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A Secret Garden on the Lleyn Peninsula

A trip to a little known garden in Wales where grows, among other treasures, one of the only mature Butias in the British Isles. Join Steven Brown on an exotic trip of discovery.
by Steven Brown,135a, Market Street, Edenfield, Bury, Lancashire, U.K.
Chamaerops No.37, Winter Edition 2000


Above: Butia capitata and Trachycarpus fortunei in the back garden.
Below: Chamaerops humilis in the front garden.

Thrusting out into the Irish Sea, like an arm from the mountainous shoulder of Snowdonia, is the Leyn Peninsula, North Wales. Bounded by the sea on three sides, with the mountains to the east, it is a wild landscape. Shrubs and trees are sculptured by westerly winds. But, as you enter Abersoch, its sheltered position is apparent. This is especially true at Haulfryn Coach House, situated to the rear of the town, where its position has allowed sub-tropical plantings.

After hearing rumours of a ninety year old Butia Palm, planted on the Lleyn Peninsula at the turn of the Century, I decided to investigate the story. So we booked into the Port Tocyn Country House Hotel, Abersoch. The propriator, Mr. Fletcher-Brewer, informed us of the probable location of the palm. Having found the property situated behind the ‚Palm Bistro,‘ we walked down a gravel drive. On either side of us, Echium piniana had self-seeded to weed proportions, which I have only before seen on such a scale in the U.K. at Tresco (Scilly Isles).

Originally the property - a large stone house and gardens - belonged to the Minobrias family who have been in the area for a long time. I managed to track them down but they could not offer me much information other than the fact that the property now belongs to the Warren family, who, for their part, have turned it into flats.

As you approach the stone property, not only are Echiums prevalent but there is also a rare Cordyline banksii ‚Purpurea,‘ along with Cordyline australis of different ages, and a lovely eight foot Cordyline australis ‚Albertii.‘ To the left of the drive is a very fine grove of Trachycarpus fortunei. To the front of the house is a group of Chamaerops humilis which, at eightteen to twenty feet, are the biggest I’ve seen in Britain. Then, as we approached the back of the house, we got our first glimpse of the Butia capitata - standing about thirty feet tall. It has to be said that it has got quite a poor trunk and is full of holes. But who cares? It’s a fully grown Butia growing on mainland Britain and there are not many of them around!

Along the stone wall, which goes round the back of the house, are some plants which are worth mentioning. Acacia verticillata was in full flower (it was April when we were there). Grevillea juniperina was dripping with flowers. In the corner of one of the walls there was the bold, jagged, blue-grey leaves of Melianthus major. Sophora microphylla was full of its yellow lantern-like flowers. Nerium oleander were in bud. And, Pelagonium sp. were thriving against the wall, so they obviously survive the winter in this mild climate.

At the back of the garden there was a Yucca bank with quite a few good sized Agave americana. Oscularia caulescens was spilling over the rocks. Osteospermum ‚Nairobi Purple‘ (syn. ‚Tresco Purple‘) was in full flower. Carpobrotus edulis and Carpobrotus acinaciformis had spread itself all over the bank. The orange flowers of Lampranthus aureas shone in the spring sunshine and Sedum dendroideum was spreading itself around the Agaves.

We had now reached the lower edges of the garden, so we made our way along a side path back to the house where there were several shrubs demanding our attention, such as Euphorbia mellifera with its honey scented flowers. There was a large, imposing Drimys winteri with its balls of fragrant creamy white flowers. The red flowers of Crinodendron hookerianum looked quite magnificent in its cool, sheltered site. Nearby was an old shrub of Leptospermum lanigerum.

All too soon it was time to head home. The future of this private garden remains to be seen.


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