The eye of Orion

"For some the eye of Orion is the most tranquil place in the universe" (The Five Doctors, 1983).
The Five Doctors starts off at the Outlook Tower, part of Plas Brondanw, when I  first sat down to watch this DVD I had completely forgotten this fact so it was a delightful surprise as I recognised immediately this tower which was a wedding present from Clough Williams Ellis's regiment.  Probably the best wedding present ever!
It is quite a steep climb to the tower, but it is worth it.  Recently you can see a lot of work has been done to cut back some of the trees, some to open views and some I am sure just to make them safe.
The walk to the tower takes you past the memorial to the fire at Plas Brondanw in 1953 that sits on the edge of the chasm.  Looking down in the chasm you can see what should be a waterfall and a series of stepped pools.  Sadly there is not enough water to have great effect at this moment in time.  Still, you can see that it is rather wonderful.
Wandering down from the tower you eventually get to the Plas Brondanw itself.  Now I will admit my total bias here, this is a garden I am very fond of.  I am not sure how many years I have been visiting here but it is probably getting on for 15 at least.  I knew there had been some recent changes so I was a little worried as we approached the garden.  Would its character and essence have been changed?
You now enter through a gift shop/cafe.  A very nice man took our entrance money and made sure we knew that the tower existed and also asked whether we had visited before, he seemed genuinely interested in what we would think of the garden now.  We went into the garden and had a good wander around.
The traditional photograph of my children sitting on a certain bench was taken, I have many versions of this photograph as they get a couple of years older each time.
I noted the new planting of the three roses, Rosa Portmeirion, Susan Williams Ellis and Sir Clough.  Was I happy to see these three, oh yes I was.  I also grow all three of these roses so it was lovely to see them, it felt like a nice touch.
This garden is about views and borrowed landscapes.  I have generally thought the planting a bit ordinary and almost padding to support the structural elements of the garden.  It is important to know that Clough loved this garden, to the point that in 'Architect Errant', his autobiography, he says that he practiced architecture primarily to fund restoring this garden and house.  He would do some work, buy some yew hedging, do some more work and buy some paving.  It was a labour of love.  So it is heartening to see some money being put into this garden to make it feel a bit more loved again.  I admit to twinge of sorrow that the honesty box is no longer in use, but really this is just quibbling, clearly time and energy is being put into this garden and that is no bad thing.  Part of me, that precious part of me, sort of hopes it does not get too popular, too much on the tourist trail - but actually if that helps keep it going then that is a small price to pay.

As mentioned above I do not think of this garden as being one about pretty planting.  The roses mentioned above are a new element, much of the other planting is structural such as the topiary and the hedging.  There are some huge trees both in and out of the garden that give size and gravitas.  The border above looks probably the best I have ever seen it.  At times it has been a bit patchy though obviously time of year has an effect on what is growing.

 I decided to re-watch The Five Doctors before coming to visit this time as homework as there is a brief scene filmed in the garden itself and I wondered what it looked like then, being filmed in 1983 it was only five years after the death of Clough.  However I could not see this part of the garden (how inconvenient that they did not realise it would be needed for garden research?)

Another slight quibble though, there has been an outbreak of plant labelling.  I have written in a previous post that I had a troubled relationship with plant labelling.  It has its place and can be very useful when wanting to know what plants are but it felt out of place in Plas Brondanw, a garden I see as being a very personal garden.  Everything seemed to be labelled, it felt a bit over the top.  Why don't they create a Clough-inspired planting plan of the garden as a leaflet, something I could take away with me and actually remember what the plants were?

The garden has clear links to Portmeirion, more than just the use of the turquoise and gold, but the use of ornaments and statues that are carefully placed around the garden.  The paths lead to focal points both in and out of the garden.  The land outside of the garden is as important as the garden itself.  It is not a mini-Portmeirion though, it is a personal garden belonging to its creator.  You can see the connections between the two places yet them enjoy them both in their own right.


  1. Dear Papaver
    What a wonderful place - it looks as though it has a very special and magical atmosphere. No wonder it is a favourite of yours! Thank you for sharing.
    Best wishes

  2. I can see why you love it so much. Thanks for sharing.

  3. If Clough-Ellis preferred it with a minimum of flowers,(he did) on what basis is it improved by adding more and more?

    Except perhaps to make it more like everywhere else??


    1. I do think it is improved from how it has been in recent years, it looks more cared for and that is good. Whether it is improved on what Clough intended I cannot say, hence the watching Dr Who DVD to see if I could see more of the garden closer to his time. I have seen the Country Life articles on the garden but they do not help much either. I have always though the strip border a bit out of place and I don't know when that was added.

      I agree, to make it like all other gardens would be a terrible shame.


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