Forget the high street…take our garden path to a traditional Christmas

Staff, volunteers…and elves are getting ready for a festive family Christmas at Bodnant Garden.

Decorations on a Christmas tree - part of the National Trust seasonal retail items collection.

We’ve got sacks to offer this winter – enjoy walks in the frost-sparkling garden, bring the children to meet Santa and the elves, discover traditional gifts at the shop, garden centre and craft units, and top your day off with Christmas fare, whether it’s a sit-down lunch or al fresco toasted marshmallows.

Bodnant Garden is open all year-round (apart from Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day) with 80 acres of beautiful landscape to enjoy, including a blooming Winter Garden.

Events officer Charlie Stretton says: “We’re looking forward to a magical Christmas here at Bodnant Garden. It’s the place to come if you want to escape the madness of the high street!”


Chief elf aka volunteer Dave Horsley

The star on our Christmas tree is the Elves’ Workshop, now in its third successful year. The idea was developed by Bodnant Garden volunteers who have renovated part of the historic Old Mill in the riverside garden of The Dell, transforming it into a cosy indoor hub for family activities. This December families will be able to drop in and enjoy Christmas crafts, followed by toasted marshmallows by the roaring brazier outside.

Charlie says: “The Elves’ Workshops are great fun for all the family and have proved very popular. Children really enjoy meeting the resident elves and creating small decorations to take home for their own Christmas tree.”

Workshops will be running every Saturday and Sunday from November 28 to December 20, from 11am to 3pm (no extra charge and no booking required). There will also be a traditional Tree Dressing Day on Sunday, December 6, from 11am to 3pm, when visitors can come along and create a decoration to hang on our very own Bodnant Garden tree.

Bodnant Garden January 2015 Web Size - Joe Wainwright-10

Then of course there is the small matter of our famous Grade I Listed garden to explore; visitors can soak in seasonal highlights of the Winter Garden (above), which opened in 2012 and is now a blaze of colour, also for the first time in winter explore The Far End, ten acres of riverside garden which opened to the public this year. Walkers can being their dogs on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until the end of December, then every day from January to the end of February 2016.

Visitors enjoying a warming drink in the cafe at Christmas time, Standen House and Garden, West Sussex.

For refreshment after all that activity there will be hot lunches served at the two tearooms and al fresco snacks at the kiosk in The Dell – where you can keep toasty warm beside the brazier at weekends.

As for that Christmas shopping – sorted! The National Trust Gift shop and our neighbours at Bodnant Garden Centre offer a huge range of Christmas ideas, from cards, decorations and gifts to plants, and of course Christmas trees and wreaths. What’s more there’s a unique collection of local arts and crafts products at Bodnant Craft Centre, from jewellery, paintings, ceramics and furniture.


And not forgetting Santa, who will be dropping in at Bodnant Garden Centre on Saturdays and Sundays, November 28 to December 20, from 11am to 4pm each day. Entry to Santa’s Grotto is free and donations go towards Ty Gobaith and Ysgol y Gogarth. (He may be swapping his traditional sleigh and for a more horticultural mode of transport…Hoe Hoe Hoe!)

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

Propagating great garden talent

11825581_969359913111551_3992441335471548899_n (1)Budding gardeners come a long way to learn horticulture at Bodnant. Jessica Mehers came from Scotland and Jette Nielsen from Denmark. They have been training with us since September 2014 but sadly their placement finishes this week. Here they look back on their time:

Around this time last year we were the new trainees on the Heritage Horticultural Skills Scheme (HHSS). However, our time is coming to an end and we are handing over to Christina Smart, the new recruit.


Jette, Christina and Jess making a bug hotel


Leading the HHSS scheme at Bodnant Garden, student mentor Gemma Hayes

The HHSS bursary programme provides practical training in heritage gardening, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through its Skills for the Future programme. The bursary is administered by Lantra. The scheme has operated for four years and has now been extended to finish in November 2016. It aims to increase the number of skilled gardeners available to the heritage horticulture sector in Wales and the UK and is run within a group of seven gardens in Wales: Aberglasney, Bodnant, Cardiff, Dyffryn, Newport, Picton and St Fagans.


