Thursday, June 05, 2014

Come into the Garden, Maud

I’ve just spent a few days in the Welsh borders where I visited Powis Castle near Welshpool. I’d heard of its wonderful Baroque gardens and had always wanted to see them. 

Overview of Powis Castle, Wales
The castle, perched on top of a hill in a commanding position, was originally built in about 1200, but it has undergone many changes as the need for fortification gradually gave way to more gracious living in the 17th century. An Italian or French style garden was a must: water features, statuary, terraces, stairs leading down to new vistas and so on.

View from the top, looking down.

Work began in the 1670s, and the rock on which the castle stands was hewn into a series of spectacular garden terraces. Heaven knows how they did it; the work force alone must have been huge. The result is the best remaining example of a Baroque garden in the UK.  Some of the water features have disappeared but everything else is there.

Lead statue of a piper

My first photograph gives the overall view and you can see the various terraces. The second photograph was taken from the top. Looking down to the terrace beneath, you can see some delightful lead statues of rustic figures - a shepherdess, a piper and so on – standing along the balustrade. Far below, to the left, you can see a formal garden in the Dutch style, with severely-clipped yew hedges and a fountain.

Stairs down to the second terrace

Coming down a level via the attractive stairs with terracotta basket pots filled with geraniums, you arrive on the lead statues terrace. Here the view of the Welsh hills is spectacular, as you can see. From this vantage point, the formal garden has disappeared. The small statue of the piper shows the love of rustic informality typical of the period – we might almost be in Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon.

Attractive terracotta pot – and stupendous view

The last photo is of the formal garden at ground level. The view of the hills has disappeared, not only because we are now at ground level but also because of the thick yew hedges. There is also a fountain, one of the few water features to survive. The 18th century was a class-conscious age and the personal privacy of the garden’s visitors was paramount. I’m quite sure that any gardener would scuttle out of sight if my lord or my lady appeared.

The formal garden at ground level

As you descend the various levels, there is also an orangerie and various arbours where a young gentleman might converse with a lady in reasonable privacy. It struck me that any young and nimble lady or gentleman could probably get out of sight of a tiresome chaperone in a matter of minutes!

Elizabeth Hawksley


Jane Jackson said...

I so enjoyed your post, Elizabeth. The view in every photo made me think, 'What if?' Visual images are a wonderful prod to a writer's imagination. When a property has lasted through so many generations of births, marriages, deaths and inheritances it contains countless stories all waiting to be told.

Jane Jackson

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Thank you for your comment, Jane. I do agree about the 'What if?' factor - especially when I saw a curtain of wisteria almost covering a conveniently secluded space.

And it struck me that a nimble gentleman might be able to race along one of the terraces, shoot down the stairs, and waylay the lady of his choice before the chaperone appeared!

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

What a fabulous place, Elizabeth. I am sure it has given you plenty of inspiration for future novels.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

It's wonderful, isn't it, Melinda/Sarah? Mind you, the weather helped!

I'm sure you are equally inspired by your neck of the woods, with the moors so near - all that untamed wildness!

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

I certainly am - my next Sarah Mallory romance is set here :-). Thanks for posting this article, Elizabeth, I have been a National Trust member for years and their properties always inspire me.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I'm not a National Trust member, but I do belong to the National Art Collection Fund, which usually gets me into National Trust properties, which is great. It also gets me into numerous art galleries and museums in London and elsewhere, so I reckon it's really good value - and you're helping to save important pictures, furniture and objets d'art for the nation, too.

Whenever I see the sexy portrait of John Donne in the National Portrait Gallery, I think: I helped to buy that - even if only a square millimetre of it!

Anonymous said...

I so enjoyed the blog, and the photos. They reminded me of happy visits to Powys Castle which is lovely in all seasons and weathers but perhaps particularly in the beautiful weather you had. I await a fantastic novel inspired by your visit!