Spring into action with volunteering at Bodnant Garden

Bodnant Garden is growing – and needs you! We’re making a spring appeal for volunteers to help nurture new garden areas and to tend our rising number of visitors. It’s an amazing time to be at Bodnant Garden…can we tempt you?

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Spring at the Far End, taken by our former (much missed!) volunteer photographer Phil Rogers

In the last five years we’ve opened around 30 acres of the garden which were formerly private. We’re taking down the ropes on a further 20 acres, Furnace Hill, later this spring and there are more new areas to open in the next couple of years. Signs are we’re also on target this year to welcome our highest-ever number of visitors – expected to be nearly 250,000 people through the gates by March.

So as the season bursts into life we’re hoping to recruit a spring task force. It’s a great opportunity to join us at a really exciting time – to get out and meet new people, use your skills or gain new ones, and of course to spend time in a breath-taking beautiful garden.

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Volunteers helping in the garden and running family events

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National Trust volunteers provide vital support to the work of the conservation charity. Bodnant Garden has around 120 volunteers, who give their time regularly or occasionally, to help the garden team and visitor services team.Our existing team have an incredible range of skills and help us with a whole host of things, from gardening to carpentry to photography, from giving guided walks to grown-ups to storytelling sessions for children.

Their hard work has helped Bodnant Garden to unveil almost 30 acres formerly closed to the public over the last five years; in 2012 the Winter Garden, in 2013 the Old Park meadow, in 2014 the Yew Dell and in 2015 the Far End riverside garden. From April visitors will also be able to explore Furnace Wood and Meadow, and this will be followed by the opening of Cae Poeth Meadow in 2018 and the Heather Hill in 2020.

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In 2015 volunteers provided the support enabling us to open the Far End lakeside – by gardening and assisting visitors to the new area

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Last year we recruited a new team of volunteers called The Laburnum Archers, to help during our busiest time in June when the famous Laburnum Arch is in flower.

Charlie Stretton, Bodnant Garden events and engagement officer, says: “The Laburnum Archers project was a huge success. We had a brilliant mix of people; the youngest was 15, the oldest 74, and their backgrounds ranged from students to retired people (including a retired Wing Commander.) They were invaluable during our busiest time and out of 20 volunteers who signed up for a short period, 15 have stayed on as permanent volunteers.

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Our young volunteer Gethin,  who helps us run family activities during school holidays,  and turns his hands to social media too

“We’re gearing up for another busy spring, with the opening of Furnace in April. Whether you’d like to dip a toe in and help for a few days, a few weeks, or would like to join us in a more permanent role; whether you’d like to get your hands dirty in the garden or help meet and greet visitors, give us a call. The hilly terrain can be challenging for some people but we welcome all abilities and can find a place in the garden that’s right for you. All volunteers will get training and support – and our eternal gratitude!”

Contact Charlie at charlotte.stretton@nationaltrust.org.uk For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

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Last summer our volunteers supported us hosting a textile exhibition by North Wales Embroiderers’ Guild – a first for the garden

 

 

Floral colour to beat the January blues

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and you never have to look very far for it at Bodnant Garden, even in the depths of winter. Here’s just some of the colourful and scented blooms you can enjoy right now:

…and of course, spot the first snowdrops!

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Galanthus ‘Ophelia’

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

From Bodnant borders to pastures new

 

IMG_4985 As 2017 begins we bid farewell to garden supervisor Bill Warrell, who leaves us to take up the position of head gardener with our National Trust neighbours at Plas Newydd and Penrhyn Castle further along the North Wales coast – an exciting opportunity at two major gardens.

Bill has been in charge of the Glades at Bodnant for around 8 years during what’s been a dynamic phase for the garden. In that time these informal acres, comprising old shrub borders, grass glades and a wildflower meadow, have been given a new lease of life to welcome a new generation of visitors.

It’s been no mean feat. Bill arrived when Bodnant Garden was under the shadow of plant disease Phytophthora ramorum. Originating in the US where it was known as Sudden Oak Death, this fungal killer was making its way northwards through Britain, targeting a host of ornamental trees and shrubs. Signs of the fungal killer had begun appearing around the garden, especially the old shrub borders.

