Amgueddfa Blog: General

Spring in St Fagans gardens

Elin Barker - Trainee Garden Conservator, 5 March 2023

As spring draws nearer, each day tells a new story in the garden. The snowdrops gracefully bow out and make way for the colourful crocuses, primroses and daffodils. The hellebores have arrived too, with their glorious cup shaped flowers and intricate petal patterns. They provide a much-needed burst of colour and glow - even on the greyest of spring days.  

As is usual at this time of year, the gardeners of St Fagans have been hard at work planning new borders and preparing the grounds for the new season. This year, however, the looming threat of climate change and the pressing issues of water scarcity have pushed the team to explore innovative ways of designing water-efficient gardens that can flourish in even the driest conditions.  

One such creative solution we’ve developed is the "silver border," which will be a unique garden area that will showcase plants with silvery or grey foliage that have evolved to naturally thrive in drought-prone environments. This light leaf colouration effectively reflects the intense sunlight, shielding the plant from its harmful effects. Some of these resilient plants also feature a fine layer of hairs on their leaves or stems, which trap moisture around the plant tissues, helping them survive drier climates. The silver border will not only serve as a practical water conservation method but will also add a visually striking and unique element to the garden. 

Another recent project of ours is the wildlife shrub border, which can be found on route to the Italian Garden. The concept behind this shrub border is to provide a thriving habitat for a wide range of wildlife. Once established, the border will help to serve as shelter and protection for birds, insects and mammals. We’ve chosen shrubs, such as Sambucus nigra, Holodiscus discolor and Viburnum opulus that have nectar rich flowers which will support pollinators. Additionally, as the shrubs mature, they will provide a valuable source of food for wildlife in the form of seeds and berries. 

You may notice that the Dutch garden near the Castle undergoes a drastic transformation each spring as the ornamental grasses and perennials are cut back hard before the new growth begins. During the winter season, we opt to leave the seed pods and stems intact as they provide a great habitat for wildlife and serve as essential elements of the garden's structure; offering a range of captivating textures and seasonal colours. We have been working hard to remove all the old growth and stems from the previous year, which will encourage healthy new growth from the base of the plants. This year we decided to reuse the waste grass clippings as a mulch on the pumpkin bed, this will help suppress the weeds and conserve moisture in the ground. 

As we move forward, it is imperative to consider how we can practice gardening in harmony with nature. Gardening involves striving to achieve a balance that results in creating spaces that are not only visually appealing but also encompass complex, sustainable systems beneath the surface. 

Touring with Cranogwen

Norena Shopland, 21 February 2023

When trying to visualise people’s lives, particularly those from the past, it’s often the small things that bring lives to life such as a ticket to a lecture or a brooch - and two items in Amgueddfa Cymru’s collection certainly do that. 

They both relate to Cranogwen, the bardic name for Sarah Jane Rees (1839–1916) a master mariner, poet, writer, editor and temperance worker who, for most of her life lived in the small town of Llangrannog, Cardiganshire. She was born there and throughout her life travelled from there to become one of the most well-known women in Wales in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. And it was here that her two partners lived, first Fanny Rees “Phania” (1853-1874) who died aged just 21 and later Jane Thomas (1850-?) who, in most of the census returns is described as a ‘domestic worker’, ‘general servant’ or ‘charwoman’. 

Cranogwen was often away, involved in myriad projects and giving lecturers but her first tour started in 1866, a year after controversially winning an Eisteddfod poetry prize when it was revealed a woman had beaten the men. Consequently, when she started touring her name was already known as a Y Gwladgarwr journalist noted:

The reader will remember that it was the young girl lion who took the prize at the Aberystwyth Eisteddfod for the song for the Wedding Ring. After hearing that, and also understanding that our leading poets, such as Islwyn and Ceiriog were competing, I was a bit surprised that there was some ‘dirt in the cheese’ somewhere. [i]

Cranogwen’s tour centred on her lecture ‘The Youth and the Culture of their Minds’ although this did expand later to include two other lecturers, ‘Anhebgorion Cymeriad da’ (Essentials of a Good Character) and ‘Elements of Happiness’, all concerned with improvements in people’s characters. As she spoke in Welsh, they were predominantly covered by the Welsh language press with the English language media paying very little attention. 

