Extending our welcome to dog walkers

Dog walkers…are you sitting to attention? Our summer season of Dogs Welcome may have closed for now but we’ve got good news – we’re extending the welcome in 2016.

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Evie – thanks owner Dan Struthers

Winter Dogs Welcome starts again in November, when the garden is open to pooches on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until the end of the year. From January 2016 the garden will be open every day to dogs (and their owners of course) until the end of February. Going forward, this every day winter entry for dogs will continue each year from November to February.

In summer we’ll continue our special Wag Wednesday, when the garden is open to dog walkers on Wednesday late night openings, 5-8pm, from May to the end of August.

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Since we first began Dogs Welcome in 2013 we’ve seen a steady growth in the number of people bringing their pets to the garden. From several hundred dogs through the gates in the trial year of 2013, we had 1,025 dog visitors from March to March 2014/15.

It has proved especially popular through the winter months, traditionally our quieter period. From talking to visitors, and from comment cards and posts to social media, it seems that winter access is appreciated by local NT members and people living nearby.

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One dog getting a selfie at the Laburnum Arch

Our summer Wednesday evenings is gaining fans too, with holiday makers and people visiting after work for their evening walkies – the numbers of dog visitors rising from 395 May to August 2014 to 473 this summer (and still counting).

We appreciate that not all people are dog lovers! Which is why we limit access times to the garden to make it enjoyable for everyone, and with 80 acres of garden, including new areas like the Far End opening, there is lots of space for all to enjoy. To date there have been very few reported problems of noise, mess, or bad behaviour (human or canine) so this policy seems to be working.

So dog owners…at the risk of getting all Barbara Woodhouse on you… all we ask is that you use a short lead (not extendable), keep to the paths, deposit any dog mess in the bins provided and in the summer please, please do not leave dogs in hot cars in the car park. Enjoy!

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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Bailey – thanks owner Julia Pigula

Recognition for our rare rhododendrons

If you’ve ever walked around Bodnant Garden and wondered what the green plant labels mean…they are reserved for special rhododendrons, those unique to Bodnant, our Bodnant Hybrids.

We’ve recently had news that the conservation body Plant Heritage has approved this group as an important new National Collection – to give them their full title, Rhododendron Hybrids Bred at Bodnant Garden 1927-1983. This takes our number of National Collections to five – we already hold collections of Magnolia, Eucryphia, Embothrium and Rhododendron forrestii.

It’s a big deal – the collection reflects Bodnant’s place in the great British history of rhododendrons. It also highlights our quest to save these hybrid plants, some of which are ‘lost’ to records and some even nearing extinction.

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This is something close to the heart of Bodnant Garden’s taxonomist Alison Clarke (seen right) who has been working for several years to nurture our hybrids and safeguard their future.

Bodnant Garden played a lead role in the story of rhododendrons in Britain. These ‘exotic’ new plants began trickling into Britain in the late 1800s but it was in the early 20th century that they really made their mark. Bodnant Garden’s owner Henry Duncan McLaren, second Lord Aberconway, was active in sponsoring the expeditions of plant hunters such as George Forrest, Ernest Wilson, Frank Kingdom Ward, Joseph Rock, which brought back to our large country houses, parks and gardens quantities of these and other Asian plants, like magnolias.

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Head gardener Frederick Puddle and Lord Aberconway

The first rhododendron came to Bodnant Garden in 1910. Legend has it that head gardener Frederick Puddle at first didn’t believe they would be hardy enough to grow in North Wales – thankfully he was proved wrong! They acclimatised so well that Lord Aberconway and Mr Puddle went on to develop a successful breeding programme.

Rhododendron griersonianum 01Their hybridisation programme started during 1920s. Many of the early rhododendrons offered a new colour palette and range of genes to work with. Those that were most used at Bodnant Garden included Rh. wardii (the first strong yellow), Rh. cinnabarinum (which introduced orange shades), and the reds for which the garden became so famous, including Rh. forrestii and Rh. griersonianum (seen above). Nearly half of all hybrids registered were reds – the Bodnant Bloody Reds.

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Rhododendron wardii and Rhododendron cinnabarinum

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Rhododendron ‘Elizabeth’

One aim was to extend the flowering season by using particularly early and late flowering species; also to produce stronger plants by crossing tender plants with more hardy species; another reason was to produce smaller plants suitable for the domestic market, the most famous example being Rh.‘Elizabeth’ – still one of the most popular rhododendrons in the UK.

