Canopied with Bowers, Pergolas, Arbours and Arches
A report by Joy Neal

Canopied with Bowers was an event arranged as a Study Day of pergolas, bowers, cradle walks and berceaux from Roman times to the present day. It took place at the beautiful hotel in the Conwy valley, Plas Maenan. 67 students attended and these were mainly members of the WHGT. However the trust also welcomed 17 trainees and trainers from the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme run by a group of associated gardens sites in Wales: Aberglasney, Bodnant, Cardiff City Council, Dyffryn Gardens, Newport City council and St Fagans.
The first speaker was Linda Farrar who has a degree in Ancient History and Classical Archaeology and a Master of Philosophy degree in Classics at Warwick University. Her research combined her other great interests, ancient Roman gardens plus frescoes and mosaics in the Provinces of the Roman Empire. However her talk concentrated on pergolas, arbours and arches dating back to 80BC. This lecture ranged from pergulae in Pompeii and Gaul to bowers in ancient Rome. Classical texts and archaeology were used to support the images seen in roman frescoes. Pergulae of wood or reed trelliswork shaded al fresco dining areas, arbours, garden rooms and along walkways. Pergulae and trelliswork were used to effect in highlighting urns, statues or specimen trees, and oscilla were suspended as eyecatchers on these structures. Linda is also greatly interested in gardens of the ancient world and has a book reprinted in 2011 by the History Press on Ancient Roman Gardens.
The second lecture followed immediately and was given by Dr Jan Woudstra, who teaches at the University of Sheffield where he is a Reader in Landscape History and Theory. Following his training as a landscape architect and historian he became involved primarily with conservation projects such as the restoration of the Privy Garden, Hampton Court and Chiswick House. He continues to advise on Hampton Court and is currently also engaged at Het Loo Palace in The Netherlands. He talked about cradle walks, berceaux and bowers in renaissance and baroque gardens, discussing the nomenclature and the fascinating uses they had in contemporary gardens, both socially and physically in dividing or edging the garden spaces. Following his introduction Jan continued with case studies of reconstructed bowers, focussing mainly on those in the gardens of William and Mary at Het Loo Palace in the Netherlands and Hampton Court Palace in Middlesex. At Het Loo the Queen’s Bower was created in a separate garden to the east of the palace, and was designed there for her by William Bentinck, who later became the Earl of Portland. It was laid out within a square arrangement with corner pavilions, with a serpentine bower winding through the inner yard and with some centrally placed seats or reposoirs. The Queen’s Bower at the private garden at Hampton Court was a much simpler affair, being a straight run of 100 yards on top of the terrace, originally created in 1689, shortened slightly to accommodate the changes of 1702. While the timber structure of the bower deteriorated in the 1730s and was removed, the original wych elms with which the bower was originally planted survived till their demise of the Dutch Elm Disease in 1972. It was reconstructed as part of the restoration of the Privy Garden in 1995. The full history of the reconstruction of the bower at Hampton Court has been published in Jan Woudstra’s ‘The design of the Privy Garden at Hampton Court’, published in: Tuinkunst: Dutch yearbook of the history of garden and landscape architecture, 2 (1996), pp.94-120. A more general account on ‘Bowers, berceaux and cradle walks’ was published Pergolas, Arbours and Arches: Their History and How to Make Them in edited by Paul Edwards and Katherine Swift, published by Barn Elms in 2001.
This was followed by an excellent buffet lunch at Plas Maenan and then a further talk by Troy Smith, the Head Gardner at Bodnant. He started by showing the history of Bodnant from 1874 when it was acquired by Henry Pochin. His daughter married into the Mclaren family, who still own the house and estate though the garden is National Trust. Outstanding photography led us through various parts of the garden. He particularly concentrated on major improvement currently taking place in the dell, the creation of a winter garden and then showing details of the reconstruction of the pergola with the creation of a new rose garden with repetitions of the pergola theme created as obelisks.
Finally we drove over to Bodnant and were divided into groups so that we each had the expertise of supervisors to lead us through the various sections. It was a privilege to be able to talk to them and be shown details that the normal visitor could not know about.
It was a most instructive day and shows that WHGT can lead in Wales by organising innovative, academic events that create recorded history in selective areas that are important.