Amgueddfa Blog: St Fagans Castle Gardens

Everlasting flowers in St. Fagans

Luciana Skidmore, 1 September 2022

The act of drying flowers dates back to ancient times. In the past flowers and herbs were dried and utilised for decorative, medicinal and culinary purposes. In Medieval times they were used to repel insects and even conceal unpleasant odours. Drying flowers became a popular hobby and preservation method in the Victorian period in England. For thousands of years flowers have had a symbolic meaning in rituals, passages, religious activities and artistic expression. Dried flowers are now more fashionable than ever due to their everlasting beauty and convenience.

This year thousands of flowers were grown in the gardens of St. Fagans for the purpose of drying. They have been naturally air-dried and beautiful flower arrangements were created by our garden trainees. These are now available to purchase in the Museum store. 

Besides their outstanding and long-lasting beauty dried flower arrangements offer many advantages. They can be used in weddings as bouquets, buttonholes, corsages and centrepieces. Because they are dried, they do not require water. They can be bought months in advance and stored with ease, releasing the pressure of having to care for fresh flowers on the big day. They can also be kept and preserved as memories of such a special day. 

They are perfect for home decoration or gifting.  You can create permanent floral arrangements that will enhance your home without the need to buy fresh flowers every week. Did you know that imported fresh flowers can have 10 times the carbon footprint of flowers grown in the UK? Imported cut flowers are flown thousands of miles in refrigerated airplane holds. When grown in colder climates they need heated greenhouses which generate higher carbon dioxide emissions. Not to mention the use of pesticides and fertilizers used in the production of perfect blooms. Fresh roses in February? Not so rosy for our planet.

The cut flowers grown in St. Fagans gardens have been grown from seeds sown in April in our unheated greenhouses. They were planted outside in May when the weather was warming up and have been growing happily and healthily producing beautiful blooms throughout Summer. No pesticides, fertilizers or harmful chemicals were used in this process. Besides being grown sustainably the flowers also provide a source of nectar for pollinators including bees and butterflies. It is always a great joy to admire the hive of activity in our cut flower bed. 

The flowers are harvested in dry weather when they are partially or fully open. Excess foliage is removed, small bunches of flowers are tied together and hung upside down on bamboo canes or strings in a dark and dry area with good air circulation. The flowers are left to dry for two to three weeks until completely dry. Floral arrangements including bouquets, posies, buttonholes, corsages, floral crowns and wreaths can be created with dried flowers. 

There is a vast number of plants that can be dried and used in floral arrangements. Drying flowers such as lavender and hydrangeas or grasses such as Stipa gigantea and Pampas grass is a great way to get started. The stars of our cut flower garden this year are: Limonium sinuatum, Craspedia globosa, Helipterum roseum, Achillea millefolium ‘Cassis’, Limonium suworowii ‘Rat Tail’ and the soft grass Panicum elegans ‘Sprinkles’. 

If you are coming to St. Fagans National Museum of History, please visit our magnificent gardens and take a look at the beautiful floral arrangements available in the Museum shop. 

 

 

Heritage 'Gardener's Questiontime' from St Fagans Gardens

Juliet Hodgkiss, 28 April 2020

Juliet Hodgkiss is Senior Garden Conservator for Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. She leads a dedicated team of gardeners and volunteers at St Fagans, who care for the gardens and their special heritage plant collections. In response to an increased interest our own gardens and a growing yearning for the beauty of some of our nations’ magnificent great gardens during lockdown, over the past few days we’ve been collecting your questions for Juliet about her work. Here are her answers in our ‘heritage’ version of Gardener’s Questiontime.

What's the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is being paid to work in such beautiful gardens.We have such a great variety of gardens, I’m doing something different every day. I also get to meet so many great people through my work - staff, volunteers, visitors, fellow gardeners and more.

Which of St Fagans' gardens is your favourite and why?

This time of year, my favourite part of the gardens is the area by the ponds. Throughout spring, the terrace banks are covered with spring bulbs; daffodils, bluebells and fritillaries, all above a carpet of anemones.  The magnificent Magnolia ‘Isca’ comes into flower first, followed by the cherries and the apples. The latest tree to flower is the Davidia with its giant white bracts, which sway in the breeze, giving its name of the handkerchief tree.​

​Which is the rarest plant in the collection?

One of the rarest plants we have is the Bardou Job rose, which was one of the original roses in the Rosery. This was thought to be extinct, then it was re-discovered by a group of rose enthusiasts growing in the old garden of the head warder on Alcatraz! They propagated from it, and sent us over 6 roses to grow in our gardens.

We also have a collection of heritage potatoes, donated to us by the Scottish Agricultural Research Agency. One of the potatoes we grow is the Lumper, the potato grown at the time of the Irish potato famine. These cannot be bought, so we have to grow them each year to maintain our collection.

Which is the most difficult plant you have to tackle - one that is hardest to maintain?

The most difficult plants to keep are the heritage potatoes. We have to grow these every year to maintain our collection, and most of these old varieties are very susceptible to blight, so require careful management to ensure a good crop.

Which is the most difficult plant to control?

The hardest plant to control is Oxalis, a persistent weed with a clover-like leaf, which multiplies by means of bulbils. These bulbils are spread when the soil is cultivated. It is virtually impossible to eradicate. After years spent trying to weed it out, we now keep it under control with ground cover planting and mulching.

Which is your favourite time of the year in the garden?

