I don’t suppose the name Plas yn Rhiw comes up very often at meetings of the National Trust Gardens Committee. If there was a period when a sense of horticultural correctness pervaded the Trust’s gardens, you wouldn’t know it here, around this remote little manor house on the Llyn Peninsula, stuck out in the Irish Sea. A sense of place certainly: it would be bizarre not to plant the sort of half-hardy things the benign sea air allows. Of fashion, inevitably: bright gardeners are always alert to new plants coming through the system. But, most agreeably, a sense of freedom to be as relaxed as befits minor provincial gentry happily hidden from the world.
The “Plas”, a word which in Welsh seems to cover anything from a mansion to a very minor manor, was restored by three spinster sisters from Nottingham in the 1940’s, encouraged by their friend Clough Williams Ellis of Portmeirion. Everything from the books in the bookshelves to the box-hedged enclosures of the garden bursting with exotic shrubs breathes an austere gentility in speaking contrast to tremendous views of sea and mountains.
The mansion “Plas” of these parts is Plas Newydd, the huge house of the Marquesses of Anglesey on the Menai Strait, in the front row of the stalls for the rock and cloud performances of Mount Snowdon. The National Trust plays this with a light hand, too: it is part family house, part museum (with Rex Whistler’s most famous mural as its USP). One formal terrace, the Royal Box as it were, is intensely floral: blue white and grey in the view that includes the mountains, hellfire red looking the other way.
Trees grow magnificently in its sheltered seaside policies. There is a macrocarpa avenue where these usually scruffy windbreak trees grow as straight grey pillars 80 feet high. Hydrangeas are a way of life in these parts; you pass walls of them hundreds of yards long on the way to the arboretum, with elephantine beeches supervising a jungle of visitors from down under: eucalyptus and every kind of southern beech.
Something we noticed everywhere this year: hydrangeas are ignoring all the colour conventions. The same plant has flowers from imperial purple to Cambridge blue. Is it the warm spring, the sunny summer, or just perversity?