John Dillwyn Llewelyn and His Orchid House at Penllergare

An edited and updated transcript of a talk given to the Orchid Study  Group in 2006 by Richard Morris

(Edited by Kevin L.  Davies, who also supplied additional notes and updated the orchid nomenclature)

The Family

Having been invited to come and talk to you today about the  orchid house at Penllergare, I have to start with a confession. I know very  little about orchids! One thing I have learned is that names given to these  plants in the 19th century probably no longer apply, even if the  plants themselves still exist. So, any names I give you will be as they were at  the time of John Dillwyn Llewelyn’s pioneering efforts, between the 1830s and  his death in 1882.

I have been warned that it is quite probable than some of  you will not know who John Dillwyn Llewelyn was nor why his orchid house should  be so important. He is important for many reasons, not least as a pioneer  photographer. His orchid house is famous since it appeared in the very first  article published in the Journal of  Horticultural Society, now The Royal Horticultural Society, back in 1842.

John Dillwyn Llewelyn, son of Lewis Weston Dillwyn, the  famous botanist and one-time owner of the Swansea  pottery, and Mary Adams, was born in 1810. Lewis Weston Dillwyn, his father,  claimed to have had Welsh ancestors, possibly descending through the Welsh poet  Ieuan Dilwyn, who, it is said, wrote some extremely racy poetry. Dillwyn’s  great, great, grandfather William had been amongst those who had to flee to America in the  17th century because of their Quaker beliefs. He had settled in what  eventually became Philadelphia.  One of his children, another John, had a son named William, who at the end of  the 18th century returned to Britain, landing at the Mumbles. He  bought the lease of the Swansea Pottery and in 1802, he sent his eldest son,  Lewis Weston Dillwyn, down to Swansea  to take on its management. During this time the pottery produced its finest  porcelain, now highly collectable, as well as earthenware for daily use and, in  the 1850s, Etruscanware, the clay for which is said to have come from the  Penllergare estate

In 1807, Lewis Weston Dillwyn married Mary Adams, the  illegitimate daughter of Colonel John Llewelyn of Ynisygerwn and Penllergare.  Llewelyn did in fact have a wife but there was no issue from the marriage.  Despite Mary being illegitimate, there seem to have been no problems over her  marriage to Lewis. 

The Dillwyns lived at the Willows in Swansea,  now long demolished, and they later purchased Burrows Lodge, which stood behind  Swansea Museum, formerly The Royal Institution  of South Wales (RISW).

They had six children: Fanny was the eldest and she married  Matthew Moggridge. One of their descendants is Hal Moggridge who was involved  both with Aberglasney and the National Botanic Garden of Wales. He it was who  designed the pathway and rill than runs down to the entrance of the National Botanic Garden, amongst other things. He also worked at Dynevor for the National Trust and is  Chairman of the Penllergare Trust restoring Penllergare estate. Next,  came John Dillwyn. The second son, William, had died young. Then came Lewis  Llewelyn Dillwyn, who was a Magistrate involved with the Rebecca Riots. He  served as MP for Swansea  for about 40 years. For a time, Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn was also involved with  the Swansea  pottery and it was during his tenure in the 1850s that Swansea Etruscanware was  produced, his wife Bessie, a daughter of Sir Henry De la Beche, the geologist,  designing the pots.

Two daughters followed. Mary, like her elder brother John,  was an early amateur photographer. A small album including some of her photos  was bought a few years ago by the National Library of Wales for £40,000. She  married the Rev. Montagu Earle Welby, one time vicar at Sketty and Oystermouth.  Lastly came Sarah or Sally, who died young and whose death scene is shown in a  painting by C. R. Leslie in Swansea Museum, with further details in my account for Minerva, The Journal of Swansea History, produced by The Royal Institution  of South Wales.

The botanist Lewis Weston Dillwyn wrote a number of books.  His first was British Confervae (Algae). Amongst his other publications were A Flora and Fauna of Swansea, produced in 1848 and The Botanist’s Guide through England and Wales,  written with his friend Dawson Turner. Dillwyn was also the first President of  the RISW and Mayor of Swansea. In 1832, he became a member of the  First Reformed Parliament.

Mary, Dillwyn’s wife, was the natural daughter of Colonel  John Llewelyn of Ynisygerwn and Penllergare (Note that historically ‘Penllergare’  is the correct spelling, not ‘Penllergaer’). It was the colonel’s intention  that, upon his death, these estates should pass to young John Dillwyn on his  coming of age and that the latter should adopt Llewelyn as his surname. As a  result, John became known as John Dillwyn Llewelyn. When eventually Colonel  Llewelyn died, the estates passed to John who had not yet reached his majority  and so, a trust was set up under Lewis Weston Dillwyn to manage them.

John was educated privately by family tutors, probably due  to his having asthma from an early age. He eventually matriculated at Oriel College,  Oxford but left  before taking a degree. Upon coming of age in 1831 he took over the running of  Penllergare and on 28th March set out on a continental trip that  eventually took him to Norway  where he was caught up in a cholera epidemic and his return delayed. He arrived  home on 10th July 1832, during his father’s campaign to stand as an  MP for the First Reformed Parliament.

John’s coming of age was celebrated by a 21 gun salute in Swansea. His father wrote  on Tuesday January 11th :

“We  all went to a ball at the Veranda. When the clock struck 12 John became of  age.”

The next day:

            “After supper, the  event was marked in a most handsome manner. About 4, Mary and I got to sleep at  the Willows and the 3 juniors went in a carriage to Penllergare. The bells of Swansea and Llangyfelach  rang all day and at 1 o’ clock 21 guns on the pier were fired. Mary and I went  back to Penllergare soon after breakfast and in the afternoon I drove with the  two boys and introduced John to the tenants at Llangyfelach where a dinner had  been provided on the other parts of the estate. The uncertainty of Mrs  Llewelyn’s situation prevented us from having a party at home and only Capt.  Jeffreys dined with us. There was a dance in the Hall in the evening”.

