Saturday 14 July 2018

Dyffryn Gardens

I love listening to people's conversations at the National Trust. If you believe the critics of the NT, you'd expect to hear one of two extremes: "Oh look, Andromeda, what a perfect example of the Hoity-Toit school of architecture - such fine joodlings and boodlings, wouldn't you say?" or at the other end of the scale: "What a load of boring old pictures - as soon as little Ronaldo has finished jumping on that antique sofa let's get a cup of tea, Barry, I'm parched".

But it's not like that at all. At Dyffryn Gardens today I overheard three different groups of people eagerly discussing the life and times of John Cory, the industrialist who bought the Dyffryn estate in 1891 and spent a considerable amount of his cash remodelling the house and gardens:

Dyffryn House

Let me try and share what I learned (from the guide book as well as the earwigging):

1. John Cory
  • He was born in Devon but his family moved to Cardiff in 1831
  • John expanded the family shipping business when his father retired - he established 80 coal depots around the world on major shipping lines, as well as running coal mines in the Rhondda and Neath valleys
  • He was a philanthropist, donating large funds to the Salvation Army and Dr. Barnardo's, among many others
  • He was a teetotaller and a big cheese in the local temperance movement
  • He bought Dyffryn in 1891 and employed Thomas Mawson to create the gardens

2. Reginald Cory 
  • John died in 1910 and his son Reginald continued the work in the gardens
  • He was a keen horticulturist and often went on plant hunting expeditions with Lawrence Johnston of Hidcote fame
  • He worked with Thomas Mawson and created the gardens we see today

3. The gardens
I'm not going to mention the heatwave in this post, because in two weeks' time it'll be pouring with rain and we'll all have forgotten the sensation of crunchy grass under our feet (it's true though, people of the future, it's all true). 

But I will say that I have NO CLUE how the staff at Dyffryn are managing to keep at least 25 different gardens alive without any rain (although judging by my eavesdropping, they are getting asked the question about 40 times a day).

The Pompeian Garden was one of my favourites:

Pompeii Dyffryn

As was the Reflecting Pool:

Reflecting Pool Dyffryn

And having finished with the smaller enclosed gardens, I wandered out onto the Great Lawn and was very impressed with the views: 

great lawn dyffryn

There's a lot more - lavender gardens, an arboretum, a rose garden, a rockery, a fernery - if you like your gardens, you're in for a treat at Dyffryn.

4. The house
The house was the big surprise for me today. I wasn't expecting it to be open to the public at all - it turned out I had an out-of-date guide book - but you are indeed allowed inside, and a lot of the rooms are accessible.

It's a work in progress, so some rooms are empty, but there's enough to give you a vague idea of how the Corys lived: 
Oak room Dyffryn
The Oak Room - I can confirm it contains a lot of oak
The house was sold in 1936 when John's daughter, Florence, died and it became a conference and training centre. Dyffryn House is like Croome, in that someone tried to turn the place into a hotel at some point and did a load of damage that the Trust is now having to fix. 

5. The Dyffryn scone
Let's move on, as I have bad news and I want to get it over with. The Dyffryn scone today was not the best. It felt squidgy when I picked it up, which usually means it has been stored in a container and/or microwaved. It managed to taste both damp and dry at the same time - I would be very surprised if it was fresh. But the tea room itself was very nice...

Dyffryn scone

..or so I thought. I've been caught out before by properties with multiple tea rooms, so I was extremely proud of myself for checking the map in advance of my visit. But the out-of-date guide book let me down again - I finished my scone and walked around to the back of the house, only to find another cafe allowing people to drink their tea on the terrace as if they owned the gaff - which is, let's face it, my most favourite thing in the world. 

So if you go to Dyffryn, hang fire until you get to the house and have your tea on the terrace like a teetotal toff:

Dyffryn south front

Dyffryn Gardens (and House): 5 out of 5
Scone: 3.5 out of 5
Location of tea room if you can be patient: 5 out of 5

Other properties we've been to in Wales: Aberdulais Tin WorksChirk CastleErddigPenrhyn CastlePlas NewyddPowis CastleTredegar House