Scything…sorting the wheat from the chaff


 What does the word scything conjure up to you? Pleasant Constable-style images of haymakers in sunlit fields…or blood, sweat, tears and severed limbs?! Well gardeners and visitors were invited to set aside their preconceptions and try their hands at this old art of grass cutting recently, as part of a two day workshop with Sion Jinkinson, woodland contractor for the North Wales Wildlife Trust.

  Sion is increasingly busy running scything workshops these days – he has been fully booked this year – and also does scything for local authorities and other groups who want small areas of grassland managed quietly, non-invasively and in an environmentally-friendly way. It’s clearly a growing trend.

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Sion with gardener Laura; gardener Katie in the swing of things

  We thought we’d give it a go as part of Bodnant Garden’s grassland management project, which has been funded by Natural Resources Wales. Along with other National Trust properties in Wales we are doing our bit to maintain and develop species-rich meadows, of which 99% have been lost in Wales in the last 60 years.

  At Bodnant, we are now practising traditional, low level maintenance on our meadows at Cae Poeth, Furnace Field and Old Park – cutting grass and removing the hay in August, avoiding feeds and herbicides, mechanically removing bracken, thistles, docks and nettles, grazing in the autumn…and trying out some other methods like scything.

 Sion gave us an introductory talk and demonstration of how to set up, sharpen, operate and dismantle the scythe (and some vital health and safety tips) then we were placed in a row across the meadow at a safe distance from each other, and we were off.

 Thankfully the weather was kind and the whole experience was pleasantly surprising. I found scything not as physically hard as I expected – the new Austrian scythes are light and, with regular sharpening, slice through grass easily without too much back breaking effort. It was a revelation to see how much ground was covered so quickly. In fact I had none of the expected lower lumbar twinges during the day or afterwards (though curiously aching forearms…perhaps I had been giving it too much welly?)

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Sion giving a demo and yours truly (Fran) giving it some welly

  That’s not to say it wasn’t an effort, but going at a steady pace it didn’t feel like being part of a hay-making chain gang. Stopping every few minutes to sharpen the blade was an opportunity to admire the summer landscape, exchange words with a neighbour, watch a blue butterfly, and at the end of the day it was pleasing to look across a freshly mown meadow and think ‘we did that’. There were satisfied smiles from our gang of scythers and no severed limbs – though one or two people did report minor aches and pains the next day, in a range of bizarre places. Clearly scything gets to the parts other methods of grass cutting don’t.


  A well oiled machine, without the machinery!

  Strimming can be hard work too – it’s not all win-win with machinery. The professional cutters are heavy and cumbersome, noisy and headache-inducing and the necessity of helmets, visors, goggles and harness make it hard going in hot weather. Even with head gear, unless you are wearing a polo neck and balaclava you get hit on the chin, neck and arms by flying debris – it’s amazing how much a seed head against bare skin can sting when shot at speed from the metal blades of a brush cutter!


Gardener David in the obligatory Grim reaper pose

  The environmental benefits of not using machinery are obvious – less fuel and noise pollution (although apparently in the past some lords and ladies did complain about the swish of scythers mowing the grass in front of their stately homes!) It’s horses for courses I guess. There are situations when only a tractor mounted machine, mechanical cutter or strimmer will do, but maybe there is a place for the good old fashioned scythe. If you’ve got an orchard or small holding it’s certainly a cheap and easy way to keep the grass down. Whether it will take on at Bodnant Garden…the jury is out but watch this space.

  If you want to find out more you contact Sion Jinkinson at  You can also get a taste of our sycthing days on this video Tai Chi with A Blade

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website or Facebook page

Rediscover the bygone skill of scything


  The old art of scything is making a comeback and there’s chance to see this traditional skill in action at Bodnant Garden – and even have a go at swinging a scythe yourself.

  We’re running two scything workshops on August 18 and 19 when visitors can join staff learning about this long-lost method of grass cutting. Gardener Laura Jones says: “Scything is undergoing a renaissance. It’s an environmentally-friendly means of cutting grass – and it’s much quieter than your average mower! For wild grass areas and patches of meadow it’s a real alternative.”