The Cambrian for Saturday January 15th  noted:

            “On Wednesday last,  John Dillwyn Esq. of Penllergare attained his majority; on which occasion the  tenantry on his estates in Glamorganshire, Breconshire and Carmarthenshire,  were regaled with excellent dinners and a liberal supply of the best  ‘home-brewed’. The bells of St. Mary’s Church, in this town, were rung merrily  throughout the day in honour of the auspicious event”.

In 1833 John was elected to the Athenaeum in London and  on 18th June of that year at  11.40am at Penrice Church,  he married  Emma Thomasina Talbot, the youngest daughter of Thomas Mansel Talbot of  Penrice, and Lady Mary, formerly Fox Strangways, a daughter of the Earl and  Countess of Ilchester. Emma was a cousin of Henry Fox Talbot, the pioneer  photographer. They honeymooned in Europe and  whilst there, organised the creation of the mile and a half long drive from  Cadle up to Penllergare House. A few letters regarding the construction of the  drive survive suggesting that it had become quite a major undertaking.

While they were on their honeymoon, John’s  brother Lewis wrote to him at Geneva.  He was able to say that:

            “The road I think is  getting on very well, the stones are put on from Cadley side of the Primrose  Meadows to about half way through Nidfwch Wood – Your garden is looking  beautiful, the carnations and dahlias are quite splendid, so much so that I go  down always twice, sometimes three times a day, for the sole purpose of looking  at them”.

John’s parents were, however, somewhat concerned about the  amount of work needed to construct the road and also its cost.

Works also began on the formal gardens and restoration of  the house. In its heyday, Penllergare was famed worldwide for the botanical  expertise of John Dillwyn Llewelyn, obviously aided by several excellent  gardeners. In the walled garden he grew exotic plants: pineapples, tea etc –  the latter, he said jokingly, to put Mr. Twining out of business. Within the  walled garden lay the orchid house which in later years, fell into disuse and  disappeared beneath the undergrowth.

Having married a descendant of the Llewelyn family, sometime  in the 1970s I became interested in the estate and in John Dillwyn Llewelyn.  Furthermore, I discovered his interest in botany and especially his interest in  orchids.

The Orchid House

The Orchid House

As early as October 1836,  a mere three years after John’s marriage, we find that he was in contact with  the Botanic Gardens Kew regarding the possibility of subscribing to an  expedition to collect orchids.

Later, in June or July  1886, some four years after the death of John Dillwyn Llewelyn, A. Pettigrew of  Cardiff, who  was gardener to Lord Bute and writing for The  Journal of Horticulture and Cottage  Gardener,  visited Penllergare and  was shown round by John’s son, John Talbot Dillwyn Llewelyn. Pettigrew had this  to say about the orchid house:

“After  leaving the Melon ground with its many objects of interest, we were shown  through the forcing and plant house. The first of these, a lean-to greenhouse,  was furnished with a good selection of tuberous begonias, vallotas,  pelargoniums, and a choice of cool orchids. The roof was partly covered by a large  plant of Lapageria alba, which grows vigorously and flowers freely, the  flowers lasting for a long time in perfection before fading. Next to this is an  Orchid house, which contains a rich collection of well-grown plants, clean and  healthy. Mr Llewelyn is a good orchidist, and perhaps it would not be too much  to say that he inherits his love for them from his late father, who was deeply  interested in their introduction and cultivation, that he and another gentleman  employed a collector of Orchids between them long before Orchideæ became so  common in this country.

The  following are a few of the varieties that were in favour or throwing up spikes  at the time of my visit – Cypripedium barbatum (now Paphiopedilum  barbatum), C. Lowi (now Paphiopedilum lowii), C. niveum (now Paphiopedilum niveum), C. caudatum (now Phragmipedium caudatum), C. Pearcei (now Phragmipedium pearcei), C.  superbiens, (now Paphiopedilum superbiens) C. Lawrencianum (now Paphiopedilum lawrenceanum), C. Parishi (now Paphiopedilum parishii), C.  concolor (now Paphiopedilum concolor), C. hirsutissimum (now Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum), C. venustum (now Paphiopedilum venustum),  C. purpuratum (now Paphiopedilum purpuratum) and C. Stonei (now Paphiopedilum stonei). In closed proximity to the latter was a large plant  of Peristeria elata throwing up five spikes of great strength, and five  large clumps of Dendrobium nobile in 14-inch pots, each pot having a  little forest of pseudo-bulbs. Besides these there were fine pieces of D.  Dalhousianum (now D. pulchellum), D. Wardianum (D. wardianum), D.  macrophyllum (now D. anosmum), D. pulchelum (D. pulchellum), and  others growing in boxes   2 feet square. There were also good pieces of Aerides  odoratum, A. crispum and a large plant of A. odoratum purpurascens, with seventy spikes, Phalænopsis grandiflora (now Phalaenopsis  amabilis), Vanda Cathcarti (Vanda cathcartii but later Arachnis  cathcartii), Phaius maculates (now Phaius maculatus), Dendrobium  filiforma (probably Dendrochilum filiforme), Oncidium ampliatum with  strong spikes 2 feet long. Besides these, there were large batches of Calanthus  (Calanthe) and other winter flowering varieties, some large plants of Eucharis, strong and healthy, and a few specimen Pitcher Plants”.

In 1927, John Talbot Dillwyn Llewelyn, by then  Sir John, died. The Orchid Review for  the August of that year wrote:

“We much regret to  record the death, which occurred on July 7th, of Sir John T.  Dillwyn-Llewelyn, Bt., in his 92nd year. Born on May 25th 1836, he  was the only son of Mr John Dillwyn-Llewelyn F.R.S., of Penllergaer, [sic] one of the earliest Orchid  amateurs. It was Schomburgk’s graphic description of explorations in British Guiana that induced Sir John’s father to  construct a special house for the cultivation of Orchids. An account of this  structure was communicated to the Horticultural Society of London in 1845 and  published in the Society’s Journal,  together with the illustration herewith reproduced. [the waterfall]. Schomburgk’s description of a small island whose  vegetation had ‘that peculiar lively appearance which is so characteristic in  the vicinity of cataracts, where a humid cloud, the effect of the spray, always  hovers round them’ was followed by Mr Llewelyn, for he caused water to fall  over rough pieces of projecting rock, thereby producing a misty spray. The pipe  conveying the water was so arranged that it passed through the boiler fire in  order that the temperature of the house should not be injuriously lowered.

