Shropshire Star

Retiring head gardener honoured to join pantheon of 'household names' at Welsh country house

A rare collection of portraits of domestic staff at a Welsh country house has gained a new addition for the first time in more than a century, with a photograph of its recently retired head gardener.


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For nearly 200 years, the cherished household staff and servants at Erddig near Wrexham were recorded in a unique collection of portraits, photographs and verses.

Now, for the first time in more than a century, a new portrait has temporarily joined the historic display to mark the retirement of the estate’s long-serving head gardener.

The Yorke family took a particular and personal interest in the lives of their staff and, in 1791, began commemorating them with painted portraits, photographs and poetry which were hung in the servants’ hall and corridor of their 17th century home.

These celebrated loyalty, length of service and hard work and form what the National Trust says is the most remarkable continuous record of domestic service in any country house in Britain.

Retiring head gardener Glyn Smith is the first person since 1920 to join – albeit temporarily – the display. To honour his horticultural skill and long service, a black-and-white portrait, along with a fond poem, has been created and is on show for a time alongside other employees from Erddig’s past.

Glyn Smith spent 38 years working at Erdigg. Photograph: National Trust/Paul Harris

The last person to be celebrated in this way is thought to be Alfred Thomas, a gamekeeper at Erddig from 1875 to 1894, whose photograph can be seen at Erddig alongside a poem written about him in 1920 by Philip Yorke II.

Several gardeners also feature in the collection, the first being 67-year-old Thomas Pritchard, painted in 1830.

Glyn retired this month after maintaining the Grade I listed grounds for 38 years. His picture, taken by volunteer Dave Jowitt, is inspired by a photograph of former gardener John Davies, who worked at Erddig from 1871.

The accompanying poem was written in the style of Philip Yorke II’s poetry, with property operations manager, Graeme Clarke, highlighting some of Glyn’s most defining moments and characteristics.

Glyn took up his post at Erddig in March 1986 after joining from Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Like many staff before him, he lived with his family – and cats – in a cottage on the estate.

Glyn said: “In many ways, it has been my garden, though I realise I have just been the custodian for a few of its years. I’m honoured to have been a part of Erddig’s fascinating history and to play my part in conserving it for future generations, just as the servants I’m now pictured alongside once did for the Yorkes.”

Shortly after Glyn joined the trust, Erddig held its first Apple Harvest Celebration, with around 20 varieties on display. Glyn’s encyclopaedic knowledge of fruit trees later earned him the title ‘the apple doctor’.

Today, the garden is filled with fruit blossom in spring and more than 180 varieties of apple are displayed in the old stables each October.

Glyn’s skilled tasks included pruning the distinctive double avenues of pleached lime trees, which form a shaded promenade and mark the position of the 18th century garden’s original walled border.

Along with his team of three staff and around 20 volunteers, he also cared for Erddig’s National Collection of ivies and carried out seasonal planting on the Victorian parterre, which this spring will bloom with colourful tulips.

Patrick Swan, National Trust gardens & parklands consultant, said: “Erddig’s garden is a very rare survivor of an early formal garden design, and it’s one of our most important historic landscapes. It needs specialist knowledge and a keen eye to care for it and for the last 38 years Glyn Smith has led the way with remarkable precision and attention to detail.

“With its avenues of pleached limes, countless varieties of immaculately espaliered apple tree, and vibrant summer bedding displays reminiscent of the peak of Victorian gardening, Erddig showcases the finest in horticultural craft, delighting thousands of visitors each year.

“This is testament to Glyn’s many years of skilled leadership and dedication, and as the baton is passed on to the next head gardener, Wales can be thankful that one of its heritage jewels has been under such expert care for so many years.”

Visitors can see Glyn’s portrait and poem on display at Erddig until the end of May.