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Castlewellan Part 2: The “long aisles of glass” - Castlewellan's Glasshouses

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Castlewellan's Head Gardener, Thomas Ryan, in front of the terrace glasshouses c.1880's. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family


When I began to research the story behind Castlewellan, I had no idea I'd find such a wealth of information about the 5th Earl, Hugh Annesley (1831-1908) and his Head Gardener, Thomas Ryan (1851-1910), who laboured together for nearly 40 years to create its wonderful arboretum and expand the existing gardens. As mentioned in Part 1 of my Castlewellan story, An Irish gentleman gardener, the 5th Earl Annesley, during the late 1850’s the walled garden which lies at the heart of the estate was developed into typical Victorian pleasure grounds with the addition of glasshouses. But it was not until Hugh Annesley inherited the title, from the 4th Earl, his elder brother William in 1874, that many more glasshouses were added. By 1900, there were said to be 22 – so many that visiting journalists from Country Life that same year thought it was like walking through "long aisles of glass".

‘Castlewellan (Engraved for Flora)’, from 'Flora and Sylva', July 1904

Part 2 of this story details what the horticultural press tells us about the different glasshouses at Castlewellan, and some of the many plants grown in them – often new introductions or rarities. Many of the articles, written by eminent horticulturists of the day, record their impressions and detail the plants they saw during their visits. And they were obviously impressed.

There are also numerous articles in the horticultural press written by Ryan (often accompanied by the Earl's photographs) which detail the hardy trees and shrubs growing at Castlewellan, for which it was justly famous. However, he writes almost nothing about the glasshouses themselves. There's only one exception I've come across, which is an article about a species of heliconia grown in the water lily house [see Heliconias and The Water Lily House below], but Ryan only refers to it as being in a 'stove'. Perhaps some additional information will come to light when I research the Earl's Head Gardener more fully for Part 3, as his eldest son, Thomas James Ryan, known as 'Jim', trained as a gardener at Castlewellan under his father. Jim spent most of his time working in the plant and fruit glasshouses and, after his father's death, became Head Gardener for a time under the 6th Earl.

What really brings the story of Castlewellan alive for me however, are the Earl's wonderful photographs. A keen photographer and, according to the Encyclopedia of 19th Century Photography, amongst the first people in Ireland to own a camera, he recorded both the plants at Castlewellan, as well as developments in the gardens such as the construction of the numerous glasshouses. I'm grateful to the current Head Gardener, Alwyn Sinnamon, and the Ogilvie family, for access to the Earl's photographs – as well as those showing the restored/new glasshouses at Castlewellan today.

Roofs of the terrace glasshouses, photograph by Hugh Annesley c. late 1880's which clearly show the walls surrounding the main garden. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family

Although the Earl's private photographs of his glasshouses and those published in the horticultural press provide wonderful records for us today, they are, of course, all in black and white. Lacking colour, they simply can't convey the sheer exuberance and beauty of the colours, shapes, and textures of the plants. At the time, plants such as begonias and crotons, which we take for granted today as, respectively, cheap 'bedding' and houseplants, were often newly introduced and considered 'exotic', or even rare, and grown in glasshouses. I have, therefore, included where possible 'botanical' colour images of some of the plants he grew, as well as a couple of my favourite Victorian paintings of conservatories. I hope these will give you a better idea of what the contents of the Earl's fabulous glasshouses may once have looked like.

Exuberant and colourful planting depicted in The Conservatory by W.C. Jarvis, 1884

Castlewellan is currently embarking on a 4 year restoration project which includes the remaining glasshouses – aided by the Earl's photographs. A few underwent some restoration several years ago, but this project will allow for full scale restoration, as well as the inclusion of plants in those glasshouses for the first time in many years. Propagation from Castlewellan's wonderful collection of (often rare) trees and shrubs is also planned. Two new glasshouses have also been installed, replacing ones long since demolished.

Where were the Glasshouses?

When I visited Castlewellan back in 2010, I only recall seeing the sad-looking glasshouses on the terrace overlooking a stone balustrade with views out over the arboretum. I don't think we had access to the area known as the Bothy Yard, where most of Castlewellan's glasshouses were once located. And so I'm also grateful for a 2015 report on Castlewellan by Terence Reeves-Smyth, which has been an extremely useful aid in determining where the various glasshouses once were [see References].

Plan of The Bothy Yard c. early 1900's. At around this time, there were 13 greenhouses, a number of potting sheds, and boiler houses to heat the various glasshouses, located in the Bothy Yard

The Glasshouses at Castlewellan

By the time Hugh Annesley inherited the Castlewellan title, glasshouse technology was cutting edge. With the advent of better heating and boiler systems, glasshouses could be kept at varying temperatures – those designated as ‘cool’ or ‘intermediate’ allowed an array of sub-tropical and temperate plants to be grown, while 'stoves' (heated glasshouses or 'hothouses') provided temperatures suitable for many tropical plants, such as exotic species of orchids. It's perhaps no surprise therefore that, with his passion for plants, the Earl built the Bothy Yard and a range of additional glasshouses.