Gardener Mark Morris instructing Jette in the art of mowing, big style

We have had a fantastic time here at Bodnant, learning a huge amount from the great team here.  We have undertaken the RHS Level 2 Practical Assessments and have also completed a new Lantra Award in Creating a Planted Area for a Heritage Site. This award was created specifically for the HHSS programme.


We were given two plots where an old oak came down in a Boxing Day storm in 2013 and the area had been in need of renovation ever since. It was a big task but we were able to renew the plants to be kept in the beds, create designs for new planting and have now finished our plots and have all our plants in place.


Above and below, preparing turf and planting the new Vanessa Beds


In one part of our bed we were able to include some exotic plants that tie in with a sheltered pond area with a tropical feel to it and the rest of our beds as woodland planting.


Jess doing some watery weeding

As well as our day to day work and training in the garden, we have been on trips to Westonbirt Arboretum, Painswick Rococo Gardens, St Fagans, The National Botanic Garden of Wales, the Centre for Alternative Technology and Plas Cadnant. The scheme also had a large stand at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival.

Jess and student mentor Katie Croft with Carol Klein at the Malvern Show

Jess and Bodnant student mentor Katie Croft with Carol Klein, putting on a show at Malvern

We got to do a couple of stage presentations with Carol Klein and Christine Walkden, which was fun! We were also able to take part in the Rhododendron and Camelia Societies’ centenary meeting here at Bodnant, with some of the other HHSS students. We were able to learn a lot of new plants in a short space of time going on visits with such knowledgeable and enthusiastic group of people.


Regular plant identification sessions

A few major events have occurred in Bodnant during our time here. Our new head gardener, John Rippon, joined us in January. In March we opened the Far End – 10 acres newly accessible to the public. Also, just the other week the garden reached a landmark of 200,000 visitors in one year for the first time. This was celebrated with cake and champagne and gifts for the lucky family (who were a bit taken back by the reception they got upon their arrival!)


Leading guided walks

We shall be very sad to be leaving, but Christina, our new HHSS student who comes from nearby Deganwy has been here a few weeks now and seems to be settling in fine. We have made a pact to both be back to the garden for the opening of another new area, the Furnace Bank in 2017. We can visit everyone and we can see how our beds are looking at the same time!


Jette enjoying a quiet moment

From everyone at Bodnant Garden, a very warm welcome to Christina and a huge thank you to Jette and Jess – you will be missed. Best of luck for your future and Jette, if you don’t follow a gardening path we reckon there’s a career in photography for you – thanks for all the great pictures of your year!

Bring out the bubbly! Bodnant Garden makes history with 200,000 visitors

The team at Bodnant Garden downed tools recently to welcome our 200,000th visitor this year, who was greeted at the gates by staff and volunteers bearing bubbly and cake.

200,000 visitor to Bodnant Gardens, North Wales - Simon Samantha & Emily Hardman

Staff and volunteers greet the 200,000 visitors to Bodnant Garden – Simon, Samantha and Emily Hardman

We reached this milestone in a blaze of autumn colour, months ahead of target. It’s the first time in the garden’s 140-year history that visitor numbers have reached this level.

The lucky guests were Samantha and Simon Hardman, and their baby daughter Emily from Sheffield, for whom it was their first visit.


They said: “We came here to Bodnant Garden on a relative’s recommendation. We were expecting a beautiful garden, but we were definitely not anticipating the shower of confetti, the huge cake, the bubbly and the crowd of staff, volunteers and visitors that greeted our arrival! This was our first ever visit to Bodnant Garden, but it won’t be our last – the garden is absolutely magnificent, and the autumn colours are stunning. We will be back, and we’ll be recommending it to all our friends.”


The garden has attracted around 180,000 visitors per year for some years but visitor numbers have been steadily rising since 2013 with the opening of new areas – the Winter Garden, Old Park meadow, Yew Dell and Far End – and new initiatives like dog days, garden events and family activities.

General manager William Greenwood says: “It’s an absolutely amazing achievement and a stunning tribute to so much hard work and dedication in all weathers from our hardworking staff and volunteer team. I can’t thank enough every single one of them.

