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!

Bodnant - Halloween (October 2015)

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!

Bodnant - Pond Dipping (April 2016)

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

 

 

Curtain up on Bodnant’s colourful Festival of Fabric

The curtain is up on our festival of fabric at Bodnant Garden. Members of North Wales Embroiderers’ Guild have adorned sites around the garden with artwork reflecting our trees, plants and flowers in an exhibition called Landscapes and Gardens.

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Bodnant Garden volunteers Megan, Linda and Pam with some of the artwork outside the Old Mill

It’s part of a national Embroiderers’ Guild celebration marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. As a leader of the English Landscape movement during the 18th century, Brown transformed stately home estates and parks throughout the land with his naturalistic style, which brought the countryside into the garden.

Embroiderers have performed their own engaging, beautiful and subtle transformation around Bodnant Garden this summer. Silken birds, butterflies and bees glint in the sunshine among the plants and fabric hangings sway from the branches of trees. These unexpected works of art are delighting visitors; many stop and do a double take and then as recognition dawns (oh look there, a dragonfly!), eyes light and admiration follows.

We’re delighted to welcome the guild to the garden, whose talented members have clearly put a huge amount of work, time and love into this exhibition. Running from August 20 to September 8, it’s a first for Bodnant Garden too. Here’s a taste…

Tapestries hanging in the old Sweet Chestnut tree

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Marilyn Smith from the guild says: “There are a good mixture of techniques used in the exhibits from felting, hand and machine embroidery, weaving and the use of recycled materials, a good combination of traditional and modern with lots of variety.  There are approximately 20 members contributing work, some have been working on their own creations and others have been working in small teams.

“We are all very excited to be given the opportunity to become part of Bodnant for this period. It comes of course with its challenges being outdoors, so fingers crossed that the weather will be kind!”

You can find out more from the North Wales Embroiderers’ Guild – a thriving group of more than 100 members who aim to build awareness of stitch and textile art. Check out their colourful Facebook page for more information at www.facebook.com/northwalesembroiderersguild

 

Bodnant Garden in glorious technicolor textiles

Nature stirs our senses, our imaginations and inspires us to create in so many different artforms. This month we’re welcoming North Wales Embroiderers’ Guild to the garden who are celebrating our trees, plants and flowers through the tactile medium of textiles.

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Water lilies at Bodnant Garden by Beryl Trimby

During the festival of Trees and Textile, Fabric and Flowers (from August 20 to September 8) places around the garden will adorned by members’ work inspired by Bodnant Garden’s history and flora.

Charlie Stretton, Bodnant Garden events and engagement officer, says: “We’re really looking forward to welcoming the guild, whose talented members are modern, innovative and creative. It’s a pleasure to be able to showcase their work, which we hope will inspire visitors too.”

Guild members have been busy working on their exhibits since early this year. They will be displaying fabric works large and small around the Far End lakeside, at the Pin Mill on the terraces and the Old Mill in the Dell.

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Guild members Carol and Sian keeping their felting piece under wraps and (below) Ronny placing marino wool ready for felting.  They are working on pieces for a tree near the garden entrance. 

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Our beautiful Far End has really captured people’s imaginations since it opened in spring 2015. Its tranquil lake, with a richness of plants and wildlife, has also inspired guild members who are working together on a number of large fabric designs to be displayed there. One will transform the island at the Skating Pond, another will be sited in the cluster of alder trees at the edge of the lake and another at the Boat House; they will create bright, eye-catching works reflecting the flora and fauna to be found there in the garden.

 Wildlife which will be displayed on the island at the Far End, and laburnum which will hang in alder trees nearby

There will also be individual pieces, such as one created by Vicky Williams. She is hard at work producing a fabric hanging for the Pin Mill (seen below), inspired by a photograph she took in the garden last June showing foxgloves growing on the Lower Rose Terrace.

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It’s hoped that the works will encourage visitors young and old to view parts of the garden with a new eye, but as well as following the trail of textile art around the garden people will also be able to get hands-on, and try lace and felt making in the Old Mill on August 25 (11am to 3pm.)

