Photo: gardener Edward Pearce tends to the Dewstow fern caverns. Courtesy Chepstow Museum.
Nature Nurtured, on show at Chepstow Museum until November 7, marks the bicentenary of the Royal Horticultural Society and celebrates the historic gardens and gardeners of Monmouthshire.
Through oil paintings, watercolours, photographs and old maps, as well as tools and equipment, the exhibition explores the county’s rich legacy of sculpted horticultural splendour.
From Renaissance remains to Edwardian survivals, the exhibition takes in the likes of Raglan Castle’s 16th century water garden, Piercefield in the Wye Valley and various hidden treasures.
It’s also a chance to discover the lives of such individuals as Henry Avray Tipping, garden designer and architectural historian, E J Lowe, Victorian fern expert and Sydenham Edwards 19th century botanical illustrator.
One of the foremost botanical artists of the early 19th century, it has been said that through the sheer volume of Edwards’ work he probably did more than anyone else to bring botany to the masses.
Some of his original drawings for plates in the Botanical Magazine, for which he provided almost all their 1721 illustrations over 28 years, have been loaned for the exhibition by the RHS Lindley Library.
Photo: Edward Joseph Lowe, Victorian fern expert. Courtesy Chepstow Museum.
Another great figure in the history of botany, Edward Joseph Lowe, is remembered for his pioneering work with ferns in the Victorian era.
Lowe moved his family to Monmouthshire from his native Nottingham because of its natural advantages for fern growing. While there he pioneered British fern-culture and was the first to demonstrate the possibility of crossing and hybridising ferns.
At Dewstow House, the owners took this obsession with ferns even further with the creation of underground artificial fern caverns.
They laid rocks and water gardens above and under ground using locally quarried natural rock and an artificial rock creation. A labyrinth of passages opened into spectacular caverns, top lit with glazing but made to appear like natural caves with pillars, stalactites and flowing water.
A recent restoration has now returned the caverns to their former glory.
Photo: Dewstow underground Pulhamite fern caverns as they look following a recent restoration. Courtesy Chepstow Museum.
While photographs reveal the subterranean splendour of Dewstow, large scale artworks offer the chance to enjoy other great Monmouthshire gardens.
Pastureland around Raglan Castle still contains the bare bones of the elaborate water garden and terraces created by the wealthy 3rd and 4th Earls of Worcester in the late 16th and 17th centuries.
Their gardens were amongst the most ambitious and innovative of their day and are even more remarkable for their survival.
Photo: the gardens at St Pierre, near Chepstow, 1921. Watercolour by Mary Garland. Courtesy Chepstow Museum.
During the 18th century this passion for sculpted elegance gave way to a vision that embraced as much of the 'natural' landscape as possible; nature, rough and wild, breathtaking and dramatic was the order of the day.
At Piercefield, Valentine Morris laid out winding walks along the edge of the Wye valley with a series of viewpoints contrived to open on to the magnificent vistas of the meandering river.
If the show inspires you to have a go yourself, staff at Chepstow Museum are developing a miniature garden and are inviting the public to Make Our Garden Grow.
From June 27 until July 25, visitors can go along and use all kinds of craft materials to make their own plots. The finished garden will be on show from July 25 until August 1.