As can be seen from the photograph below, many of the glasshouses at Castlewellan were sited on a terrace – with the high wall of the walled garden behind them. Such walls were often used to support ‘lean-to’ glasshouses, as well as providing shelter for freestanding, ‘clear-span’, houses. When I visited Castlewellan in 2010, the remaining glasshouses were in a sad state as can be seen from my photograph below. Happily, however, only a few years later they had undergone some restoration, although they remained empty for many years.

My photograph of the terrace glasshouses when I visited Castlewellan in 2010 – and, right, a photograph from 2016 after restoration, courtesy Eric Jones

Over the years, articles in The Gardeners' Chronicle and The Garden provided a wealth of information, as they report in great detail on the various glasshouses and what they were used for. For example, an article in The Gardeners' Chronicle of May 1891 writes of 'vineries'; 5 houses devoted to orchids, stove, and foliage plants; a Melon House containing Gardenia grandiflora planted out in a heated bed, together with gloxinias and streptocarpus hybrids (although no melons are mentioned...); a Peach and Nectarine House; a house full of azaleas; and an orchard-house with standard nectarines planted out down the centre. Another article mentions that one of the 'vineries' also contained a collection of Japanese bamboos and “700 plants of Maidenhair Ferns”.

The Terrace Glasshouses

The 'terrace' glasshouses consist of a central glasshouse divided into 3 sections (once housing the 'vineries') flanked by 2 matching gable-ended glasshouses. An 1871 account referred to them as "a recently erected fine range of glass-houses, consisting of stove, 3 vineries, each 35 feet by 28 feet, and a cool conservatory... The vineries and conservatories were erected by Gray, of Chelsea, and are well finished, and found to work well". The dark area in front of the central glasshouse is where planted beds once were (as can been seen in the photograph at the top of this blog). It would also have contained the roots of the various vines trained to grow inside the glasshouse.

James Gray of London was a company well-known from the mid-1850’s as manufacturers of the latest boilers and an installer of glasshouses, including at many large estates such as Sandringham and Cliveden. The company advertised itself in the horticultural press as “erecting conservatories, vineries, orchid houses, palm houses, melon and cucumber houses, pits, etc., boilers of every description, hot water pipes, valves and castings”. [Gray was, for a time, in partnership with 2 others, creating the probably better-known horticultural building firm of Gray, Ormson & Brown.]

Advertisements for James Gray Horticultural Builders from 'The Gardeners’ Chronicle',1862

The 3 sections of the central glasshouse had sloping sides for the vines, as can be seen in the photograph below of the interior of the 'vineries' following some restoration in 2013. These vineries replaced those in the lower garden [see The Peach House and Nectarine House in the Lower Garden below]. The 1871 account states they were only planted up that spring (but doesn't mention with what), while in 1891 The Gardeners' Chronicle reports only Muscat and Black Hamburgh grapes being grown in them.

Interior of the central glasshouse 'vineries' after restoration in 2013

The 'stove', on the west side of the terrace, was a heated glasshouse for tropical plants and with a large heated tank for water lilies. An article in The Gardeners' Chronicle of December 1896 describes plants growing in this particular glasshouse as various species of bamboo and ficus, and "a plant of the handsome Schubertia grandiflora in bloom", often called a climber for the 'stove', as shown below. The Gardeners' Chronicle makes no mention of the water lily tank, although The Garden describes it in some detail in an article in 1895 [see The Water Lily House below].

'Schubertia Grandiflora' featured as a coloured plate in 'The Garden', July 30, 1887. Drawn from a specimen by H.G. Moon in October the previous year

The 'cool' glasshouse at the east end of the terrace was also known as the 'Intermediate' or 'Rock House'.

The Rock-House

The Gardeners' Chronicle describes the Rock House as having a central stage or bank covered with "bold-looking rockwork", with planting not usually seen in such a glasshouse.

Fortunately, the Earl photographed the interior of this glasshouse, as can be seen below – contrast that with the photograph of the rock house in 2013 looking somewhat sorry for itself (the tree fern is a later replacement).

'Interior of the Eastern Terrace Conservatory – an Intermediate House with rock work'. Photograph by Hugh Annesley c.1894. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family. And photograph from 2013

Unfortunately, the article only mentions this particular glasshouse in passing, saying that in the spring it's full of 6,000 "forced" Narcissis 'Countess of Annesley' [to be the subject of Part 4], as well as various begonias, including ones named for the Countess and Thomas Ryan. In the Earl's photograph, you can just see some daffodils amongst what look like orchids or hyacinths.

I can find nothing further on Begonia Thomas Ryan, but there are reports in the horticultural press and The Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society about Begonia 'Lady Annesley'. This particular new hybrid begonia was shown by Messrs F. Sander & Co. at the RHS Temple Show in May 1895 where it achieved an Award of Merit. Although it originated, according to The Irish Plant Society, from Rodger, M’Clelland & Co. Nurseries of Newry in County Down. Described as being of highly decorative appearance, with “silver-surfaced foliage, except for a slight and very pretty margin of green…”.

