Posted by: marymarthatours | September 22, 2010

Aberglasney, A Garden Lost in Time

“Lost in time” is the description of the amazing garden at Aberglasney in Wales, now re-emerging on the garden travel scene. I first saw Aberglasney Garden in 2000, when my husband and I spent a week in Wales. We were staying at a country house hotel near Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire.

Each day we would head off in a different direction for a day of exploring. Certain places were on our “must-see” list, e.g. Dinefwr Castle and the National Botanic Garden. Some of our stops were at places we had heard or read about; and sometimes we just serendipitously found a wonderful location because it was on our route. Such was our discovery of Aberglasney.

We had started off in a southwesterly direction heading for the National Botanic Garden. Our first stop was at Talley Abbey, now a lovely ruin with a long history. Continuing south from there we were making for Dryslwyn Castle when we came upon a sign.

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I had never heard of Aberglasney; it hadn’t appeared in my research at all. We did the obvious thing — we turned in.

Our first view of the house wasn’t impressive. A big, Georgian style house with a portico, but looking kind of shabby and sad. Later we learned more of its history. The present house, which dates from 1603, has seen many alterations and additions. Before 1600, the property, then called Llys Wen, was owned by 10 generations of the Thomas family. But from 1600 on, there were major changes in ownership each century followed by bursts of enhancement of the property, growing debt and discouragement, and finally the sale of the property to a new family. This pattern of new ownership, improvement, then financial crisis and sale, came to an end in the 1950’s. By the 1970’s, the house and gardens had been the target of theft (the then owners tried to sell off the front portico) and vandalism. Nature, too, was at work, destroying the fabric of the building and smothering the gardens in weeds.

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The house front before 1994, as we saw it in 2000, and today (before and after photos by permission of Aberglasney)

Fortunately, in 1995 the property was acquired by the Aberglasney Restoration Trust. Archeological work began to uncover the history of the property and the gardens. When we arrived for our impromptu visit in 2000, the property had been open to the public for only a year. By then, the gardens at Aberglasney had been cleared of unwanted vegetation and replanting was well under way. Even in this early stage of restoration, it was possible to see that these gardens were something special. Close to the house are a series of walled gardens, the most important of which is the Cloister Garden dating from late Elizabeth/early Jacobite times and surrounded by an extremely rare parapet walkway.

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Cloister garden with parapet walk (photo used by permission of Aberglasney)

The other walled gardens include the Upper Walled Garden (newly designed by Penelope Hobhouse), the Kitchen Garden, and the Pool Garden. And beyond these formal gardens, one can wander the pathways through more informal wooded areas.

As much as I was delighted with the re-established gardens, I was even more intrigued by the stone structure being revealed outside the garden walls. Known by recent owners of Aberglasney as a folly (an ornamental structure built to look old), archeologists have now determined that the structure may be a gatehouse built about 1600. An intricately paved carriage-way, found many feet below the accumulation of soil and debris under the arch, supports this early date.

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Gatehouse being dug out in 2000 and with paved carriage-way today (rt photo used by permission of Aberglasney)

My travel diary for September 19, 2000, says it all. “Martha would love this place — a combination of archeology and gardening, as they work to uncover and reconstruct the former gardens”. If Martha and I ever get the chance to lead a group to Wales, Aberglasney will be at the top of the list of gardens to visit.

(by Mary)

With thanks to Graham Rankin, Director of Operations at Aberglasney, for permission to use photos from the Aberglasney website: www.aberglasney.org

For additional pictures and information see the following books:

A Garden Lost in Time, Penny David, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999

The Flowering of Aberglasney, Graham Rankin, 2009

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