Cranogwen started off in the Aberystwyth area so hopefully Jane did travel with her to provide some support but as the talks grew in popularity Cranogwen travelled further afield and just two months later at Swansea’s Brynhyfryd Chapel nearly one thousand people turned out to see her - a daunting prospect for anyone so hopefully Jane was there as well to give support.

Word was spreading quickly and, as a journalist at Baner ac Amserau Cymru noted, ‘There is no need in the world to go to the trouble of giving a description of the lecture today, because it is already quite well known throughout Wales.[ii]

Everywhere she went praise was showered upon her, causing one journalist to wonder if she could live up to the hype: ‘since we had heard such praise for her, we expected her to be good. But we never imagined that she was as talented as she is, and so masterful at her work.’ [iii]

Night after night she spoke to rave reviews and her one-hour lecture expanded into two and even longer when local dignitaries sought to appear on stage alongside her, adding their pennyworth. Local poets flocked to her, often writing englyns, many of which were published in the papers, and women were following her example and taking to the stage. 

This caused concern. 

Women, particularly ‘young girls’ (she was 27 at the time) should not be lecturing, said the men, who complained of the impropriety of women speaking in public. ‘The inhabitants of South Wales,’ ranted the Cardiff Times, ‘are running wild with the young ladies who are lecturing about the country [and] in the opinion of many eminent men this is going too far. 

At the Association of the Calvinistic Methodists held at Carnarvon the Rev. Henry Rees, and eminent minister, whose name is known through the Principality, spoke against female preachers, and stated that it would be far more becoming in those who are fond of preaching to attend to those duties which belong to their sex. We are glad that a gentleman of Mr Rees’s standing has set his face against this new mania.[iv]

‘Are these women not at home?’ Seren Cymru joined in, ‘are we ready to see our parishes being dotted, if not flooded, and women lecturing.[v]

Most journalists ignored them and continued their rave reviews of Cranogwen. 

The talks usually began at 7pm and tickets cost 6d (about £2 today) and audiences were huge with many writers noting how listeners would sit quietly entranced for two hours often nodding in agreement and rewarding Cranogwen with thunderous applause. In almost all her talks it was noted that the profits went to pay off chapel debts. 

Throughout 1867 Cranogwen continued to tour and the Amgueddfa Cymru ticket is dated to 2 January but no newspaper report has been found for Brynmenyn, Bridgend – but then there were so many talks not all were covered and the tour was a year old by this time. 

In 1869–1870 Cranogwen toured the United States giving the same sort of lectures – and we would need to examine the immigration records to see if Jane went with her. 

When she returned, Cranogwen continued her good works, and in the early twentieth century she, like many eminent women, become involved in the temperance movement. Drunkenness, particularly among women was endemic as they tried to escape harsh lives and a number of unions were set up to try and tackle this including the Rhondda Women’s Union, set up in April 1901. It was so successful that a decision was made to expand it, and Cranogwen was instrumental in changing it to Undeb Dirwestol Merched y De (U.D.M.D.) (South Wales Women’s Temperance Union) where she was the Organisational Secretary, with her address still listed at Llangrannog. Once again, Cranogwen was touring extensively with the Union.

As they arrived at each town, Union members would process through the streets carrying banners before settling at a chapel where prayers and hymns, and readings from the Bible, were read out followed by speeches by leading members of the Union. In addition, guest speakers featured well-known Welsh women who would draw in audiences, followed by tea and cake and socialising, and the three-hour events were attended by hundreds of people. There would be collections, and sales of pamphlets and badges. The example in the Amgueddfa Cymru collection is technically a brooch and it is not clear if the badges Cranogwen received money for, were these brooches. 