The presence of so  much atmospheric moisture marked a great advance on previous methods of  cultivation, for Mr. Llewelyn stated that the plants have a wild luxuriance  about them that is unknown to the specimens cultivated in the ordinary manner.  Different species intermingle in a beautiful confusion, Dendrobium, Camarotis and Renanthera side by side, with wreaths  of flowers and leaves interlacing one another, and sending their long roots to  drink from the mist of the fall, or even from the water of the pool beneath. It  was in this house, in the year 1839, that the first flowers of Læloa majalis (grandiflors) (Laelia majalis grandiflora – now Laelia speciosa) were produced under  cultivation.

This old-time  collection was for a long period maintained by the late Sir John  Dillwyn-Llewelyn, who was never more happy than when relating little incidents  concerning the early days of Orchid collecting. He was justly proud of the fact  that a plant of Aërides affine (now Aerides multiflorum) once carried more than eighty flower spikes, and of a  similarly fine specimen of Saccolobium  guttatum, (now Rhynchostylis retusa) and believed that  these were the first Orchids ever placed before a photographic camera.

Many of the plants  were obtained from collectors sent abroad by his father and by Mr Bateman,  while others were procured from Loddiges of Hackney. They comprised various Stanhopeas, Oncidium species, Peristeria  elata, Phalænopsis amabilis,  Cypripedium insigne (now Paphiopedilum insigne), Dendrobiums, Vanda cœrulea and V. teres (now Papilionanthe teres), as well as Calanthe vestita and Catasetums”.

I have skipped ahead a bit, but to read a visitor’s first  hand account of the orchid house and its contents is tantalizing especially  since so little remains today. Reports such as these,  letters, other surviving documents and a few photographs and watercolours,  enable us to re-assemble the old orchid house and gives us some idea of the plants it  once contained. I am indebted to the late Dr. Paddy Woods and his wife  Jennifer, who was born at Penllergare, for helping me to sort out the species  list, which has since been updated. Elizabeth  Whittle wrote in Historic Gardens of  Wales. CADW:

            “Perhaps the saddest  Welsh loss is the pioneering orchid house built in 1843 by John Dillwyn  Llewelyn at Penllergare. It was an epiphyte house for non-terrestrial orchids.  In it, he attempted to create a tropical landscape, based on the Essequibo rapids, where one of the orchids he wanted to  grow, Huntleya violacea (now Bollea violacea), had been discovered.  Above a central pool, hot water splashed down in a series of rocky ledges,  creating a hot, steamy atmosphere. The orchids flourished and visitors were  amazed by their ‘wild luxuriance’. Now all that remains is an untidy and  overgrown jumble of stone. Thirty years later, an orchid house was a standard  element in the grander garden.

Construction of the Orchid House

For me the most exciting discovery on the estate  is the remains of the Orchideous House. I was told about it on a visit to the  Linnean Society, of which John was a Fellow. He was also a Fellow of the Royal  Society and a Fellow of The Horticultural Society.  No memories of this building now remain and  those few who had worked at Penllergare before its sale were confident that it  was sited next to the house itself. However, there appears to have been some  confusion here since the conservatory, situated next to the house, also  contained some orchids. Furthermore, there was no obvious indication of its  location on any map. This was not surprising, considering that the estate had been  vacant for over fifty years.

Construction of the Orchid House

As mentioned earlier, The Orchid House had been  the subject of the very first article in the Journal of the Horticultural Society back in 1846 and this article  had included several illustrations showing its appearance at the time. The  article, written by John himself, appeared under the heading of Original Communications.

1 – Some Account of an Orchideous House,  constructed at Penllergare, South Wales. By  J. D. Llewelyn, Esq. FHS.

Communicated  October 28, 1845”

[“Mr Llewelyn  having mentioned to the Vice-Secretary that he had constructed an epiphyte  house, through which a waterfall had been directed so as to dash over rocks,  and finally to flow into a basin forming the floor of the house, that gentleman  was solicited to favour the Society with some account of it, which he has done  in the following interesting communication, accompanied by an interior view of  the house, which forms the frontispiece of the present volume”.]

“I enclose with  this the ground-plan and section of the stove, which I promised to send. These  will show the size and shape of the building, and the arrangement of its pipes  and heating apparatus, and the manner also in which the water for the supply of  the cascade is conducted to the top of the house by means of a pipe  communicating with a pond at a higher level. This pipe is warmed by passing  with a single coil through the boiler, and terminates at the top of the  rock-work, where it pours a constant supply of water over three projecting  irregular steps of rough stone, each of which catches the falling stream,  dividing it into many smaller rills and increasing the quantity of misty spray.  At the bottom, the whole of the water is received into the pool which occupies  the centre of the floor of the stove, where it widens out into an aquarium  ornamented with a little island overgrown like the rock-work with Orchideæ,  ferns, and lycopods.


The disposition of  the stones in the rock-work would depend much on the geological strata you have  to work with: in my case they lie flat and evenly bedded, and thus the portions  of the rock-work are placed in more regular courses than would be necessary in  many other formations. In limestone or granite countries, designs much more  ornamental than mine might, I think, be easily contrived.


The account of the  splendid vegetation which borders the cataracts of tropical rivers, as  described by Schomburgk, gave me the first idea of trying this experiment. I  read in the Sertum Orchidaceum his  graphic description of the falls of the Berbice and Essequibo,  on the occasion of his first discovery of Huntleya  violacea. I was delighted with the beautiful picture which his words  convey, and thought that it might be better represented than is usual in the  stoves of this country.

With this view I  began work, and added the rock-work which I describe to a house already in use  for the cultivation of Orchideous plants. I found no difficulty in re-arranging  it for its new design and after a trial now of about two years can say that it  has entirely answered the ends I had in view.

The moist stones  were speedily covered with a thick carpet of seedling ferns, and the creeping  stems of tropical lycopods, among the fronds of which many species of orchideæ  delighted to root themselves.


