This unique village is set on its own private peninsula on the southern shores of Snowdonia. It was created by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978) to demonstrate how a naturally beautiful place could be developed without spoiling it. Portmeirion is made up of about 50 buildings most of which are used as hotel or self-catering accommodation and surrounded by 70 acres of sub-tropical woodland gardens. On the main driveway is Castell Deudraeth, a Victorian mansion recently restored as a brasserie style restaurant and hotel.
Gardens of Portmeirion
Before anyone took an interest in developing the Portmeirion Peninsula, the natural vegetation would have been sessile oak with birch, rowan and locally in wet areas alder and willows. The soil would have been a thin skeletal, acidic brown earth on Cambrian shales and grits which would have dried out very quickly as it does today.
The climate is very mild , winter frosts are rare and this has allowed plantings of tender exotic genera and species in common with many Cornish gardens.
The first plantings, were in early Victorian times. Henry Seymour Westmacott in the late 1850's was responsible for most of these.
From this era a few specimen conifers still survive, large Douglas Firs, Coast Redwoods, Wellingtonia, Noble and Himalayan Firs, and a Deodar which is once more, growing well, a distinctive type of Scots Pine (quite different from later plantings).
The coastline is dominated by rugged, fine Monterey Pines, with a key Scots Pine in the Village. Notable trees in the Village from this era are a Tulip Tree, a massive Variegated Sycamore, a Weeping Silver Lime, which scents the Village in August, and large Beech and Bay Trees.
Around the Hotel, are large trees of the evergreen Holm Oak. Portugal and Cherry Laurels, Strawberry Tree, Rhododendron ponticum, Yew, Bay and Laurustinus illustrating the Victorian passion for evergreen plantings. In the woodland there is a very large specimen of Griselinia littoralis (known as 'The Dancing Tree') and an outlying group of Monkey Puzzles.
The Edwardian Period
Caton Haigh was responsible for a further extensive phase of planting. With the purchase of an additional piece of land on the north and west, 'The Gwyllt', a display woodland, was developed. Here were concentrated the major Rhododendron, Azalea and Camellia plantings with a wide variety of choice trees.
These now include a large (though later) Magnolia campbellii which is now spectacular at Easter with its enormous pale pink flowers, several good Maidenhair Trees (Ginkgo biloba), with fine Chrome-Yellow autumn colour; the Winter's Bark (Drimys winteri), the scarce Plagianthus betulinus; and the evergreen, willow-like Maytenus boaria which is probably the largest in Britain. At the same time Haigh planted shelter-belts, and developed the structure of the woodland which remained the same until the late 1970's. His gardener Alfred Blount was responsible for much of these plantings and these carried on after the 1940 purchase of The Gwyllt, into the 1950's; thus providing continuity.
Clough Williams-Ellis had acquired the Village and Victorian Wood in 1926 but Haigh's Gwyllt not till 1940. He concentrated mainly on the Village with planting of trees for shaping (especially Irish Yews), Cabbage Palm (Cordyline australis), for exotic effect, hedges and pleached trees.
In the woodland considerable structural alterations were made; avenue plantings; the construction of the two lakes, and with the planting of the formal entrance hedge (with vistas) in the first part of the woodland. Emphasis was on structure rather than detailed content. Paths were maintained, but the dense growth between was allowed to develop, largely unchecked, with only minimal clearing and replanting.
Since 1980 a major renovation programme has been begun, with much clearing, restructuring (especially the lakes, which have been re-dug and reshaped) and extensive replanting throughout the woods.