'Begonia Lady Annesley' from 'The Canadian Horticulturist' of May 1903

The only image I’ve found of Begonia 'Lady Annesley' is from The Canadian Horticulturist of May 1903 in an article about hybrid rex begonias. The author describes it rather poetically as being "delicately cut with sharply pointed leaves that glimmer and glisten like frosted silver, with a soft sheen of pink scarcely perceptible on the silvery ground color, together with the delicate tracings of reddish green leaf veins and leaf stem…" making this variety standout, even amongst the many beautiful varieties of rex begonias.

Incidentally, The Gardening World [a Victorian horticultural publication I'd not come across before] also records Begonia Rex 'Pride of Castlewellan' shown at the RHS Temple Show one year later, in May 1896. Again shown by F. Sander & Co. and achieving an Award of Merit – it's described as having large, olive-green leaves, with bright green v-shaped markings towards its edges. It seems none of these begonia hybrids still exist. Below is one of my favourite Victorian paintings of a conservatory full of exotic plants, featuring Begonia rex, a conservatory favourite.

'Il Penseroso' by John Atkinson Grimshaw, 1875

The Bothy Yard Glasshouses

As well as the 22 glasshouses at Castlewellan, there were numerous potting-sheds, a fruit-room, a mushroom house [producing, according to Country Life, thousands every year – much more than the house could consume] and, beneath these, boilers and areas for coal. These were located underneath the sheds behind the glasshouses as noted on the map of the Bothy Yard above. Castlewellan's current Head Gardener, Alwyn, tells me the boilers were accessed by a long tunnel running underneath the sheds, and there was also a 'coal hole' enabling deliveries straight down into the boiler area.

The tunnel entrance is just outside the small tin shed against the wall, as shown below. Date of photograph unknown. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family

The Earl's daughter, Mabel, provides us with a nugget of information about the cost of all this, writing [see Notes] that the servants "ran up a coal bill of something over £800 a year" for the house and garden. Her father, however, did seem to have a sense of humour, as she also records him remarking that "it was almost annoying of them... not to make it up to the thousand". This was, of course, a huge amount of money at this time – although, she adds, this cost was "mostly for his orchids...".

Adjoining this area was 'the forcing ground', i.e. an area for 'forcing' plants or vegetables to flower or fruit earlier than usual, often by heating or keeping them covered, often in forcing 'pits'. There were also 2 'span-roofed' houses for cucumbers and melons, and the 'pits'. 'Pits' were glasshouses with boilers in pits at the bottom to provide heating – usually to grow exotic fruit or tropical plants.

The 'forcing pits' at Castlewellan under construction,1872. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family

Below, Hugh Annesley sitting in 'The Bothy Yard' next to the forcing pits c.1890. In this context, 'The Bothy House' (on the left) would have been basic accommodation for gardeners or other estate workers. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family

Below, New cold frames in the Bothy Yard – similar to the type of cold frame the 5th Earl sits upon in the photograph above. Courtesy Alwyn Sinnamon. [Note the Bothy House has lost its tall chimney over the years]

According to the article in The Gardeners' Chronicle of May 1891, there was also a “lean-to [glasshouse] with a north aspect" filled with cuttings of new trees and shrubs. The actual position of this glasshouse is unclear, but it was probably similar in style to the lean-to glasshouse pictured below [in 2015, and after it's recent restoration], which is located in the corner of the Bothy Yard next to the Bothy House. There was also “a span roof for forcing hybrid Rhododendrons...". The unnamed author from The Gardeners' Chronicle writing that each year about 1,000 ponticum stocks were taken from the woods and grafted with the best garden varieties – which would, by "gentle forcing", flower in February, filling the winter garden with colour when other flowers were scarce.

Photographs of the 'lean-to' glasshouse in the Bothy Yard in 2015 and, right, recently restored. Courtesy Alwyn Sinnamon

There was also a glasshouse devoted to various types of codieums [today we use Codieum variegatum, or the Croton, as a houseplant], with ferns and dracenas. Examples of crotons and dracenas are shown below from James Shirley Hibberd's 1870 book on beautiful-leaved plants. Hibberd (1825-1890) was one of the most popular and successful gardening writers of the Victorian era, writing several books and editing 3 gardening magazines, including Amateur Gardening which is still with us today. I have no information on the contents of the Earl's library but, as a keen gardener, it's more than likely he owned some of Hibberd's publications.

'Croton irregulaire and Croton Hilli' and, right, 'Dracaena terminalis var. Stricta'. From James Shirley Hibberd’s 'New and Rare Beautiful-Leaved Plants', 1870

'Stove foliage'. Engraved for 'The Garden' [from a photograph], September 28, 1889

Colourful and interestingly textured leaves and foliage were very popular for glasshouses (and the home), and an article in The Garden in September 1889 written by F.W. Burbidge (1847-1905), best known as Curator of the Botanical Gardens of Trinity College Dublin at Glasnevin, discusses the beauty of leaves and includes this illustration of “stove or hothouse foliage”. Many of these plants would have been in the Earl's glasshouses including ‘stove’ ferns, alocasias, and crotons. I've included a coloured plate below from a German botanical titled Blattpflanzen, or 'foliage plants', from 1892 to give an idea of the colours and shapes of such plants.