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Beautiful shrub borders in spring

This area was developed in the early 1900s by garden owner Henry McLaren (2nd Lord Aberconway) who filled it with plants sourced from Asian botanical expeditions, including rhododendrons, magnolias and other newly discovered ‘exotic’ specimens. Almost a century later these lovely, and in some cases rare plants were elderly, and some ailing. Bill managed the renovation of the old shrub borders, which included a programme of removing diseased plants and monitoring others, taking the opportunity to introduce new plantings which provide all-year round colour and interest.

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Daffodil-filled Glades in spring and Old Park meadow in summer

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He has also led the renovation and opening to the public of private areas of the garden. In 2013 we opened the Old Park, a meadow dating back to the garden’s Georgian Landscape period. Today this is managed for wildflowers in summer, and there is a programme of bulb planting to enhance displays of snowdrops and daffodils in spring. In 2014 Bill and team opened the Yew Dell, a treasure trove of mature rhododendrons, again dating back to the collections of early 20th century plant hunters.

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Visitors gather for the official opening of The Bath

Most recently Bill masterminded the flamboyant redesign and replanting of The Bath in 2016 – elevating it from a tired, Victorian shrub-lined ornamental pool area to tropical garden, which has delighted visitors.

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Cameras roll…showing BBC’s Jules Hudson around the Yew Dell

Bill has a serious love of plants, and has been a great ambassador for Bodnant Garden, giving talks in the community and braving a camera and microphone when media call (most memorably, in a Hawaiian shirt and sarong for the opening of The Bath.) Among his list of broadcast credentials he has been our front man for Gardener’s World, ITV News, BBC Radio and even Escape to the Country, always on hand with his depth of knowledge, sincerity and humour.

Horticulture aside, he has also done a huge amount of work on health and safety issues, including championing accessible routes around the garden, plans for which we are now taking forward.

Bill has been a big personality who’ll be missed by his crew and by everyone here, staff and volunteers. Thanks Bill for all the hard work, love and commitment you’ve given to Bodnant Garden. We wish you and family all the best for the future.

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Bill Warrell (left) with current garden team Graeme, Harvey, Roger and Lynne in Hawaiian mood at the grand opening of the Bath in September.

 

 

Tempest to tropics: 2016 at Bodnant Garden

A garden is full of surprises; one minute you’re in waders, the next it’s flip-flops and a sarong.

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Our New Year 2016 at Bodnant Garden didn’t exactly get off to a great start. Floods hit over the Christmas period, bringing rain and river water surging through from the Pavilion tearoom at the top of the garden all the way down to the Far End, and leaving a trail of debris in its wake. But with true Bodnant Garden grit, staff and volunteers put their holiday breaks on hold to come in and clear up the mess.

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Things soon began to look brighter In January when we launched an appeal for special volunteers – Laburnum Archers – to help us look after the crowds of visitors who flock to see our famous floral pergola walkway in late spring. We were amazed by the response; in no time we were welcoming a new crack team of helpers into the fold and kitting them out with distinctive, not-to-be missed, eye-wateringly yellow jackets:

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Our Laburnum Archers with Bodnant Garden events officer Charlie Stretton (who may have been responsible for those yellow jackets…)

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In February we launched our #BodnantFountainAppeal to raise money to replace the crumbling 18th century water feature on the Croquet Terrace. Gardener Dave (seen below) kicked off the effort by collecting coins thrown into ponds around the garden. By the end of this year our volunteers had raised a whopping £5,000 from raffle ticket sales towards the conservation cause.

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A mild March arrived bringing blue skies, sunshine and the early appearance of flowers like this century-old magnolia on the Terraces. There was also a welcome sighting of daffodils in the Old Park:

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As well as providing wonderful garden displays this lovely spring weather, which continued into April, gave us a memorable Easter holiday, with families making the most of outdoor activities like kite flying, nature trails, crafts and wild art.

