Digging in the horticultural archives

Collections - Posted 29-04-2020

The garden has always been a source of solace, delight, exercise and food production, never more so than in the recent worldwide health crisis. To celebrate National Gardening Week, and for those who are unable to access a garden, we bring you an armchair guide to some of the Library’s horticultural archives.

An early example is a manuscript draft of Sir Thomas Hanmer’s ‘Garden Book’, written between 1650 and 1664, and published with an introduction by E. S. Rohde in 1933. Sir Thomas Hanmer had formerly been cup-bearer to Charles I and he had fought on the Royalist side in the Civil War. In the aftermath he escaped to France but returned to make his home at at Bettisfield in Flintshire, where he devoted much of his life to the garden. The ‘Garden Book’ contains memoranda of monthly tasks, lists of plants, notes on viticulture and methods of increasing plants. At the very time that tulipomania was sweeping Europe, Sir Thomas indulged his own passion for tulips. One of the finest specimens which he introduced to Britain was named after him, ‘Agate Hanmer’.

There is a portrait of Sir Thomas Hanmer by Cornelius Johnson in the National Museum Wales.

Another keen horticulturalist and botanist was John Wynne Griffith (1763-1834) of Garn in Denbighshire. The Garn Estate Records contain several letters of significant botanical and horticultural importance from Heneage Finch Earl of Aylesford, Sir Joseph Banks, William Bingley, Hugh Davies, James Dickson, John Fenton, Edward Hasell, James Hunter, Jonathan Stokes, Robert Teesdale, Dawson Turner, James Watt, and William Withering, senior and junior, 1794-1830. The depth of his knowledge may be judged from the plant lists which he exchanged with William Withering in 1794:

226. C[ircaea] intermedia. The specimen bearing this no. according to shape of the pairs belongs as you observe to C. lutetiana but the shape of the leaves much resemble those of C. alp.

Most of the Welsh gentry houses, like their English counterparts, were surrounded by gardens. The layout of the formal garden at Gogerddan in Cardiganshire is illustrated on a wonderful plan by William Combs, dated 1765. It shows the parterres, terraces and steps around the mansion, the watercourses and the straight paths radiating out in a fan shape to the more natural woodland landscape beyond.

The Gogerddan Estate Records also contain a garden account book showing produce for August and September and the prices, 1835, and a cash book recording receipts mainly for produce and plants, payments for garden equipment and carriage charges for parcels of horticultural goods, 1916-1919. Wage records reveal that in 1870 the male gardeners at Gogerddan earned between 10 and 15 shilling per week; their female colleagues earned 6 shillings.

The final destination on our horticultural tour is the twentieth century garden of Penny Condry at Ynys Edwin, Eglwys Fach, near Machynlleth. The papers of her husband, William Condry, contain numerous references to the wildlife and ecology of gardens. There is an unpublished script about Ynys Edwin called ‘Wild Welsh Garden’ dated 1991, accompanied by notes on weeds, bee keeping, pests, and various wild plant and animal species.

Penny shared her keen horticultural interest with Mildred Elsie Eldridge (Elsi), wife of R.S. Thomas. Elsi’s letters to Penny were highly descriptive and they were sometimes illustrated with delightful sketches of mice and plants. They are explored in a previous NLW Blog post.

While searching for suitable images to accompany this blog post, I noted that the Library holds several beautiful flower paintings by John Parker (1798-1860). This is one of them, showing white narcissi against a natural background of rocks and ferns.

Finally here is that musical icon of Wales, Aled Jones in an adaptation of Handel, portraying a young man wistfully gazing after his lady as she walks down the garden path singing.

Hilary Peters


  • NLW Manuscript NLW MS 21753B
  • Garn Estate Records FPG3
  • Gogerddan Estate Records GBC3, GBF
  • William Condry Papers LP1/15, RT5/9

Comments are closed.




About this blog

A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

About the blog