“I find it difficult to grasp just how many visitors 200,000 really is. Apparently we’d have to empty the Millennium Stadium over 2½ times, and then we’d need 3,175 double decker buses just to bring them all here!”

It’s been a proud moment for everyone at the garden, staff and volunteers, from the gardens to the tearooms and offices:


Ann Smith, Visitor Services Manager

“Having worked at the garden for many years I’ve been privileged to see all the changes and developments as they’ve happened. I’m full of admiration for our gardeners who passionately and creatively work in harmony with nature and often have to battle with the elements. I’ve seen their sorrow when they’ve had to take down a very old tree which has come to the end of its life; their stoicism as they’ve tackled the devastating damage caused by floods and high winds, and their joy when a new area they’ve worked so hard to restore is finally opened to visitors.

“But what I’m most proud of is the commitment and enthusiasm of all staff and volunteers to sharing their love of the garden with visitors, ensuring that they have a fantastic time here, that they come back again and again, and that they become ambassadors for Bodnant Garden.  And, clearly it works – reaching this amazing milestone of our 200,000th visitor in under a year is a tangible testament to the dedication and success of the team at Bodnant Garden.”

Gardener working in August at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales.

Mark Morris, gardener

Mark has been working at Bodnant Garden for around 30 years, man and boy, and is font of all knowledge for everyone on the garden team.

He says: I’ve been lucky enough to work with both the third Lord Aberconway and with head gardener Martin Puddle in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then we welcomed around 140,000 visitors a year – we thought that was a lot of people! But Bodnant is a large garden with so many different areas for people to explore and it never feels crowded.

“There have been massive changes in that time, the garden has completely changed – new areas have opened up and the planting which used to be more conservative is now more contemporary – but to me it is equally as magical now as it has always been. This place is who I am. It’s just really pleasing to know more people are now enjoying and appreciating this special place.”


Visitor Services Volunteer Richard Berry

Richard helps meet and greet visitors and organise a whole range of events in the garden. Over the past two years he and fellow ‘Voles’ have been the brains and the brawn behind transforming part of the Old Mill in the Dell into a hub for visitors, including an Elves Workshop in winter. He says: “I love my role as a volunteer working alongside my colleagues in our varied activities and now seeing another achievement in having our 200,000 visitor this year. Another highlight has been to help clean out part of the Old Mill which is now used for family activities and garden presentations.”  

pic jess pruning rasps - Copy

Student gardener Jess Mehers

Jess has been at Bodnant Garden for the past year training with the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme. She and fellow trainee Jaette Nielson have redesigned and replanted the Vanessa Bed on the Top Lawn, which was decimated by an oak tree which fell in storms of 2013.

Jess says: It’s been such an exciting time to be at Bodnant Garden with new areas opening and new projects going on. It’s been wonderful to work alongside such a vibrant team of skilled gardeners, staff and volunteers, and I’ve loved meeting all the visitors. It’s particularly special to be here for the 200,000th visitor. That’s quite an achievement.”


John Baxendale, Visitor reception assistant

John is one of the team at the ‘frontline’ who welcomes visitors at reception and has been here for around four years. He says: It’s wonderful news to reach 200,000 visitors – we’re just glad they don’t all come on the same day! I get to meet people from all four corners of the world – in many different languages which makes for interesting scenarios! There’s never a dull moment. People are always just amazed by this internationally acclaimed garden. I wouldn’t be here unless I loved it. And I really do love it.”


Michael McLaren, Garden Director

Michael McLaren, of the donor family, said: “I am delighted that this month Bodnant will be welcoming its 200,000th visitor – the first time ever that we have had more than 200,000 visitors in one year. My grandfather, Henry 2nd Lord Aberconway, who gave the garden to the National Trust in 1949 and who more than anyone else was responsible for the creation of the garden, loved seeing visitors appreciating the beauty of the garden and learning about horticulture and garden design. He too would have been thrilled to see this record broken…and with the prospect of further milestones being passed before the end of the year.

“Huge thanks from me and all the donor family to the staff and volunteers who have made this great achievement possible, and particularly to the gardeners for ensuring that the garden looks better than ever.”


