Yesterday I toured Monmouthshire and visited three gardens in one day – Dewstow, Veddw and Wyndcliffe. The first place I went to was Dewstow Gardens, which has a fascinating history. The gardens were built around 1895 and were buried just after World War II then rediscovered in 2000 – just fifteen years ago.
View of the Rock Garden and Tropical House
In 1893, Henry Oakley purchased the ancient Dewstow Estate, managing it until he died. A keen horticulturist and wealthy bachelor, Oakley embarked on the creation of a truly ambitious and unique garden in his grounds. Work began on the transformation in the late 19th century, after Oakley commissioned James Pulham & Son, the eminent family of Victorian and Edwardian landscape artists who specialised in the construction of picturesque rock gardens, ferneries, follies and grottoes. While there are many examples of the Pulham’s work in stately homes across the UK, Dewstow is unique in its scale and subterranean focus.
The Square Garden
With no descendents the land passed from Oakley at his death in 1940. During World War II the garden was filled in and the land reverted to working pastureland. The vast majority of the private gardens were buried or destroyed and, as no records of their existence remained, they were forgotten until the land was purchased by the Harris family in 2000.
The discovery of steps leading underground aroused curiosity, other evidence of the garden was then found which prompted further investigation. Subsequent excavation has revealed far more than was ever imagined.
Grills in the lawn, sign of the tunnels underground
Dewstow is a Grade I listed garden, and has been found to be one of the most significant examples of Pulham’s landscape gardens. The renovation of the grounds to their original glory has been an ongoing undertaking, as the records of both the Oakley and Pulham families were destroyed there is very little information on the original gardens. Their reconstruction is an intricate historical and horticultural puzzle.
The gardens contain many ponds and rills but interestingly a labyrinth of underground grottoes, tunnels and sunken ferneries. The rock gardens are made up of a mixture of real stone and faced stone using various types of Pulhamite.
The grottoes in particular grabbed my attention, I couldn’t get over how similar they were to others I had seen in places such as Benington Lordship, Waddesdon Manor, RHS Garden Wisley, etc. It all made sense when I realised they had been created by the same landscapers, James Pulham & Son.
Ceiling of one of the tunnels
The Rock Garden was a sun trap, perfect for housing plants from temperate regions of the world like Cistus crispus, Brachyglottis, Cupressus sempervirens, Santolina chamaecyparissus and Rosmarinus officinalis to name a few – it was like being back in Portugal.
View of the Rock Garden and Tropical House
The water running through the rockery gave a very tranquil feel, I couldn’t resist dipping my toes in the pond when crossing the stepping stones – one way to cool down! The Tropical House was in the same area, access to it was via the Fern and Tufa Grottoes. A small selection of tropical plants like various species of palms and hibiscus were used in the planting.
Inside the Tropical House
In the grotto Pellaea rotundifolia, a fern endemic to New Zealand, caught my eye, I liked the way its leaves were arranged. It was weird walking underground from one grotto to the other, seeing shafts of light penetrating through from the world above.
The Lion Grotto
The Lion Grotto was my favourite, it had an exotic, more flamboyant feel in the construction and overall appearance than the others. More unusual palms, ferns, vines and fuchsias were used in the planting, the water features were more prominent too.
A small waterfall ran into three main separate ponds, the shade provided by a canopy of mature trees was welcome on such a hot day. An old horse chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum) had succumbed to the rampant disease, even so it was still an impressive specimen.
Horse chestnut tree
View downstream from the waterfall
A border filled with pink and white hydrangeas was at its peak of flowering, an annual bed also with a pink and white colour scheme was incredibly effective. Cleomes, dahlias, snapdragons, cosmos and begonias had been used, the blend of texture, height and colour was spot on.
I liked the way ornamental grasses and herbs were planted close to pathways and steps throughout the garden, scent was released as you brushed past and the grass was playfully tactile against bare skin.
More dahlia close-ups
Dewstow captured my imagination, the mystery surrounding it was intoxicating. Add to that the variety of plants and grottoes and tunnels to explore and you have a winning combination.
After a quick coffee it was time to head onto the next garden of the day, Veddw – watch this space! 😉