  The sight of men and women out in the fields harvesting the old fashioned way was a familiar sight for hundreds of years. In the 20th century the scythe was replaced by mowers and strimmers but these days local authorities, stately homes and even domestic gardeners are picking up the traditional tool again as a zero-carbon alternative to managing weeds and grass.

  The scythe is designed for cutting vegetation at ground level, both for cutting both meadow grass and for harvesting oats, barley and other grains. There’s evidence that it has been around since the Romans, but it became the tool of choice in Britain from the 1700s when industrialisation made the scythe easier to manufacture. It replaced the sickle and apparently caused widespread outrage among working women, who were deemed too dainty to wield the larger implement – they were ousted from harvesting and relegated to lower paid work picking up crops behind the men folk.

  Traditional English scythes were produced in England until the mid-1900s, particularly in Sheffield,  but sadly the industry is no more. They have been replaced by the newer continental or Austrian scythes which are hand forged, thinner, lighter and easier to use and maintain – which has contributed to the rise in scything’s popularity.

 July_13_050Sion Jinkinson (right) and a group of learner scythers 

  Our scything workshops will be run by Sion Jinkinson, woodland contractor for the North Wales Wildlife Trust and an instructor with the Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland. He says: “There’s definitely been a big rise in interest in scything in recent years. We taught 100 people to scythe last year in North Wales.

  “Some people come along just for the fun of learning. Some people want to use the scythe at home – maybe they have an orchard and don’t want to strim near trees, or maybe they have an acre of land to manage and no tractor. Grass has to be cut or it turns to scrub, and scything can be a good solution in some situations. We also do work for organisations like Denbighshire Countryside Service, who may want an area cut without the noise and disturbance of strimmers.

  “With the new, lighter Austrian scythes it’s something most people can master. I teach all ages and abilities – I’ve had a little girl of six and a lady of 86 on my courses – the elderly lady remembered, as a girl, watching locals scything the land. It’s good to keep this traditional skill alive, and of course it also has benefits for the environment.”

Volunteer sharpening a scythe whilst clearing bracken on a National Trust Working Holiday at Bosigran Farm, Cornwall

  We’re running the courses as part of Bodnant Garden’s grassland management project, which has been funded by Natural Resources Wales for the last two years.

  Along with other National Trust properties in Wales we are doing our bit to maintain and develop species-rich meadows. We have lost around 99% of our hay meadows in Wales in the last 60 years – the knock on effect is a decline in butterflies and bees, which has big implications for the pollination of our crops. There’s evidence the decline in grasslands may be affecting climate change too, as they store and use carbon at a higher rate than forests.

  At Bodnant, gardeners are practising traditional, low level maintenance on meadows at Cae Poeth, Furnace Field and Old Park – cutting grass and removing the hay in August, avoiding feeds and herbicides, mechanically removing bracken, thistles, docks and nettles, grazing in the autumn where possible – and just as importantly, inviting people to enjoy these areas.


Sowing Yellow Rattle is just one of the things we’re doing to improve our meadows – it reduces the soil fertility, allowing wild flowers to thrive

  Laura says: “Scything benefits the environment; there’s no fuel used in the manufacture or use of scythes, there’s less disturbance of soil, it leaves a cleaner finish than strimming and is kinder to wildlife as the user can avoid creatures in the grass.

  “For the user it’s cleaner, quieter, there’s no vibration or risk of flying stones, there’s more control and the tools can be used in almost any weather. It’s cheaper too as one scythe can last a lifetime – it can also be a relaxing thing to do once you’ve got the technique right!”

   “We probably won’t be using scythes on the formal lawns…but we’re keen to find out whether we can use them here on our meadows. It’s also just a great skill to learn and we hope visitors will enjoy it too – and maybe go away and try it in their own plots.”

  Bodnant Garden scything days will take place on August 18th (for staff) and August 19th (for visitors). There is no cost but places are limited to ten per day so booking is essential on 01492 650460. Garden visitors are welcome to come along and watch on both days.