'Blattpflanzen' [English translation being 'foliage plants'] from the German botanical, ‘Konversations-Lexikon’ by F.A. Brockhause, 1892

The Peach House and Nectarine House in the Lower Garden

In the area known as the 'lower garden' (see map below) stood a large Peach House some 136 feet long with an adjacent, smaller, Nectarine House. These were built in the 1870's/1880's on the same spot to replace old glasshouses which were Castlewellan's original ‘vineries’. These old glasshouses were originally built c.1830's and survived long enough to be photographed [although not of good enough quality to include here]. They remained until more modern glasshouses were built on the ‘terrace’ (including the large central glasshouse for the vines). It's known that these old glasshouses were still functioning in the early 1870's as a visitor in 1871 remarked that “a few of the glass erections still remain, until the new vineries, etc. commence to produce fruit; in one of these was a very fine, useful, well-coloured crop of Black Hamburgh Grapes, the Vines being very old, evidently more than 50 years. Peaches too, were very fine, and a heavy crop”.

These two glasshouses survived until the 1960's, when they were demolished.

Below, The Nectarine House (on the left) and the Peach House (right). Photograph by Hugh Annesley c.1890. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family

Photograph below showing the Peach and Nectarine House. Photograph by Hugh Annesley c.1880's. By kind permission of the Ogilvie Family. And, right, the same view today

The Turner House

The most ornate glasshouse at Castlewellan by far was known as the Turner House (as pictured below), which once stood in the Bothy Yard. This was a short rectangular high-quality iron curvilinear glasshouse with a rounded end, built against the wall (of the walled garden) in the late 1870's. It was known as the Turner House as it was from the workshop of famous iron master Richard Turner (1798-1881). Turner's foundry in Dublin produced some of the earliest, and best known iron glasshouses, including the Palm House at Kew (with Decimus Burton), as well as the curvilinear ranges at the Belfast Botanic Garden and Glasnevin in Dublin.

The Castlewellan glasshouse was supported by decorative iron columns, each flanking 3 large glass bays with glass panes that opened on swivels, and with a large decorative iron ridge. These can all clearly be seen in the photograph below, as well as the various palms and plants growing inside. Note also the urn on the wall above the glasshouse (top left in photograph) which, Alwyn tells me, is thought to be of Coade stone – possibly one of several items that records show were delivered to Castlewellan in 1818-1820 from Mrs Coade's works in Lambeth [see Notes]. Sadly, this beautiful glasshouse is long gone.

The glasshouse at Castlewellan known as 'The Turner House', with Thomas Ryan, the 5th Earl of Annesley's Head Gardener, pictured. Photograph by Hugh Annesley c.1880's. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family. Note the urn on the wall, top left

The Orchid Houses

Castlewellan had several glasshouses devoted to orchids, but one at least is known to have been located in the Bothy Yard (as shown on the map above). The Gardeners’ Chronicle's feature article on Castlewellan, in December 1896, describes the contents of the so-called 'cool' orchid house as forming “the beginnings of a collection”, as most plants were new importations including rare species.

The newly built 'Orchid House', photograph by Hugh Annesley, May 1895, featuring the Countess holding a bouquet of flowers. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family

Below, Restored 'Orchid House'. Courtesy Alwyn Sinnamon

According to E.T. Cook’s Gardening for Beginners of 1902 [see Notes], there were generally three types of orchid house: the ‘cool’ house, with a winter temperate range of around 5-15 degrees celsius; an ‘intermediate’ house, 10-18c; and the ‘heated’ or ‘stove’ house at 15-21c in the winter. Although The Gardeners' Chronicle doesn't mention which orchids were in the 'cool' house, the journalists from Country Life who visited in 1900, mention stopping along the way through the various glasshouses to examine a “weird, wicked-looking orchid with an impossible name, by which Lord Annesley sets particular store, some prize of the auction room, which has proved an unique treasure”.

However, The Gardeners' Chronicle does mention another plant being grown there – a rather rare climber, Quisqualis indicas, or the Rangoon Creeper. Described as a beautiful “sweet-scented stove climber” with orange-red, delicate pink or sometimes almost white flowers, generally in flower from May to September. A native of Peru, it was first introduced to the UK via the Calcutta Botanic Garden, so may possibly have been obtained by the Earl from the various consignments of plants and seeds he received from there [see Part 1].

Quisqualis indicas, tab 492 from 'The Botanical Register', vol. VI, 1820

There's also mention of a 'Cattleya-House', but it's not clear whether this was the same 'orchid' glasshouse as that above, or another [the horticultural press does mention 5 orchid houses in all]. However, the horticultural press notes that the 'Cattleya-House' contained a "good collection" of various species of cattleya, vanda, dendrobium and cymbidium orchids – with "much discrimination shown in making additions”. As an example, see the 1904 photograph, below, of the interior of Lord Rothschild's cattleya house at Gunnersbury Park in London.

