August 30th, 2008
Powis Castle Garden

Powis Castle Gardens
Powis Castle looms over the terraced borders in one of the UK’s few remaining formal 17th-century gardens.

After the wedding, we stayed a second night in Welshpool because Margaret knew I would want to spend an afternoon visiting the gardens at Powis Castle. After lunch, AJM and I drove over. We did not have far to go. Powis Castle is just across the valley, visible as one exits the track up to the house.

Imagine looking up to see this whenever one dashed out to run errands.

Powis Castle Gardens

The main borders are laid in a series of four terraces on a steep hillside. The castle is at the top and at the bottom a great lawn provides a flat, green foundation–a restful counterpoint–for the Welsh equivalent of the hanging gardens of Babylon. At one time in the Powis Garden’s 300 year-old history, the great lawn was a water garden in the style of St Germain-en-Laye but the waterworks were demolished in 1809.

Powis Castle Gardens

I’m cheating a little, showing you the whole from the bottom, which is not how we experienced the garden. We entered at the Top Terrace. One of the famous features at Powis is the yew topiary…which is purposely “lumpy”. If you are wondering how long it takes to grow something like this, these yew (and the 30-foot hedge and the east end of the terrace) were planted around 1720.

In the Top Terrace a brick wall partially obscures the castle above, giving an illusion of a more intimate space. The niches once contained busts but now are showcase for arrangements by the head gardener. Below, the wall is edged with Powis Castle artemisia. This wormwood hybrid was first introduced at Powis Castle in 1972. Note to self: start with tall, old brick wall. Hire head gardener.

Powis Castle Gardens

The hillside is so steep that one cannot take in the garden all at once, or even see the level below without leaning over the rather scary edges. Most of the terraces have no guardrails; you are expected to be careful.

Here, we’re on the Top Terrace, looking to the right over the Aviary Terrace, across the wild lawn (where naturalized daffodils bloom in the spring) to the large wood (The Wilderness) which acts as a buffer against winds blowing up the valley.

Powis Castle Gardens

Then we descend a level and look left over the broad Orangery Terrace and the electric green of the Great Lawn. Powis Castle Garden is considered one of the finest surviving examples of a 17th century formal British garden. In the 18th century, many formal gardens were made over in the naturalistic English landscape style of Capability Brown. Luckily for Powis Castle Garden, its steep terrain did not lend itself to the new “gardenless” style of landscape architecture.

Powis Castle Gardens

The Orangery Terrace is flanked on either side by two long double borders. Playing off against the rigid formality of the layout, the planting is exuberant. The “hot” border shown below can be seen in the upper left-hand corner of the photo above.

Powis Castle Gardens

The terraces are the most dramatic part of the garden, but there’s a lot more to be seen. Here we look past the lumpy yew hedge, down to the Formal Garden, Croquet Lawn, and Fountain Garden. AJM’s sister lives on that hazy hillside in the distance.

Powis Castle Gardens

Before 1912, the Formal Garden was the kitchen garden. But the sight of all those lowly veggies viewed from the castle or the terraces repulsed Violet, the wife of the 4th Earl, the person most responsible for saving Powis Castle Garden from deterioration and making it what it is today. I wish she had like vegetable gardens more. However, the trees in the Formal Garden are fruit trees (covered in moss!) and it includes a long grape arbor.

This is the companion shot from the bottom, looking up toward the castle and the terraces. Although the flower borders were all very nice, I found myself most impressed with the tapestry effect of the trees and shrubs. They varied in size, shape, color, and texture…and yet, the contrasts were woven together in a very pleasing way that never looked like an ill-planned patchwork.

Powis Castle Gardens

Just before we left, the sun came out and lit up the garden, giving some hint of what the fall color must be like. (The weather was perfectly comfortable the entire afternoon we were there–neither too hot or too cold for walking around and just enough but not too much sun for taking photographs.) If I’m lucky, I’ll have the opportunity to see Powis Castle Garden in many different seasons.

Powis Castle Gardens

I have about 100 more photos…but I think you get the gist of the experience. The only way I could tear myself away was to keep reminding myself, “Winters are cold, wet, dark, and miserable.”

by M Sinclair Stevens

28 Responses to post “Powis Castle Garden”

  1. From Diana - Austin:

    MSS – WOW. Just wow. I wanna go. What a beautiful place. The castle is amazing and the gardens are stunning. There is nothing like an English garden. I’m seriously fantasizing about an English garden tour in my future. So nice to hear from you again and get such a beautiful tour. Can’t wait to hear more about it.

  2. From Bob Pool:

    Great pictures, just beautiful. I bet they get a lot of rain there.
    I really liked the red with clump of blue in the cut outs in the wall.