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In May some of our gardeners joined volunteers from Happy Valley in Llandudno (seen below) to share their experience of laburnum pruning with the team there, who look after their park’s own miniature arch. It’s not as long as our 55-metre version but with more TLC in years to come it should blossom into a beautiful feature.

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In May we opened the garden gates again to dogs, including the team from Guide Dogs Cymru who brought some of their VIP pooches along to launch our summer season:

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13332972_1138412542872953_289533962182889784_nThis month saw the first flowering of our Poppy Beds flanking the Terraces. Sown in 2015, these contain Himalayan poppies (like the blue Meconopsis seen here) and primulas. Our garden team also celebrated winning a national horticulture award for Best Garden Restoration (for the Far End, opened in 2015) – Maxine, Steve and Nathan (seen below) put on their best bibs and tuckers to attend a prize-giving at Chelsea Physic Garden, London.1431756014024-far-end.jpg

June is traditionally Laburnum Arch time but this year we also unveiled a floral wow of the future – The Penjerrick Walk. This is a newly planted avenue of historic rhododendrons on Furnace Hill, a garden area under renovation which opens to the public in spring 2017. We hope the 100m long Penjerrick Walk will be a feature to rival the Laburnum Arch in generations to come. Head gardener John Rippin (seen below) welcomed the press for a sneak preview of Furnace, unveiling an artists’s impression of how the Penjerrick Walk could look in future.

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The arch itself was featured on Gardener’s World (seen filming, below) and attracted a record-breaking crowds – 20,000 visitors in the first week of June – which kept our Laburnum Archers, along with other volunteers and staff, on their toes!

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In June we also had a day by the seaside in Llandudno where we set up a patio garden on the prom. Staff and volunteers, bearing home-made lemonade and shortbread, were able to chat with passers-by about the #WorldOfGardens around @NationalTrustWales.

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July sunshine brought out the wildflowers (and wildlife) on our temporary Canal Terrace borders. The collection was chosen by the public in response to our #PinMillFlowerPoll held earlier in the year. Thanks everyone who voted, the results were outstanding! These borders are now being permanently re-designed – watch this space.

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In August the garden was brought to life with a host of #50Things events like Pooh-Sticking, den building, pond dipping and bug hunting. We also hosted a textile exhibition staged by the members of North Wales Embroiderers’ Guild, whose beautiful, colourful, skilful work decorated the garden for two weeks through the summer (some of it modelled, below, by our volunteers.) The young musicians of Denbighshire Music Co-operative brought a summer party to the garden with a performance in front of the Pin Mill and the holidays closed with a bank holiday tree climbing weekend.

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In the summer we also opened a new riverside walkway in the Dell. The Mill Pond Path (below) has been renovated by gardeners and offers visitors a new view of the Waterfall Bridge – plus some surprising greenery along the way including tree ferns and carnivorous plants.

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September opened with a bang – and a hot-coloured tropical one at that – in the shape of a party to launch the opening of the Bath, our renovated poolside garden. Visitors who came to admire the exotic new planting scheme were greeted by staff and volunteers dressed in Hawaiian shirts and flower garlands, offering exotic fruit cocktails. We all cheered on gardeners as they introduced goldfish back into the ornamental pond:

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October brought a spectacular, long autumn display, with the leaf colour of trees and shrubs mingling with late flowering plants, as seen here in this magical image sent to us by visitor Nerys Haynes:

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Autumn was the perfect time to celebrate our Champion Trees. These are the biggest or best of their kind in the UK and a new survey by the Tree Register revealed that our collection has doubled to more than 40 in the last decade! We held a tree festival week with guided walks and a new Tree Trail and Map; children from Eglwysbach School came in to help us plant new oaks (seen below), and there followed a half term week full of woodland-inspired events.

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Below: Volunteer Gwen with our new Champion Tree Trail, and Great Orme ranger Doug doing wood turning demonstrations

And talking of trees, in November our old Sweet Chestnut on the Top Lawn (seen below) was also a finalist in the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year competition, making it onto the shortlist of six top specimens.

