The rugged mountains and coastline of North Wales attract many…
I don’t know about you, but as far as I am concerned, I prefer châteaus and stately homes to fortresses and castles. I find them and their interior ambience more interesting and appealing. The majority of the castles remind me of wars and are full of canons and the armour of knights and the whole building is stern and foreboding. However, sometimes they are not what they seem and that was exactly the case with Powis Castle in North Wales. At first glance it seems to be a huge fortress, but looking at its inside and gardens, it has so much more to offer. On this occasion I would like to focus on the garden to show you what makes it really special. Let me show you, why!
Behind the building there is a multi-layered garden which was built in the 1680 in the Baroque style. Gardens of this era are also called French gardens (jardin à la française), or geometrical gardens (think about Versailles) where the garden is based on symmetry, and all plants are trimmed to a formal, geometrical shapes. Very typical elements are “parterre”, a planting bed, usually square or rectangular, “broderie”, a curling decorative pattern within the parterre, “bosquet”, a small group of trees, “allé”, paths often lined with trees, “topiary”, trees or bushes trimmed to ornamental shapes and “patte d’oie”, three or five paths or allés spread outwards from a single point. The garden is also animated with sculptures, fountains, maze, tea house, pavilions and open air theatres.
So this was the time when the yew trees at Powis were planted and they were trimmed to an obelisk or cone shape. 100 years later, however, a completely new garden design appeared in England: the English landscape garden. This replaced the formal symmetry of the baroque garden and represented an ideal view of nature. The English garden usually includes a pond or lake, sweeps of gently rolling lawns, groves of trees, Gothic ruins and follies, paths and pavilions. According to this, the yew trees were not trimmed anymore and they could have a natural look. But if you think about it, these yew trees at Powis are 350 years old and need maintenance. So that the sunshine can reach the bottom of the tree, gardeners trim them accordingly. Apparently, it takes 3 months to trim the 14m high trees every year and they use a cherry-picker to reach the top.
The multi-layered terraces were designed on the basis of the castle in St Germain-en Laye, France in Italianate style. It has three levels: Top Terrace, the Aviary Terrace and the Orangery Terrace. From here the pathway leads you to the Lower Terrace, the Western Bank and to the Great Lawn. The latter is surrounded by woodlands, however, to the left of the lawn is the formal garden and orchard, created in the early 20th century.
02. Patagonian foot
Being an English landscape garden, it is inevitable to have quirky things in it. There is a sundial, which we know is essential in England, a romantic lake and a pet cemetery, just like the one in Balmoral. But the quirkiest of all, is a huge, stone Patagonian Foot by Vincent Woropay from 1987. No idea what it has to do with the medieval castle or the garden, but it is certainly a refreshing quirk to a Welsh national emblem. (We thought it was to stamp on the English!) 🙂
03. Plunge pool
Interestingly, there is a plunge pool in the garden as well, with a fantastic view of the castle. It was built around 1770 and Clive of India advised the 1st Earl, Henry Arthur that exercising followed by a plunge into cold water was beneficial for his health. Using a plunge pool in the open air also enabled the user to enjoy the fresh air and the landscape. Hm… I am not sure I would want a cold bath in the middle of the winter no matter how beautiful the view is…
What is a Wyvern in the first place? Well, I must admit, I had absolutely no idea, until I was intrigued why the dragons on the top of the gates have a severed hand in their mouths.
I probably would be banned from Wales for calling these creatures dragons because they are not! In heraldry they differentiate between a dragon and a wyvern. The latter include “basilisks” (legendary reptile supposed be a serpent king who can kill with a solitary glance, mixture of a cock, dragon and lizard), “hydras” (many-headed serpent) and wyverns. While dragons always have 4, scaled, webbed legs with claws and often wear spurs, wyverns have two eagle-like legs. Dragons have long, scaled fish-like tails, bat-wings, crocodile or lizard heads with ears and forked tongue, wyverns, however have bat-wings, a long tail, one lizard-like head, forked tongue and its body is scaled. Dragons are able to blow fire, wyverns are unable. They are said to be more dangerous and less magical and less intelligent. Dragons often have the ability to speak but wyverns cannot.
Why does it have a severed hand in its mouth?
Apparently there are a few theories, but there is one which I find extremely bizarre. According to legend, the seven sons of the Celtic king, Miledh of Esbain went to conquer Ireland and they had an agreement between them, according to whosoevers hand touched the soil of the islands first, will become the ruler of the new land. When the boat approached the land, one of the sons cut off his own hand with a sword and threw it on the island to become the ruler. If the story is true, I wonder which of his hands were stronger. I am right handed and I would struggle to throw anything with my left hand further than a few meters. Nevertheless, it has to be mentioned that the symbol of a right hand appears in a few coat of arms, such as in the province of Ulster and in the flag of Northern Ireland.
In the film Love Actually, before Rowan Atkinson puts candies, dried lavender and a cinnamon stick (as part of a Christmas gift wrap) into a plastic bag along with a necklace in a box, he says:
This is so much more than a bag.
This is how I feel about Powis:
This is so much more than a Castle.