50 Things to do (and some) at Bodnant Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIs Half Term terror rising among parents out there? Never fear, we have plenty for families to do here at Bodnant Garden over the school holiday. We’ve got a great week of activities, with something on every day. It’s part of our commitment to the National Trust’s project ‘50 Things to do before you’re 11¾‘, which is aimed at encouraging kids to get mucky, discover their wild side and get closer to nature.

Here’s what’s happening at Bodnant Garden:

Saturday to Wednesday: Plant it, Grow it, Eat it – At the Old Mill (outdoors if the weather is fine, inside if wet) from 11am-3pm. Kids can pick a pot, fill it with compost, put a bean or pea in it, tiny bit of water, put in a brown bag and take home.

Tuesday: Pond dipping at the Far End Skating Pond, from 12 to 3pm.

Thursday: Wild Art Fairy Houses – In the Yew Dell, by the tree stump tables, from 12 noon to 3pm. Children can have fun building a little “fairy house” from natural materials they find around the garden.

Thursday to Sunday: Mud Pie Making – At the Winter Garden entrance to the Old Park, 11am to 3pm. There will be compost, buckets, water, mud, paper plates and petals for children make their mud pies, rinse their hands in a bucket of water (if they want to wash them!) and leave their pie in a wheelbarrow to be composted later.


In addition to these events everyone is welcome to have a go at Barefoot Walking through the Old Park, Pooh Sticks at The Old Mill and the Yew Dell, and Den Building at the Far End near the refreshment kiosk, every day from Saturday May 24th to Sunday May 31st. What’s more there are also free Fifty Things scrapbooks on offer at reception – children can come back to collect a sticker or stamp when they have done their activity.

For the whole family, we’ve also got some special events on over the Bank Holiday weekend and Half Term week. There’s music in the Pin Mill on Sunday May 24th, with the Conwy Clarinet Trio playing from 2pm, an open day at The Poem mausoleum on Tuesday May 26th, and don’t forget dogs are welcome every Wednesday evening through the summer too, at our late night openings from 5-8pm.

And if you time your visit right you may see the famous Laburnum Arch in bloom – the spectacle is expected to flower from end of May and it’s something young and old will never forget.

David Ackers, Birkenhead

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.

Take your seat for a tour of Bodnant Garden


Bodnant is a garden for all seasons…but May is a bit special, a time when the garden is at its most dazzling. The sudden burst of rhododendrons, along with other flowering trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants, all combine to make the garden explode with colour. That’s before we even mention the Laburnum Arch, the garden’s most famous and most visited attraction, which crowns the season with its breathtaking golden display at the end of the month.

I am now enjoying my fourth spring working at Bodnant Garden and am still taken aback by the intensity of the spectacle at this time of year. Hardy surprising, when you consider that this kaleidoscopic show is the result of a century or more of plant collecting and husbandry; from the towering magnolias introduced at the turn of the 1900s, to the thousands of rhododendrons brought here and bred here in the 1920s and 30s, the gnarled and twisted old wisteria which drape walls and pergolas, the swathes of tulips, iris and lilies planted by generations of gardeners and, to give Mother Nature her due, the carpets of English Bluebells which cross meadows and glades.

If you’re visiting this Bank Holiday weekend you are in for a real treat. If not, sit back and take a tour here:


As you walk through the entrance gates, prepare to drop your jaw at the upper garden. The Range Borders are a riot of hot-coloured herbaceous plants emblazened against a backdrop of sweeping manicured lawns, giant conifers and of course rhododendrons upon rhododendrons upon rhododendrons. Take it all in as you walk from the Puddle Garden to the The Round Garden and Winter Garden (which is still full of interest mid spring.) And of course if you’re here at the end of May/beginning of June when the Laburnum Arch is flowering, put your sunglasses on and bask in a stroll through this 180-foot tunnel of light.

Anne Murray, Penrhyndeudraeth OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Above: Bodnant’s famous Laburnum Arch and our rhododendrons

Below: On The Range borders Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’, Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night, Trollius cultorum ‘Orange Princess, Bergenia ‘Sunningdale’, Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ and Paeonia delayvii.





Crossing the Old Park meadow you move from the finery and formality of the upper garden to the cool, laid back lushness of The Shrub Borders. Bluebells run through the grass of Chapel Park and The Glades and under the dappled shade of trees are beds filled with native and exotic shrubs, underplanted with herbaceous perennials – if you’re lucky you may see the first tissue-papery bracts of the Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata.) Continue to the Yew Dell where you’ll find a wonderful collection of old rhododendrons, among them many Bodnant hybrids.


