Dyffryn Gardens are an exceptional example of Edwardian garden design. Covering more than 55 acres they feature a stunning collection of intimate garden rooms including a rose garden, Pompeian garden and several ponds. The enormous great lawn is bordered by seasonal bedding and a croquet lawn. There is also a large glasshouse, statuary collection, and arboretum featuring trees from all over the world.
Designed by eminent landscape architect Thomas Mawson in 1906, the gardens are the early 20th-century vision of coal magnate John Cory and his son Reginald. Within the gardens, Dyffryn House, a grand Victorian mansion overlooks the key aspects of the gardens. Parts of the ground and first floors have been restored and are unfurnished.
The Dyffryn Estate dates back to 640 A.D. when the Manor of Worlton (also known as Worleton), which included St Lythans and St Nicholas, was granted to Bishop Oudoceus of Llandaff. In the 16th century the Manor of Worlton was rented under copyhold by the Button family, who are believed to have first settled at the manor at Dog Hill in Dyffryn. The family's next residence, Columbar, was thought to be built on the location of Dyffryn Gardens. The Button family occupied the estate for a number of generations, producing Admiral Thomas Button who become a notable early explorer.
The name of the Manor of Worlton was changed to the Manor of Dyffryn, St Nicholas in the 18th century when the Dyffryn Estate was sold to Thomas Pryce, who built the second building to be known as Dyffryn House, a Georgian manor, on the site in 1749.The first house known as Dyffryn House is located in St Davids place Goodwick and dates back to 1595. Although no extensive work was undertaken to the grounds, Pryce did begin some additions, including the construction of the walled garden, dipping pools and some ornamental plantings.
In 1891 the Dyffryn Estate was sold to John Cory by the then owner, a banker named Henry Ellis Collins. Cory then began construction of the present house in 1893. Later, Thomas Mawson, a well-known landscape architect and first president of the Institute of Landscape Architecture, was commissioned to design a garden to complement the new house; landscaping began in 1894 and was completed in 1909.
After John Cory’s death in 1910, the job of further developing the gardens fell to Cory's third son, Reginald, who had inherited the estate. Reginald was a leading figure in the Royal Horticultural Society and a keen horticulturalist and plant collector who during the early 1900s jointly sponsored several worldwide plant hunting expeditions. Many of the plants on display at Dyffryn exist as a direct result of these forays, the most outstanding being Acer griseum (Paper Bark Maple) grown from seed brought back from China by the famous plant hunter Ernest Wilson.
On Reginald's death in 1934, the Dyffryn Estate was passed to his sister Florence. On her death in 1937, the estate was bought by Sir Cennydd Traherne. In 1939 Sir Cennydd Traherne leased the Dyffryn House and Gardens to Glamorgan County Council, as a botanical garden on a 999-year lease. In 1973, the gardens were used as the venue to host a garden party to commemorate the dissolution of Glamorgan County Council. In 1995 Sir Cennydd Traherne died, and in 1999 his nephew Councillor Rhodri Llewellyn Traherne sold the freehold of Dyffryn House and Gardens to the Vale of Glamorgan for the sum of £300,000.
In 2000 Cadw awarded these gardens Grade I status in its register of landscapes, parks and gardens of special historical interest in Wales. The Grade I citation reads "The gardens at Dyffryn are the grandest and most outstanding Edwardian gardens in Wales. They are comparable to some of the most extravagant gardens of the period in Britain."
Dyffryn House and Gardens underwent restoration in 2006 with a £8 million grant, £6.15 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the Grade I listed Edwardian gardens have been restored to the original design drawn up by Thomas Mawson in 1904 for the coal baron John Cory. The National Trust took over stewardship of Dyffryn House and Gardens on a 50-year lease from the Vale of Glamorgan Council in January 2013.
Many of the large homes in Wales during the late 19th century were built on money made from the industrial revolution. Dyffryn was one of these homes and was built to the grand scale you can see today on wealth made from the coal industry. The Cory family, who originate from Devon, came to Dyffryn in 1891. John Cory’s father, Richard, first started trading coal between Cardiff, Bristol and Ireland. During the mid-19th century he came to live in Cardiff and began to ship from this port across the world. They traded then under the name Richard Cory and Sons.
John and his brother worked together to expand the business after their father’s death in 1882 and renamed the business Cory Brothers and Co. The opening of the Suez canal in 1869 was a key factor in this expansion. The brothers began to acquire more collieries as the demand for Welsh steam coal, considered to be the best in the world, began to rise. They were well-placed to ship it to countries where it was needed for steam ships and newly developing railway networks.
John moved to Dyffryn so that he could commute to Barry daily. He was one of the founders and creators of the port of Barry, which became a rival to Cardiff for the export of Welsh coal. John and his brother owned collieries across South Wales and were reputedly the largest private railway wagon owners in the UK.
They exported coal to over 120 different ports worldwide and so John became an incredibly wealthy man. This allowed him and his son Reginald to build the magnificent house and grounds you see today. He was a very generous man and his charitable donations amounted to nearly £50,000 annually.
