Dewstow House 1085

Caldicot, Wales

Brief Description

Dewstow House has extensive and intricate rockwork and water gardens, both underground and overground, created at the turn of the 20th century. The underground gardens consist of top-lit chambers linked by tunnels, with pools, channels, fountains and planting pockets. Overground are more rockwork and water gardens and greenhouses. The gardens are currently being restored.

History

The gardens were created by Pulham & Son for Henry Oakley between about 1895 and 1920. In 1940, the estate was broken up and the grottoes filled in. In 1960 the pools and rockwork areas were also filled in. In 2000 the gardens were rediscovered and excavation and restoration began.

Visitor Facilities

The gardens are open daily from March to October from 10am. Pre-booked tours can also be arranged.

Detailed Description

In 1910 or thereabouts, when Henry Oakley emerged from the front door of his comfortable, if unspectacular home overlooking the Severn estuary near Caerwent, he could look out over well-kept lawns, specimen conifers, and sinuous paths exploring the five ponds fed by a system of rills and waterfalls.Or he could turn right round the corner of the façade, to lead his guests to the croquet lawn and on to the Victorian stumpery, in which the dead remains of ancient trees were artfully disposed amongst lush greenery, often upside-down to display the roots.Or he could lead them onward to the carefully tended alpine garden overlooking a pond set about with huge blocks of stone.

But it is even more pleasing to imagine him nipping out of the house in the drizzle and rounding the corner to almost immediately disappear from view down an inconspicuous flight of stone steps let into the bank above the croquet lawn.A newcomer following in his steps would have been astounded to find himself in a rock tunnel, lit hazily by small overhead skylights, and facing a gothic wooden door.

Pushing the door ajar and penetrating further into the gloom he would have been unable to resist the lure of the unknown, a rock-hewn but strangely smooth and alluring tunnel with irregular, platey bedrock slabs making up an even floor.After some 15 yards the passage opens and the visitor finds himself in an underground grotto, its damp walls covered with liverworts and mosses, and the margin of a pool lushly planted with exotic ferns.

Another longer dark passage leads out from this chamber, and opens out into a second ferny grotto in which a curtain of water streams down a screen of tufa to the rocks below.Perhaps he has yet to encounter his host, and presses on courageously.Two dark tunnels beckon, probably he will meet Henry Oakley again in one or other the large tropical glasshouses which were barely visible from the house.

All this and more (for another tunnel on the other side of the house takes a switchback course to a roofless sunken garden on the edge of the lawn) was the creation of the celebrated Victorian rockwork firm of James Pulham & Son.

The tunnels are built in brick, carefully lined and sculpted in cement to deceive even the amateur geologist, for the details of bedding and small faults, angular breaking planes and well worn pathways are meticulously reproduced.The chain of ponds too, are the Pulhams' work, with native stone artfully combined with naturalistic channels fashioned in cement.

Taken together Henry Oakley’s garden must have had the dazzling impact of an afternoon at the Chelsea Flower Show, so many different horticultural specialisms on display in the confines of what could have been a very ordinary garden.What marks this out from so many historic gardens is the pure horticultural enthusiasm of a modestly wealthy bachelor.Most famous gardens come with famous houses, at Dewstow this is not the case.

This probably explains the extraordinary accident by which the gardens of Dewstow were lost.Following Oakley’s death in 1940 and the deprivations of the Second World War, the ponds and tunnels were roughly filled in and the garden reverted to pasture with a few good trees.The Harris family purchased Dewstow House in 2000, unaware, but for the crumbling remains of two glasshouses, of what lay concealed.

It is a credit to the extraordinary dedication and energy of the new owners that five years on the garden has been lovingly replanted, and the tunnels and underground grottos restored.Only one of the tropical glasshouses, its origins betrayed by ornate iron pillars supporting the roof of what is now a farm building, remains ina state of decay.Restored, this might once more become the home of cycads and lofty palms.

On the discovery of these astounding gardens, Cadw’s Inspector of Parks and Gardens was soon on the scene, offering advice and encouragement, and following restoration has been delighted to award Dewstow the highest accolade - a Grade I listing, representing a garden of national importance.
Features

Plant Environment

  • Rock Garden
  • Environment
Pulhamite
Access & Directions

Access Contact Details

The gardens are open daily from March to October from 10am. Pre-booked tours can also be arranged.
History

Detailed History

The gardens were created between about 1895 and 1920 by the celebrated firm of James Pulham & Son for Henry Oakley. Following Oakley’s death in 1940 and the deprivations of the Second World War, the ponds and tunnels were roughly filled in and the garden reverted to pasture with a few good trees. The Harris family purchased Dewstow House in 2000, unaware, but for the crumbling remains of two glasshouses, of what lay concealed. Restoration of the rock and water gardens is currently in progress.

Period

  • Early 20th Century
Associated People
Contact

Telephone

01443 336000

Official Website

Click Here

Other websites

Owners

    References

    References

    Contributors

    • Caroline Palmer