By December 1901, new U.D.M.D. branches were growing throughout south Wales and by the time of Cranogwen’s death in 1916 there were 140 branches throughout South Wales. 

Cranogwen was indefatigable, and one can only wonder at her energy. As well as all her good works one of her strengths was the encouragement of so many young women to become writers and orators, even if the men disapproved. 

Cranogwen died in 1916 at Wood Street Cilfynydd, Rhondda Cynon Taf, her niece’s house. ‘No other Welsh woman enjoyed popularity in so many public spheres’[vii] noted the Cambrian Daily Leader. Unfortunately, it is not yet known when Jane died, hopefully the forthcoming biography by Jane Aaron will tell us more, but just five years earlier they were still living together in Llangrannog and the town was to remain Cranogwen’s permanent address for most of her life. No matter how much she travelled, it seems she always went home to Jane. 

Memorial to Sarah Jane Rees, Llangrannog (WikiCommons)

[i] Y Gwladgarwr, 5th May 1866

[ii] Baner ac Amserau Cymru, 14 April 1866

[iii] Baner ac Amserau Cymru, 14 April 1866

[iv] Cardiff Times, 5 October 1866

[v] Seren Cymru, 4 January 1867

[vii] Cambrian Daily Leader, 28 June 1916

Celebrating St. Fagans Victorian tree heritage

Luciana Skidmore, 28 October 2022

Autumn sends us an invitation to pause and admire the beautiful trees that surround us. It lays a vibrant carpet of colourful leaves welcoming us into the woods. In this once in a year spectacle, we advise that you wear comfortable shoes, take slower steps and mindfully redirect your gaze up to the sky to contemplate our magnificent trees. 

In St. Fagans National Museum of History, you can find some of the most beautiful specimens of trees planted by the Victorians and Edwardians that shaped our beautiful gardens. 

This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Fern-leaved Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Aspleniifolia’) located in the terraced gardens of the castle. This magnificent and unusual specimen was planted in 1872 under the head gardener William Lewis. This cultivar was introduced in the UK in the early 1800’s and won the RHS Award of Garden Merit in 2002. The leaves are dark green and deeply serrated, turning golden before falling in autumn. This specimen has an impressive dark and smooth trunk with its girth measuring 3.67m in diameter. The Fern-leaved Beech is a Chimera, originated from a plant cell mutation of the Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica). An interesting fact is that occasionally some of the serrated leaves revert to the Beech leaf shape, when that happens it is advisable to remove the reverted branches as they tend to grow more vigorously than the cultivar.

Another magnificent feature that celebrates 150 years in St. Fagans is the row of London and Oriental Planes planted by William Lewis along the formal ponds overlooking the terraced gardens.  The London plane is a natural hybrid of the Oriental Plane and the American Plane. The Oriental (Platanus orientalis) and London Plane (Platanus x acerifolia) are distinguishable by their leaf shape with the Oriental Plane having more deeply lobed leaves. Many London planes were planted over 200 years ago in the squares of London, hence its common name. This tree can withstand high levels of pollution and was one of the few trees that could thrive in the soot-laden atmosphere of cities before the passing of the Clean Air Act in 1956. Did you know that this resilient tree can store around 7.423 kg of Carbon at maturity? Large trees like this play an important role in improving air quality by sequestering carbon dioxide, removing air pollutants and absorbing gases that are harmful to human health.

William Lewis was also responsible for the planting of the Pine Walk in 1870. This beautiful avenue of Black Pine (Pinus nigra) and Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) guides you through the path towards the old Orchard. These tall and majestic trees enclose the space resembling the walls of a Cathedral. The bark of the Black Pine is dark grey with ridges and the needles are longer than other Pines. The Scots Pine is the only Pine native to Britain, it has shorter and compact needles and a warm red upper bark. Unfortunately, in recent years we have lost some of our Pine trees, in order to preserve this historic feature, we have planted four new Black Pines along the path. 