Helen MacDonald, tearoom assistant

Helen has worked here for three years, also on the frontline making sure visitors get that leisurely lunch in the bustling tearooms or much-needed snack in the new al-fresco kiosks down in The Dell and Far End.

She says: “It’s a beautiful place to work and I feel very lucky. It gets busy in summer mind you, but I like that. I enjoy meeting all the different people who come in, from all over the world, and having a chat. Some more familiar faces come regularly and pop in to say hello which is nice. 200,000 visitors is quite something.The gardeners do a wonderful job and that’s what people come to see, it’s a real credit to them.”


John Rippin, Head Gardener

John joined the team in January this year, coming from Castle Drogo in Devon, another National Trust property.

He says: “The rich gardening tradition at Bodnant stretches far back into history. When the Statue of Liberty was being dedicated the first giant redwoods were being planted in The Dell.  Despite many triumphs and tragedies including two apocalyptic 20th Century world wars that changed the economic and social landscape of this nation, the celebrated team of Bodnant gardeners here have always continued with what gardeners do best – getting on with what they know and love.

“The spirit of resilience and pride continues with the present Bodnant Garden Team and has seen them through their own share of challenges that a garden of this size and significance will always encounter. After years of hard work, change and periods of uncertainty however, the taste of success is always sweeter and more satisfying than if there had been no struggle.

“I believe the 200,000th visitor marks and important moment in time for the team at Bodnant Garden; it says categorically that the dedication and painstaking attention to detail of the garden team employs in their every-day work is greatly appreciated. Perhaps more importantly it says that the ongoing creative revitalisation of the garden and the opening of new areas has been hugely successful with our visitors and is a winning formula we can all celebrate.

“I’m glad that Bodnant gardeners have been able to step away from their beautiful borders, streams and glades today to take part in the occasion and albeit briefly to reflect on the magnitude of the moment with a renewed sense of satisfaction of a job well done.”

Justin_Albert_webJustin Albert, National Trust Director for Wales

“Quite simply Bodnant Garden is paradise on Earth.  Sublime, restful and inventive twelve months a year it has earnt its place as one of the very best of the world’s gardens.”

“I want to thank the McLaren family not just for the wonderful gift to the nation of Bodnant Garden, a masterpiece they created and nurtured, but also for continuing inspiration and vision that their close involvement brings to its success. 200,000 visitors is a genuine milestone, and I am so proud that we have achieved it without losing the essential tranquillity and wonder of the Bodnant Garden experience.”

“As Director for Wales I am not allowed to have a favourite place, but for me Bodnant represents the very best that the Trust has to offer. A great beauty, a long history of invention, partnership with the family that gave us the garden and most of all extraordinary staff and volunteers who deliver great experiences to everyone who visits.”

“I challenge anyone not to fall in love with Bodnant Garden, well done to all the staff and volunteers on reaching this historic milestone, and most importantly giving so many people such wonderful experiences in the Welsh paradise.”


General manager William, left, with staff Charlie, Adam, Fran and Rose.

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

200,000 visitors…and counting!

Tension is mounting. Bodnant Garden is about to hit a landmark 200,000 visitors through the famous wrought-iron gates, any day now. If you’re visiting over the next few days, it could be you!

As the garden radiates with autumn colour this mid October, we’re all set to reach this milestone for the first time in our 140-year history – months ahead of target. All eyes will be on the ticket office for the coming days as garden staff and volunteers prepare to greet the 200,000th visitor with bubbly, cake and a rousing welcome.


Ready with balloons are events officer Charlie Stretton, property manager William Greenwood and property administrator Rose James

Our property manager William Greenwood says: “We never thought this would happen this year; one day yes, but not yet!

“It’s terribly exciting for all of us that so many of our visitors love coming here so much that we’re going to welcome the 200,000th any day now. It’s an amazing compliment to all our staff and volunteers and the dedication they’ve shown in helping make this the great garden that it is.”


Bodnant Garden was founded in 1874 by Victorian industrial chemist and entrepreneur Henry Pochin (seen right). It has since been developed by five generations of his family, in conjunction with the National Trust since 1949.

The garden has attracted around 180,000 visitors per year for some years – regularly welcoming around 50,000 in May alone who flock to see the famous Laburnum Arch, the UK’s oldest and longest pergola walkway.