Above:Bluebells in Chapel Park and old rhododendrons in the Yew Dell

Below: Enkianthus campanulatus, Viburnum x judii, Exochorda x macrantha ‘The Bride’ and Davidia involucrata in the Shrub Borders


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 Below: Take your pick of paths to the Far End


Continuing from the Yew Dell you can take one of the paths to the Far End – through a 140-year-old arboretum of native and foreign trees, or following the River Hiraethlyn upstream passing a series of pools and water features – both of which bring you to the Skating Pond, a lake lined with weeping willows. This area only opened to the public in March and has a natural, tranquil character quite different to the rest of the garden. There are some exotic trees for sure – Asian magnolias, acers and conifers – but the natives blend the whole scene into the valley landscape beyond. Look out for the enormous Royal Ferns (Osmunds regalis) unfurling along the water’s edge, some of which we think may be a century old.


Above: Clumps of Royal Fern by the lake at The Far End

Below: The Waterfall Bridge in The Dell


Returning to The Dell downstream along the River Hiraethlyn the mood becomes more dramatic; as you pass the Waterfall Bridge the valley sides steepen, water now rushes through a narrow channel over rocks and boulders and the eyes are drawn skywards to the canopy of giant conifers. Beneath the breathtaking collection of trees, some of them UK Champions because of their age and size, rhododendrons light up the shade. One to look out for (you will smell it before you see it) is Rhododendron luteum with its intense perfume.


Above: Layers of conifers and rhododendrons in The Dell, underplanted by hostas, astilbes, ferns and the distinctive cerise Primula pulverulenta

Below: Maianthemum racemosum, Rhododendron luteum



When you get to The Old Mill stop and take it all in, look up and admire The Rockery which cascades down the valley side (seen left)…and take a breath before starting the climb back up to the upper garden! A short, winding walk brings you back into sunlight and open spaces. This is where you’ll see the grandeur of Bodnant Garden at its best – looking across the Italianate Terraces to the Conwy Valley and Carneddau mountains beyond.


 Above: The Pin Mill  seen from the Yucca Garden

Below: Clematis, wisteria and climbing roses on terrace walls 


Perennials are filling out beds in the White Garden and Pink Garden, wisteria and clematis are now climbing walls and pergolas and the first climbing roses are even in bloom, setting the scene for the show to come (and talking of things to come, you may notice some empty beds nearby – these are under renovation as we speak – watch this space.) Near the Lower Rose Terrace take a look at the newly renovated Gentian Bed, which has some miniature gems to wonder at, such as the contender for one of Bodnant’s tiniest rhododendron, Rhododendron campylogynum ‘Myrtilloides’ (seen below).


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASummer is when the terraces really take on their starring role in the garden, with the glorious display of roses, water lilies, herbaceous perennials and hydrangeas. That said, bucking this trend is the Yucca Garden which is providing a splash of hot colour right now, with vibrant euphorbias billowing out of every nook and cranny. While you’re here take a side-step from the Terraces along the Prim Path, opened just last year, and discover the Himalayan primulas now settling in there (seen above). This will bring you out at the North Garden, home to another wonderful collection of rhododendrons, and to the Alpine Garden on the Top Rose Terrace, which is full of dainty sun-loving curiosities like this Pulsatilla turczaninovii (seen below).

Copy of Pulsatilla turczaninovii Copy of alpine 048

Whichever route you take around Bodnant Garden, however much or little of the garden you cover, there will be something to surprise and delight you right now, that we can promise. Added to the floral factor we’ve also got some special events on over the Bank Holiday weekend and Half Term week which follows. There’s music in the Pin Mill on Sunday May 24th, with the Conwy Clarinet Trio playing from 2pm, an open day at The Poem mausoleum on Tuesday May 26th and family activities running every day through the Half Term week. Don’t forget dogs are welcome every Wednesday evening through the summer too, at our late night openings from 5-8pm.

Of course a garden is not just for Bank Holiday it’s for life…and if you’re visiting we hope you’ll take away some lasting memories.

Bodnant Garden map

Compiled by gardener Fran Llewellyn. For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or catch us on Facebook  or Twitter.

Bodnant’s budding gardeners steal the show

P1200073Gardeners and students from Bodnant were at the RHS Malvern Show recently…not just as visitors mind you, but taking to the show stands and even to the stage.