As we take pleasure in admiring these magnificent trees in the present, we must thank some of the far-sighted people of the past who have gifted us with this wonderful legacy. Trees make our cities a more pleasant and healthy environment. They enhance biodiversity, reduce flood risk, improve air quality, provide shade, and reduce the urban heat island effect in summer months. If you would like to leave a valuable legacy for future generations, start by planting a tree.  

If you are visiting St. Fagans gardens this autumn, follow this Tree Walk Guide written by Dr. Mary Barkham to learn more about our outstanding tree collection. 

Everlasting flowers in St. Fagans

Luciana Skidmore, 1 September 2022

The act of drying flowers dates back to ancient times. In the past flowers and herbs were dried and utilised for decorative, medicinal and culinary purposes. In Medieval times they were used to repel insects and even conceal unpleasant odours. Drying flowers became a popular hobby and preservation method in the Victorian period in England. For thousands of years flowers have had a symbolic meaning in rituals, passages, religious activities and artistic expression. Dried flowers are now more fashionable than ever due to their everlasting beauty and convenience.

This year thousands of flowers were grown in the gardens of St. Fagans for the purpose of drying. They have been naturally air-dried and beautiful flower arrangements were created by our garden trainees. These are now available to purchase in the Museum store. 

Besides their outstanding and long-lasting beauty dried flower arrangements offer many advantages. They can be used in weddings as bouquets, buttonholes, corsages and centrepieces. Because they are dried, they do not require water. They can be bought months in advance and stored with ease, releasing the pressure of having to care for fresh flowers on the big day. They can also be kept and preserved as memories of such a special day. 

They are perfect for home decoration or gifting.  You can create permanent floral arrangements that will enhance your home without the need to buy fresh flowers every week. Did you know that imported fresh flowers can have 10 times the carbon footprint of flowers grown in the UK? Imported cut flowers are flown thousands of miles in refrigerated airplane holds. When grown in colder climates they need heated greenhouses which generate higher carbon dioxide emissions. Not to mention the use of pesticides and fertilizers used in the production of perfect blooms. Fresh roses in February? Not so rosy for our planet.

The cut flowers grown in St. Fagans gardens have been grown from seeds sown in April in our unheated greenhouses. They were planted outside in May when the weather was warming up and have been growing happily and healthily producing beautiful blooms throughout Summer. No pesticides, fertilizers or harmful chemicals were used in this process. Besides being grown sustainably the flowers also provide a source of nectar for pollinators including bees and butterflies. It is always a great joy to admire the hive of activity in our cut flower bed. 

The flowers are harvested in dry weather when they are partially or fully open. Excess foliage is removed, small bunches of flowers are tied together and hung upside down on bamboo canes or strings in a dark and dry area with good air circulation. The flowers are left to dry for two to three weeks until completely dry. Floral arrangements including bouquets, posies, buttonholes, corsages, floral crowns and wreaths can be created with dried flowers. 

There is a vast number of plants that can be dried and used in floral arrangements. Drying flowers such as lavender and hydrangeas or grasses such as Stipa gigantea and Pampas grass is a great way to get started. The stars of our cut flower garden this year are: Limonium sinuatum, Craspedia globosa, Helipterum roseum, Achillea millefolium ‘Cassis’, Limonium suworowii ‘Rat Tail’ and the soft grass Panicum elegans ‘Sprinkles’. 

If you are coming to St. Fagans National Museum of History, please visit our magnificent gardens and take a look at the beautiful floral arrangements available in the Museum shop. 



Patchwork of Memories – Remembrance and grief during Covid 19

Loveday Williams, 13 July 2022

In 2020 Amgueddfa Cymru and Cruse Bereavement Support Cymru came together to support people across the country through their grief and create a lasting memorial full of memories to those lost during the time of Covid-19. It involved creating a square patch containing a memory of a loved one, in which ever way people chose, in whatever words or images they liked. Each patch created demonstrated a visual display of lasting memories of someone they loved who had died, created in unprecedented times.  50+ patches were sent to the Museum and have been carefully sewn together to form a Patchwork of Memories.