One particular orchid mentioned as growing in the Earl's cattleya house was Cattleya percivaliana. This was a new introduction from the early 1880's, and a useful addition as it flowers in the UK in December and January. A native of Venezuela, it was first discovered by plant-collectors employed by Messrs F. Sander & Co. As usual with new orchids on the market, it was initially expensive – advertised for sale in Messrs Veitch & Sons’ plant catalogue of 1882 from a guinea each. Orchids in particular were often sold at auction at one of the leading auction houses in Covent Garden such as Protheroe & Morris, or J.C. Stevens as noted below. As the Earl and his family usually spent their summers in London [see Part 1], it's probable he bought some orchids in this way.

Advertisement for the auction of 'Cattleya percivaliana' at Mr. J.C. Stevens of Covent Garden from 'The Gardeners’ Chronicle', February 3, 1883

A few years later, this orchid was still written about in the horticultural press as being a recent, but still rather rare, introduction. And in 1889, William Robinson, editor and owner of The Garden, went to the expense of featuring it as a coloured plate from a drawing by his favourite artist, H.G. Moon.

'Cattleya percivaliana', coloured lithograph from a drawing by H.G. Moon in 1887. Published in 'The Garden', June 8, 1889

Below, 'Interior of Cattleya House in Lord Rothschild’s Garden, Gunnersbury Park', from 'The Gardeners’ Chronicle', February 27, 1904. The photograph was taken the previous November, so orchids growing in this warm glasshouse must have been quite a sight during the winter

Another article in The Garden in 1896, titled ‘A way of growing Orchids’, described a novel idea about making the best use of the stems of tree ferns – Dicksonia antarctica. The article features the Earl's photograph of orchids and other plants growing on a tree fern stem just as described in the article. However, as the article's author is only noted as 'A', I can't be sure if the Earl wrote the text.

‘Orchids and other plants on Tree Fern stems. From a photograph by Lord Annesley’. 'The Garden', May 23, 1896. This photograph shows a single stem

Whether or not the Earl was the author, the article relates how attempts at growing tree ferns outside failed when they were all killed by the terrible winter of 1894. Now stuck with several useless tree ferns, it occurred to the author that the stems could be utilised in hot-houses as plant supports to show-off ferns and stove plants.

'A' therefore planted-up "thirteen of them with fine-leaved Begonias, different sorts of Adiantums and stove creepers, and all the Orchids the gardener would allow me to have”. Growing the plants this way was successful, he writes, and also [adding helpfully...] a great space saving idea for "owners of smaller [glass]houses".

The tree fern stems were tightly fitted into pots as the easiest way of making them stand up by themselves, or tied with copper wire to the iron pillars of the orchid house – as it’s “much prettier to see these masses of foliage and bright flowers than the usual naked iron pillar”. The article also notes that one of the plants used was "the pretty hybrid Begonia Lady Annesley".

The Water Lily House

In 1895, The Garden published an article written by Burbidge about Castlewellan's water lily house together with a photograph of it, below, taken by the Countess of Annesley especially for the article. [This is the only published photograph by the Countess that I've found, although a later article in Country Life (1900) mentions her as being "ever ready" with her camera.] As already mentioned, the water lily tank was located in 'the stove' glasshouse on the west side of the terrace.

'A Water Lily House at Castlewellan. Engraved for 'The Garden' from a photograph by the Countess of Annesley'. From 'The Garden', June 15, 1895

Alwyn has also sent me a stunning photograph of the 'water lily' house, below, although the date is unknown. The planting around the tank certainly looks very similar to that shown in the Countess's photograph – although, of course, the water lily pads in this photograph are very much larger. I think her photograph is a close-up or cropped image of the right-hand corner of the tank, and that the photograph below is the same tank perhaps just a few years later. Possibly in the early 1900's – as reports from 1900 and 1904 report different species of blue water lilies growing in a “tropical aquatic house" [details below], meaning the water lily house. However, and although I don't know a lot about water lilies, the large pads pictured below do remind me of the giant water lily, Victoria amazonica, introduced to the UK in the late 1830's. So, if anyone has any more information about the image below, I'd certainly be interested to hear it.

The ‘water lily’ house at Castlewellan. Date unknown, but possibly early 1900's

Below, The giant waterlily, ‘Victoria amazonica’, photographed at the Botanical Garden, Brno, Czech Republic, 2009

Getting back to what we do know about the water lily house, it was described primarily as being “a warm plant stove” with a tank for the water lilies – the water being refreshed by the spray of a fountain. Burbidge describes the tank surrounded by the rarest of palms and ferns “and the most delicate of foliage plants".

Some of the water lilies being grown (as shown in the Countess's photograph) were the latest 'must-have' plants: new “beautiful hybrid Nymphaeas" from the French nurseryman, M. Latour-Marliac. These new colourful hybrid water lilies, being in colours not known in European water lilies before, had been created by crossing European species with those from America and the tropics. First shown at the World’s Fair of 1889 in Paris, the new hybrids were the plants Claude Monet used to stock his newly created water-garden at Giverny. And, as is well known, they became his passion and Monet spent the rest of his life painting them.