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15675864_1299018636812342_6620073918418315799_oDecember is all about the little people. Our Elves’ Workshop in the Old Mill in the Dell has become a popular event for families in the run-up to Christmas. The workshop was started by volunteers four years ago who renovated a redundant room in the mill building. It’s now a big part part of our Christmas calendar and this year the elves were happily run off their teeny-tiny feet.

As we say goodbye to 2016 were’re also waving a fond farewell to Jenny from the catering team, who’s retiring, and to garden supervisor Bill Warrell, who leaves us to become head gardener at our National Trust Wales neighbours, Plas Newydd and Penrhyn Castle. So we’ll leave you with an image of Bill (far left) as we’d like to remember him…in a Hawaiian shirt and sarong.

Happy New Year everyone!

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For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

A Christmas cheer for Bodnant Garden’s very own little helpers

We’re tidying up the tinsel after our best and busiest ever Elves’ Workshop in the Old Mill. We’ve waved goodbye and ‘Happy Christmas’ to hundreds of young visitors, who have left the garden happy, armed with hand-made Christmas decorations, and filled with a warm glow of pride and hot chocolate.

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It’s hard to believe that only four years ago this cosy ‘log cabin’ deep in the woods in The Dell used to be a cold, dark, dusty old storeroom, home only to spiders and garden tools. It’s been magically transformed into a Christmas emporium by some very special Santa’s helpers – otherwise known as our Bodnant Garden volunteers.

Once upon a time Bodnant Garden used to close to visitors through the winter. Then, in 2012, we stayed open for the season to unveil our new Winter Garden. This had been four years in the creation and was instantly a big hit with garden-lovers. We also opened our gates for the first time to dog walkers, giving visitors another reason to enjoy coming to Bodnant Garden during the dark winter months.

Then, the following year, our volunteers came up with the bright idea of turning part of the Old Mill into a Christmas activity room for families.

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The mill on the east bank of the River Hiraethlyn must be one of the most photographed parts of our garden. A Grade 2 listed building, it was built around 1837, harnessing water to turn the wheels of the estate flourmill and then the estate sawmill.

It has long been out of service and closed to the public; beautiful but redundant, awaiting renovation. However, volunteers Richard Berry and Dave Horsley took the initiative to spruce-up one of the rooms which had been used as a garden tool store. And so with a lot of elbow grease and some pixie dust – plus some cones and holly for decoration, logs for seating and a brazier for warmth – it was reborn as our first Elves’ Workshop in 2013.

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Humble beginnings…our volunteers sprucing-up the mill workshop

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Since then our volunteers have taken pride in making the event more special each year. The experience now begins with a lights and ribbon trail leading families down through the garden to the mill. There, they are welcomed into the workshop decked with greenery provided by gardeners and dressed up with added ribbons, bows and sparkle by our volunteers. Craft tables are laden with goodies and elf helpers are on hand to help children make Christmas decorations (this year our ranger Doug cut and drilled hundreds and hundreds of birch discs which the children loved decorating.)

Families at this year’s Elves’ Workshop

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After their craft session children can join Chief Elves Dave and Richard (seen below) toasting marshmallows on the brazier outside and enjoy hot chocolate and Santa cookies provided  by our catering team.

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The popular craft-making, based on nature themes, is masterminded by our events officer Charlie Stretton. Richard, Dave and the volunteer team work tirelessly through December to make sure everything runs smoothly; that we have goody bags, reindeer food, Christmas lights, and other things too numerous to mention, which make it such a special time for all the families.

Judging by the comment cards, families love it. Here are just some of the comments that are music to our ears as we sweep up the pine needles and pipe cleaners:

“Really enjoyed the elves workshop, great crafts kit, great atmosphere and even better singing from the elves.”

“Fantastic all round.  Lovely activity for Christmas and some wonderful keepsakes. Liked toasting marshmallows, having a great time painting pine cones.” 

“We are members and come all year round, but always come in December to the elf craft workshop, never miss it!”

The make-over of the Old Mill isn’t just for Christmas. The revamp by volunteers has turned the space into a cosy all-year round hub for visitors which serves as a meeting place for talks, workshops and an indoor seating area for refreshments.