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Marilyn Smith from the guild says: “There will be a good mixture of techniques used in the exhibits from felting, hand and machine embroidery, weaving and the use of recycled materials, a good combination of traditional and modern with lots of variety.  There are approximately 20 members contributing work, some have been working on their own creations and others have been working in small teams.

“We are all very excited to be given the opportunity to become part of Bodnant for this period. It comes of course with its challenges being outdoors, so fingers crossed that the weather will be kind!”

You can find out more from the North Wales Embroiderers’ Guild – a thriving group of more than 100 members who aim to build awareness of stitch and textile art. Check out their colourful Facebook page for more information at www.facebook.com/northwalesembroiderersguild

Wysteria  by Linda Beagan to go in the alders at the Far End

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.

Whopper of a week at Bodnant Garden

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We’ve got that Friday Feeling, and some – celebrating our busiest ever week in more than 140 years of the garden’s history.

Numbers just out show that we welcomed a record 20,000-plus visitors through the gates in the first week of June – that’s more than half what was achieved in the whole of the same month last year.

General manager William Greenwood said: “Crowds have flocked to see the famous Laburnum Arch in spectacular June sunshine. Families have enjoyed a packed programme of half term events and dog owners have made the most of late night openings to walk in the garden.

“It’s been phenomenal and there’s been a real holiday atmosphere here. It’s an extraordinary achievement and shows how much and how fast the garden is developing, with things to be see and do every day of the year.”

June brings a crescendo of late spring colour at Bodnant Garden, from exotic rhododendrons to native bluebells and a riot of blossom, all crowned by the show-stopping Laburnum Arch, a 55-metre long pergola walkway of golden flowers.

Last week’s numbers averaged 363 visitors every hour, rising to more than 700 visitors per hour at peak times. The garden also received more than 7,000 visitors over the weekend – another record – and enjoyed its best-ever late night opening, with more than 500 evening visitors – many of those bringing their dogs for Wag Wednesday walkies.

William said: “This year we’ve pulled out all the stops to make the June experience a memorable one for everyone, opening the garden gates early, and late, and offering breakfasts in the tearoom for early birds.

“We’ve also recruited a team of special volunteers, Laburnum Archers, to help visitors coming here for the flowering spectacle, which normally attracts around 50,000 people over three weeks in June …but the way things are going we could well break that record by the end of the month too!”

We recently unveiled plans to open a new area, which has attracted great public and media interest. Furnace Hill is 20 acres of woodland and meadow which is being renovated for opening to the public in spring 2017.

Further areas are being opened in the next few years which will bring the ropes down on most of the 80-acre garden; the Far End was opened to the public in 2015, Yew Dell in 2014, Old Park meadow in 2013 and Winter Garden in 2012.

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 floral gift to future generations

As our world-famous Laburnum Arch bursts into June flower we’re unveiling an exciting conservation project to safeguard some rare and special plants at Bodnant Garden, and to create a floral spectacle for future generations.

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Artist impression of the new Penjerick Walk, by Clive McWilliam

Our garden team is restoring the Penjerrick Walk, a historic avenue of rhododendrons, back to its former glory. The hope is that in years to come it will be a floral showstopper to match the Victorian arch, which attracts around 50,000 visitors every June.

The Penjerrick Walk forms part of Furnace Hill, which lies on the west of the garden overlooking the River Hiraethlyn, Bodnant Hall and the spectacular Italianate terraces. The area includes woodland and a wildflower-rich meadow which will open to the public for the first time next spring, creating an extra 20 acres for visitors to explore.

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Furnace Hill and the newly planted Penjerrick Walk

Furnace Hill was first developed by Henry Pochin, who bought Bodnant Garden in 1874. His descendants, the McLaren family, shared his botanical passion and filled it with plants from around the world, planting American conifers and Asian rhododendrons and magnolias.