They went to represent the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme, which trains gardening students at a number of top gardens in Wales. Our head gardener John, gardeners Katie, Harvey and Gemma, and our current students Jess and Jette joined others from the HHSS scheme to showcase what it offers at the Spring Festival.

Katie and Jess found themselves sharing the limelight with Carol Klein and Christine Walkden doing demonstrations of seed collecting and sowing and as Christine tweeted afterwards “You two girls did you and the industry proud.” Katie and John also bravely took part in a Gardener’s Question Time.

For the last four years the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme (HHSS) has been run by a group of associated garden sites in Wales: Aberglasney, Bodnant, Cardiff City Council, Dyffryn Gardens, Newport City Council, Picton Gardens and St Fagans.  The scheme offers a bursary and 14-month work-based placement at gardens.


Bodnant HHSS trainer Gemma with Carol Klein

Bodnant gardener Gemma Hayes has worked closely alongside our students during their training. assisted by fellow gardener Kate Croft. The trainees have all proved to be an invaluable part of the garden team and of our own graduates, one has already gone to to be head gardener, another to work for a national gardening magazine, and two more have gained staff positions at Bodnant Garden. Others from across Wales are now working in the horticultural industry in private gardens as well as at National Trust sites.
The Lottery funded project is drawing to a close this year but it will be followed on by a Lantra Level 3 scheme, to continue training horticulturalists of the future. The Malvern Show was an opportunity to launch the new scheme – and to celebrate what’as been achieved in the last four years. Here’s a taste:

Students Jette and Jess with graduate Harvey, who is now working at Bodnant Garden


Jess and Katie demonstrating seed collecting with Carol Klein

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Recent HHSS graduates with their turf mortar boards


The Bodnant Garden stand…and Katie taking a quiet moment before Gardener’s Question Time?


HHSS organisers, students and graduates at the show

To find out more about the HHSS and Lantra training contact http://www.hhss.co.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.

Canals, calm and connections

Charlie Stretton is our new events and engagement officer at Bodnant Garden. She will be helping people, especially children, get the most out of their visit and brings with her a wealth of experience from RSPB Conwy. Before her busy role overtakes her, Charlie takes a moment to reflect…


Charlie Stretton

Did you watch a BBC Four programme last week called All Aboard! – A journey down the Kennet and Avon Canal? It was a two-hour trip, filmed from the front of a canal barge travelling at four miles an hour, with no commentary, no music, just the real-time tranquillity of the banks floating past, interrupted only by an occasional cyclist or family on the tow path. There were a few pieces of written information, superimposed onto bridges or the sides of other barges, but otherwise it was just the gentle lapping of the water and the unhurried views.

Having been on a disastrous houseboat holiday some years ago, where it rained for four solid days and I ended up falling out with my barge-mates, I had been somewhat sceptical about this programme. But I thought I’d give it a go, just for a few minutes… and I found myself totally mesmerised. Everything just slowed down, and I was drawn in to this sleepy world where two ducks swimming past became a real event, and a swan taking off a spectacular highlight.

So much of life these days happens at a frantic pace. We are getting used to a world where everything happens at top speed, and in our rushing and hurrying it is easy to lose sight of the things that matter, or to dismiss them as having no relevance to our superfast lives. This quirky little canal boat programme reminded me how vital it is sometimes to sit still, or walk slowly, and take stock – to appreciate the things, especially nature, around us.


Rhododendrons in The Dell

I have just started work here at Bodnant Garden and I’m still pinching myself – I cannot believe how lucky I am to be working in such an outstandingly beautiful place. I am amazed at the colours of the rhododendrons and azaleas, and incredulous at the height and age of the trees, which were here long before any of us, and which will outlive all of us.

I am humbled by the efforts of the plant hunters and the horticulturalists who created this garden long ago, knowing that by the time their work came to fruition they would be long dead. What a deep connection to the natural world, what incredible foresight and what generosity of spirit they must have had.