The Elves’ Workshop is a free event – though donations are welcome and all the money given this year will go towards our #BodnantFountainAppeal to replace the crumbling fountain on the Croquet Terrace. So we’d like to say a GIANT thank-you to our volunteers for making all the elf magic happen and to all who came along and joined us in the fun – your support helps us look after the nation’s special places, For Ever For Everyone. And that’s all we want for Christmas!

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Bodnant Garden is closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day but open again from December 27, with 80 acres of winter walks to explore. For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

 

50 Things To Do (and some) as a Bodnant Garden volunteer

Bodnant (ProfilePic)Hi, I’m Gethin; I’m 15 years old, and a volunteer here at Bodnant Garden. I’ve been volunteering for just over a year, and wow, what a journey it has been! It all started in August 2015. As part of my 6-month volunteering section for my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award I begun helping out with the National Trust kids’ events programme – 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11¾.

From the first second, I knew I was going to enjoy it. The activity was pond dipping in the Far End, catching all sorts of creatures and finding out interesting facts about them. I was also helping with the wild art activity where you create pictures out of twigs, leaves, petals and other natural things. I was involved in making little dragonflies out of pipe cleaners and beads too. The creations were incredible!

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After all the summer activities had finished, it was time to start thinking about October Half Term. We decorated the Old Mill with spooky decorations for Halloween and, as it was also national ‘Wild about Gardens’ Week, I made hundreds of hedgehog houses, thousands of spiders and bats from clay, and enough bird cake pots to feed all the birds in the UK! There was a lovely log fire in the brazier outside too.

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Then as we were beginning to recover from the excitement of Halloween, it was time for Christmas (my favourite time of year.) So out came the Christmas tree, the lights and elf costumes and a name change – I was now Elf Zippypickle! The Old Mill was like something out of Winter Wonderland and looked amazing. Outside the fire was back, keeping everyone warm during the coldest time of the year.

Bodnant - Christmas Elves (December 2015)

As part of the activities we helped children find their elf name, by using their first initial and the month they were born in (the best ones were Zippy Picklepants and Englebert Humperdinck). The dragonflies had made a return, but this time, they were sparkly. We also decorated pinecones with paint, glitter and pompoms (I think the dads enjoyed this activity more than some of the children…) and we toasted marshmallows on the log fire – delicious!

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Then Christmas was over, the elves had gone back to the North Pole, and the New Year had passed…hello 2016! February half term was the next thing to look forward to; it was Pick-a-Stick Week so we did pond dipping with bamboo nets and created homes for wildlife using twigs.

Bodnant - Easter Egg Hunt (Easter 2016)

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The next big holiday was Easter and Bodnant’s big activity was a massive Cadbury’s Easter Egg Hunt. The trail took children and their families around the garden looking for letters to spell out the particular sentence, which they then told the Easter Bunny to claim their chocolate (with a smaller hunt for younger children) I ate WAAAAAY too much chocolate over those two days. Again, we did some more pond dipping the following week and some kite making.

Now, on to the most popular, and busiest time of the year for the garden (this year smashing a record amount of visitors.) It’s the time when people drive for hours just to see one thing; some people from outside the UK plan their holiday to North Wales around this yearly wonder to see, to take pictures and to stand, for hours, just looking… I’m talking about the one, the only, the outstanding #BODNANTLABURNUMARCH!

It flowered towards the end of the school half-term this year which meant I couldn’t see it in its full glory (there’s always next year), but that didn’t stop me from doing more pond dipping and kite flying in the days leading up to it. With the help of the specially recruited Laburnum Archers volunteers, I think it all ran quite smoothly.

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Oh, and one more thing, I was on television (only for about 3 seconds, but still…) BBC Gardeners’ World came to visit to have a look at the Far End and the Penjerrick Walk on Furnace Hill which will be opened next year. They also interviewed some of the volunteers including the Laburnum Archers in their bright yellow gilets.

It’s not just the children’s activities I help with. Bodnant Garden is a place where no two days are the same. I have directed traffic to the car park, welcomed coach parties, cleaned up plates and cups in the Pavilion Tea Room, been on a hunt for missing teddy bears, hidden paper eggs, played pooh sticks with visitors, built a den, taken a selfie with the garden cats Whiskers and Ginger (not one of the #50Things activities, but it should  be), and run after one or two stray sheep.