These new hybrids, in shades of white, rose, crimson and soft yellow, created something of a sensation in the horticultural world. Several articles about them appear in The Garden in 1893, written by Burbidge and The Garden’s owner, William Robinson. A later article by Robinson includes a coloured lithograph, below, of one of the new hybrids, Nymphaea marliacea carnea (produced in 1887). According to The Garden (December 1896), specific Latour-Marliac hybrid water lilies grown at Castlewellan included N. Laydekeri rosea, described as “perhaps the finest in colour of all the pigmy Nymphaeas”; N. marliacea chromatella, famous for its beautiful sulphur yellow colour and as being “perhaps the…most luxuriant of all”; as well as N. marliacea rosa and, as shown below, N. marliacea carnea.

'Nymphaea Marliacea Carnea' from 'The Garden', December 23, 1893. Coloured lithograph, drawn by A.F. Hayward from a plant growing outside at William Robinson’s own garden, Gravetye Manor in West Sussex . This is still a popular water lily today

Burbidge describes Castlewellan's water lilies as being almost perpetually in bloom, with the scented flowers opening day and night for at least 6-8 months of the year. Many were also grown in the lake and ponds, as well as under glass; Burbidge commenting that it was likely Castlewellan would become “as famous for its water plants and water-side vegetation as it now is for its magnificent trees, shrubs and wall climbers...".

The later Country Life article of March 1900, also speaks of a “tropical aquatic house", where the writer was struck by the perfume of the exotic "blue water-lily of Zanzibar" (Nymphaea capensis var. zanzibariensis). Another blue water lily in the “aquatic-house” is mentioned by Burbidge: writing in Flora and Sylva in July 1904, he notes the “very handsome” N. gigantea from Queensland in Australia having flowered well at Castlewellan for several years. This particular species was not particular new, having been introduced and described in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine in 1852. Of interest is an article in Flora and Sylva in 1903, written by James Hudson, Head Gardener to Lord Rothchild at Gunnersbury Park, which gives us an idea of the temperatures needed to grow these plants successfully. He writes about growing N. gigantea in a tank, heated from below, which was kept at between 70-80f (21-26c) during the growing season, and allowed to fall to between 55-60f (12-15c) during the winter when the plants were dormant. So, more expense on the coal front for the Earl...

The tank in the water lily house was removed some decades ago.

'Nymphaea capensis Zanzibariensis', Plate 11 from 'The Waterlilies: A Monograph of the Genus Nymphaea', by Henry S. Conard, 1905 – and, right, 'Nymphaea gigantea', t. 4647, 'Curtis’s Botanical Magazine', May 1st, 1852

The writer from Country Life was also impressed by the "quaint pitcher-plants" hanging overhead, with browneas and aristolochias, "more bizarre than beautiful", draping the roof. Although the article's author doesn't specify any particular species, I've given examples of just a couple below. Browneas are species of small evergreen trees from the tropical Americas, mostly with beautiful blossoms like Brownea ariza, pictured below. This particular species was discovered in 1842 in Colombia, and the specimen illustrated was grown at the Botanical Gardens of Trinity College Dublin at Glasnevin.

'Brownea Ariza', t.6469 from 'Curtis’s Botanical Magazine', January 1st, 1880

Aristolochias are species of the rather strange looking tropical climber, Dutchman's Pipe. Some of these vines are evergreen and some deciduous. A. Duchartreii was a relatively new plant in 1870, as advertised by the Belgian nursery, J. Linden, in The Gardeners' Chronicle, as shown below.

Below, 'Aristolochia Duchartreii', 1870 and, right, 'Aristolochia Trilobata', 1861 – both from the Belgian journal, 'Flore des Serres et des Jardins de l’Europe' [English translation being ‘Flowers of the Greenhouses and Gardens of Europe’]

Advertisement for New Plants from the Belgian nursery, J. Linden. From ‘The Gardeners’ Chronicle', April 30, 1870


Other plants kept in the water lily house included Heliconias which, at the time, were little known but valued as ornamental plants for the 'stove' due to their handsome foliage. A note written by Ryan, accompanied by the Earl's photograph below, was published in The Garden in November 1897. Shown at the RHS's Temple Show in the summer of 1895, The Garden noted that although Heliconia illustris rubricaulis had been available for the last 2-3 years, it was “very scarce” and so still commanded a good price.

‘Heliconia illustris rubricaulis in the Water Lily House at Castlewellan'. Photograph by Hugh Annesley. 'The Garden', November 6, 1897 – and, right, coloured drawing of the plant by L. Descamps-Sabouret from the French journal, ‘Revue Horticole’, vol. 68, 1896

This particular species [now Heliconia indica var. indica], was said to resemble a canna and to be "one of the most remarkable introductions of recent years” due to its beautiful rosy-red leaves, leaf stalks of a bright vermilion red, with leaf veins in vermilion, rose and yellow. Ryan's note advised that the plant in the Earl's photograph, grown at a "moist stove temperature" in a 12 inch diameter pot, “is 5 feet in height and has over 20 leaves, each leaf being 9 inches across”. (It was awarded a First Class Certificate at an RHS show in 1894.)

