We depart by coach from our local departure points and head for Wales, breaking our journey with a visit to the gardens of Dorothy Clive, near Market Drayton. Whatever the season, this garden’s 12 informal acres are worth visiting for the wonderful woodland garden; alpine scree; gravel garden; fine tree collection and spectacular flower borders. Lunch is available here (not included).
We continue to North Wales and our comfortable accommodation at the Royal Goat Hotel, Beddgelert. This is a family run hotel situated in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park. The bedrooms all have private bathrooms, TV, hairdryer and tea/coffee making facilities.
Dinner is served in the evening.
This morning, after breakfast, we travel to Crûg Farm Plants, near Caernarfon. Every October Bleddyn Wynn-Jones and his wife Sue have traded their home comforts at Crûg for a tent and trekking gear. They are the only plant collectors in England and Wales to hold a permanent collecting licence with the exception of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Travelling to the mountains and forests of Vietnam, Taiwan and Sri Linka they have collected species of podophyllum, sarcococca and the evergreen shrub daphniphyllum. They used to farm beef but in the 1980s when agriculture looked bleak they looked for an alternative. Starting with planting every type of imaginable vegetable, they progressed to shrubs grown from cuttings from their parents’ gardens, Treborth Botanic Gardens and Plas Newydd. Today they are specialists on a broad spectrum of temperate forest plants - shrubs, exquisite herbaceous perennials, climbers and bulbous plants from Nepal, Korea and Central America.
In the afternoon we visit Plas Cadnant, a hidden historic garden which is slowly being uncovered – a Welsh ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’. Three different gardens have been discovered, including an unusual walled garden with curving walls and a pool, a secret valley garden with three waterfalls and a river, and an upper woodland garden with stone outcrops and the remains of a 19th century folly. Work started on restoring the gardens and grounds in 1997, which was a huge undertaking as large areas had not been maintained for over seventy years. In 1998 the area immediately behind the main house became a ‘herb garden’. The following year the sheltered courtyard between the cottages was planted as a garden. Since then large parts of the gardens have undergone a spectacular transformation and have been restored to their former glory.
Finally we travel to Colwyn Bay where we visit Bodnant Garden situated above the River Conwy spanning some 80 acres looking across the valley towards Snowdonia. The garden has two parts – the upper garden around Bodnant Hall, which consists of the terraced gardens and informal lawns, and the lower garden – known as the “Dell”, formed by the River Hiraethlyn and containing the wild garden. Bodnant has a range of beautiful plants from all over the world, particularly China, North America, Europe and Japan, which are suited to the Welsh climate and soil. Care has been taken to ensure that they enhance each other and contribute to the general beauty of the garden throughout the seasons. At certain times of year if you are very lucky, you are able to see the stunning Laburnum arch in bloom, which has graced many a postcard and calendar.
We return to the hotel in time for dinner.
Following breakfast we depart for our visit to Plas Brondanw, at Croesor, Gwynedd. This Italianate garden was created by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who inherited the house from his father. On entering the cobbled stables courtyard the outside world seems to disappear. All you can hear is the sound of running water from the “fireboy” fountain and the bleating of sheep in the nearby fields. The courtyard is enclosed by clipped yew hedging punctuated by towering columns of Italian cypress. A narrow gap in these green walls is marked by a low panel of elegant ironwork and the view beyond takes your breath away. The ground falls steeply to the wide plain, rising again in the form of Moel Hebog, a mountain the bulk of which is accentuated by a single tall foreground pine. In the shade by the house grow billowing white-flowered Japanese anemones, purple aconites, astilbes, hostas and ferns. On the sunny side of the path are crocosmias, buddleja, cistus and Hypericum “Hidcote”. Cordyline australis adds a flavour of the Riviera.
We continue to Plas Tan y Bwlch, a spectacular Victorian garden nestling in dramatic mountain scenery within the Snowdonia National Park. Much of the garden as seen today was originally laid out for William Edward Oakeley by Head Gardener John Roberts in a period lasting from 1879 until 1912. Covering 13 acres, this ‘garden for all seasons’ hosts a magnificent collection of flowering rhododendrons and azaleas in spring and early summer which includes a 120-year-old rhododendron tunnel. Later, shrubs, roses and herbaceous plants growing in the warm south-facing sunny borders are a delight.
We later continue to Portmeirion, the famous Italianate village. Sir Clough Williams-Ellis acquired the site for Portmeirion in 1925 for less than £5,000 as it was then "a neglected wilderness - long abandoned by those romantics who had realised the unique appeal and possibilities of this favoured promontory but who had been carried away by their grandiose landscaping and 'improvement enthusiasm' into sorrowful bankruptcy." Over the course of 50 years the village was developed in a unique and wonderfully eccentric style, while at all times staying in harmony with the natural surroundings. Much work has been carried out in recent years to improve the gardens, enhancing the beauty of the architecture. We will take a walk in 'The Gwyllt', a display woodland where the major concentrations of Rhododendron, Azalea and Camellia were planted, with a wide variety of choice trees. Refreshments (not included) are available in the Portmeirion Hotel, the Town Hall
self-service restaurant and Cadwaladers Ice Cream Parlour.
We return to the hotel in time for dinner.
This morning, after breakfast, we will leave the hotel and head for home, breaking our journey with a visit to the gardens of Arley Hall, near Northwich. A pair of herbaceous borders was laid out here in 1846 and they survive to this day, beautifully maintained - one of the great garden sights of England. There are also old walled gardens with good mixed borders and a simple terraced walk above a ha-ha. Still in private hands, Arley Hall preserves the atmosphere of a garden kept for its own delight. Arrival is due back at our original departure point in the evening.