A perfect way to end the day

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We’re opening the gates of Bodnant Garden after hours for the first time. Come and enjoy the sights and sounds of the garden as never before, with a glass of wine to wash down the view!

Bodnant Garden is beautiful at the best of times but imagine relaxing at a table on the Italianate terraces, overlooking the Carneddau mountains as the sun goes down, sipping a crisp white or rich red and listening to the evening bird song, maybe even a touch of classical music in the background…

Imagine no longer! The experience could be yours to enjoy, take home and treasure if you come along to our new Walk and Wine evenings.

We will provide the wine, canapés, music in the Pin Mill and even croquet on the lawn. We can’t absolutely promise you a fine evening of course, but what we can offer is a chance to see the garden as never before when the landscape takes on a completely different ambience – a chance to enjoy our plants, trees and magnificent views in the dusk light.

Just chill quietly and enjoy the atmosphere…or bring friends and pretend you’re at a country house garden party of old – Jeeves and Wooster, or Agatha Christie style (without bloodshed, hopefully).

It is the first time we have opened the garden to the public in the evenings. The idea came from our student gardener David Green who had a light-bulb moment when leaving work last summer.

He recalls: “I got to thinking what I would do when all the visitors had gone home if I lived in the house – put a comfy chair on the Croquet Lawn to watch the light fade, sip Pimms and gorge myself on canapés whilst listening to some light opera, jazz or Bossa Nova… I thought it would be nice to try and recreate a summer evening from Bodnant’s heyday – kinda 1920s maybe.”

Walk and Wine events will take place monthly through the summer on Thursdays  April 25, May 30, June 27, July 25 and August 29, when you can enjoy the full, sophisticated al fresco experience. There will also be an opportunity to see inside the Pin Mill building which will be open to the public and of course the whole garden will be open to visitors for strolling.

In addition, we will be having informal weekly late night openings on Wednesdays in May and June, from 5pm to 8pm – the May dates will be open to dog walkers too. Regular admission charges apply for the Wednesday late night openings.

The first Walk and Wine takes place Thursday, April 25, from 6.30pm to 8pm (last entry 7.30pm) and costs £6. Subsequent Thursday openings take place from 5pm to 8pm. For more details of these events see our website http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden/ or Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT

Looking Good in the Garden (April)

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The first of the magnolias, Magnolia stellata

Better late than never…and at long last spring is here. It may be a month or so late but finally the daffodils are out, magnolias, cherries and rhododendrons are cautiously unfurling and herbaceous plants are beginning to make a dash for the warmth and light.

What a long, cold winter it’s been! There has inevitably been some frost damage around the garden (a few casualties of the recent gales too…not to mention floods which ushered in the season back in November) but you can’t keep Mother Nature down – nor the spirit of gardeners. Together we have hopefully weathered the worst and the garden is springing back to life.

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Rhododendron ‘Snowy River’ and Camellia ‘Charles Puddle’

On The Terraces all eyes are on the first of the magnolias; the ivory Magnolia stellata and an early pink Magnolia campbellii close to the Laburnum Arch, a towering tree whose silky petals look beautiful against a blue spring sky.

Camellias have been illuminating the garden for some weeks now and are still putting on a fine show throughout – but look out for delicate pink and perfectly formed Camellia ‘Charles Puddle’ near the Round Garden. Rhododendrons are now beginning to gather speed – among them the vibrant purple Rh ‘Snowy River’, Rh ‘Budget Farthing’ cascading with cerise blooms, willowy pastel Rh. sinense, the scarlet of Rh ‘Ethel’, a Bodnant hybrid, and electric blue Rh ‘Bluebird’.

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In the Shrub Borders we have daffs, daffs and more daffs…as far as the eye can see throughout the grassy Glades and peppering beds. Other seasonal sights to enjoy include golden yellow Corylopsis and Forsythia, flowering cherries such as the rosy pink Prunus cerasifera ‘Pissardii’ and amber Berberis lologenis.

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Skunk cabbage, drumstick primulas and dwarf daffodils in the Dell

In The Dell herbaceous plants are now taking hold. The landscape is bursting with cyclamen, miniature daffodils, wood anemones, bright blue clumps of omphalodes and pulmonaria and, here and there, surprise dashes of the lilac drumstick primula, P.denticulata.
The unmistakable scent of skunk cabbage has returned too! Love it or loathe Lysichiton americanus there’s no doubt these yellow caped invaders are sculptural, creating impressive swathes along river banks.

