are covered in heavy timber principally oaks in the best of health, while here and there large trees of Hemlock Spruce (Abies canadensis), Taxodium semperviens, Wellingtonia gigantea and Cryptomeria japonica stand out in bold relief, lit up in many places by a glorious undergrowth of the best species and varieties of rhododendrons and hardy azaleas, some of which are of large dimensions and in the most luxuriant health, the soil and situation being favourable to their growth.” p.12

Andrew Pettigrew. The Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener (June/July 1886)
“Shady winding walks lead from the mansion down to the lake, and along its side nearest the house, past the cascade, and down the right side of the stream for a great distance till it is crossed by a bridge, where the walks diverge into the woods and ascend the opposite bank. Osmunda regalis and other British ferns in great variety grow luxuriantly in every available spot, and fringe the banks and sides of the stream abundantly.” p.54

Extracts from Penllergare. A Victorian Paradise by Richard Morris
“John was much influenced in his botanical and natural history interests by his father Lewis Weston Dillwyn, a noted botanist. Dillwyn’s earliest publication The Botanists Guide through England and Wales, written in association with his old school friend Dawson Turner, was published in 1805. Unfortunately, he did not list any plants found at Penllergare in the version as published. But there is a copy of the publication, originally in two volumes, that has been rebound with blank pages between each printed page. Inserted into the section on Glamorgan have been added a number of specimens found at Penllergare by various members of the family and friends, included some listed by Henry Talbot, and others, in the 1930s. Two such discoveries ‘Conferva mirabilis, Penrice and Penllergare Mr Dillwyn’ and ‘Bryum — punctatum. Woods and Penllergare Id [WHFT]’ may have been made when Talbot, Constance and the children came down to South Wales to stay with his relations in 1838.” p37

The Rock Work Garden - Penllergare - John Dillwyn Llewelyn c.1852

The Rock Work Garden – Penllergare – John Dillwyn Llewelyn c.1852

“In Dillwyn’s unpublished Materials for a Flora and Fauna of Swansea and the Neighbourhood written in 1848 specially for the visit and meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, there are references to flora and fauna found around Penllergare.” p38

‘Enthusiastic gardeners have always been keen to swap plants and information with each other and John was no exception. Though he bought at several of the well known nurseries he also acquired plants from friends. As already mentioned his botanical friends included George Bentham, the Hookers of Kew, Lady Mary Cole and his wife’s cousin Henry Talbot.” p44

“Who actually planned the Penllergare landscape is unknown. Probably it was John himself assisted by members of the family and possibly influenced by Loddiges, the Hackney horticulturists. George Loddiges was a friend of Lewis Weston Dillwyn and the Loddiges, along with Millers, Knights and Veitches, were sources of plants for the estate.” p44.

Royal Institue of South Wales Annual Report 1839
Also, in the RISW Annual Report 1839 – of which Lewis Weston Dillwyn was a founder member, there is a report on the effects of the severe Winter of 1837-8 on some shrubberies and gardens in Glamorganshire. Thankfully there are many references to plants at Penllergare here.

That’s it for now.

If you’re interested in research or horticulture and would like to get involved in the above project, please do get in touch.

Looking forward to updating you all soon

Best Wishes,

The Volunteer Research Team

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