The Winter Garden Conservatory

Adjacent to the castle, there was also a large conservatory known as 'the winter garden' [i.e. a glasshouse for growing plants and flowers throughout the year, and often used for entertaining]. Built in 1888-89, it featured tree ferns, shrubs, and climbers, as well as flowering plants. Unfortunately, like many glasshouses across the UK, it was demolished in the 1920’s.

Photograph of the 'winter garden' during construction c.1888-89. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family

Below, Photograph of the winter garden exterior at Castlewellan. Date unknown. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family

Some additional information can be gleaned about the 'winter garden' from the article about Castlewellan in Country Life in 1900. After looking at the gardens, the party from the magazine were shown around the many glasshouses by the Countess – travelling through the “long aisles of glass”.

Interior of the 'winter garden' showing tree ferns in pots, bamboos, climbers and trailing plants, featuring the Countess. Photograph by Hugh Annesley c. late 1800's. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family

Below, 'The Countess Annesley in the Conservatory' from 'Country Life', March 3rd, 1900

After their exertions, the Country Life journalists were taken back to the castle's “delightful annexe [by the Countess, and where] the winter garden tea awaits us… laid out on a massive table of polished native grey granite… surrounded by an army of rocking chairs”. The photograph above showing the winter garden interior features a rocking chair and table – also shown in Country Life's photograph here.

Country Life's article also mentions that amongst the various tropical-looking plants in the winter garden was a glass tank with gold fish, as well as tree ferns. These had also been given the 'tree fern stem' treatment, as their hairy brown trunks were “encrusted with squat cacti and begonias”.

‘Kentia luciani’ from the Belgian journal, L’Illustration Horticole, by Jean Jules Linden, vol. 1, 1854

One of The Gardeners' Chronicle articles (May 1891) also mentions various Kentias [still popular houseplants today] and other palms and bamboos growing in the ‘winter garden’ – an example, Kentia luciani, is shown here.

However, a couple of plants worth particular mention, and which feature regularly in the horticultural press at the time, are Rhododendron nuttallii and Dendocalamus sikkimensis

Rhododendron nuttallii

One of the plants grown in the ‘winter garden’ was a Himalayan species of rhododendron, R. nuttallii – recorded by The Gardeners’ Chronicle in October 1892. The article is accompanied by a photograph of one growing there, sent in to them by the Earl. As you can see, its titled 'Supplement to The Gardeners' Chronicle' – these 'supplements' were full page, and often better quality photographs than those usually published.

'Rhododendron nuttallii in Lord Annesley’s Conservatory' [or 'winter garden']. From 'The Gardeners’ Chronicle', October 8, 1892. Note what look like banana leaves in this photograph – bananas were grown in some of the glasshouses according to the horticultural press

This species was discovered in 1849-50 probably somewhere in the mountains of Assam (northern India), although at the time it was thought to have come from Bhutan. It’s a shrub or small tree but is tender, and so needs to be grown under glass even in Castlewellan's mild climate. The plant features in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine in November 1859 where it's described as being “a Prince of Rhododendrons”, and was therefore accorded a “quarto size” (i.e. a double-page) spread, as shown below.

The Gardeners' Chronicle notes that this particular species was “a favourite with his lordship”. In his 1902 paper written for the Royal Horticultural Society [see Part 1], the Earl describes this species, despite being a “very straggling grower and a shy flowerer”, as one of “the finest" of all the Himalayan rhododendrons with beautiful yellow and white bells. The Earl also makes an additional comment in his paper, which gives us an insight into the dangers of plant-hunting: “I was told when in India that the reason it is so scarce is that it is not safe to go into the country it grows in [Bhotan – sic] for a European, and the authorities do not like to order natives to take the risk of doing so”.

Only a few years later, in 1896, the Earl's Head Gardener was advertising for “good-sized plants of Rhododendron Nuttallii” in the 'Wanted' ads listed on the front page of The Gardeners’ Chronicle of Saturday, February 29, 1896. Perhaps it was still something of a rarity in the UK or Ryan (usually credited with being a master of propagation), had been unable to reproduce it.

'Rhododendron Nuttallii (or Mr Nuttall’s Rhododendron)', Tab 5146, Curtis's Botanical Magazine, November 1st, 1859. Illustration by Walter Fitch

Photograph below showing the interior of the winter garden at Castlewellan, c.1890's. Note the Earl with camera reflected in a mirror, and the Countess standing in the doorway. By kind permission of the Ogilvie family

Dendrocalamus sikkimensis

Another interesting plant grown in the Castlewellan 'winter garden' was a bamboo, Dendocalamus sikkimensis, a giant tender species with red stems. There are lots of articles and readers' letters about this particular species of bamboo in the horticultural press between 1890 and 1892, but some in The Garden and The Gardeners' Chronicle are a little confusing. It seems the Earl came across it while travelling in India and sent it back to Castlewellan [probably in a Wardian case], where it thrived. Both publications imply that the Earl actually 'introduced' this species, but it had been in cultivation at Kew since 1885 grown from seeds sent by the Calcutta Botanic Gardens, collected by a Mr Pantling.