My favourite time of year is spring, with the spring bulbs, blossoming trees, the ferns unfurling their fronds, and all the plants in the garden bursting into growth. Everything looks fresh and new, and we gardeners are full of hope for a great year ahead in the garden.

Autumn leaves

Luciana Skidmore, Garden Trainee , 12 November 2019

With light and warm days of Summer being now a sweet memory we invite Autumn in with all its glory and grandeur. The leaves of the trees turning gold, orange and red create a feeling of warmth within comforting us and adapting our minds to the colder months ahead.

This year has been particularly different to me. I have been spending more days outdoors working in the garden, going for walks and being close to nature. This lifestyle change has been so beneficial both physically and mentally that I now welcome Autumn with different eyes. I remember when I used to dread this time of the year and would close myself into my cocoon thinking why don’t humans hibernate? But Autumn has so much to offer if we only challenge ourselves to spend more time in contact with nature.

The crispness of the air, the fallen leaves on the floor, the golden hues of the trees and the soft and delicate light can be only appreciated if we venture ourselves out of our comfort zones.

St Fagans Museum is a wonderful place to visit at this time of the year. The magnificent variety of trees changing colour and creating a crunchy carpet of leaves is the perfect invitation for a long walk.

There is one garden located on the terraced path near the ponds that was specifically designed with Autumn colours in mind. There you can find the bright red Euonymus alatus known as “Winged Spindle” or “Burning Bush”, the oriental Acer palmatum, the beautiful red berries of the Cotoneaster horizontalis and other amazing varieties in a beautiful display of colour. This garden is embraced by the gigantic Fern-leaved Beech (Fagus salvatica ‘Aspleniiflora’) one of the oldest trees planted in the Museum dating back to 1872.

If you enjoy gardening there are plenty of tasks that will keep you warm and busy at this time of the year. The joys of planting bulbs with great expectations for Spring or the meditative task of sweeping leaves and gathering them to make leaf mould. Also the perfect time for planting trees as they will have plenty of moisture available to get established.

So wrap up warm, get your wellies or winter boots on and explore the wonderful natural sites that bless the Welsh land.

Volunteer Blog: Lavandula Heaven

Luciana Skidmore, Volunteer , 26 September 2019

August is the most fragrant month here in St. Fagans gardens as we just finished trimming back and harvesting our lavender shrubs. We prune them at this time of the year to remove old flowers and give them a chance to grow new foliage before the Autumn/Winter months.

A well known favourite the lavender has a unique and distinguishable fragrance that is grown for ornamental, aromatic, medicinal and culinary purposes. They are sun loving plants and require a well drained soil.

Lavender is such a versatile plant suiting different garden styles and pleasing the most varied tastes. In St. Fagans you can find hundreds of plants of different species. You will see them in our herb garden, surrounding the fountain in the Dutch Garden, dotted amongst perennials in flower borders, as lavender hedges by the greenhouse and  complimenting the romantic style of the Rosery. A true aromatic heaven!

Lavandula is a genus of 47 known species, here you can find the well known Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, the beautiful white flowers of the Lavandula x intermedia ‘Edelweiss’ and one of my favourites the Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’. This particular species is a hybrid cross between the Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender) and the Lavandula latifolia (Portuguese lavender). They are larger, more robust and have longer stalks with bluish purple flower heads making them perfect for cut flowers.

Lavender is also a wonderful culinary ingredient. Most varieties can be used in cooking, however the Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ is more widely used. They taste great in cakes, scones, jams and as a tea. Add 1 tsp. of dried lavender flowers to a cup of water, let it steep for 10 minutes and enjoy! It’s perfect for calming the mind and helping you drift into dreamland.

When harvested most of our flowers are dried in our potting shed and used to create lavender bags, beautiful dried flower arrangements and other products that can be seasonally found in the Museum store. We also use them in our historic buildings as decoration and inside mattresses to repel insects as they would have done years ago.

VOLUNTEER BLOG: The Dutch Garden at St Fagans

Luciana Skidmore, Garden Trainee & Volunteer , 31 July 2019

If you stroll through St Fagans National Museum of History in August you will be exposed to an exuberant display of color, texture and fragrance at the Dutch Garden. Located at the parterre next to the Castle, this is one of the most beautiful historic gardens in Wales!

As you walk through the symmetrical paths you will find a variety of grasses such as the impressive gold Stipa gigantea, the bright green Sesleria autumnalis and the graceful Sporobulous heterolepis surrounding the Cherub statues. These all add texture and the dreamlike feel to the garden. There is also plenty of colour in a palette of purple, blue and red from flowers contrasted with the gold and bright green of grasses. You will notice the Verbena bonariensis with tall stems and clusters of purple miniature flowers, the vigorous blue Geranium Rosanne and the Helenium Moerheim Beauty with dark orange red flowers amongst a variety of Sedums and other cultivars.

I suggest that you visit this magnificent garden through different seasons of the year as it goes through a magical transformation.

This garden has changed a lot over the years. The most recent design was created by our talented Deputy Head Gardener Ceri Goring and maintained by a team of gifted gardeners and volunteers. This sustainable and drought tolerant garden has been carefully planned to withstand dry summer months, saving not only water but also the gardener’s hosing time.

If you walk around the fountain on a warm summer day your senses will be awakened by the fragrance of the lavender hedges, the buzzing of the pollinating bees, the tranquil sound of the cascading water and the impressive visual display of one of the most beautiful gardens in Wales.