Alison says: “Over 300 hybrids were raised and registered to Bodnant. To date we have 115 varieties in the garden. Some exist only as a singular specimen. Those under threat of extinction are being actively propagated.

“Sadly today there are only perhaps ten or so that are widely available to buy. Some of the most well know are Rhododendrons Elizabeth, Cilpinense, Vanessa Pastel, Fabia Tangerine and Matador. We are actively searching for the others both in the garden and elsewhere, including nurseries selling them and other gardens which may have them.”

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Rhododendron Fabia Tangerine and Rhododendron Vanessa Pastel

Many of the ‘missing’ plants are thought to be still in the garden but have lost their labels so we are working with metal detectorists from Mold Historical Society to help find labels. In future DNA analysis may also help identify plants thought to be missing hybrids.

Meanwhile we are actively propagating ‘at risk’ hybrids using alternative methods such as grafting, layering and micro-propagation, and hope to one day restart a Bodnant Garden hybridisation programme.

Our registration as a National Collection will raise the profile of these special plants and hopefully encourage more people to grow them, helping to safeguard their future.

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 big Bodnant ‘Thank You’ to student volunteers

We’ve had some extra helping hands at Bodnant Garden this summer. Students have been spending some of their down-time with us to gain work experience – one of them from Snowdonia and two others from a little further afield near the Italian Dolomites.

Local lad GethinMullock-Jones has been assisting Charlie Stretton, our events and engagement officer, with the summer family events – and very welcome he’s been too (as you can see here, pictured with his own work of art.)

Gethin is a student at Ysgol y Creuddyn in Llandudno and volunteering at Bodnant Garden as part of his Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award.

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Gethin helping children make dragonfly mobiles

He says: “I like volunteering here because I have met many great people. The staff and members of the public always greet you with a smile.

“I have been helping with pond dipping at the newer part of the gardens – the Skating Pond – every Tuesday as part of Grow Wild in August. I have enjoyed helping the children discover what interesting creatures there are here.

“I like the different opportunities I get here with the National Trust at Bodnant Garden, whether its pond dipping, Wild Art or even making little dragonflies!”

Gethin’s input has been a real boost, as Charlie says: “One aspect of our work here is growing fast, and that’s providing events and activities for families. We need more volunteers than ever to help with running pond dipping, craft and wild art sessions, taking children on nature walks, or showing them the bugs and beasties that live in the grasslands here.

“So we have been especially pleased to welcome Gethin to help out with our children’s activities. He’s proved a real asset to us, and shown maturity and initiative in working with families and children.”

We’ve also enjoyed the company of two Italian students helping us in the garden. Jacopo Pedol and Stefania Moro have joined the garden team for two weeks, coming all the way from the Veneto region, close to the Dolomites.

Jacopo and Stefania – at home on our Italianate terraces!

They’re both hoping to make careers in horticulture in the future and have been getting some work experience, as well as improving their English (and learning some Welsh). They’ve been a friendly and enthusiastic addition to the team and have enjoyed meeting staff, other volunteers and members of the public.

Charlie says: “We couldn’t do without volunteers here at Bodnant Garden, and it’s always a pleasure to welcome a new person who is willing to give up their own time to help us out.

“This could be meeting and greeting visitors in the car park, helping puzzled people to make sense of their map, guiding groups round the garden, or actually getting their hands dirty weeding, pruning and grass cutting.”

If you’re interested in gaining some work experience at Bodnant Garden or joining our team of regular volunteers we’d love to hear from you. Contact our property administrator Rose James.

Meanwhile, for all those budding gardeners…we’re also recruiting students for a placement at Bodnant Garden starting from September. As part of the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme there are 14-month and 4-month placements available at Bodnant and other top gardens in Wales. The deadline for applications is the end of August and you can find details at info@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.

Taking a walk on the wilder side

To many people summer at Bodnant Garden means roses, water lilies and perfect beds, borders and lawns, which are at their formal finest right now. But this year we went, well, a little bit wild and planted an artistic ‘mini-meadow’ on our sophisticated Italianate terraces.

You might not immediately think of the Canal Terrace with its grand, iconic Pin Mill as the obvious place for a wildflower border, but it’s been a real success – not just with visitors but with butterflies, bees and even dragonflies finding their way to its billowing display from the Canal Pond.

The 77 metre long border was previously a formal display of herbaceous perennials which was tired and in need of renovation.