  3. From Ewa:

    MSS, thank you a lot for this post and lovely description of these gardens. 250 years to wait for such yew…
    Many generations project.

  4. From patientgardener (UK):

    Powis Castle is a real gem, I visited it a couple of years ago and was stunned. You were very lucky with the weather. I think this sort of garden is something the UK is good at – I suppose it just shows how patient we should be with our gardens

  5. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    “Note to self: if you are going to have Yews, start 300 years ago.”

    MSS, your pictures are outstanding, that second one could be their official postcard. The one looking over the lazy terrace with the hills in the distance is idyllic. How much time does it take to keep those Yews like that?

    I’m with Diana, time to get serious about planning a trip to Great Britain to see some Gardens.

    Thanks for sharing this with us and I hope there are more travel posts in the very near future!

  6. From Lori, Austin TX:

    Is it me, or is that castle straight out of Jane Eyre?

    I find that I’m not all that taken with 17th century landscape design (I grew up on 5 acres of lawn that we mowed every friggin’ week, and these extensive lawns trigger memories of that thankless task), but I like that it’s been preserved. And I’m with you on liking the tapestry effect of the trees– I need to heighten the foliage contrast more in my own garden.

    Thanks for sharing! Your pictures look like they’re straight out of one of my coffee table garden porn books!

    Powis Castle is a bit grand for Thornfield Hall. Maybe it’s the battlements that remind you. I visited Haworth (where the Brontes lived) a few years ago…the landscape is much wilder and quite different. — mss

  7. From Margaret:

    This is my favorite garden in the world, and a photo of it always figures in near the start of my garden lectures (as it has for probably 15 years). Those of us who garden on steep pieces of land (especially without an ample supply of serfs!) can hold Powis as a sort of mascot of “yes you can” thinking.

    I have been there when they were pruning the yews. The ladders are truly death-defying.
    And those terraces that were carved into the hillside…I think the first fortification efforts began in the 1200s, long before the horticulture. In a way the siting of the castle up high above everything like that for its best possible defense in Medieval times laid the groundwork for the fantastic gardens that followed.

    In all, an amazing place. So glad to be transported there again this morning, thanks.

    Pruning the yews is a massive effort. I think I read that it took three months of the year. — mss

  8. From our friend Ben in Pennsylvania:

    Ah, Powis Castle. It’s been so long since I’ve been that seeing this makes me sad. (Shame on me!) But it also brings back wonderful memories of wonderful gardens. Looks like you had a beautiful day and a marvelous time, MSS. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  9. From Steve Mudge(Fort Worth):

    So that’s where Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ gets its name from…always wondered about that… Thanks for sharing the wonderful photos, and glad you got a chance to shake off some of the Texas summer!

  10. From Kathy:

    I am glad you had a chance to drink in some green. Hope you do indeed have the opportunity to visit in many seasons and years.

  11. From Annie in Austin:

    Hi MSS! I’m glad you had a good trip and got to go Powis Castle. Your photos are spectacular – love those Japanese anemones in the first picture and the wonderful terraces, although I’d prefer sculpture over flower arrangements in the niches. It would be fun to go here as an American tourist.

    But you said, “Imagine looking up to see this whenever one dashed out to run errands.”
    So I tried to imagine it:
    * If one were Welsh there could be feelings of pride in the accomplishments of the past.
    * If one were a local gardener it could be great to always have this National Trust garden as inspiration and as a destination for one’s houseguests.
    * If I try to imagine being a descendant of one of those serfs would I feel glad the castle and garden have been preserved, glad for the chance to stroll the terraces like an Earl for the price of admission, but still resent the display of wealth as something taken out of the hides of my ancestors?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Maybe the serfs were happy to have the work. The sad story is across the valley…Leighton Hall which has not been preserved despite national efforts to find the money somewhere and even a good word in from HRH Prince Charles. — mss

  12. From Cindy, Katy:

    Those gardens are absolutely magnificent … I’d have had to keep pinching myself to be sure that I was really there! I’m very taken with the hot border and may have to try a variation thereof here on my corner of Katy.

    Your reminder to yourself about the winters there is similar to what I told myself while wandering Denver Botanic Gardens and wishing I could spend more time there.

  13. From Angelina:

    This strongly reminds me of Culzean castle near Ayr, Scotland. It’s giving me the hunger to go back across the ocean to go on a very long garden tour.

    Incredible pictures!!

  14. From Gail:

    Fabulous post MSS. I will content myself with beautiful photographs and excellent story telling until the dollar is in better shape for visiting other countries again!


