Nestling in the verdant Tywi Valley in Carmarthenshire is one of Wales’ greatest horticultural treasures, Aberglasney House and Gardens.
A Grade II listed house surrounded by formal and informal gardens, and dating back to pre-Tudor times, Aberglasney’s reputation is flying high, having been voted among the top 10 UK formal gardens by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).
A jewel of a compact garden, Aberglasney is full of surprises at every turn, cleverly planted with many rare and unusual cultivars, for year-round enjoyment. It is also home to one of the only Medieval cloister gardens in the world and is a destination for a growing band of loyal visitors.
Aberglasney is a renowned RHS training centre, continually producing the next generation of young talented horticulturalists. To step into Aberglasney is to walk along the garden paths graced by historical figures. Owners have included a Knight of King Henry VIII, William Ap Thomas, as well as leading Welsh bishops and the poet John Dyer.
The gardens could have been lost forever – by the 1990s Aberglasney had fallen into dereliction. They were saved in 1995 by American horticulturist and benefactor, the late Frank Cabot, who founded the Aberglasney Restoration Trust which today looks after the gardens.
Meet the Head Gardener
The Scene caught up with Joseph Atkin, Aberglasney Director and Head Gardener. We joined the Burry Port born, Kew Gardenstrained horticulturist for a tour and a bite to eat at the tearooms which, for 364 days a year, serve dishes featuring produce grown in the gardens.
Since you took over in 2011, how important to Welsh heritage, culture and tourism do you think Aberglasney Gardens has become?
JA: “Aberglasney is one of the oldest gardens in the UK and has many unique features like the cloister gardens. It also has a rich history that spans well over 600 years so it’s a pretty important piece of Welsh heritage.”
“As we have been named one of the top ten formal gardens in the UK by the RHS, and as an internationally renowned garden, I feel it is a big contributor to the Welsh tourism offering.”
Is there a grand plan, an ultimate vision for the gardens, or has the development been an organic one?
JA: “Generally it has been an organic development, but it is dictated by the requirements of the restoration. Today the whole site is in operation and open to the public. However, there are two large and exciting restoration projects still to be completed. The last pieces in the jigsaw, so to speak.”
The projects include a newly acquired 11-acre woodland, doubling the size of the gardens, which will become an arboretum with Himalayan tree species, inspired by Joseph’s worldwide plant collecting trips.
A major glasshouse restoration which will dramatically envelop the tearooms is also in the offing, complementing the existing tropically planted atrium, which spans the central quadrangle of the house.
Gardening on this scale is notoriously labour intensive. In addition, there are the tearooms, shop and two luxury holiday cottages in the heart of the gardens to maintain.
We asked Joseph about the people to thank for rescuing and rejuvenating Aberglasney Gardens?
JA: “There are a huge number of people who can be proud of their contribution to Aberglasney. There have been many benefactors, trustees, staff, volunteers, students and all the people who support Aberglasney by visiting.”
What financial support do you need to maintain and develop Aberglasney Gardens; how can people help?
JA: “We are proudly self-funding at an operational level and financially sustainable and we do gain funding for capital projects on occasion.”
“The ongoing support of visitors both locally and further afield is essential. Every penny spent at Aberglasney goes back into the cause, which is nice. If we are to complete some of the bigger projects then we would need grant aid or large donations.”
“I think the most important thing is that people continue to visit and enjoy the gardens. As long as Aberglasney is sustainable it will continue to grow and flourish. Our visitors (around 35,000 a year) and members are the main sources of support, although we have many other fundraising activities such as weddings, events, a shop and tearooms. The heritage lottery fund and local authority grants have helped in recent years with capital projects.”
What ultimately are you aiming to achieve with Aberglasney?
JA: “We want to make Aberglasney one of the best small gardens in the world. It is well on the way to being that. We have a very exciting new development which is a woodland we have recently purchased. The area is not open to the public yet but will soon be developed, making the visitor experience twice the size it currently is.”
How has the event and wedding side of the facility gone?
JA: “Both do well for us, but it is the weddings that are showing the most growth. We are booked ahead for two years. We do not allow weddings to interfere in any way with our visitor experience, so events only take place after the gardens have closed to the public.”
Can we help you?
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