Gardeners Tracy and Ros (seen below) came up with the idea of sowing a wildflower mix to create a summer display while the bed was empty, awaiting a new design. Ros said: “We thought, why not sow annuals? If we’d left the bed bare this year the weeds would have kept growing anyway and we’d be working hard just to keep it tidy.”

In the spring they put the idea to our new head gardener John Rippin who was up for trying out the ‘experiment’ on the formal terrace. The old plants were removed from the border, it was cleared of weeds (no mean feat as it was full of ground elder) and the soil dug over and prepared for sowing.

Then came the fiddly task of sowing the seed, which is a pastel mix of cream coloured Bishop’s Flower (Ammi majus), pink Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), blue Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus),  mauve Rose Angel (Viscaria oculata) and red and pink Shirley Poppy  (Papaver rhoeas). As the seed company Pictorial Meadows points out this is not a traditional native wildflower meadow mix – you would not find this mix together naturally, or in such density – but a blend of annuals to give an ‘impressionistic’ meadow effect.

 

Ros said: “You only have to sow a tiny amount of seed per square metre and it’s quite hard to get an even spread. I was on tenterhooks waiting to see if they would take but the display has been amazing and exceeded all our expectations. The bed has been absolutely full of flowers and is teeming with wildlife.

“You can see the display changing as the time goes on and different flowers come out. Visitors have loved it. It would be great to do the same again next year elsewhere in the garden where there is empty space. We could make it an annual event.”

The formal Canal Terrace – a surprise setting for an informal display

Judging from the comment cards, emails and posts to social media, visitors have been delighted with the display. One Facebook follower sums up the feedback: “It’s a beautiful part of the garden anyway with the water lilies and the Pin Mill but the wild flowers just soften it somehow and when you look down from the terrace it’s just stunning.”

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The floral display changing from pinks to blues over the summer

Elsewhere at Bodnant Garden we’re doing our best to promote native wildflowers through our grassland management project. We have three meadows which we are managing for wildlife – one, the Old Park, is open to the public and the others will open in the next few years. When last surveyed the Old Park contained 26 species of wildflowers and we’re hoping that by old-style management methods (like cutting and removing the hay in late summer and grazing the land in autumn) the floral display will get better each year.

Our Canal Terrace wildflowers haven’t had to compete with meadow grasses and weeds and have provided an intense floral display which has surprised and delighted all of us. So as we plan a permanent new design for the Canal Terrace, we’re also thinking about where to sow next year’s ‘pop-up’ mini-meadow. Pay us a visit next year to discover where…

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.

Jewels of July at Bodnant Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASummer at Bodnant Garden means roses, water lilies and formal beds and borders …and now, for the first time, wildflowers. We’ve created a mini-meadow next to the Pin Mill and it’s been a real success, with visitors and with butterflies, bees and dragonflies. The long border is being renovated and the idea was to sow a wildflower mix to create a summer display while we plan a new design. By popular request, we may be doing it again at other places around the garden in future.

Elsewhere, the garden is looking splendid is all its summer glory, from the rose-tinted formality of the Terraces to the drama of The Dell with it’s swathes of blue hydrangeas and the lakeside tranquiltiy of the Far End. Here’s a little tour in pictures:

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Hot colours in The Range border

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Calceolaria integrifolia (left) alliums and campanula on the Top Lawn

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Dierama pulcherrimum (Angel’s Fishing Rod) on the Terraces

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Water lilies and roses, roses, roses…

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Also causing a stir on the rose terraces, Lilium regale

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Shrubs and perennials mingle in the shade of the Shrub Borders

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Lilium martagon and Hemerocalis lilioasphodelus  

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Sprawling Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (left) and Desmodium elegans

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Lovely all in white, the Poem beds

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Blue hydrangeas and Cardiocrum giganteum in The Dell

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Astilbe and campanula light up the shade

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You’ll even find a late flowering Rhododendron ‘Argosy’

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Lush lakeside in the Far End...you may spot an otter

Back to the upper the garden, and the subject of meadows…as well as out little ‘experiment’ at the Pin Mill we’re developing three wildflower meadows. The Old Park is already open to the public and we’re hoping to open Cae Poeth and Furnace meadows in the next few years. When last surveyed we identified 26 species of wildflowers in The Old Park. Come along and have a look for yourself; sit and enjoy the birds, butterflies and bees, even have a picnic. After your grand your of the garden, what nicer way to relax on a summer’s day?

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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.

 

 

There’s blooming good fun to be had at Bodnant Garden this summer

The roses are out…summer has officially arrived at Bodnant Garden and it’s time to get the family out and enjoying the great outdoors.