Huntleya violacea was one of the first epiphytes that I planted,  and it flowered and throve in its new situation, as I hoped and expected. The  East Indian genera, however, of Vanda,  Saccolabium, Aerides, and other caulescent sorts, similar in habit and  growth, were the most vigorous of all, and many of these in a very short time  only required the use of the pruning-knife, to prevent their overgrowing  smaller and more delicate species.

Plants that are  grown in this manner have a wild luxuriance about them that is unknown to the  specimens cultivated in the ordinary manner, and to myself they are exceedingly  attractive, more resembling what one fancies them in their native forests –  true air-plants, depending for their subsistence on the humid atmosphere alone.

Different species  thus intermingle together in a beautiful confusion, Dendrobium, and Camarotis, and Renanthera, side by side, with  wreaths of flowers and leaves interlacing one another, and sending their long  roots to drink from the mist of the fall, or even from the water of the pool  below.

Many species are  cultivated upon the rocks themselves, others upon blocks of wood, or baskets  suspended from the roof, and thus sufficient room is secured for a great number  of plants. At the same time the general effect is beautiful, and the constant  humidity kept up by the stream of falling water suits the constitution of many  species in a degree that might be expected from a consideration of their native  habits; and I would strongly recommend the adoption of this or some similar  plan to all who have the means of diverting a stream of water from a level  higher than the top of their stove.

This, I think, in  most situations might be easily contrived. My own house lies on high ground,  and the water is brought from a considerable distance, but yet I found very  little of difficulty or of expense in its construction; for it must be borne in  mind that a small quantity of water is sufficient, and that this, after passing  through the stove, might be conveniently used for garden purposes.

It must be  remembered also that this plan may be added to any existing stove, and that the  sole expense will be for the pipe to conduct the stream, and for the labour of  the carriage and arrangement of the rock-work”.

The only other clues for the appearance of the  orchid house came from a watercolour of its interior by George Delamotte from  1849 and a faded albumen photographic print from the mid-1850s, presumably  taken by John himself, showing some of the plants and bits of roof  construction.

It seems that the stove was not home only to  orchids since on December 14th 1839, John’s brother, Lewis Llewelyn  Dillwyn wrote in his diary:

“Saw some topical  birds that John has got from Liverpool &  has turned into his stove”.

A  Fortunate Discovery

Naturally, curiosity made me want to find the  site. The late Sir Michael Dillwyn-Venables-Llewelyn had said I could wander  round the estate as I wished. Moreover, my wife and I had been on a Gower  Society walk through the Valley. Even so, nowhere was such a building to be  seen. Everything was so overgrown, and the estate so large, that it would  perhaps have taken a miracle to find it. The all-important clue, missed at the  time, was that it was situated on high ground. However, ramblers never visited  that area as it was not on the usual circuit of accessible paths.

In 1989, I received a letter from a couple who  lived in the Lower Lodge. They had recently moved there and restored the  building and curiosity had compelled them to explore the woodlands and other  areas. In so doing, they had come upon a large copse of trees, situated on high  ground, within site of the dual carriageway, and beneath the undergrowth had  found a high stone wall and the remains of buildings. Their curiosity thus  aroused, they eventually contacted me and, though I had no knowledge of a  walled garden, I asked some questions pertinent to the appearance of the orchid  house. Their answers intrigued me and I finally decided that they must have  discovered the building. Subsequently, they were sent copies of illustrations  from the Horticultural Society article which seemed to confirm matters.  However, there were still sceptics who believed that the site was elsewhere,  including a former tenant of Penderi Farm who had known the Estate since the  1920s and another who had worked there until 1936. What they probably recalled  was the Conservatory that was attached to the main house and had also held some  orchid plants and was heated. Further evidence that we had indeed found the  orchid house comes from an entry in Lady Mary Cole’s diary for Friday January  12th for 1838. There, she states that she went to Penllergare for  John’s birthday. The next day, she:

             “Walked to see the Epiphytes.”

Although  she does not state that the epiphytes grew in the orchid house, the fact that  she “walked” suggests more than visiting the conservatory which was  attached to the house.                     Further investigation showed that the orchid  house had been used to grow camellias in later years, which is probably why no  living  person would have remembered it  an as orchid house.

My first visit was in the rain, but it was  enough. There was no doubt that this was the building. The next step was to  establish its importance, especially as a proposed development was threatening  to destroy the site. The then Curator at Kew  responded to one of my letters. He wrote:

            “The discovery of the  footings from the Penllergare ‘Orchideous House’ is obviously of considerable  interest to garden historians. I believe that this house marked a significant  advance in the creation of landscaped interiors”.

Edward Diestelkamp, from the National Trust,  wrote:                             “I was very interested  to learn you think the remains of John Dillwyn-Llewelyn’s conservatory still  survive. I believe Dr. Elliott of the Royal Horticultural Society is very well  qualified to stress the importance of this conservatory [sic], and the influence it had on nineteenth century  conservatories. The romantic ‘wild’ interior influenced later conservatories  and it was widely described and illustrated in horticultural journals  throughout Europe”.

Carlton B. Wood, a 1989-90 Martin McLaren  Fellow, also refers to it in his thesis for the Planning Unit, Royal Botanic Gardens,  Kew. He refers to it as ‘unique’. In a letter  he wrote:

“First and  foremost, Mr Llewelyn’s orchid house appears to be one of the earliest (if not  the first) documented glasshouse displays in Britain which attempted to recreate  the naturalistic feel of a tropical landscape…… Thirdly it appears that Mr  Llewelyn was quite a knowledgeable man when it came to the culture of orchids.  He was one of a handful of men who used nature as his guide when it came to  creating environments in which orchids might flourish…. The other important  aspect of Mr Llewelyn’s orchid house is the role it played in influencing other  horticulturists. It was featured in the 1846 Journal of Horticulture,1850 Gardeners  Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette and the 1856 Cottage Gardener and Country  Gentleman’s Companion.

Dr. Brent Elliott also refers to the building in  his book Victorian Gardens. Surviving correspondence  provides further evidence of the building and the acquisition of the plants and  also underlines Mr. Carlton Wood’s belief in Llewelyn’s knowledge of the  subject.