  For more information about Bodnant Garden’s grassland management, or tips for your own mini-meadow, see our video at

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Waking up to the beauty of roses


  Gardeners start work at 7.45am here at Bodnant when it’s out of bed and straight into mowing or hoeing – but our student horticulturalist Harvey Baker enjoyed a rather civilised start to the day this week, taking part in a special Breakfast of Roses, a morning guided walk and talk with expert Michael Marriot.

  Michael, the adviser to award-winning growers David Austin Roses, has been involved in the redesign of our two rose terraces in recent years. The Top Rose Terrace was renovated in 2006 and the Lower Rose Terrace in 2012. Gardeners had to dig out and replace around 500 tonnes of soil from both terraces; paths were re-laid and pergolas repainted. The beds were then planted with fragrant English Roses, many from the David Austin collection, which provide a continuous display from June to October…so there’s still plenty of time to come along and enjoy them.

  For those who were at Michael’s walks an talk on Tuesday but didn’t make notes and would like more information, or for those who just want to know more about our roses, here are Harvey’s jottings:

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Student Harvey Baker and the Top Rose Terrace

  “At half past eight, after doing my weekly plant identification test, I went to join a group of rose enthusiasts on a rose ‘talk-and-walk’ by Michael Marriott, from David Austin Roses. The talk began by The Range, then we moved across to the Upper Rose Terrace, and then down to the Lower Rose Terrace. I wrote notes down as we moved from one rose to another, so I’m going to transcribe what I wrote into bullet points as if you were walking the same route as we were -

Near The Range:

- Rosa x odorata ‘Mutabilis’, which is growing against the wall by The Range border is a China rose, with pink to crimson flowers, are slender and almost thornless

- R.banksia is growing against the same wall, has good thorns for climbing, very vigorous and difficult to control, a bit of a ‘brute’. Thornless.

- R.’Dusky Maiden’ has crimson flowers and is near the exit gate. This vintage rose was bred by Edward LeGrice in 1959. This has been used by David Austin in his breeding program for red English roses. It is one of the middle period Floribundas.

- R.primula, which is by the house, is a species rose and is often ignored because it flowers only once. It is a spring flowering rose with arching branches wreathed in soft yellow, single blooms. The foliage is fern-like and smells of incense. Has good autumn colour.


Rosa ‘Pretty Lady’ on the Top Rose Terrace

In the Upper Rose Terrace:

- The Upper Rose Terrace is a hundred years old this year; the roses which you see today are not the originals. They would have been Hybrid Tea Roses, which were fasionable at the time. Unfortunately, they would have been very weak and prone to diseases. The Upper Rose Terrace was re-planted in 2005 with floribunda roses.

- R.’Pretty Lady’ was pointed out as being particularly healthy. It was breed by an amateur breeder, Len Scrivens, from the Black Country, in 1996. It has a peach bloom and although the flowers are produced in clusters, they have the form of a Hybrid Tea.

- R.’Susan Williams Ellis’ is a white rose, with a strong fragrance and Old Rose in character. It is disease free. Susan Williams Ellis was a designer who, together with her husband Euan Cooper-Willis, founded Portmeirion Pottery.

- It is good practice to mix roses with others plants, particularly plants which will bring in beneficial insects to eat insects like aphids, which are a great problem for roses.

- ‘ SB Plant Invigorator’ was recommended as a pesticide/mildewcide/foliar nutrient to spray on roses to kill aphids. It is biodegradable, non-toxic, and environmentally friendly.

- The ‘secret’ to success with roses is good pre-planting ground preparation, and carefull selection of a good rose variety for the spot.

- The four main roses diseases are: Black Spot, Powdery Mildew (caused by dryness of roots…roses love water around their roots), Downy Mildew (which looks like Black Spot and causes rapid defoliation), and Rose Rust.

- Box hedges have traditionally been planted around rose beds. This can cause problems because they have ‘greedy’ roots, which compete with the roses for nutrients.