What is also astounding about the garden is the rate at which it changes. The wonderfully –named Tristan Gooley, in his book How to Connect with Nature sums this up beautifully –

“Colours, smells and sounds swirl through daily and annual patterns, putting in displays then disappearing with promises to return in new clothes. There is the regularity of a solar drum behind all the changes, but this regularity passes through the individual kaleidoscope that is our locality. Time makes both sense and madness of each place and moment. The only certainty is that you will only get one opportunity to experience each scene exactly the way it is. It will be different if you return in ten months or in ten minutes”

David Ackers, Birkenhead

Pond dipping at Bodnant Garden – part of Charlie’s role will be to help families get the most out of their visit

It’s vital, then, to take time to appreciate each scene. Maybe just for a moment, find a quiet spot in the garden,  stand still and just take in the sights, the scents, the sounds all around you. Connect yourself with nature and feel the absolutely incredible power, the life-force that is at work silently all around you, but which we so often miss while keeping an eye on the children, or chatting to our friends, or searching for that special plant. The garden will never, ever be exactly the same again as in that moment.

So, like the barge on the Kennet and Avon canal, it is vital, every now and then, to drop into a slower gear, to put life into slow motion, to be still and peaceful for a while, and to take in the beauty around us. In doing this, we will begin to find awe and wonder in the most everyday of scenes, and a deeper and richer connection with the natural world.


Our own Canal terrace at Bodnant Garden


For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT


Spring is blossoming at Bodnant Garden


We’re basking in an amazing April here at Bodnant Garden. We’ve enjoyed a week of brilliant sunshine and blue skies which has coaxed out many wonderful plants. From the vivid tulips on the Range border which seemed to burst open, their petals wide to the warmth, to the delicious aroma of Osmanthus filling the air…the birds singing, bees buzzing… the gentle hum of the mower and smell of cut grass…it feels that summer is just around the corner.

But take a moment and enjoy this lovely unfolding of spring sights, sounds and scents. Here’s a sample of some of the things to enjoy this weekend if you’re visiting, starting with the colourful herbaceous perennials and bulbs to the scented and flowering and trees shrubs:


Electric blue Pulmonaria ‘Lewis Palmer’ and Epimedium pubigernum


Erythronium 'Pagoda' Bergenia cordifolia

Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ and Bergenia cordifolia, and below, more Erythronium, this time the pink flowered ‘Revolutum’



From the sublime Anemone nemerosa to… Lysichiton americanus!


Eye-catching colours…Tulips in the parterre and, below, Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’ and Euphorbia polychroma

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Euphorbia polychroma

Flowering shrubs are really romping away right now. Our magnolias have been in flower for a month and are still going – some later forms will still be flowering in May and June. Rhododendrons have also been blooming since early spring but are now gearing up for the big show in May, building up layers upon layers of dazzling colour around the garden. And then there are the flowering cherries, which have just started to open and promise a bounty of blossom over the next few weeks.


Magnolia stellata and, below, Magnolia ‘Heaven Scent’ 


Rh. 'Janet'

Large blousey blooms of Rhododendron ‘Janet’ 


Rhododendron ‘Redwing’ and Rh ‘Bluestone’ both Bodnant Hybrids


Fothergilla major and, below, Forsythia x intermedia



Prunus Kanzan and, below, Pieris ‘Flaming Silver’

Pieris 'Flaming Silver' (2)


Scented Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’ and, below, the beautiful foliage of Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis Osmanthus delayvii, seen here on the Tennis Lawn, is just one of the glorious plants to be enjoyed around the garden right now – and there’s much more to follow in the coming weeks – scented viburnums, blossoming clematis and wisteria…and don’t forget the Laburnum Arch, which is on schedule to flower at the end of May and is a spectacle, once seen, we promise you will never forget.

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT

Calling all proud gardeners

Bodnant Garden invites the people of Wales to share their outdoor spaces in 2015

The Upper Garden

Bodnant Garden is part of the local national heritage…and now your garden could be too with the launch of a new National Trust Wales competition.

#NTWalesGardenProud aims to capture and celebrate the way people in Wales use their gardens and outdoor spaces. The social media competition will encourage proud Welsh garden owners to submit photos to win a day of special care and attention for their garden from National Trust experts.

From sprawling country gardens that epitomise the rural idyll, to innovative urban spaces that make the best use out of every available inch, we want to find out how the people of Wales use their green spaces, be they humble or grand.

JR Pic

One of the judges, our very own head gardener John Rippin

As part of the #NTWalesGardenProud competition, National Trust Wales has enlisted a panel of judges, who will review the entries received and decide on a final winner. The judges on board include our very own head gardener John Rippin; Terry Walton, BBC Radio gardening personality; Chris Flynn, Head Gardener at Dyffryn Gardens, the magnificent Edwardian designed garden in the Vale of Glamorgan; and Justin Albert, Director of National Trust Wales.