Furnishing  the Orchid House

In 1835, John embarked on a great spending spree  when he visited his father, Lewis Weston Dillwyn, in London. He arrived in Bath  on Thursday March 19th from Swansea  and wrote to Emma who was staying with one of her family at Penrice.

“I started this  morning from Swansea  about 5 o’ clock… We had remarkably fine weather for the Passage tho’ the  breeze was so slight that we were obliged to have recourse to rowing and spent  1½ hours upon the water ‑ As we passed Miller’s garden I halted according to my  plan and, leaving my Portmanteau at a turnpike close by, issued forth full of  horticulture. ‑ I soon found a guide and rambled about in the midst of a  terrible scene of temptation ‑ however I have only bought 8 plants… My  prudence was sorely tested by 1000 other things but it held out. ‑ and I  escaped with no further loss (of money) or acquisition (of plants)

My Botanical  smattering came of some use to me as I was enabled to name some of Miller’s  unnamed plants for him and to tell him some things which he did not know before…  It is rather curious that at the commencement of my horticultural Rambles this  morning, the very first thing I received was a parcel that was lying for me at  the Coach office and which proved to be the notice of my admission to the  London Horticultural Society ‑ I took it as a good omen………”

Miller  also assisted Lewis Weston Dillwyn with the gardens at Sketty Hall.

Having arrived in London, John started his rounds of  horticulturalists. He dutifully wrote home on Friday 20th March 1835  that:

“…I think that in  speaking yesterday of Miller’s garden I passed it over in rather an unhandsome  way and did not sufficiently describe how much I was pleased. It is indeed very  fine ‑ among other things that he had in bloom ‑ there was the Scarlet Rhododendron arboreum and a crimson mule  [hybrid? – ed.] one all dotted over with black (like the figure in Sweet of Russellianum); it was a thick bush 5 or  6 feet high and covered with blossoms !!!!!!! ‑ then his house full of  camellias was in great beauty ‑ and a collection of Banksias and Dryandras,  many of them in flower proved a sore temptation ‑ His Orchis store too was to  me peculiarly interesting from the number of new and unnamed species which he  has lately imported from Demerara ‑ several of his sorts were in bloom, some  very splendid and all very curious ‑ But you know that I am mad about the  Orchis tribe, and my present expedition is, I fear, likely to add full to the  mania”.

Monday afternoon,  23rd March 1835, he wrote:

“Monday Athenaeum  5½ o’ clock – The day has turned out very fine and we have paid our intended  visit to Loddiges. You will easily guess that I was much delighted, and I dare  say will not be astonished when I confess to a little extravagance ‑ I spent  there in all near £10 and, among other things, I got Erica Aitonia which I remembered that you particularly admired and  of which Loddiges have fine plants for 3/6. I also bought 2 plants of the  beautiful new Chinese Paeonia, white  with a dark spot at the claw of each petal ‑ one for your mother who I know  particularly admires it but the expensive part of my day’s work was the  Orchises of which I bought 7 beauties ‑ Ever yours J.D. Ll”.

John and his father also went to Knight’s Nursery  as he recalls in part of his letter:

“Knight has a fine  collection of plants and my prudence was again put to a sore trial. I, however,  did not buy to any great amount excepting perhaps in the item of orange trees,  of which he, and he alone of all London  nursery men, has any fine collection. I bought six for my own little Emmy and  she shall have them under her own exclusive charge. His collection of Orchises  is very fine and I bought a few at a very cheap rate. Owing to my engagement  with Mr. Traherne, I was obliged to leave the Garden in a hurried way, and, as  I could not see Knight before I went, I must return again tomorrow  …….”

Wednesday afternoon  ‑ 3 o’ clock:

“I have just  returned from my second visit to Knight’s nursery garden, which I was obliged  to make principally for the sake of giving the necessary directions about  sending my different sort of plants off.   For example, the orange trees must travel per waggon and the Orchises  per coach. I bought a green and a black tea tree which, as they only cost 2/6  each, I intend to turn to good account and close my dealings with  Twining”. 

Saturday 28th  March:

“The next morning ‑  yesterday ‑ we met John Traherne (the Revd J.  M. Traherne of Coedriglan –ed.) by  appointment at the Athenaeum and went together to see the horticultural  gardens. On our way we stopped for a little while at Lee’s – a garden that  ought to be seen before and not after Loddiges’ and Knight’s as there was not  much temptation there I escaped pretty easily and only bought Tropaeolum pentaphyllum for 5/- which,  as it was a nice plant was cheap. It is selling at 10/6. We then proceeded to  the Horticultural where there was no temptation again, as of course all their  grapes must be sour to a member so young as I. I however hope to make an  interest for myself ere long and to get my finger in their pyes [sic]. I particularly looked out for the  plants that you mentioned and found them all growing against the wall in great  luxuriance, tho’ of course they were not yet in blow. There were also many new  things which I must wait to tell you of untill [sic] I see you again which will I suppose be on Wednesday..”

“After returning  from the Horticultural   Gardens, I went to the  Linnean Society and was there introduced to the Librarian, Mr David Don, an  eminent man in the Botanical World”.

The references to the purchase of orchids is  interesting, and would indicate that by 1835 John was already cultivating them.  The first reference to any building occurs in a letter dated Friday 29th  July 1836 to his father.

“… My own garden  [at Penllergare] is just beginning to put on its autumnal gaiety ‑ but the wet  weather which is favourable to the growth of the Dahlias spoil all their  flowers, and my hopes for the approaching horticultural show are but small. The  stove has a great promise ….”

“The back of the stove  which I had left unfinished, in doubt whether to turn it into a common shed, or  another stove, I have now determined on glazing. It will be only small and  entirely given up to Orchis. 100 degrees of heat and an atmosphere saturated  with water, is the enjoyment I promise myself and my pets. I intend them to  flower then and to rest after the exertion in a dryer and cooler place”.

So here, as early as July 1836, we find mention  of a purpose-built edifice complete with heating system.

