Plas Brondanw

Plas Brondanw: an Arts and Crafts garden in North Wales perfect for winter

For his own Arts and Craft garden in North Wales, the architect Clough Williams-Ellis employed many of the same elements of wit and charm he used in his most famous creation, Portmeirion. Words Stephanie Mahon, photographs Richard Bloom

Plas Brondanw is an Arts and Crafts garden with quirky touches in Gwynedd, North Wales. Its four acres of heavy and acidic soil exists in a temperate maritime, with mild coastal winters and damp conditions from high rainfall. Hardiness zone USDA 8.

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Gardener clips a sculptural topiary hedge with shears

The need for a certain amount of guesswork is not an unusual problem when revitalising an old private garden such as Plas Brondanw. Luckily for Kimberley Davison, the head gardener at the North Wales estate who arrived in 2018, there are some records available to help guide her, including the plans, notes and letters of late owner Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, the famous 20th-century architect. The garden surrounds his old family seat, which he inherited in his twenties, and lies in picturesque splendour between the mountains and the sea in Snowdonia National Park.

Williams-Ellis designed properties all over the UK and abroad, but was best known as the creator of Portmeirion, the surreal, Riviera-style village perched on the cliffs nearby at Minffordd – the perfect setting for 1960s nightmare-fantasy TV show The Prisoner. His work at Plas Brondanw shares the Italianate influence, but in a much more understated way. Although Williams-Ellis spent a large part of his life designing Portmeirion, it was his own garden at Plas Brondanw, created over many decades, that he was most devoted to. ‘It was for Brondanw’s sake that I worked and stinted, for its sake that I chiefly hoped to prosper,’ he once wrote. ‘A cheque of ten pounds would come in and I would order yew hedging to that extent, a cheque for twenty and I would pave a further piece of terrace.’ Explore more of Plas Brondanw below.

Plas Brondanw
© Richard Bloom

The sloping garden at Plas Brondanw features a strong structure of stonework and evergreen topiary that comes into its own in winter.

Plas Brondanw
© Richard Bloom

There is an array of unusual topiary in the garden. Many pieces have developed their own unique shapes over the years, including the ‘Teapot’ (left above).

Plas Brondanw
© Richard Bloom

Williams-Ellis based his design on views both within the garden and without, framing vistas of the surrounding countryside, and repeating shapes to mimic the peaks of nearby mountains.

Plas Brondanw
© Richard Bloom

On the site of an old slate quarry, across the road from the garden, is a waterfall known as the Cascade. Above this is a ruined tower folly known as Pentwr, built to take advantage of the magnificent views.

Plas Brondanw
© Richard Bloom

Williams-Ellis is best known as the creator of Portmeirion, the surreal, Riviera-style village near Minffordd. Plas Brondanw was created in stages as Williams-Ellis bought more land. This outer path leads down from the Orangery past stone gateposts with turquoise ironwork – an eye-catching motif repeated throughout the garden and the local area.

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USEFUL INFORMATION Address Plas Brondanw, Llanfrothen, Gwynedd LL48 6SW. Website plasbrondanw.com Open 10am-4pm daily throughout the year. The strong, architectural structure and green backbone of yew and box make this an ideal garden for visiting in winter