Visitor numbers have been steadily rising since 2013 with the opening of new areas – the Winter Garden, Old Park meadow, Yew Dell and Far End lakeside garden.

William says: “Bodnant has always been a great garden, a horticultural gem, but we’ve now got so much more to offer visitors, with all-year opening, new areas to explore and a growing events programme for all tastes whether it’s holidaying families, weekend dog walkers and the serious garden lovers.

“We’re seeing new visitors coming – locally and from further afield – and they’re coming back time and again at different times of year. We aim to build on this loyalty in coming years, with more new areas opening and garden plans in the pipeline.”


Celebrating the opening of The Far End in March, garden manager Michael McLaren, with wife Caroline and garden broadcaster Christine Walkden

Michael McLaren, garden manager and descendant of the donor family, said: “I am delighted that this month Bodnant will be welcoming its 200,000th visitor – the first time ever that we have had more than 200,000 visitors in one year.

“My grandfather, Henry 2nd Lord Aberconway, who gave the garden to the National Trust in 1949 and who more than anyone else was responsible for the creation of the garden, loved seeing visitors appreciating the beauty of the garden and learning about horticulture and garden design.

“He too would have been thrilled to see this record broken…and with the prospect of further milestones being passed before the end of the year.

“Huge thanks from me and all the donor family to the staff and volunteers who have made this great achievement possible, and particularly to the gardeners for ensuring that the garden looks better than ever.”

So if you’re visiting in the next few days who knows…look out for gardeners bearing balloons!

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.


Talking the talk and walking the walk


We’ve got an amazing garden…and a passionate team of staff and volunteers willing, able and just itching to tell you about it! Whether it’s Champion Trees, everything you ever wanted to know about salvias or Bodnant history, our team regularly give talks, from daytime guided walks around the garden to evening presentations for outside groups.

Our head gardener John Rippin, supervisor Bill Warrell and gardener Fiona Braithwaite regularly give presentations to local groups, and some further afield, on subjects ranging from garden history to plants to wildlife, supported by other staff and volunteers.

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Head gardener John joined the team in January but is already making his mark and giving presentations on his vision for Bodnant Garden, what areas of the garden are opening in the coming years and our plans for the future.

It’s all about the plants for Bill, who will wax lyrical about the diverse collection of plants to be found throughout the seasons, as well as the garden work entailed in maintaining this much-visited, much-loved, Grade 1 listed gem.


Bill Warrell giving a talk on Champion Trees

Fiona is our history expert and is well known, and in demand, for her presentations about Bodnant Garden through the ages; the families, famous plant hunters and gardeners who developed it.

If you’d like one of our team to come and give a presentation to your group all we ask is a donation; £50 for small local groups under 25 members and £60 for large local groups over 25 members within 10 miles (with a travel allowance for further distances.)


Volunteers giving a tour of the garden

As well as group presentations there is a regular programme of monthly specialist guided walks and talks around the garden provided by our gardeners and students. Topics covered this year have ranged from rose care, plants and folklore to propagation.  This year we’ve also started a new series of bird walks with local experts BirdwatchingTrips, which are becoming increasingly popular. Our knowledgeable volunteers also provide free guided tours of areas of the garden throughout the week.

Pentax Digital Camera

A Birds of Bodnant tour

For details of our guided garden walks check our website and Facebook page and if you’d like to book a presentation to your group call the garden office on 01492 650460.


Autumn’s so bright you’ll need to wear shades

There’s plenty to warm the cockles of your heart at Bodnant Garden this autumn. We’ve got 80 acres of autumn glow, plus events for all the family and a warm welcome in our tearooms.

Bodnant Garden is a firework display of colour in autumn, with the dazzling leaf colour of trees and shrubs, ripening fruit and berries and late flowering plants putting on a show to rival the bright colours of summer.

The garden’s 140-year-old collection of trees are at their finest at this time of year, especially in Chapel Park (seen below) where you can enjoy the reds, purples and ambers of Japanese acers plus many others – some exotics collected by plant hunters more than a century ago along with other beautiful native trees.