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Michael Marriot on the Lower Rose Terrace and (right) Rosa ‘Felicia’

In the Lower Rose Terrace

- R.’Felicia’ is a Hybrid Musk rose, with fragrant, double, light pink flowers. The majority of hybrid musk roses were bred in the first thirty years of the last century by a country clergyman, the Rev. Joseph Pemberton. All hybrid musks share three species in their ancestry, Rosa chinensis, R.moschata and R.multiflora, crossed with various more modern roses, such as Trier and ‘Ophelia’.

- R.’Nuits de Young’ is a Moss rose with red-brown moss on stems and buds, and fragrant, flat, double, deep maroon flowers. Moss roses first appeared as mutations of Centifolia roses in 1720, in which the sepal, calyx and stems have a mossy growth. This is particularly attractive in the bud stage and has a noticeable balsam-like fragrance when touched.

- Attention must be taken when replanting a rose bed, otherwise re-plant disease can affect the new roses. One method is to completely renew the soil in the bed, to a depth of 18″ to 2′. If this is not possible, dig out as much soil as possible around the planting hole, add new soil and plenty of well-rotted organic matter. Using a mycorrhizal fungi product helps stimulate the roots of new roses and helps the plants cope with environmental stress.

- R.’England’s Rose’ is a tough, medium sized rose with double flowers of deep glowing pink. It flowers from June to October, sometimes November. The flower fragrance is strong, warm, spicy like a classic Old Rose.

- R.’Harlow Carr’ bears shallow cupped flowers of pink. It’s very thorny and can be used as deterrent hedge, against such animals as deer!

- R.’Albertine’ is a large and vigorous rambling shrub up to 5m in the Pink Garden. It has strong thorny, reddish stems and dark glossy foliage. Has very fragrant double, salmon-pink flowers in clusters. The petals don’t fall off after flowering, so can be a problem if you want to dead-head it and it’s growing high up a wall.

- ‘Maxicrop’ was recommended as good seaweed fertilizer for roses.


 Thanks Harvey! Harvey and two other students are currently at Bodnant Garden on a 14-month placement as part of the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme. You can find out more about the scheme on the website For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website or Facebook page but most importantly…come and see the roses!

A summer for all at Bodnant Garden


  Summer holidays are a-comin…and we’ve got enough events planned at Bodnant Garden to keep the whole family happy.

  From July through to September we’ve got tailor-made children’s activities with our Grow Wild programme, walks, talks and workshops for the grown-ups and a welcome for our four legged friends too with late night, dog-friendly opening on Wednesdays until 8pm.

  And if that’s not enough, you can always simply enjoy strolling around one of the finest gardens in the UK in all its summer glory – enjoy the rose gardens, herbaceous beds and lily ponds on the Terraces, the grassy wildflower glades of the Shrub Borders and the cool of The Dell with its giant conifers and riverside lined with blue hydrangeas. We’re also welcoming picnics to the garden this year and have four areas perfect for al fresco dining – in The Dell, the Old Park, the Yew Dell and Chapel Park – so you can really make the most of your day out in the garden.

  The fun kicks-off on July 21 with a Kids’ Craft Week, which will include different activities every day from 11am to 1pm…then from July 28 to August 31 get ready to Grow Wild!

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  Grow Wild is our special programme for families offering nature-based activities six days each week; pond dipping on Tuesdays (12-3pm), evening nature walks on Wednesdays (5-7pm), Wild Art on Thursdays (12-3pm), Wildlife Detectives on Fridays (2pm), Storytelling on Saturdays (2pm) and Gardener’s Apprentice on Sundays (2pm). It’s the second year we’ve run the Grow Wild events.

  Last year it was hugely popular, with children and their parents! The highlight of the summer will be a Wild Wood Weekend on Bank Holiday Saturday to Monday, with tree climbing, demonstrations from our arborists, wood carving, a tree trail, bug hunting, tree planting, displays of our garden machinery and lots more.


July 26 – Photography workshop: Join renowned local photographer Pierino Algieri in the garden and pick up some expert tips, 10am-12 and 2pm-4pm. Please book.

July 29 – Poem Open: A chance to see inside the mausoleum belonging to the garden’s founder family, with its beautiful stained glass windows and carvings (open all day.)