  15. From Jenny Austin:

    I see the UK is looking as verdant as ever. It sounds as though it was a perfect day for the visit. Thank you for bringing the name Powis Castle to life. I have a little bit of Powis here. It struggles every year to stay alive but it does. The yews are amazing-I wonder about their insurance on something like that! Yes, and you would do well to keep reminding yourself about those winters!

    Everyone in the UK was complaining that they had the coldest and greyest August in 150 years. But the resulting green was incredible. It was very gloomy most of our stay but we never got rained on (although we took our raincoats everywhere). — mss

  16. From Iris, Austin, Texas:

    Thank you for the photos of those surreal gardens!

  17. From Libby:

    Fab post, M. I love garden tours and this was a treat.

  18. From Julie:

    the pink windflowers!! what a sight for southwestern eyes. And those huge yews sludging down the wall — like green glaciers.
    thanks for bringing some of your trip back for us.

  19. From Margaret Powis Austin:

    That was a great post. I love Powis Castle. I’ve only been there once and it was on a similar day, sunshine, green, flowers, red castle. I grew up on the Welsh border in Herefordshire and trying to garden is Texas is so different. I was really surprised when I first got here how many Texas natives were grown in English gardens. My grandfather grew gaillardia and was very proud of them. Who knew this was the part of the world that was home for gaillardia? Now it is for me. If you get back in springtime you must visit Hergest Croft Park Wood gardens. It is spectacular, full of flowering rhododendrons in a natural setting. It is on the Welsh border, in Herefordshire, not that far from Welshpool. (

    Thanks for the garden visit suggestion. It’s nice to discover another Austin garden blogger. Do find Austin’s summers difficult or do sunny Austin winters more than make up for it? — mss

  20. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter:

    I’m so glad you got to take that vacation I suggested. ;^) This is one of those places I want to visit before I die, it is truly spectacular. I think they made the right decision in replacing busts with floral arrangements – much more interesting. If I could have gotten my Yew hedge to look anything like those, I definitely would have kept it. I have the feeling that the proper pruning must have begun on planting. Thanks for sharing your photos of this magical place. Your inlaws are very lucky to live with a view like that.

    I had to bite my tongue when you suggested the vacation. I knew I was going to be following your advice but I couldn’t say anything about being gone until I got back. Knowing I was going to be in the UK did make the worst of Austin’s summer even more difficult to bear. And it effected my watering issues because I knew plants that wouldn’t survive three days weren’t going to survive my vacation. However, I was wrong on that point because it was cold and wet almost the entire time I was away. Figures. — mss

  21. From Fran Sorin:

    Thanks for sharing those great photos and your bylines on Powis Castle. On my first garden visit to Great Britain, a gardening pal told me that there were 3 must see gardens: Sissinghurst, Hidcote and Powis Castle. Powis Castle certainly didn’t disappoint. More than anything in the gardens, I love the undulating elder yews that embrace you as you walk around and through them! Fran

    Cool! I’ve been lucky enough to see two out of three on your list. I went to Hidcote Manor Garden a couple of years ago. Still to see…Sissinghurst. — mss

  22. From Blackswampgirl Kim:

    WOW! That’s gorgeous… I have always liked the pictures I’ve seen of that “lumpy yew hedge,” but they’ve all been looking up at it from below. I like it even more in your picture from the top! It looks interesting and… kind of like an old, gnarled appendage. In a good way.

    I have enough photos, I think I might be tempted to do another post…I have a better one of the hedge. — mss

  23. From Sue:

    Definitely on my list for things to do when I go back to Wales next spring …

  24. From Cheryl in Austin:

    Amazing and beautiful! What an exciting trip, makes me thirsty for rain all the more. I hope you can share the many season of Powis Castle with us!

  25. From Theresa/GardenFreshLiving:

    Those are the most amazing photos. Just gorgeous! I want to pack my bags and move there and I don’t care how cold, wet and dark it gets…it looks worth it!

    Thanks so much for sharing those wonderful pictures!

    We were lucky to have visited on a perfect day–I’ve heard those are few and far between. — mss

  26. From Steve:

    It’s ironic that one of my favorite plants, an Artemesia, is named Powis Castle. In fact, not knowing much of the castle itself, I was thinking I had found another fancier. Instead – what a visual treat! And, having said that, sure enough, there are Powis Castle Artemesias planted there. Gorgeous and other-worldly pictures and thank you for a fascinating tour.

  27. From kate:

    Your photographs are lovely. I’m glad to see you had a beautiful trip. Great that you were able to get out of Austin during some of the hot days.

  28. From Pam:

    Oh my gosh – what a beautiful, beautiful place!