Dewstow Gardens, close to the M4 in Monmouthshire, are exquisite and make a great afternoon’s visit for all the family. Anyone visiting South Wales should put aside an afternoon to explore the delightful Grade 1-listed historic Dewstow Hidden Gardens and Grottoes. These truly magnificent gardens have been restored to glory, and while far smaller than the world-renowned Kew Gardens in West London, or the gardens at most National Trust properties, they are just as impressive.
Underground Edwardian Gardens
One of the most exciting horticultural finds of recent years has been the underground Edwardian gardens at Dewstow House in Monmouthshire. Walk through wide tunnels (they do not induce feelings of claustrophobia) and emerge into grottoes with pools and streams, lush ferns, and intricate stonework, including artificial stalactites. Children and adults alike will enjoy hopping across the stepping stones, and exploring what is a labyrinth of entrancing underground water gardens.
Above Ground Gardens
The above ground gardens set out over gently undulating land, are equally lovely – especially in spring and summer when plants are in flower and there is a riot of color. Around every corner is a different view, with a huge variety of plants, shrubs and trees from around the world. Because the gardens are divided into small areas, with different themes (for example, there is an area planted with shrubs and flowers that are hardy and do not need much water), there is again that feeling of exploring and not quite knowing what delights are waiting to be found. For this reason, children love running around the gardens, which offer plenty of scope for games of hide and seek. Visitors should look out for Coppiced Dogwoods, the original Weeping Ashes, and the Bog Garden’s giant rhubarb. Not to mention the magnificent herbaceous borders. No visitor to these gardens can fail to be inspired to get gardening on their return home.
History of the Grottoes
The grottoes are particularly fascinating and it’s worth knowing something of how they came to be. In 1893, a Henry Oakley bought the ancient Dewstow estate, which he managed until his death in 1940. A wealthy bachelor and keen horticulturist, he wanted to have a unique garden in his grounds. So he commissioned London landscapers Pulham & Sons to work on what was to be a massive 40-year project of digging out from scratch the grottoes and putting in the water features. Pulham & Sons was a highly esteemed landscape gardening company and modest examples of its work still exist in the UK at Sandringham, Audley End, Buckingham Palace, at Waddesdon House in the Chilterns and at the Swiss Garden in Bedfordshire.
Why Were the Grottoes and Gardens Forgotten and When Were They Restored?
Oakley had no children and after he died, the estate was largely forgotten about. During the 1940s the grottoes and gardens were filled in and the land reverted to working pastureland. With no records of their existence remaining, they were forgotten about – until the land was bought by the Harris family in 2000.
Farmer John Harris and his family moved into Dewstow House, a farmhouse with Classical pretensions which visitors drive past on their way to the car park and entrance to the gardens. Harris, who had grown up on and around the estate, knew that extravagant gardens had existed in the past and that artificial ponds and a pumphouse lay below the house. What he did not know was that there was six acres of artificial rock gardens and pools, with much of it underground in the form of the labyrinth of carefully constructed caverns.
Harris has used his own money to fund the excavation of the gardens, which has proved to be a labor of love. Parts of the gardens opened to the public five years ago and since then more areas have been restored. Today a team of four gardeners look after the gardens, and their work is much admired.
Additional Attractions at Dewstow
- For golfing enthusiasts, there are two 18-hole golf courses, and a 27 bay golf driving range.
- The house and gardens have a great tea room, which offers huge slabs of delicious homemade cakes at very reasonable prices.
- If Gretna Green is too far away, it is possible to get married at Dewstow.
Adult tickets to the gardens cost £6, children under 10 are allowed in free. Opening hours up to 17 October are 10am, with last entry at 4.30pm.
The Gardens are easy to reach from the M4. Take the M48 turn for the Severn Bridge, head for Chepstow, then follow signs to Caldicot and then to Caerwent. Or keep on the M4, and use the Second Severn Crossing. Follow signs to Magor, then Caldicot, and from Caldicot to Caerwent.