July 30 – Herbaceous Borders Walk: Enjoy all summer has to offer in our guided walk with a gardener, and learn about how we’ve been renovating our beds, from 2pm.

July 30 – Falconry Display: Meet the keepers and birds of prey from 10.30am-4pm, and see flying demonstrations at 1.30pm and 3.30pm.

July 28 to August 31: Grow Wild!

August 10 – Music in the Pin Mill: Award winning Welsh harpist Dylan Cernyw returns to the garden for an afternoon performance, from 2pm.

August 13 – Secret Bodnant: Explore an area of the garden currently closed to the public. This walk takes place on the second Wednesday of every month, 2pm. Please book.

August 17 – Plant Hunters’ Fair: What treasures will you find at this Plant Heritage event, taking place in the car park, 10am to 4pm?

August 23 to August 25 – Wild Wood Weekend.

August 24 – Music in the Pin Mill: Popular folk group Felin Haf perform, from 2pm.

August 26 – Poem Open: Another chance to see inside the mausoleum. The Poem is open every last Tuesday of the month from March to October.

August 27 – Plant Hunters’ Walk: Join a gardener for a tour of the garden highlighting plants brought back to Bodnant by 19th century global explorers, from 2pm.

August 27 – Falconry: A return of the birds of prey, from 10.30am-4pm with flying demonstrations at 1.30pm and 3.30pm.


 All these events are free with normal admission to the garden. For the Secret Bodnant walks and photography workshop please book to reserve your place as numbers are limited. For more details about any of these events call the garden office on 01492 650460 or see our website

Celebrating The Terraces – help us make history

  old terraces 

  This year we’re celebrating 100 years of our famous Italianate Terraces. Begun in 1905 and completed just before the outbreak of World War 1, the construction was massive earth moving achievement done by men without modern machinery, the results of which delight hundreds of thousands of visitors to Bodnant Garden each year.

  We’re delving into the record books to find out more about the ambitious project and the people who made it a reality…and here’s how you can help, by letting us know of any personal connections your family has with the garden at that time. 


A photo of the hillside before The Terraces were begun in 1905, with scrawled X marking the spot… of what?

  The five beautiful garden levels were carved out of the grassy hillside which sloped westward down from Bodnant Hall to the valley of the River Hireathlyn; taking in unparalleled views of the Carneddau mountains beyond. What was little more than a steeply sloping lawn just over a century ago – and before that pasture land – is now our Top Rose Terrace, Croquet Terrace, Lily Terrace, Lower Rose Terrace and Canal Terrace, filled with rose beds, pergolas of wisteria and clematis, lily pools and billowing herbaceous borders.

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The Top Rose Terrace and Croquet Terrace

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The Lily Terrace, Lower Rose and Canal terraces…


…and the Canal Terrace before the Pin Mill was built!

  It’s all thanks to the vision of the garden’s owners Laura McLaren and her son Henry, and the labour of those early workmen…some of whom perhaps went away to fight and never came back. As a mark of celebration – and of commemoration in this centenary of the outbreak of the Great War – we’ll be sharing stories and pictures in the coming weeks. If you have any information about that early history of Bodnant Garden we’d love to hear from you!

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 The terraces during construction and just after completion


  Contact Fran Llewellyn on 01492 650460 or email us at  You can also check out updates on our Facebook page


Gardening with the cream of the crop


  Calling green-fingered hopefuls – here’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn the garden trade alongside the cream of the crop…and this could be your classroom!

  New students are being invited for the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme, which offers placements at the best gardens and parks in Wales, including ours.

  Students who secure a place at Bodnant Garden will get the chance to work on the Laburnum Arch – which draws around 40,000 visitors during its three-week flowering in May. They will also get chance to hone their gardening skills on the grand rose terraces, among giant old Champion Trees and a historic plant collection gathered from all around the globe.


  Our property administrator Rose James says: “If you fancy learning and training alongside the very best gardeners at Bodnant Garden or other high calibre gardens in Wales this scheme is for you. The deadline for applications is June 27 so don’t miss this fantastic opportunity.”

