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Gorgeous Gardens

Gardens

Roger Thomas takes a look at some of Wales's gorgeous gardens.

Green Wales takes on many shades. We associate the green, green grass of home with Wales thanks to Tom Jones (even though he wasn't singing about his home country at the time). For a different take on things there are Dylan Thomas's lyrical poems 'The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower' and 'Fern Hill'.

Whatever the interpretation, we can all agree that Wales, from north to south, is, well, pretty green. There are no big towns or conurbations between the South Wales Valleys and the north coast, just lots of wild, untamed country. And studded in and amongst those rugged hills and mountains like jewels are very different landscapes created by a mix of nature and nurture, by green fingers and unbridled imaginations.

Take Plas Brondanw, for example, situated in bare-chested Snowdonia scenery inland from Porthmadog. The gardens were the brainchild of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. His village of Portmeirion is famous worldwide (you can stay here in Rare Hideaways accommodation – see page 20). Yet many consider dramatic, romantic Plas Brondanw to be his greatest achievement.

Sir Clough's beloved gardens grew over the years and today are a mature testament to his talent for creative landscape design inspired by the Renaissance gardens of Italy.

In Portmeirion itself, when you venture beyond the village boundary you discover another amazing green space, an exotic, prolific collection of plants and specimen trees that thrive in the mild climate of the private sea-fringed peninsula. It's a delight to follow paths through this dense and sometimes tangled landscape to arrive unexpectedly at a South Seas-like sandy beach.

The Hafod Estate in the Ystwyth Valley near Devil's Bridge is another hidden green gem. One of Wales's earliest visitor attractions and currently being restored to its former glory, it's a stunning combination of natural and man-made features dating back two centuries when the fashion was for 'Picturesque' landscapes.

The National Trust in Wales cares for a number of outstanding – and very different – gardens. In the Conwy Valley there's Bodnant, a subtle fusion of manicured and wild spaces rich in horticultural detail and celebrated features, including the iconic Laburnum Arch. Powis Castle near Welshpool in Mid Wales is surrounded by grounds and gardens that include rare plants and even rarer formal Italianate terraces.

Colby Woodland Garden in the south, close to Tenby, occupies a tranquil Pembrokeshire valley overlooking the sea. With its flower-filled walled garden, woodland walks and sea views it's a delight to visit and explore. The Trust's latest acquisition, Dyffryn Gardens, lies in the Vale of Glamorgan near Cardiff. Don't look on Dyffryn as a single garden – it's a series of intimate garden 'rooms', each with its own distinct character, set amongst sweeping lawns.

Further west, in the verdant Vale of Tywi near Carmarthen, there's garden design on a grand and ambitious scale at the vast National Botanic Garden of Wales. You'll need a whole day to do this place justice (there are, at the last count, an amazing 8,000 different plant varieties here spread across 560 acres). Its centrepiece, the UFO-like Great Glasshouse, has climate zones and plants from around the world. California comes to Carmarthenshire in this futuristic, computer-controlled glass 'teardrop'.

For something completely different all you have to do is travel a few miles up the valley to Aberglasney. Intimate in size but boundless in appeal, 500-year-old Aberglasney is a rare survivor, a garden 'lost in time' that has been rediscovered thanks to an inspired restoration programme.

How many shades of green do you want?

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