Chapel Park in all its autumn glory2

For the first time in the garden’s history this autumn, visitors can explore the arboretum in the newly opened lakeside area, The Far End, which includes some of the garden’s Champion Trees.

Aster novae-angliae 'Lye End Beauty' Dahlia coccinea - Copy

In the formal gardens on The Terraces roses are still in bloom and herbaceous beds are full with late flowering asters, sedums and dahlias; in The Dell our swathes of hydrangeas are changing all the colours of the kaleidoscope as they age; and in the Shrub Borders plants are laden with berries and fruit.

Decaisnea fargesii (Dead Man's Fingers) - Copy Cornus kousa against a blue sky - Copy

Look out for the weirdest fruit of the garden, the blue pods of Decaisnea fargesii (Dead Man’s Fingers), and giant raspberries of Cornus kousa (seen above). Birds are loving the autumn too as they make the most of the fruits on offer. There’s a chance to see them on October 9 with our Birds of Bodnant Walk at 11am. This is a free guided tour with an expert from Birdwatching Trips.

There’s plenty for younger visitors during half term week – from Monday October 26 to Friday October 31 we’re hosting Wild About Gardens Week with craft activities in the Old Mill in The Dell, from 11am to 2pm.

There will be environmental art around the garden and families will be encouraged to make their own from items like leaves and cones. There will also be a trail of pumpkins to lead people to the Old Mill. On Saturday, October 31, there are Halloween activities at The Far End and the Old Mill from 12am to 3pm including Making a Witch’s Hovel. These are free events so drop in at any time.

On Wednesday November 18 there’s a Walk with the Head Gardener – this is an opportunity to meet John Rippin, who took over in January, and find out about his vision for the future (cost £10, call 01492 650460 to book a place.)


And talking of walks…Dogs Welcome starts again in November (Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays), with the garden now open to our four-legged friends every day from January until the end of February.

If the candyfloss scent of Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura Tree) gives you an appetite there are refreshments on offer every day in the Pavilion and Magnolia tearooms throughout the autumn, plus the kiosks in the Dell and Far End at weekends.

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

In praise of the humble hydrangea

Hydrangeas in The Dell

One of the memorable sights of summer and early autumn at Bodnant Garden is the swathe of blue hydrangeas which light up the lush shade of the riverside in The Dell, along with the kaleidoscopic Liquorice Allsorts display lining Lily Terrace walls.

So often sniffed at as suburban stalwarts there’s no denying that, seen on mass, these huge, flamboyant flowers create an fantastic visual impact…well worth a double take.

Originally a foreign import, the hydrangea has become a staple in our gardens, now regarded as traditionally British as…rhododendrons…which aren’t British either! Among my own earliest memories are the big, blousy blooms which lined the path to my nan’s front door – as a child I couldn’t resist batting the flowerheads as I walked by, along with popping the fuchsia buds (sorry Nan.)

Sadly hydrangeas have suffered the same fate as their other exotic friends – that’s to say not being abused by small children, but their hardiness and dependability has made them such a common sight that they have pretty much lost their mystique. But it’s not all about the pom-poms. Aside from the ornamental displays on our Terraces, the shrubs dotted through The Dell and Shrub Borders give a glimpse of how the plants look in their native lands – in woods, scrabbling up rocky slopes and along riverbanks.

Trees, shrubs and climbers native to Asia and the Americas, hydrangeas have been around for longer than the people loving or hating them – the oldest fossil finds come from North America from 40 to 65 million years ago. In China and Japan hydrangeas have been cultivated for their ornamental value for thousands of years, while in North America they were used in medicine.

The first Hydrangea arborescens was introduced in England around 1736 from Pennsylvania by Peter Collison. A little later in 1788 explorer Sir Joseph Banks presented a Hydrangea macrophylla from Japan to Kew Gardens. Specimens continued to dribble into Europe but in 1879 the English nursery Veitch sent botanist Charles Maries to China and Japan and in the decades following, as planthunters were discovering new species abroad nurseries from Europe were introducing numerous cultivars to the market.

