Seeing the garden outside descend into its winter slumber with soggy, decaying foliage and bare earth appearing as plants die back can make me feel a bit glum but I know I appreciate spring all the more for its vibrancy and zingyness because I’ve gone through the grey and damp of winter. It’s hard though, when I’m working on something that needs me to write about summer and the abundance on my plot, to feel the inspiration when I’m typing wearing fingerless mittens, a massive cardigan and slipper boots whilst sat in front of my SAD lamp. That’s when I turn to my store of photos for inspiration. They’re a reminder that winter will pass even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.
The other day I came across some photos of a visit we made to Powis Castle in mid-Wales a couple of years ago. It was somewhere we had wanted to visit for a while and seeing as it was Wellyman’s birthday we thought we’d make the journey. Now managed by the National Trust, the castle and its gardens are set in a stunning location, The medieval castle, distinctively built from red stone, is perched high on the edge of a ridge and to one side gardens tumble down in a series of terraces. The gardens have a strong influence of Italianate and French design and certainly on a warm sunny day in June it was easy to think we were somewhere in Europe rather than the Welsh borders. Enormous dark green clipped yews cascaded over the terraced gardens.
The scale of everything was really quite something. The castle with its position on the edge of the cliff looms over the garden. When the gardens were designed in the 1680s by William Winde, who had also created Cliveden in Buckinghamshire, he built terraces and herbaceous borders on a scale that matched the grandeur of the castle. The top terrace has deep borders either side of a path with impressive planting and this is replicated on the terrace below. Statues and enormous pots compliment the planting, again giving the place a continental air. The terraces led down to an orangery packed full of Clivias or Kaffir Lilies. These tender plants from South Africa were named after Lady Charlotte Florentina Clive, the granddaughter of Robert Clive, otherwise known as Clive of India. Unfortunately not in flower for our visit it must like a spectacular sight when they are in bloom.
The shelter from the castle and the terracing has created a micro climate which allows an impressive array of plants to be grown. They have a good selection of Abutilons, an exotic plant, which takes you by surprise when you see it thriving here in mid Wales. There are some beautiful Salvias, Ceanothus and a good selection of Roses.
This probably isn’t the best garden to visit if you have mobility problems as there are plenty of steps which are quite steep in places. The lower garden was originally a kitchen garden but became a more informal flower garden at the beginning of the 20th century. Packed with Peonies and Alliums when we visited, you also get some stunning views back towards the castle. From this lower garden it’s possible to walk through a woodland area created in the 19th century and planted with rhododendrons back towards the castle where there is the opportunity to purchase a plant or two from the small plant nursery. Generally, I’m disappointed with the selection of plants on offer at these places. So often the plants for sale are those ubiquitous varieties you can find anywhere not the unusual plants you’ve spent the day admiring but here at Powis Castle there was an excellent choice and the blackcurrant Salvia particularly attracted my attention. Although with nowhere to overwinter it I resisted the temptation.
Powis Castle is admittedly a little off the beaten track, although this has its advantages as there were no Sissinghurst style hoards to contend with, but it is definitely worth a visit with its stunning setting, gorgeous plants and a style of garden design not often seen in the UK.
For more information about Powis Castle take a look at the National Trust’s website.
If you want to see what I get up during winter take a look at my blog post over at Sarah Raven’s blog Garlic and Sapphire.