The Clyne Gardens
In 1791 ‘Woodlands’ was built on land which is today a residential area of Swansea. The estate was purchased by a Major General George Warde in 1800. He added castellations to the house on the site and named it ‘Woodlands Castle’.
William Vivian, a millionaire, purchased it in 1860 and called it ‘Clyne Castle’. He spent much time and money on it, proud of his affluent status. One of two Monterey Cypress trees he planted in front of the castle is the tallest recorded one in Britain. After he died, his nephew Algernon, the ‘Admiral’, inherited in 1921. The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) was one of many well-known visitors to the house.
The Admiral built a gazebo in the gardens to serve as a lookout to view incoming ships as they entered Swansea Bay. He built a second lookout, the Tower, to view his collection of rhododendrons. In addition to the lookouts, the Admiral built Joy Cottage, a miniature cottage for his daughters, where their nannies taught them to read, write and cook.
Family members are buried in a chapel on the grounds, built by William Vivian, in 1908. The Admiral buried his dogs in the grounds and provided headstones for their graves. Many of the hybrid plants of the Admiral’s grow in the garden and are named after family members.
The oak woodland, with paths leading through it, is a remnant of Clyne Forest, an 11th century Norman landmark. The tallest recorded magnolia in Britain is part of the gardens. Tree creepers, nuthatches, green woodpeckers, and warblers inhabit the 50 acres.
The red Japanese Bridge is a beauty spot on one of the walks. The water under the bridge eventually ends up in the sea at Blackpill. Right next to the bridge is a tree called the Handkerchief tree. The Italian Bridge was at one time a water feature. Now it is simply part of a path, dry underneath.
One of the most photographed areas of the gardens is the azalea garden. A wildflower meadow is home to native plants. A bog garden contains a giant leaf rhubarb, which grows to eight feet tall—the largest leafed herbaceous plant grown in Europe.
Don’t despair if you are here in the winter. February and March are the months to view the heather beds. Nearby is a large lime tree planted by Princess Mary of Teck when she visited in the late 19th century.
Clyne has around 2000 different plants, 800 of which are rhododendrons. If you visit in May, there are special “Clyne in Bloom” events.
Singleton Botanical and Ornamental Gardens
In 1847, John Vivian purchased a home, Veranda House, for his son Henry and his son’s wife, Jessie. Jessie died within the year, in childbirth, and her husband vowed to not live in the house. Most of the house was dismantled, and by 1853 only the estate lodge was left. The estate, Singleton, as it became known, held 12 farms and 250 acres among its portfolio of belongings. What was originally a walled garden became a kitchen and flower garden for the Vivian family.
In 1919 the Estates passed into the hands of the County and were turned into a public park. The Ornamental Gardens were part of the estate when another Vivian, Henry, and his wife Sarah lived there. It is she who was the enthusiastic gardener and plant collector. These gardens feature collections of magnolias, camellias and a famous rhododendron collection—go in June to enjoy the blooms.
The first thing you see upon entering the gardens is a herbaceous border, in bloom from late March to early October. Collections of iris, dahlias, chrysanthemums, sweet peas, carnations, asters, delphiniums, and penstemons present a colourful show.
A popular spot for wedding photos is on one of the walks—a Japanese Bridge that spans a small waterfall and is surrounded by dwarf Japanese Acers. If you are visiting on a Sunday in August, don’t miss the band concert at the bandstand at 3pm. Also in August, taking place the entire month, is “Botanics in Bloom”. There are talks, demonstrations, lectures, activities for children, and guided walks.
Mediterranean plants grow in an herb garden. A temperate house shows off plants from Australia, Brazil, Europe, South Africa, and Mexico. A cactus house is home to hot desert plants. The Economics House displays plants that produce cash crops such as sugar cane, olives, rice, coffee, and coconut. There’s a begonia collection here also. The Tropical House displays plants from the jungles and rain forests. Collections include orchids, and air plants.
Both of these gardens are a short bus ride from downtown Swansea and provide a wonderful oasis of calm, colour, and greenery. Whether you walk along the garden paths or just relax by a bed of bright blooms, you’ll come away feeling both peaceful and invigorated.
Tel. 0 1792 401737
Singleton Botanical/Ornamental Gardens
Open: daily Easter-July until 6pm, Aug until 8pm; rest of year until 4:30pm
Tel. 0 1792 298637
Photos courtesy Alex Thomas and City of Swansea
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