Today, there are known to be around 70 species of hydrangea. Here are some of the most notable you can see at Bodnant Garden:

Mophead Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Renate Steiniger’

The most common forms are Hydrangea macrophylla which produce characteristic blue, pink and purple flowers (most other species are white). They come in two types, the mopheads and the lacecaps, distinct by the shape of the blooms – the mopheads bear showy, dense, pompom-like blooms while the lacecaps have frothy heads made up of fertile flower buds in the centre surrounded by sterile blossom. Both have large, thick, toothed leaves, often heart-shaped.

Lacecap Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blue Wave’

As they flower on wood produced the previous year it’s best to prune after flowering by cutting out one or two of the oldest stems at the base to encourage the production of new growth. However neglected plants can be renovated by cutting off all the stems at the base (though you’ll have to wait a year for it to flower). The dead flower heads are decorative in their own right and can be left on over winter, cutting back in spring.

Similar to the macrophylla (some botanists believe it to be a sub-species) is the Japanese Hydrangea serrata (Japanese Mountain Hydrangea) which produces neat shrubs with lacecap-type clusters of blue and pink flowers in summer and autumn. Like the macrophylla it flowers on old wood but because of its compact size and form needs little pruning.

hydrangea serrata 'Blue Bird' 

Above, H. serrata ‘Blue Bird’ and H. paniculata ‘Grandiflora’

One of the white forms is Hydrangea paniculata. Some of these are upright and some drooping in shape but they all bear cone shaped flowers, starting creamy white and turning shades of pale pink as they age in the autumn. The leaves are smaller, thinner, and rougher than leaves of the macrophyllas. The plants can be sprawling but they can be kept compact (and flower more profusely) if you cut back last year’s sideshoots to 5cm of the older wood in spring, keeping to a framework of branches.

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Another lovely white hydrangea is the Hydrangea arborescens. Like macrophyllas they bear large lollipop-type blooms but the leaves of arborescens are generally thin, heart shaped, and not as stiff. Some flowers open green and turn white, then back to green again. Like Hydrangea paniculata, they can be pruned in spring back to pair of healthy buds to maintain a permanent framework.

Hydrangea quercifolia

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oak Leaved Hydrangea) gets its name from the shape of its beautiful large leaves which turn russet in the autumn. Again these hydrangeas open ivory, turning to pink as they age. Like macrophyllas they flower on old wood and to keep their informal shape need only minimal pruning in spring to remove old and rangey stems.

H.involucrata ‘Hortensis’

A smaller hydrangea is Hydrangea involucrata which has peony-shaped, pinky flowers that open late summer to autumn, with velvety leaves. They flower on new wood and can be pruned early in the year, though their size rarely makes it necessary.

Hydrangea aspera, villosa and sargentiana are tall, erect plants characterised by their furry foliage, and leaves which are the longest of all species, reaching as much as a foot in shade. They have large flat flower heads, usually pale pink and blue, and need little pruning, being more suited to informal settings.


Above, H.aspera villosa and H.anomola petiolaris

And then there’s the climbing hydrangea Hydrangea anomola petiolaris a vigorous and sturdy plant which has creamy blooms and lacecap flowers in mid-summer. Long hanging shoots should be cut back after flowering and again spring to maintain a framework.

Hydangeas have become so popular because they are generally tough, suited to a range of situations, and reliably produce long lasting and eye catching displays. They last into autumn, changing colour wonderfully as they age, and even the seedheads and bare stems provide welcome structure to beds and borders in winter. Granted, the only thing missing is scent.

 Hydrangea macrophylla 'Altona' (2)

Ageing gracefully (and disgracefully) in winter

Achieving that Holy Grail of hydrangeas – the vivid blue – depends on your species and your soil type. White hydrangeas do not generally change colour but it is possible to change pinks to blues and vice-versa. If the soil is naturally acidic and contains aluminium the colour of the hydrangea will tend to be blue and purple. Aluminium sulfate may be added to the soil, and a fertilizer low in phosphorus and high in potassium may help too. Here at Bodnant Garden we’re lucky to have acidic soil, responsible for some amazing electric blues like the Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Renate Steiniger’ in our Shrub Borders.

Visually rewarding, hardy, versatile, long lived…what’s not to like? The right plant in the right place, or even in glorious abundance, the homely hydrangea has earned its place in out hearts and gardens.