Family visitors looking at the waterlilies on the Canal Terrace in August at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales

The garden has six weeks of special summer activities and events to delight visitors of all ages. Charlie Stretton, our events officer, says: “There’s something for everyone; adults can enjoy the beauty of the garden to the sound of harp music, while the kids can get their hands dirty building dens, pond dipping  and even being gardeners for a day. It’s the perfect place for everyone to get outdoors and a little closer to nature.”

Our summer kicks-off with a fortnight of Kids’ Crafts, from July 20. There will be activities Monday to Friday at the Old Mill in The Dell (11-1pm), a chance to get creative making Cone Creatures, Dancing Dragonflies and Lovely Leaf Crowns.

In August our Grow Wild events take over, with a programme of nature activities for youngsters: Pond Dipping at the Skating Pond on Tuesdays (12-3pm), Nature Walks on Wednesdays (11-12noon), Wild Art on Thursdays under the Laburnum Arch (12-3pm), Wildlife Detectives on Fridays (2-3.30pm), Den Building on Saturday in the Far End (11-3pm) and Gardener’s Apprentice on Sundays (2-3pm).

There’s also Music in the Pin Mill most Sundays through the summer (2-4pm), plus a series of Guided Walks (2-3pm) including Champion Trees on July 29, Students’ Walk on August 12 and History of Bodnant Garden on August 26.

There are Falconry Displays on July 22 and August 19 (10.30-4pm) and Poem Open Days on July 28 and August 25, offering a chance to explore inside the mausoleum dedicated to Bodnant Garden’s founder family.

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Play Nature Detectives during our Grow Wild month

Summer ends on a high note with our Big Tree Climb on August 30 and 31 (10-3pm) when visitors of all ages can join experts to scale some of our giants. There’s no extra charge for any of these events but booking is essential for a place on the tree climbing and guided walks, by calling 01492 650460.

Don’t forget dogs are welcome every Wednesday evening all through the summer, from 5-8pm, until the end of August.

After all that activity if you have time to stop and eat there’s indoor dining at the garden’s two tearooms and al fresco snacks at kiosks at The Old Mill and the newly opened Far End. Visitors can also picnic among the meadow grass in the Old Park and Chapel Park, under trees in the Yew Dell and in The Dell.

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Arts and crafts under the Laburnum Arch

Charlie says: “And let’s not forget the garden! There are spectacular displays on our two rose terraces, flowering beds and borders are at their peak, wildflower meadows are buzzing with butterflies and bees, and the riverside gardens are cool and lush. There’s so much to do and see you could spend all summer here!”

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.

Bodnant helps volunteers create veterans’ sensory garden

Bodnant gardener David Green has been helping volunteers and staff of the Blind Veterans Association create a sensory garden at their Llandudno centre, and was guest at the recent opening:

David and Bodnant’s head gardener John at the opening

The Blind Veterans Llandudno Centre has been developing a sensory garden in a previously overgrown, wooded area of their grounds.

The charity provides support to both ex-Service men and women blinded in action, and for veterans who have lost their sight through accident, illness or old age to discover life beyond sight loss. This support includes helping them to relearn vital life skills and providing them with the tools they need to be independent in their own homes as well as offering new learning, training and recreation opportunities and providing long-term nursing, residential and respite care.

 The new garden provides a safe and stimulating outdoor environment for visitors to the centre, but also provides a venue for other educational activities. A rope handrail is available to guide visitors around the garden which is planted with difference textures and colours for the partially sighted as well as numerous scented plants. Listening guides have also been provided so that visitors can learn to identify the birdsong in the garden.

It was designed by a garden designer from London but most of the physical activity in clearing and replanting the area has been done by volunteer groups co-ordinated by staff at the centre.

Originally I was asked to advise on creating a vegetable garden from the pallets left over from their plant delivery. In the future, I will also be providing a maintenance plan with advice on things like pruning cornus to get the maximum winter colour and keeping some more thuggish plants such as periwinkle in their place.

 

A wildlife hotel made from palettes and a bench carved from a tree

The opening of the garden is in celebration of the charity’s 100 years of service. It was also an opportunity to thank all the volunteers involved in the creation of the garden as well as recognising the vital input they made by volunteers at the centre during National Volunteer’s Week.

For more information contact the centre at Blind Veterans UK, Queens Road, Llandudno, LL30 1UT (call 01492 868700) or go to the website www.blindveterans.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.