How This Tropical Garden in Wales is Changing How We Think About Castles

By Abi King | Responsible Travel

Jul 24

Aberglasney Gardens Carmarthenshire Wales

What To Do with Aberglasney

Now, this may not be an issue that many Americans face, but over in Europe, it’s a serious concern.

What to do with the many, many castles, keeps and stately homes whose purpose have fallen from favour?

Let them crumble? Rebuild? Restore? Reuse? Remember, whether through commerce (a striking hotel conversion) or creative means (document thoroughly before letting nature take its course.)

The Aberglasney House and Gardens in Carmarthenshire, have taken a rather different approach.

They’ve built a sub-tropical glassy atrium.

Aberglasney Gardens Carmarthenshire - a Tropical Castle in Wales

Aberglasney: Technically Not a Castle

Technically, the buildings were a house rather than a castle but with stone-walled cloisters, crumbling gates and an origin that involves the words King Henry VIII and the first High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in  1541, I’ll stick with my romantic description a little longer.

As for the gardens, they include a myriad of Downton Abbey-sounding names: the North Lawn and Yew Tunnel, Cloister Garden, Bishop Rudd’s Walk, Asiatic Garden, both Upper and Lower Gardens, a Pool Garden, Stream Garden, Pigeon House Wood, Jubilee Woodland, Sunken Garden and more.

Spring flowers at Aberglasney

The Aberglasney Ninfarium

But it’s the deliciously named Ninfarium that stood out the most for me: this magnificent glass-ceilinged creation where sub-tropical phaleonopsis orchids and Madagascar jasmine bloomed amid the sticky humid air and incongruous cool-cold stone castle walls.

Aberglasney gardens Ninfarium

Aberglasney blasted through the centuries from the 16th to the 20th, passing through bishops, lawyers and well to do families, before tragedy and decline arrived in step with the 1900s.

It was requisitioned by the army during the Second World War before a combination of untimely family deaths and the rising costs of maintenance in a world without widespread butlers and domestic service made the project “no longer economically not viable.”

And it’s at this stage of the story that we return to the idea of Americans and their role in European architectural preservation.

Visiting Aberglasney

Enter An American

Manhattanite Francis Cabot, “a financier by profession and a horticulturalist by disposition,” set up the Aberglasney Restoration Trust to rescue the by now derelict shadows of the Aberglasney House and Gardens.

And so it is today that just a short drive from the Welsh towns of Llandeilo and Carmarthen, you can combine the cool stone of castle history with the sub-tropical sweetness on skin.

Dinefwr Castle and Park

And for a different taste of stony heritage, complete with forts and views across the lushly green Tywi valley, head to nearby National Trust property Dinefwr Park and Castle. It’s even a real castle this time…

“If you take a handful of the soil of Dinefwr and squeeze it in your hand, the juice that will flow from your hands is the essence of Wales.” – Wynford Vaughan Thomas

Inside Aberglasney

Inside Aberglasney

Disclosure – I visited Aberglasney as a guest of Discover Carmarthenshire. More on that to follow, including daffodils, gastronomy and staying in an original Welsh House. In the meantime, rest assured that as ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, what is the point?

The true story of the tropical castle in Wales - an unusual thing to do in the UK via @insidetravellab

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • What a great way to use this building. I would enjoy wandering around the house and property!

    • Abi King says:

      I know – it’s so creative, isn’t it? All the traditional areas and then this. Loved it.

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