  The HHSS is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and offers traineeships at Bodnant Garden and Dyffryn Gardens (National Trust), at Aberglasney, Picton Castle, and with Newport City Council, Cardiff City Council and St Fagans Natural History Museum.

   Starting in September, up to 16 chosen trainees will get a £10,000 bursary from Lantra for 14-month placements at these organisations, where they will receive practical training in specialised, heritage horticultural techniques.

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  One of our recent HHSS students has now gone on to work at a national gardening magazine; others have gone on to permanent jobs at other National Trust gardens.

  One of last year’s Bodnant trainees Richard Marriott, now working at Norbury Manor National Trust, says: “I learnt so much at Bodnant. The scheme is a fantastic mixture of theory and countless opportunities for hands-on gardening. It’s an invaluable opportunity to gain real life horticultural skills in a world class garden. It is great for your CV and stands you in good stead for a life long career in horticulture.”

  More information is available at Bodnant Garden on 01492 650460 or from the HHSS website at

For the love of Laburnum

  The annual excitement over Bodnant Garden’s Laburnum Arch has reached fever pitch once again. The arch attracts around 45,ooo people in the three weeks of its flowering (property adminstrator Rose also estimates this number have phoned in asking about it…the lines have been red hot!) It is without doubt the most visited, photographed, talked about and eagerly anticipated event of our year.

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Feeling the love…visitor Jules Girling 

  Why so popular? I guess it’s a question of scale; there are other lovely laburnum arches in the UK – including at nearby Ness Gardens on the Wirral, the Dorothy Clive Gardens in Shropshire, at Kew Palace as well as others at private gardens up and down the country – but we believe ours is the oldest and certainly the longest, forming a dazzling 55 metre-long, shimmering golden walkway. 


  We’ve got the garden’s founder Henry Pochin (seen above) to thank for that. A ground-breaking chemist, businessman, JP, MP and visionary, Henry bought the Bodnant estate in 1874 and dramatically landscaped the garden to the west of the house, making the most of the terrain and views sweeping down the valley side by planting the Pinetum in The Dell. In the top of the garden Henry’s other lasting legacy was the Laburnum Arch, built around 1881.

  photo comp Zsolt D Kovats

  It’s not just people who love the Laburnum

  The first pergola walkways were developed during the Renaissance period in the Mediterranean, to provide shelter, shade and a place to grow flowering vines and fruit bearing trees – the Italian word ‘pergola’ actually meaning ‘a close walk of boughs’.  They became popular throughout European gardens up to the 1600s, but fell out of fashion in the centuries which followed, replaced by grand formal gardens and by the naturalistic landscape movement.

  They rose in favour again in the late Victorian era with the rustic, romantic Arts and Crafts movement. Henry Pochin decided he wanted a pergola walkway at Bodnant and, not being a man to do things by halves, he designed the biggest and the best!


 The arch looking quite different with its original yew hedges

   The arch was originally made of Laburnum anagyroides plants, the common laburnum which occurs across Southern Europe. It was later replaced with hybrid cultivar Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’  developed in the 1860s by Waterer’s Nursery in Surrey. This form produces longer racemes, up to 5ocm long, and fewer toxic seeds, something which deters people from planting them in their gardens. There is doubt these days about exactly how harmful the seeds are; you would probably have to eat alot of them…but we wouldn’t recommend anyone trying it!

   The structure of the arch was originally wooden but as these rotted it has been replaced by a metal frame. Originally there were yew hedges alongside the arch but these were in poor condition and removed in the 1950s, replaced by azaleas, creating a wider tunnel with a colourful flowering backdrop.

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Former gardener Tony winter pruning the arch and Laura deadheading in July

  It takes two gardeners up to five weeks to prune the arch by hand in January at the coldest time of the year – painstakingly untying, cutting back and tying back in each strand to the framework – and it takes a further two weeks of work deadheading the flowers in July. But as the visitor figures prove, it’s well worth the effort.

  There’ s still time to see the Laburnum Arch at Bodnant Garden. If you’ve not been lucky enough to get here you can still enjoy the pictures on our social media sites. For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460 or check out:


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