For the last two year we have all lived very different lives, with change to our normal the only constant. Losing a loved one is always hard but usually we have the comfort of others and collective mourning at funerals to help us say goodbye and share our memories.  However, a death in the last two years has meant many of us being cut off from our support networks and our rituals or remembrance being altered.  

Rhiannon Thomas, previous Learning Manager at St Fagans said about this project “Helping people with grief is something that I am personally passionate about. Having worked with Cruse Bereavement Support previously to support families I felt the Museum was able to help families dealing with loss in a different way.  Amgueddfa Cymru and Cruse Bereavement Support Wales came together to create a project based around creativity and memory, the aim being to make a lasting memorial to those who have died during the pandemic.” 

Creating something is not a new response to grief, there are several Embroidery samplers in Amgueddfa Cymru’s collections made in memory of loved ones or marking their passing.   This sampler by M.E. Powell was created in 1906 in memory of her mother.   Creativity during difficult times of our lives can help all of us to express deep held emotions that we do not always have the ability to put into words. 

Bereavement Support Days

Alongside the Patchwork of Memories initiative, the Cruse / Museum Partnership also provide a safe inspirational space for the increasing numbers of children and young people awaiting bereavement support and help meet the diverse needs of bereaved children, young people and families who benefit from coming together to rationalise, explore and understand that they are not alone in their grief. 

A series of quarterly Bereavement Support Days are held in partnership with St Fagans, for children, young people and their families experiencing grief and loss. There is specialist support from Cruse staff and volunteers along with art and craft activities provided by Head for Arts and immersive Virtual Reality experiences provided by PlayFrame, which are light-hearted, allowing people attending the chance to make and create things that can be taken home with them and or captured and stored into a virtual memory box. The activities available are designed to stimulate rather that prompt.

Here is the film created by PlayFrame on Ekeko, the virtual memory space they have been creating alongside this project, installing objects, memories and stories donated by participants into a virtual memory box for people to enter and explore: 

And a link the virtual reality memory space itself:

Alison Thomas, Cruse CYP Wales Lead said “Cruse Bereavement Support Wales provides in person support to children and young people within a variety of settings, so we see first-hand how difficult it can be for grieving children and young people. Their collective support on these days allows families the time and space to verbalise and begin to understand their loss and associated emotions. The focus of the Bereavement Support days is around children and young people, however, the benefits resonate through the whole family including the adults in attendance, some of whom require bereavement support on the day, most of whom stay for the duration and share a cuppa and chat with other bereaved parents and guardians. Following the session, the whole family can have a look around the Museum and spend time together in a safe and nurturing setting.”

Here are some of the written (in their own handwriting) evaluation feedback quotes from children, young people and parents / guardians who have attended the Bereavement Days:

'I feel calmer, less worried.  It was good being able to speak to people my age who understood what I'm going through.'

'I was very included in all the activities and was always involved in conversation.  There was a calm atmosphere making it easier to speak to people there.'

'I was very welcomed and was immediately approached by a friendly face.  It was very inviting and was easy to speak to people there.'


'Love 🙂 happy'

'Thank you Diolch, Diolch 🙂'

A mother of one of the young people said 'I feel much better than I did.'

Another mother said 'All was lovely, made to feel welcome, everything we did was good and the girls enjoyed themselves.'

The two memory quilts will be competed by the end of August 2022, following which we will hold a final project event with Cruse Bereavement Support Wales on 25th September at St Fagans National Museum of History, where we will display the two quilts and invite both the contributors who sent squares and the participants from the Bereavement Support Days to attend, along with the public, to see the quilts and share their experiences of taking part in the process.

We look forward to seeing you there.