More pictures of these highlights can be seen on our Facebook page at  http://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT or for other details see our website http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden/

By gardener Fran Llewellyn

No pith helmet required

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The Himalayas, native home of many Bodnant plants

As we prepare for our plant hunters’ fair, gardener Fran Llewellyn looks back at some of the intrepid explorers whose adventures lie behind some of Bodnant Garden’s famous inhabitants – from redwoods to rhododendrons to primroses.

Bodnant Garden is hosting a plant hunters’ fair this Sunday. The Plant Heritage (North Wales Group) event will feature displays from specialist nurseries – and from our own nursery too.

But fear not, you won’t need your pith helmets. It’s a far cry from the plant hunting of old when explorers took their lives in their hands travelling to some of the most inhospitable places on Earth, facing the perils of terrain, disease, wild animals and war, all to discover and bring back new specimens to our shores.

Bodnant has a long and proud association with Britain’s famous plant hunters, but when strolling around the garden today it’s hard to imagine the dramatic tales behind the beautiful and serene landscape…

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Sequoiadendron giganteum

The house and parkland at Bodnant was bought  by Victorian industrialist Henry Pochin in 1874. It was he who had the vision to plant the great conifers on the steep valley sides. Pochin was establishing the garden in the heyday of Victorian plant hunting  – not long before, in the 1830s, Scottish botanist David Douglas had introduced the Douglas Fir into cultivation from North America and in the 1850s the Seqouiadendron giganteum was first discovered by Europeans in California. Both of these trees have pride of place as some of the earliest inhabitants of Bodnant.

But it was Henry Pochin’s daughter Laura and grandson Henry McLaren who fully developed the garden which we see today, with its formal terraces and famous plant collections – which include National Collections of rhododendrons and magnolias. The McLaren family supported plant hunting expeditions of the early 1900s; including those by Englishman Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson who travelled widely in China and the Himalayas.

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Primula pulverulenta

In all, Wilson brought back around 2,000 garden plants, more than any other collector, including an abundance of rhododendron seed. He is perhaps most remembered for the Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata), but also the silky-barked Acer griseum, the cerise primrose Primula pulverulenta, many azaleas and the lovely ivory King’s Lily (Lilium regale) – all of which can be seen at Bodnant Garden. On one of his many expeditions Wilson’s leg was crushed during an avalanche of boulders as he was carried along the trail in his sedan chair. After this he walked with what he called his ‘lily limp’.

Wilson introduced Asian magnolias too, such as Magnolia dawsoniana and M. sargentiana of which we have towering examples in the garden which are now more than 100 years old.

Another plant hunter who contributed to Bodnant’s collections was the Scot George Forrest who travelled in China, Tibet and Burma. His trips were certainly action-packed, taking him through mountains and dense jungles where he encountered a population ridden by smallpox and ravaged by war. Of the first expedition team of 15 which went to Tibet in 1905 he was the only one to survive.

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Magnolia campbellii

However he returned to Britain in 1906 with hundreds of pounds of seeds, roots, tubers and plants. Over the next two decades he was responsible for introducing about 600 species of plants, 300 of which were rhododendrons – including Rhododendron forrestii which has been used in successive decades to produce our famous Bodnant hybrids. Forrest also brought back camellias, Himalayan poppies and primulas and introduced Magnolia campbellii to Britain.

Also featured in Bodnant’s hall of fame is Manchester-born Frank Kingdon-Ward, who clocked up around 25 expeditions over a period of nearly fifty years, exploring Tibet, North Western China, Burma and India.  Among his collections were the first viable seed of Meconopsis betonicifolia (Himalayan blue poppy) and Rhododendron wardii, a yellow flowered species.

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Meconopsis betonicifolia

He survived many accidents on his expeditions including being impaled on a bamboo spike, falling off a cliff, being lost for two days with no food, having his tent crushed by a tree in a storm and escaping an earthquake. As if that wasn’t enough excitement, he also served as a spy for the British India Office.

These are just three of the plant hunters without whom the landscape of Bodnant Garden and many others, large and small, up and down the land, would look very different today. So spare a thought for these intrepid men when you stroll through our garden fair doing your own collecting this Sunday!

George Forrest, Frank Kingdon-Ward and Ernest Wilson

The Plant Heritage (North Wales Group) fair takes place on Sunday, April 7, from 10am to 4pm, on the top lawn of the garden. Normal admission applies. For details contact the garden on 01492 650460.