In any event, the article in The Gardeners' Chronicle includes one of the Earl's photographs of the plant, described as being about 12 feet high, and growing in an 'intermediate house' [in the winter garden conservatory] as it was not as "hardy as the Japanese and Northern Chinese kinds”.

'Dendocalamus sikkimensis, in the Conservatory at Castlewellan', photograph by Hugh Annesley. 'The Gardeners' Chronicle', December 3, 1892. The little girl is probably one of the Earl's younger daughters – and note the heating vents to her right

I've included, below, another plate from the German botanical as it shows various other plants which the horticultural press mentions growing in Castlewellan's glasshouses. These included amaryllis, clivia, and gloxinia, as well as various species of passiflora, and aristolochia (the Dutchman's Pipe already mentioned above).

Warmhauspflanzen [English translation being 'hot house plants'] from the German botanical, ‘Konversations-Lexikon’ by F.A. Brockhause, 1898


Detailed reports and articles in the horticultural press, mostly from the late 1880's through to the early 1900's, together with the Earl's photographs, provide us with a great deal of information about the glasshouses at Castlewellan, as well as the plants growing in them. Indeed, there are far too many plants mentioned in these articles than I've time to discuss here [and if I did, this would be an even longer blog...], but I've tried to select those I thought were the most interesting or unusual. The Earl and his trusty Head Gardener, Thomas Ryan, were certainly passionate about the wide variety of trees and shrubs they grew at Castlewellan, and their own writings focus on these, rather than the fantastic array of plants they grew in the glasshouses – with only the odd exception. Therefore, details of the glasshouse plants are mostly taken from the horticultural press.

As mentioned earlier, there were glasshouses already in the garden before the Earl's period of expansion – some of these were removed, and others had a change of use. But, sometimes, it's still not clear which particular glasshouses are being referred to in articles, or they are called by different names, so some confusion is likely. Any mistakes are therefore my own.

Being a huge fan of Victorian glasshouses, I do get somewhat excited about the technicalities of these wonderful things – such as the intricacies of heating grills, opening vent mechanisms, and the like. But they are not to everyone's taste; however, if you wish to read about such things, I recommend Horticultural Buildings by F.A. Fawkes of 1881 which is available on-line [see Further Reading below for link]. Fawkes was a partner in Crompton & Fawkes, one of the leading manufacturers of horticultural buildings at the time, and his book will tell you everything you need to know (and possibly more...) about such things as 'span' and 'lean-to' glasshouses, 'pits', and even subsidiary buildings such as mushroom houses and potting sheds. It also covers more basic subjects such as the benefits of wood versus iron in glasshouse construction, types of glass and heating, and even legal and insurance aspects of glasshouse management. Truly a book for everyone's Christmas list!

Glasshouse Restoration and the Future

As outlined in Part 1, in 2021 Castlewellan ‘Forest Park’ was awarded £5.5 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the local council to renovate Castlewellan over a 4 year period. An important part of this project being to protect Castlewellan’s heritage and plant collections, while restoring the arboretum. Restoration of the glasshouses and the gardens will therefore be on-going for the next few years – hopefully putting Castlewellan firmly back on the map as one of the greatest plant collections in Britain and Ireland.

As you can see from this blog, restoration on several of the glasshouses continues, and those located on the terrace will be fitted out and planted up for the enjoyment of visitors, while others will be used to grow plants and for plant propagation. It's planned for the Bothy Yard to become the hub of the garden for the garden team, visitors, and volunteers.

As there's so much to say about the glasshouses at Castlewellan, this has turned out to be a much longer blog than I'd planned, but the good news is Parts 3 and 4 have still to come over the next few months...!


Hugh's daughter, Mabel Annesley, is quoted from her notes about the history of Castlewellan, written in 1931, from her unfinished autobiography, The Sight is Bent, published after her death.

For more information on Coade stone, see link Coade Stone | Historic England

E.T. Cook’s Gardening for Beginners, 1902. A garden writer, Cook was co-editor of The Garden magazine, with Gertrude Jekyll, from 1900-1902.

I am grateful to the Ogilvie family for their kind permission to use the photographs of Castlewellan; however, I have only attributed them to the Earl where I'm sure he was the photographer. Many of the others are also probably his.


Castlewellan Historic Demesne: The Way Forward by Terence Reeves-Smyth, Historic Environment Division of NI, 2015

Castlewellan Arboretum and the Annesley Garden brochure, 2015 (from original text written by Sam Harrison, Head Forester at Castlewellan in the 1990's)

Further reading:

For general background on glasshouses and conservatories of this period see my blog 'Gardens under Glass': The Victorian conservatory

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Brian Pike
Brian Pike
Mar 22, 2023

Splendid blog, well researched, well written and well illustrated!

Mar 22, 2023
Replying to

Thank you!

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