Entrants are being asked to submit their garden photos via social media by posting to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #NTWalesGardenProud. At the end of the competition the entries will be added to an online digital archive and published for everyone to enjoy.

Speaking about the launch of the #NTWalesGardenProud competition, Justin Albert, Director of National Trust Wales and one of the judges, commented: “We are proud to be the guardians of such great gardens in Wales as Bodnant and Dyffryn.  And we look after a huge number of outdoor spaces across the nation, including more than 150 miles of Welsh coastline and large swathes of countryside, woodland, rivers and lakes.

Azaleas and rhododendrons near the Shrub Borders at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales

Bodnant Garden’s famous spring display of rhododendrons

“So, we thought it would be great to find out how Welsh gardeners use and look after their own personal outdoor spaces. It would be wonderful to build up a national picture about what these spaces look like today, and it can be a historical record that future generations can appreciate.  This is a competition that will celebrate the wonderful gardens we have in Wales.”

So whether you are the proud owner of a chic courtyard space, urban rooftop, contained balconette, functioning kitchen garden, woodland wilderness or Zen water garden, National Trust Wales wants to see pictures of your local outdoor spaces.


One of Bodnant Garden’s wildflower meadows

How to enter

Submit your garden photos via social media by posting to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #NTWalesGardenProud.

Alternatively email your entries to gardenproud@workingword.co.uk

Terms and conditions apply. Simply hashtagging #NTWalesGardenProud does not constitute entry. Maximum ten entries per garden. Entries close at midnight on Friday May 8th 2015.

The prize

One lucky winner will have the chance for their garden to receive the full National Trust treatment for one weekend, and much more.

  • A National Trust plaque declaring the garden as the winner of the #NTWalesGardenProud competition
  • A winner’s garden cream tea for the winner and their family and friends
  • Invitation designed for the occasion
  • Branded National Trust deckchairs
  • Annual National Trust visitor pass (for 12 months)
  • An exclusive half day consultation with a National Trust Wales gardener
  • An exclusive photo feature of the winning garden will appear in the Western Mail Weekend Homes supplement
The Lily Terrace

The famous terraces at Bodnant Garden



Fanfare for the Far End


The Far End is now officially yours folks – open to the public after 140 years. After all the hard work, worry and a decidedly dodgy weather forecast we had a grand opening day. Hearts sank in the morning when we woke up to gale force winds and driving rain…but somehow, miraculously, as 10am drew nearer the wind abated, the rain dried up, the sun broke through the clouds and delivered a perfect blue sky day (well, at least until late afternoon, for the hours that mattered!)

Perhaps the garden’s Victorian founder Henry Pochin was smiling down on us, but it was a fitting tribute to the hours, months, years of work by gardeners and volunteers which has gone in to renovating this area ready for this day.

Visitors assembled by the new bridge at 12 noon where Michael McLaren from the donor family spoke movingly about the history of the area, and how delighted his father and grandfather would be at people now being able to enjoy it. Our guest, TV gardener Christine Walkden, then gave her own passionate few words about the Bodnant Garden she knows and loves, and cut the ribbon with garden shears – succeeding after three attempts (yes, they were sharp…and we rehearsed…but hey, best laid plans.)

There was even cake. Alex, one of the Dell team of gardeners who has worked so hard on The Far End, and who came in on her birthday for the opening, was surprised by a truly giant sponge, which was shared out among the visitors. That left visitors to enjoy the rest of the afternoon exploring this wonderful new area – here’s a taste:


Before opening, our volunteers ready for duty



Ducks enjoying the lake to themselves for the last time!


The first people to arrive at The Far End were Sandra and Margaret Qualters. They had come from Ashton-under-Lyne for the opening and said they had been looking forward to it for months. Behind them came a steady stream of visitors.


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Michael McLaren and Christine Walkden performing the opening


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Third time lucky for the ribbon, and Alex with her birthday cake


Christine Walkden with Michael and Caroline McLaren


Coracle making, and sailing (head gardener John demonstrating!)


Lunch around the brazier, Christine with volunteers Sally and Phyllis

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Music for all tastes! A harpist and Morris Dancers 


New head gardener John and his family enjoying the day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last word goes to visitors Dorothy and Brian Thompson, from Rhos on Sea, regulars to Bodnant who said it was absolutely thrilling to be able to enjoy this magical new area of garden. Thanks to them and everyone who came on Saturday – staff, volunteers, visitors, guests and performers – for making this historic day such an occasion.

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT