Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Powis Castle & Garden

The time finally arrived last weekend for a refreshing and much needed getaway, and on this occasion it included a visit to Powis Castle near Welshpool. I didn’t want to write a general review of the garden as this would be just a.n.other floating about amongst a sea of them. The visit so refreshed my attitude towards garden visiting that I wanted to
add a post about the experience along with a mention of a very simple thing that made the garden work for me; interpretation.

I'd visited the garden at Powis once before to meet with the previous head gardener Peter Hall. It had been a business visit arranged whilst I worked at Dunster Castle as head gardener a handful of years ago. The late Bill Malecki, then working as gardens advisor to the National Trust had strongly suggested I visit Powis on account of its similarities with Dunster. I’d quickly add that it is like Dunster – & then some!
South Terrace - Dunster Castle

Parkland approach to Dunster Castle

The trip back then flew by all too soon yet left me with many memories, particularly of the scale of the gardens, the time investments that were being made there & the general approach taken towards management. Peter had searched out aspects of Powis that were similar to Dunster – the Arbutus on the terrace being one of them. I didn’t manage to visit the castle interiors back then, so this was something I wanted to achieve this time, along with more time to study the gardens - & tea rooms!

Courtyard - Powis Castle, National Trust

Where the gardens are concerned I don’t really wish to write about the plants, which were looking vibrant with lots of autumn colour left in them. Neither do I need to write about the quality of the gardening; which was right on the money. I wish rather to mention the effect the garden had in terms of refreshing my attitude & uplifting my eyes to the enjoyment that can be found in garden visiting. Admittedly, even for a gardener I was becoming quite bored with what usual gardens have to offer; the mist had well & truly descended so to speak. I’d frequently visited other gardens & left feeling that it is all getting just too traditional & ‘safe’- maybe I’ve spent too much time visiting historic gardens…

Autumn begins along the terraced gardens at Powis
My Powis Castle visit did renew my focus on plants, which are after all the lifeblood of my career, the planting & garden management is exceptional. In addition to this, I felt the property had triumphed through the use of subtle interpretation; which helped to connect me with the gardens history, without pulling me in too deep. It was just enough to provide the property & the garden with a real sense of worth & substance. This was achieved with the simple addition of interpretation boards showing images of past gardeners. I was able to see where flat cap & waistcoat wearing gardeners once toiled & posed for photographs. I was able to see where men walked atop neatly clipped Yew hedges, & stood proud next to their impressive herbaceous borders. Above all I was able to imagine another time frame where people in my trade spent real time.

It is worth saying that the boards were really nicely positioned by not getting in the way of those ideal photo opportunities; which can be a sore point for those seeking that perfect shot. They weren’t covered by lots of text, just a simple date which was enough. Each panel showed an early sepia style photograph which had once been taken in that particular area of the garden.

My flat cap, if I possessed one, goes off to the team who produce these gardens today, they are stunningly beautiful & very different in their form from most other gardens. They are packed full of well looked after plants, lawns & garden features, where quality horticulture underpins the entire offering. 
I’d also add, that a factor which alone makes the garden worth visiting is the sense of drama, due in no small measure to the historic terracing across the hillside. It is breathtaking to think of the ambition & foresight of earlier owners who dug deep to create those walks, terraces and borders – very impressive!

I'd encourage anyone with the slightest interest in gardens or history to visit, along with those who are just interested in a good day out. I haven't touched upon the luxurious & atmospheric mansion, which took my breath away as we moved through the rooms - all of a very high standard of construction & presentation. I haven't mentioned the parkland where the deer strolled about amongst veteran trees to welcome our early arrival. Neither have I written about the peacocks who plodded about at leisure, the amazing views from such a dominant position, or the Strawberry Cheesecake which Ruth & I demolished in the restaurant! I think by now you'll pick up that I was more than a little impressed with the whole property! I'll finish with a handful of photo's which try to capture those key scenes. Enjoy!

Thanks Ruth - I had a lovely weekend by the way ;-) xx

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