Our visit last weekend to Dyffryn Gardens, near Cardiff, wasn’t just about the autumn colours and the trees; although wandering the grassy paths that meander through the arboretum, sighing over the blazes of red and yellow that lit up the afternoon despite the overcast skies above, you could be forgiven for thinking that they were reason enough.
The first Dyffryn House was built in the 18th century, along with some rudimentary landscaping, although the history of the estate itself can be traced back to the 7th century. In the 19th century, John Cory bought the estate and constructed the house that now stands, then commissioning Thomas Mawson to develop the grounds in keeping with the manor.
It was Reginald Cory, one of John Cory’s sons and a notable figure in the Royal Horticultural Society, who later inherited the Dyffryn estate and continued to build the gardens; he was a plantsman, and brought back specimens from several plant-finding expeditions.
Around the central lawns, with their water features and statuary, are a number of small garden rooms, mostly divided by neatly clipped hedges of yew. One room is a Pompeian Garden, complete with columns, where we witnessed some good friends get married a few years ago – our first visit to these gardens.
The Dyffryn estate is now owned by the local council, and restoration is ongoing; the last few years has seen some of these garden rooms restored, with others in progress, along with two walled gardens and the rebuilding of a lost glasshouse.
Arches coax visitors through the hedges between rooms, and frame the view beyond.
The borders in autumn are a rich tapestry of colours and textures; still holding interest despite a dull day.
Stands of waning perennials catch the attention with their architectural seedheads.
Their shades of umber and burnt sienna are accentuated by clever planting, here framed against billows of white and the dark backdrop of the yew.
In the wilder part of the garden, hardy geraniums and periwinkles scramble at the feet of the trees, while on the edge of the arboretum, clumps of windblown grasses in muted tones echo the silhouettes behind.
On our visit, the kitchen garden (and bothies) were open and inviting.
The kitchen gardens were naturally running out of steam, with many areas lying fallow, their crops spent, but there were still some wonderful displays, particularly from the brassicas: so many vibrant types of kale.
There were young espaliered and fan-trained fruit trees basking against the walls, rows of asparagus peas bejewelled with small crimson flowers, and a parade of artichokes still standing.
Many bedding plants continued to bloom around the edges of the empty beds; mainly nasturtiums and snapdragons in a riot of colours. New winter lettuces were neatly planted in grids and a bed of cutting flowers spilled onto the path on the way to the restored display glasshouses, which were re-opened this summer.
As we made our way back towards the entrance, we stopped to admire a bed of bulrushes growing in a small pond, where a dragonfly darted between the elegant stems. Young white-barked birch trees were dotted around the slope of a small hill nearby, and against one of these, we found a bench with a dedication that caught my eye.
I wonder who my namesake was, and her connection to these gardens, which shone on an otherwise dull day. I should like to visit again, to witness other seasons and the restoration progress; another garden for the wishlist.