Pembrokeshire’s best kept secret in the heart of St. Bride’s Bay
Gardening with Jim Saul – Hilton Court Gardens and Crafts
Open daily from 10am to 4.30pm all year round (Christmas closure from 23rd Dec to 1st Jan) Hilton Court Gardens and Crafts was Jim Saul’s choice to visit this July. Owners Cheryl and Peter Lynch have created a garden of astonishing variety and beauty in the 27 years they have lived there. Starting with just some woodland and a very wet valley they now have acres of gardens, ponds, woodland and a solar dome with semi-tropical plants to explore – a mini-Eden Project right here in Pembrokeshire.
The solar dome at Hilton Court Gardens is 35m in diameter and is especially appealing to younger visitors, who can see lemons and bananas growing. They can also try ‘Sending a Whisper’ right round the dome.
The calendar at Hilton Court Gardens includes seasonal open-air theatrical performances.
Moving to Hilton in 1977, this land was a bog and it was not until 1989 that Cheryl and Peter began work on creating the gardens that we can all enjoy today. The work was completed – if a garden is ever really finished – ‘bit by bit’, which surprises many visitors, as they imagine that such an established garden must have been in place for a century or more.
In this video, Jim Saul explores some of the gardens. He is shown around by owner, Cheryl Lynch, who shares some of her story of Hilton Court Gardens …
In the old Victorian courtyard visitors can also browse in the gift shop, Mark Woolford Pottery and Celtic Images Gallery with work Pembrokeshire photographers, as well as enjoying good locally sourced food in the Gardeners Rest Restaurant.
Cheryl proudly told us that all the food served is freshly prepared with good quality local ingredients, making everything from scratch. Diners can eat inside, around a roaring log fire in winter, or outside in the flower-filled courtyard. Homemade cakes and afternoon teas are served in the Woodland Tearoom and on the balcony overlooking the stunning gardens.
The ancient woodland area can be enjoyed along the many paths and bridges, meandering streams and banks of wild flowers, and there is more recently planted woodland on the other side of the main pond area. Within these woods are hidden woodland houses for children, each one designed and built by Peter. He wanted to encourage children to enjoy nature, and the three buildings – Badgers Hall, Squirrel Lodge and Elf House – are used for school groups, playgroups, children’s parties and by the Darwin Trust to provide unique outdoor settings for learning and play.
The Darwin Trust runs ”Bee & Bug Walks’ and ‘Pond-Dipping Days’ at certain times of the year. Cheryl is looking forward to the day when all the woods are full of bluebells; Peter started off by planting 1000 bulbs and adds more each year.
A wedding venue in Pembrokeshire.
In recent years, Cheryl and Peter have responded to the many requests they used to get to hold weddings in the gardens and have established Hilton Court as an idyllic setting for weddings with areas set aside for the ceremonies and festivities. Ten lucky couples per year are able to hold their nuptials here.
Hilton Court is an idyllic setting for weddings
This space is also used for performances and special events, too.
New for 2017, in response to popular requests from guests wishing to stay for wedding events, a small campsite with luxury facilities has also been developed under the auspices of the Camping and Caravanning Club (small certified site).
The site has one tipi, bell tents and can also accommodate tents, tourers and campervans. The gardens remain open to the public during wedding days, but access to the solar dome and ceremony area is limited to the wedding guests. The wedding ceremony can take place indoors in the solar dome if it is too wet outside.
Cheryl and Peter like to limit the number of weddings to ensure that each one is very individual and to ensure they can devote enough time to make the day magical for all. There can be few lovelier settings, so it is not surprising that the first 2019 booking is already arranged.
The only entrance fee is for the gardens at the modest price of £3.75 per adult with concessions and season tickets available. There are some regular events held here, including Yoga Tots on Saturday mornings as well as theatrical performances such as the annual visit from the Taking Flight Theatre Company, outdoor cinema and one-off events; a kite-flying day was held earlier this year.
Famed water lilies.
The ponds at Hilton Court are famed for their several varieties of water lilies which flower in July and August, and children love to feed the many fish. Cheryl told us that finding the right selection of fish to thrive has proved quite a challenge over the years – the first batch of perch, roach and rudd grew too large and were collected by Kent Fisheries some years ago. They offered to re-stock the ponds and introduced rainbow trout – for which they had to obtain a licence – this was to the great delight of the cormorants, who swiftly emptied the pond of all the fish. The same fate awaited the brown trout so there is now a mix again of roach, rudd and perch, while the bottom of the ponds is home to rare swan mussels – identified by the Darwin Trust during pond-dipping.
The gardens of Hilton Court in Pembrokeshire.
Hilton Court Gardens and the courtyard have obviously been a labour of love spanning many years – Cheryl is not complacent about its success and growing popularity – she likes to feel that there is something wonderful here for all ages and by doing their best she and Peter have created somewhere that more people can appreciate and enjoy for a long time to come, which they feel is their greatest reward.
Don’t miss our feature of The Taking Flight Theatre performance of The Tempest by William Shakespeare,
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