14172021_10154404291394590_292540483_nSo far this summer I’ve been helping with the (yes, you guessed it) pond dipping every Wednesday and also done one day of Rolling Down a Really Big Hill in Eirias Park as part of the National Playday in August.

I always enjoy talking to the visitors in the garden and completing the #50Things. I may be over the age of 11¾, but I’ve done loads of them since being here (especially Number 6… run around in the rain!) The Big Tree Climb over the August Bank Holiday was fun too. I enjoyed (ahem) “testing the ropes, to make sure they were safe” and I look forward all the activities in the coming months.

Gethin Mullock-Jones

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Gethin Mullock-Jones with Bodnant Garden’s events and enagement officer Charlie Stretton

Whatever your age, abilities, skills or background there’s a volunteering opportunity for you here at Bodnant Garden. To find out about more about joining the team see our website http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or contact property administrator Rose James on 01492 650460. 

And from all of us at Bodnant Garden: Gethin, you are a star. Thanks for all your help over the last year. You have made a real difference and we hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we’ve loved having you here…and please keep coming, as studies allow! 

Help crown Bodnant Garden’s old chestnut as Wales Tree of the Year

Here at Bodnant Garden the grand old Sweet Chestnut on our Top Lawn is one of our most loved residents. Known as a ‘walking tree’, she’s now in the running for the title of Wales Tree of the Year.

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Gardener Dave Larter hugging our Sweet Chestnut

Striding across the grass of the formal lawn with her gnarled, many-legged trunk, the old girl is one of the first sights to greet visitors when they arrive through the garden gates, much photographed, painted and admired.

Now, she is one of six great trees around the country vying for the prestigious title of Wales Tree of the Year in a competition being run by the Woodland Trust. The public are being asked to vote for their favourite and the winner will be announced in mid-October.

So why is she so special? This tree is one of the oldest at Bodnant Garden, a remnant of its early, Georgian past.

Owner John Forbes built the original hall in 1782 and created a parkland around it in the Landscape style of the day after designers like Kent, Capability Brown and Repton. This brought nature close to the house with a panorama of rolling grassland dotted with native trees like oak, beech, sycamore and chestnut, and a ha-ha or ditch keep grazing animals away from the hall.

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She’s there somewhere… among the group of trees in front of the hall in this picture of Bodnant Garden from the mid 1800s

With her solid Georgian roots, our Sweet Chestnut has withstood the passage of time and the rugged North Wales weather, being encorporated into the later, formal Victorian upper garden and ageing into her very own, unique character. Her main stem was blown out at some point in the past by a lightening strike causing the trunk to split. Over time several of the larger branches have layered themselves upon the lawn, giving her ‘legs’.

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Today, a great place for a bug hunt

She’s a favourite of gardener Dave Larter who watches over our trees here at Bodnant Garden. He says: “I love trees! Especially old trees with some history, trees with character and trees with potential for the future. This one has it all. At well over 200 years of age, maybe 250, she is making her claim on the top lawn for sure.

“Having lost her top many decades ago, she started to ‘walk’ northwards. Beaten back by strong winds and chainsaws, she is now intent on a south-westerly route. A truly ‘walking tree’, she  appears almost Elephantine without foliage, placing her trunk where she wants to go next. She has already layered daughters which are layering their own offspring and, given chance, they will layer theirs. Who knows where she could be in years to come?”

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Perfect for just enjoying the shade on a hot day

Bodnant Garden is home to many exotic and native trees, some of them UK Champions – the biggest and best of their kind in the UK. The Sweet Chestnut is an honourary native, having been introduced to Britain by the Romans, and while ours hasn’t attained any official Champion status (yet!) she certainly holds a special place of honour here at the garden.

The Wales Tree of the Year competition runs until October 9. To vote for our Sweet Chestnut find the details at the Woodland Trust website here http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/tree-of-the-year/wales

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Draped in finery during our recent textile exhibition at the garden