How to make gardens more appealing to children? Add grottoes.
Henry Oakley purchased the Dewstow Estate, near Newport, in 1893 and being a keen horticulturist, he commissioned London landscapers Pulham and Son to create a garden with subterrean elements. Without descendants, when Oakley died in 1940, the estate reverted to pastureland, the hidden aspects filled in and the gardens were forgotten until rediscovered by the current owners in 2000.
Steps were found, leading down , but to what? After excavating, a network of underground gardens was literally unearthed – grottoes. Gradually the gardens were renovated in the hope of recapturing their former glory. While above ground there are ponds, rock gardens and lawns, under the terraces, hidden out of sight, are man made caverns filled with shrubs and stepping stones over water features.
Who knew that digging in the garden could reveal such treasures? My kids loved exploring it.
The other side of Newport is the formal wall gardens of Tredegar House. Since the 17th century, the Morgan family lived in the rather odd mansion until it became a convent school, then it was passed on to the National Trust.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the then owner, Evan Morgan, a homosexual, married an actress, whose reputation had been damaged by scandals. Homosexuality was illegal and he needed a wife. The marriage of convenience didn’t last long. His wife died of drug abuse. His next wife, was a fleeing Russian princess, Olga. The marriage was annulled after 5 years and she ended up living on Guernsey. Further tragedy struck the family when his sister drowned, her body wasn’t discovered for 3 months and she was only recognisable by the necklace she wore. She too was a junkie. I associate drug addiction with inner cities, not the wealthy aristocracy, but of course, they had the money and time to fritter away their lives.
Evan had a menagerie, which included a boxing kangaroo and a parrot, whom he taught dirty words, so the man made up for his sad family life in many other ways. With the money gone and death duties pending, the house ended life as a family home and became a boarding school.
At least these eccentrics left us beautiful gardens.