St. Fagan's Castle is a late 16th century manor house on the outskirts of Cardiff. It was given to the people of Wales by the Earl of Plymouth. In 1947 St. Fagan's became part of Amgueddfa Cymru and since then has gone on to become one of the most popular heritage attractions in Wales.
Part of its attraction lies in the beautiful grounds surrounding the castle, including a spectacular rose garden, the Rosary. After years of neglect, a major redesign and restoration programme was undertaken to return the Rosary to its former glory.
The Design of 1899
Old photographs showed a triangular, walled garden. This had been started in 1899 to a plan drawn up by the new head gardener, Hugh Pettigrew (1871—1947), who had trained at Kew.
A Handlist of Roses from 1904
The Rosary's design was based around a series of circles and featured a moat, pergolas, trellises and interconnecting pathways. 19 flower beds were planted with 124 different varieties of rose. It was possible to recreate the original layout from a handlist of roses drawn up by Pettigrew in 1904.
The restoration gave the opportunity for some experimental archaeology — where the moat had once been, tile work was discovered about 18" (45cm) below the soil, showing what would have been the original bed of the canal.
It became apparent that four small areas of the original canal had not been destroyed, as they lay beneath the new 1950 turf pathways. Enough of the foundations of the moat walls also remained to confirm that they too had been tiled, in red.
Replanting the Rose Beds
Rose suppliers had to be found and tracking down some varieties proved difficult. Some of the successful finds were to prove susceptible to mildew and rust. However, this showed the sort of difficulties that must have been around at the turn of the century too.
The perfume of many of the old varieties made it worthwhile however. With the first phase complete, Pettigrew's 1899 design lives on and the work continues — the search goes on for a white tea-rose named 'Mrs Stephen Treseder', an old variety of rose believed to have been developed in Cardiff at Treseder's Nurseries.