Pochin’s grandson Henry Duncan McLaren, 2nd Lord Aberconway, had a pivotal role in the story of rhododendrons in Britain. He sponsored plant hunting expeditions to Asia in the early 1900s which brought a great influx of new varieties into the country. He also bred 350 unique Bodnant hybrids at the garden from these species plants and worked with other UK plant breeders such as Penjerrick Garden in Cornwall.

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An existing Penjerrick rhododendron at Bodnant Garden

Henry planted the Penjerrick Walk in the 1920s and it would have been quite a sight when mature a couple of decades later – Rhododendron ‘Penjerrick’ has large scented white, cream or pink flowers and characteristic red-pink bark. However it is notoriously difficult to propagate and cannot be reproduced from cuttings. For this reason it has never been a common sight in UK gardens and as plants have died off they have not been replaced. The walkway at Furnace Hill eventually disappeared and was reclaimed by nature.

Former head gardener at Bodnant, Troy Smith was inspired to reinstate the Penjerrick Walk after discovering a speech by Henry McLaren in which he said: If I could switch the clock to any season of the year to enjoy a two minute walk at Bodnant, my choice would be the Penjerrick Walk in the first week of May

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Troy Smith checking on the new plants

With help from the Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group of the RHS, plant material from existing Penjerricks in Bodnant Garden was micro-propagated at a specialist laboratory in Duchy College, Cornwall. Under Troy’s successor John Rippin, the garden team has nursed on and replanted some of the young plants in a 120 metre avenue on Furnace Hill. Around 40 Penjerricks have been interplanted with purple flowering Rhododendron augustinii and pink Rhododendron ‘Reve d’Amour’.

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Bodnant’s head gardener John Rippin

John said: “We go to great lengths to conserve and tend to the plants at Bodnant Garden to ensure the grounds look incredible all year round. Since 2012 the team here has opened new parts of the garden. We can’t wait to open Furnace Hill and will be eagerly waiting for the Penjerrick Walk to come into full bloom. The support from Duchy College and the RHS has been invaluable in making this happen.”

Justin Albert, director of National Trust Wales said: “Collected by intrepid plant hunters from as far back as 300 years ago, our precious plant life stands as testament to the vision and passion for plants shared by generations of owners and their gardeners.

“This fantastic project at Bodnant Garden is just one of conservation projects that our team of gardeners and volunteers are undertaking at our gardens across Wales to restore and preserve plants from across the world for visitors to enjoy.”

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Gardener Fiona Braithwaite giving members of Abergwyngregyn Gardening Club a sneak preview of Furnace Hill

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.

Move over, Nigel the dog!

Did we mention…BBC Gardener’s World paid us a visit recently? Never mind Monty, Nigel and Nell, this episode of Britain’s favourite gardening show features not one, but two of our head gardeners.

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Our very own former head gardener Troy Scott Smith returned to his old stomping ground recently to check up on the Laburnum Arch, meet our new band of volunteers the Laburnum Archers, and talk new man at the helm John Rippin about the renovation of the Far End and future garden projects.

The programme is due to be aired on Friday, June 3 – perfect timing for our Laburnum Arch, which is a little late this year due to topsy-turvey weather, and all set to burst into full bloom at the weekend. If you can’t wait until Friday, here’s a taster:

 

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Above, Troy meeting two Laburnum Archers – student Gethin and former wing commander Jeff – and below, with volunteer David

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Above, Troy and current head gardener John Rippin, and below, the camera crew with gardeners and volunteers at the Far End

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Troy checking on the progress of the newly planted Penjerrick Walk at Furnace Hill, which will be opened next spring

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A pow-wow at the gloriette on the Heather Hill, another new area to be opened to the public in the future

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Our Laburnum Archers, ready for action over the next few weeks of Bodnant Garden’s famous flowering sensation

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So book your place on the sofa and check in at BBC Gardener’s World this Friday, June 3, at 8.30pm. And if you’re lucky enough to be visiting over the next three weeks to see the Laburnum Arch, there’s a lovely new bunch of volunteers just waiting for greet you – you can’t miss them!

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.