The Orchid-related Correspondence of John Dillwyn Llewelyn and family

In the archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew  is a letter written by John Llewelyn from Penllergare on October 25th  1836 to William Jackson Hooker, Director of that institution, referring to a  forthcoming expedition to Brazil  by Mr George Gardener. It reads:

            “Sir,               At page 226 of the  first volume of the companion to the Botanical  Magazine, and again at the commencement of the second volume, I find a  notice of an expedition to the Brazil mountains undertaken by Mr George  Gardener who proposes to offer collections of the flora of that country to  those who may subscribe for them – Now though the terms for dried collections  are there mentioned, the particulars of the subscription for seeds and plants are  not specified, nor is the place or manner mentioned in which application for  shares should be made, and I trust that my wish to procure this information  will be sufficient excuse for this trespassing upon your time.

            It is orchideous  plants, in which the district Mr Gardener proposes to explore, is so rich, that  I should be most anxious to procure, and as they can be transported with  greater ease than most other plants. I suppose that he contemplates sending  home the living pseudo-bulbs for distribution”.

           A second letter by John from Penllergare to  Hooker, dated December 16th (but without year though filed with the  1841 correspondence) again refers to the expedition to Brazil:

“My dear Sir                     Some time ago you  were kind enough to write on my behalf to Mr Gardener who was then collecting  in Brazil and thus, through your means, my collection of Epiphytes has been  enriched by a great number of very interesting species, some of which have  already flowered and many others will do so in all probability in the course of  the ensuing Spring.

Now if among them  any should prove new species or such as have not been already figured in the Botanical Magazine, and these could be  of any service to you, it would give me great pleasure to send, as they appear,  either the flowers themselves of drawings of them…

…at this moment  there are none of Gardener’s plants of any peculiar interest in blow – but I  have a spike of the pretty Guatemalan Epidendrum  Skinneri (now Barkeria skinneri) in flower and many of  the species from the islands of the Indian Archipelago which I received from  Cumming grow and flower freely in my stoves any of which as they blow would be  entirely at your service.”

On December 22nd 1841, John wrote  again to Hooker enclosing flowers of Epidendrum  Skinneri together with a sketch, as promised in the previous letter.

“I send with this  the flowers of what I take to be Epidendrum  Skinneri, and as the plant is as yet too small to send any portion of its  bulbs, I have enclosed a rough sketch of its mode of growth, which will perhaps  be sufficient to enable you to judge of the species.

It was given to me  in the Summer of this year by Mr. Bateman who has just received it through Mr.  Skinner from Guatemala.  It has been attached to a rough log of Elder wood with a little sphagnumtied round its roots, and in this  situation seems to do pretty well…

I feel very much  obliged by your kind invitation to visit the gardens at Kew and when I am next  in Town I shall not fail to avail myself if it”. Unfortunately the picture sent with the letter is  not in the file.

In 1842, two further letters were sent from  Penllergare to Hooker at Kew. The first, dated  January 1842, reads:

“The first flower  of the spike of a plant which I take to be an aspasia (Aspasia) has just opened in my stove. It is very different from  the species figures at 3679 of the Botanical  Magazine and should you think it worth while, I will send the flower spike  when it is more expanded. It is a pretty plant…

I have also Brassavola glauca (now Rhyncholaelia glauca) now in blow – certainly the best species of the genus.

I have amused  myself with making Daguerreotype portraits of this, and other species, and from  their exact accuracy they are interesting, tho’ the want of colour prevents  them being beautiful as pictures.”

The second, dated January 24th reads:

“I am sorry that I  have at present no better Botanical Daguerreotypes to offer you. I have one of Arides odoratum (Aerides odoratum) which I made in the spring.

Most of my  specimens have been given away, and my camera is now undergoing some re  arrangements which will, I hope, improve its work.

Should you however  consider the enclosed of interest, I shall be very happy to send you other  examples as I bring them to greater perfection.

I also send a portion  of the Guatemalan plant which I suppose to be an Aspasia. Unfortunately, the Brassavola  glauca had already faded when your letter arrived.

I find the Box too  heavy for post and send it this day per coach”.

In a letter written on February 3rd  1842, from Penllergare, there is a further tantalising reference to the  daguerreotype. No such images survive either amongst family or the archives at  Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew but had they done  so, they would be amongst the first examples of the process for botanical  purposes.

“I can assure you  that the Daguerreotype drawing I sent you – cost me much less of time and  trouble then you give me credit for having bestowed upon it – and if you  consider it of any interest or curiosity, I beg that you will keep it as a specimen  of Botanical Photography.

Would the flowers  of Phaius bicolor (now Phaius  tankervilliae) be of any service to you? I have a plant which is now  throwing up a flower spike – which is to me a novelty.”

On March 21st 1842, John again wrote  from Penllergare to Hooker at West Park, Kew.

“I send with this  two flower spikes from my stove. The one appears to be a variety of…..Catasetum and the other is what I take  to be Epidendrum selligerum (now Encyclia  selligera). It is very fragrant and certainly a pretty species.

Should you wish it,  I can send you drawings of the bulbs and habit of either of the plants. My  plant of Phaius bicolor has not yet  expanded its flowers.

Do you think that  Dr. Horstman could be induced to send living specimens of Orchideæ from Guiana? He would have peculiar facilities for so doing  while investigating the country for his hortosicii. (hortus siccus – a  collection of dried, pressed specimens –ed.). I have a great interest in these  and should eagerly avail myself of an opportunity of getting species from the  interior of so interesting a country.”

In the next letter to Hooker, dated April 13th  1843, John expressed his sorrow to learn from Lady Hooker that Sir William has  been ill. It too included some orchid specimens.

“I send you with  the accompanying box, a portion of my plant of Phaius bicolor and Epidendrum  selligerum which I hope will be sufficient to form new plants and to give  your artist the character & texture of the leaf. Of Dendrobium macrophyllum, my specimen is as yet very small and with  the sketch I can only send a single leaf.

I have also  enclosed with the above the flower & bulb of a brown coloured Maxillaria which has been in my  collection some time but what its name is or from whence it came, I know not”.

A further letter was written from Penllergare to  Hooker on April 2nd.

“I enclosed a  drawing made by my wife of the bulbs of Epidendrum  selligerum, and also one with a spike of flowers of the Phaius which in my last letter I must  have inadvertently called maculatus but which is I believe is bicolor, a  species not hitherto figured as I think in the Botanical Magazine and which you may perhaps think worth  representing. I also enclose a single flower of Dendrobium macrophyllum, a truly magnificent species and can send drawings of its manner of growth and  stems at a future time should you wish and should you find the enclosed  sketches sufficient. I also send a spike of Dendrobium  crumenatum, a very sweet tho’ not a showy species

Should living  plants of any of my collection be acceptable to the Gardens at Kew, it would give me great pleasure to send you their  first increase.

I shall be very  much obliged if you will let me know how and what Dr. Hostman sends.”

Turning for a moment to Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, early volumes  include illustrations of several specimens obtained from Penllergare and  mentioned in the above letters.

3951                Epidendrum Skinneri (Barkeria skinneri)
3962                Aspasia Epidendroides (Aspasia epidendroides)
3970                Dendrobium Macranthum (now Dendrobium anosmum) 
4078                Phajus Bicolor (now Phaius tankervilliae)
4163                Eria Dillwynii (Eria  dillwynii)
4916                Cattleya Skinneri var. Parviflora (Cattleya patinii) 
5667                Laelia Majalis (now Laelia speciosa)

Further references to the stove at Penllergare,  appear in the next surviving letter in the Kew  correspondence dated May 20th from Penllergare referring to a  species of Aristolochia. Sadly, the  specimen is not included with the letter.

After a gap of ten months, another letter from  Penllergare and dated March 7th 1843 reached Hooker. It reads:

“I send you a piece  of one of Cumming’s Erias which is  valuable from the great facility with which it submits to cultivation & the  profusion with which it bears its flowers.

It flowered in my  stove last year and this season is a beautiful object with 7 or 8 bulbs each  bearing 2 spikes of flowers, the one I send I select as being least expanded,  but is not a fair example of the size or vigour of the plant.

I  have now Huntleya violacea (now Bollea  violacea) in splendour & Dendrobium  macrophyllum (now Dendrobium anosmum) full of promise”.

The next letter to his father is dated November  22nd 1843, three years before the appearance of the article in the Journal of the Horticultural Society.

“… for my part, I  am getting again deeply into all my old pursuits, experiments horticultural  & agricultural ‑ in the garden especially busy. The orchis house in  especial delights me ‑ and the plants in the damp atmosphere of the fall seem  to forget their captivity, and spread out their roots in all directions to  drink the misty air”.

Together with the Kew  correspondence, this would seem proof that certainly by 1843, he had built the  waterfall and it was functioning. But there is an earlier clue in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine article number 3962.  In referring to Aspasia epidendroides, the  author states:

“We have already  figured one species of Aspasia (A.variegata) at Tab. 3679 of this work. The present is that upon which the genus is founded,  and our specimen was kindly communicated in the early spring of 1842 from the  rich collection of Orchideae at Penllergar [sic],  by its possessor, Dillwyn Llewellyn [sic], Esq”.

If by the spring of 1842 such a specimen was  possible, does that date the newer building to 1841 perhaps?

Indeed, in April 1842, John and his father went  to London where  they stayed at Hatchett’s Hotel. While there, they dined with Sir E. Wilmot,  Robert Brown and Hudson Gurney. On April 23rd, they visited Kew and met Sir J. Hooker, staying with him for three  hours. That same year, possibly that very day, John presented four orchids to  the Gardens which are listed in the Garden’s Inwards Book for 1828‑46. These  appear for the year 1842 as Epidendrum  selligerum, Phaius bicolor from  the East Indies, Maxillaria sp. and Maxillaria S.America. They also visited the Chiswick Horticultural Gardens  and on Tuesday April 26th, “John accompanied Professor  Wheatstone to witness some magnificent Electro‑magnetic experiments at  Clapham.”

John wrote again   to Hooker  on  March 5th 1849 from Penllergare.

“I sent by  yesterday’s post a blossom of a schombergia (Schomburgkia) which seems different from the variety of marginata figured in the Botanical Magazine,  & also from the crispa & marginata of Dr. Lindley’s Sertum…

It has the pointed  lip of marginata with the growth and  general appearance of crispa. I have  not the Botanical Register by me to  refer to, but have some recollection of a notice there of a species called modulata, which this may probably be……..  or it may perhaps be an intermediate variety that would tend to bring crispa & marginata into one species… At all events, I  thought it worth while to trouble you with the specimen and without knowing  something of the nature of the plant, it is hopeless to try remedies”.

Of this genus, John was to write many years later  from Penllergare (July 16th 1855):

“I have sent off  today by rail a spike of Schomburghia (Schomburgkia) which is new to me,  and I should feel much obliged if you would be kind enough to let me know what  it is.

If the variety  should prove a new one, and if you should think it of sufficient interest to  insert in the Botanical Magazine, I  shall be most happy to furnish you with leaves and bulb.

George Bentham was also a correspondent of the  Llewelyns and had stayed with them for the meeting of the British Association  in 1848. They would also have met at the meetings of the Linnean Society. In a  letter from John dated 10th March 1849, from Penllergare, we again  find reference to orchids. That the letter starts “My Dear Bentham”  would suggest, in 19th century terms, that they were on close friendly terms

“I have lately had  a few Javanese orchids – 2 or 3 Oxida Vandas, Saccolabiums and Cypripedium (possibly Paphiopedilum) which have thrown me into  a fresh excess of orchidomania. And as the weather is now cold and ungenial I  enjoy a good warming at their stove.

With snow on the  ground and a March wind from the N.E,. it is a pleasant thing to get into the  hot steaming mist of their atmosphere and fancy oneself in the Valleys of  Sumatra or Java.

Mrs Llewelyn begs  her best remembrances to Mrs Bentham”.

On March 30th , John again wrote to  Bentham, from Penllergare, this time referring to parasitic native plants:

“I am very glad  that my plant interests you and I heartily wish that Lathiæa (This is probably Lathraea squamaria – the parasitic  toothwort that even today grows at Parkmill – ed.) has charms sufficient to  tempt you to a Western tour

It is but a step  across the hills and to see you and Mrs Bentham would be a real pleasure to us  all. Together we would unravel the roots of the parasite and make a crusade too  against my mysterious Rhygomorpha (probably rhizomorphs – subterranean  lace-like structures formed by the honey fungus and which allow its spread from  tree to tree – ed.)…”

There is also some correspondence from Thereza  Llewelyn to Mrs Bentham and a further reference to orchids in a letter dated  March 3rd 1857.

I saw a list of  Orchises, which bloom in January to February in the Gardeners’ Chronicle in which one, which we have had in bloom for  some time in the greatest perfection, is omitted. It is Dendrobium speciosum. Our plant has six long and very handsome  spikes in full bloom, on it.

A letter   dated  December 31st  1850 from Penllergare mentions a rather unusual orchid:

“I have forwarded  to you a flower spike of a plant which I procured from one of the Warcewitz’s  (Warscewicz –ed.) sales, & which was labelled new Mormodes from Panama.  It is a singular & handsome plant, and different from ought that I have seen  before.

If you should like  to it, I can separate a bulb and this would also exhibit the growth of the  species in case you might like to figure it in the Botanical Magazine.

This was followed on January 12th 1851  with a further letter from Penllergare including a sketch of the Mormodes from Panama.

“I send you  herewith a rough sketch of the Panama Mormodes which will, I trust be  sufficient for your purpose. It gives a correct idea of the present state of  the plant with the leaves all fallen, and a second flower spike rising from the  base of the bulb….the foliage throughout last summer exactly resembles that of Calasetum trideatalum (probably Catasetum tridentatum) but it died away as the winter approached  and the plant was then placed in a cooler and drier place for the purpose of  giving it a season of rest.

The first  appearance of its awakening was the weak spike of flowers which I sent to you –  and the second which is represented in the drawing appears much stronger &  will probably bear a larger number of blossoms – the spike has no tendency to  droop like that of Calasetum Warsewitzii, (Catasetum warscewiczii) a plant from  the same country which flowered in my stove last summer. It appears to be of  an easy cultivation and the peculiarity of its colour and its musky odour will,  I think, make it an acceptable addition to its class.

I shall therefore  endeavour to propagate it & distribute it as widely as I can.

The first offset I  hope shortly to send to Kew”.

The next issue for the 16th of March carries  a description of the orchid house and repeats the illustration of the cascade  that first appeared in the Horticultural Society’s Journal in 1846.

In the ‘Penllergare Book’, a scrap book put  together by John’s daughter‑in‑law Caroline, there is a quote from the Gardeners Magazine of September 21st  1895, written by H Honeywood D’ Ombrain who  was a Reverend and, as is Hal Moggridge, a recipient of the VMH.

“… the late Mr  Llewelyn was a keen horticulturist, and I believe he was one of the very first who  took up the cultivation of orchids and in conjunction with Mr Bateman sent out  collectors to the East Indies and other places for the purpose of obtaining and  sending home those floral treasures…”

Amongst publications on orchids is one by James  Bateman The Orchidaceae of Mexico and  Guatamala 1837-1843. This includes an illustration of Laelia majalis (now Laelia speciosa) of which the original  watercolour was by Emma Llewelyn.

In the Journal left by Thereza Llewelyn for 1857,  she refers to the site of the Orchid House.

“We went up to the  Garden, & found ours looking very nice – There are two beautiful orchises  now in blow, Dendrobium pulchellum which is a delicate lilac-buff flower, & very beautiful and D. aggregatum which is entirely yellow,  the centre being of a darker yellow – The Dendrobiums are one of my favourite sorts of orchises. In the evening, I examined a  specimen of Nitella flexis (an alga –  ed.) which we have growing in the aquarium, with the microscope; the structure  of the seed capsule, is very curious, and in this plant the flow & reflow  of the sap is very clearly discernable; it flows up, one side and down the  other, without there being any partition between the two currents! – A great  number of infusoria &c were with, or growing on the plant, some of which  were very beautiful”.

The End  of an Era

From photographs it would seem that the Orchid  house was still standing together with its roof up to the time that the Welsh Bible   College moved onto the  estate at the end of the 1930s. The serious vandalism probably occurred during  the war years when units of General Omar Bradley’s troops were billeted there.  Subsequently the estate was further vandalised.

On March 25th 1928, the walled garden area was  rented out as a nursery garden. One of the owners, Mr William Edge, now of  Bridgend, recalled some details from those years.

Mr Edge wrote:

“March 1928 we  rented the gardens after the death of the first Sir John Llewelyn Bart” (John  Llewelyn’s son, John Talbot Dillwyn Llewelyn who had lived at Penllergare).

“We ran a  nurseryman etc business for 12 years. We had 12 months notice as the Bible College  at Swansea  intended to buy the mansion and gardens when they had raised the necessary  cash.

Their workmen and  students knocked off all the plaster on the outside walls & cemented them  all around. They did a lot of painting of the cornices etc in the Library and  elsewhere! The deal fell through, the cash was not raised.

Then the war came  and the American army took over the House. General Omar Bradley used it as  headquarters. When they left, vandals took over, stole lead etc. Finally, a few  years later the Territorial army blew up the mansion”.

Mr Edge and his family  had lived in the Head Gardener’s House; but the most interesting fact was that  he was able to recall the layout of the walled garden area and the Orchid  House. How different it was in the day of John Dillwyn Llewelyn cannot be  readily established but it is probable that the general layout of paths and  pond were as originally designed. Indeed, recent  investigations have uncovered the edge stones of the original path system  dating back to John Dillwyn Llewelyn’s time

From  the various letters, published articles etc, it is possible to have some idea  of the construction and contents of the ‘stove’ at Penllergare.

Today its remains, together with those of the walled garden  area can be found adjacent to the newly built Bellway homes, a faint echo of a  period of enlightenment when Swansea  had played such an important role in the history of orchids, their science and  cultivation.

At the end of 2007, having  previously decided that it was not worth doing so, CADW scheduled the remains  of the Orchid House at Penllergare.


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