The present Dyffryn House was built in 1893–94 under the ownership of John Cory, by architect E.A. Lansdowne of Newport, and was one of the last large country manors to be built in Wales. A long narrow mansion, the architectural style is vaguely Second French Empire The main entrance, located on the north side of the building, is protected by a porte-cochere, which leads into a lofty hall. The windows looking out over the driveway from the Hall depict Elizabeth I at Tilbury. The hall also features the most notable of the manor's impressive chimneypieces; incorporating at its centre a late 17th-century marble cartouche of arms flanked by life-size wooden Mannerist figures of Ceres and Prudence. Other rooms of note include the Oak Room, whose chimneypiece is flanked by cross-legged cherubim, each with six wings. The drawing room and boudoir have Jacobean alabaster mantle-pieces.
Despite its grand features, the house was used as a police training centre, and up until 1996 a conference centre. In 2007, the Vale of Glamorgan Council appointed £1.4 million to repair and maintain Dyffryn House's walls and roof. Today, Dyffryn Gardens is a visitor attraction open all year round, 363 days a year. The gardens are accessed via the admissions building, which also houses a shop and an attached tea-room. From here the Gardens are divided into three main areas, the arboretum, Dyffryn House and its lawns and the Garden Rooms.
The eastern and largest section of the gardens contains the arboretum that begins with the kennel bank, leading to the rockery. The central section, which divides the arboretum in the east from the Garden Rooms to the west, contains Dyffryn House and its lawns, beginning with the house to the north extending southwards to the Vine Walk, a series of arches each containing a different species of vine.
The two main lawns include the croquet lawn, closest to Dyffryn House, which runs east to west parallel to the main building, and the Great Lawn. The Great Lawn runs north-south and at its centre has a longitudinal canal, which has at its centre a large bronze fountain. The fountain is in the Chinese style and has a bronze Chinese Dragon wrapped around it; thought to be from the 1950s. The Great Lawn ends with a fountain pool, for which there is currently a fundraising drive to repair. The two impressive bronze statues, a pair of Oriental wind demons, that used to live here, are now housed in the glass houses. At the southern end of the lawns is the Vine Walk, and Lavender Garden, the latter containing a red brick folly.
The final section of the gardens is the Garden Rooms, a series of terraced themed gardens. The "rooms" contain an Italian Terrace, Australasian and Mediterranean Gardens, each containing plants from their respective regions. Other areas include a physic garden, rose garden, reflecting pool and Pompeian gardens. The Pompeiian gardens, entered via an archway dated 1909, were originally inspired by Reginald Cory's trips to Italy.
Throughout the gardens are a number of statues, many with a motif of people with animals. Of the more notable works are a life-size prone stone lion, a terracotta statue of a palm-bearing female, signed "E. Kuhse", (1881) of German origin and to the rear of the house outside the visitor centre is a large bronze of a mandarin riding a bull. The gardens offer a great variety of colour and form throughout the seasons. Then summer sees the newly restored garden rooms in bloom. In autumn the many acers and the vine are in season. Click here for a map of Dyffryn Gardens.
Dyffryn house stands at the heart of the gardens. Listed at grade II* status, it had been remodelled from an earlier mansion and was completed in 1892-3. The Cory family were industrialists and made their wealth through coal. The house provided a secluded family home within commutable distance of their business interests across south Wales. The house came to the National Trust in 2013 without a collection. No original belongings, pieces of furniture or art remain in the house. This has given them a great opportunity to do something different.
" Dyffryn House is not your average National Trust place. There are many spectacular fireplaces and views of the gardens, but we are continuing to work on conserving and opening more spaces. This requires more research and learning about all areas of Dyffryn's history and your stories are a part of that. Please share any of your memories and ideas with us." - Christina Hanley, House Steward.
A few of the rooms in the house have been furnished, but with a twist. The family friendly house with its spectacular fireplaces and grand features has been designed to be touched and has several interactive elements. Books, billiards and Bach. They have returned the Blue drawing room back to a music room complete with an 1830s grand piano. The Red library is now a second-hand bookshop with comfy sofas to enjoy a good book on a rainy day, and one of the upstairs rooms tells the story of Dyffryn in its conference centre days. You can also pretend to be the Lord or Lady of the manor and challenge your family and friends to a game of billiards.
There are Tea-rooms with both indoor and courtyard seating. The shop offers a range of gifts as well as seasonal plant sales. Take home your own pick from the walled garden's organic produce. There is onsite parking. Dogs are allowed in the gardens, however they do ask that they are kept on a short lead at all times.
There is a children’s play area located next to the café and shop. They do not allow bikes, trikes, skateboards, scooters or roller skates into the garden for safety reasons. Baby-changing facilities are available.
The majority of the gardens are wheelchair friendly. Disabled toilets are available. The East Lodge meeting room is unsuitable for wheelchair access. Courtesy wheelchairs are available to hire. Please call in advance to book. One electric car charging port is available in the main visitor car park. It has a 32 amp charge (full charge time approx. 8 hours). Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : St Nicholas, Vale of Glamorgan, CF5 6SU
Transport : Cardiff Central (National Rail) then bus (7 miles). Bus Routes : X2 then 1 mile.
Opening Times Gardens: November to February, Daily, 10:00 to 16:00; Otherwise 10:00 to 18:00.
Opening Times House: November to February, Daily, 12:00 to 15:30; Otherwise 12:00 to 16:00.
Tickets : Adults £8.60; Children £4.30.
Tel. : 029 2059 3328