Feel the love this February

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It’s February – spring is around the corner and love is in the air. Snowdrops are popping out, as are the first lambs, and Valentine’s Day (like it or not) is slap bang in the middle of the month.

If ever there was a time to embrace spring it’s after the long wet winter we’ve all had. So let’s celebrate – with family, friends and nature – fill our lungs with fresh air and get inspired for the year ahead.

Here at Bodnant Garden we’ve got plenty for families to do this school holiday, so pull on those wellies and get outdoors for some fun, creativity and, more importantly, that special together-time.

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There will be activities around the garden for kids every day from 11am-3pm Monday to Friday of half term, February 15-19. Create some memories with our Trail Making Mondays, Pond Dipping Tuesdays, Wildlife Wednesdays, Pooh Stick Thursdays and Wild Art Fridays.

There’s also snowdrop planting in the Old Park, every day 1pm-3pm from Saturday, February 13, to Sunday, February 21.

The humble snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is an important symbol of hope and rebirth in many cultures. Every year at Bodnant Garden we plant more snowdrops ‘in the green’ – in flower – to bulk up the display for the future. This year we’re hoping to give a home to 25,000 of them – so there’s plenty to go round!

We supply the plants and gardeners will dig the holes, all we ask is some help from visitors to fill them. There’s no need to book, just drop by and do as many or as few as you like…the more the merrier. Then come back next year and see your efforts growing.

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And how could we forget, it’s also Valentine’s Day on Sunday, February 14. Treat the love of your life – person or pooch – with a visit to the garden. Dogs are welcome in the garden every day throughout February.

Enjoy the camellias, first flowering rhododendrons and magnolia buds ripening; spring flowers such as primroses and hellebores; and bulb displays of crocus, early daffodils and even, thanks to the warm winter, some tulips chomping at the bit!

Come along and feel the love…

There’s no extra charge for any of these events – normal garden admission applies. 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.

 

 

Golden chance to be a ‘Laburnum Archer’

GetAttachmentIf you’ve ever marvelled at our famous Laburnum Arch, or admired it in photos, how do you fancy being part of the big horticultural highlight of our year?

We’re recruiting volunteers for a special band of Laburnum Archers to assist visitors who flock to see the spectacle in late spring.

General Manager William Greenwood says: “The Laburnum Arch is one of gardening’s most anticipated, talked about and photographed events of the year. This is a chance for people to be part of that amazing experience.”

The Laburnum Arch draws around 50,000 visitors to the garden every year during the three weeks of late May and early June, when its 180 feet pergola is draped in long, golden bunches of flowers.

Originally fashionable in the 16th and 17th centuries, pergola walkways became popular again in Victorian times. Bodnant’s founder, Henry Pochin, built the garden’s arch around 1881. Believed to be the UK’s oldest and longest, it has been wowing visitors for more than 130 years.

William says: “There’s such a buzz in the garden around Laburnum Arch time – and that’s not just from the bees, who love it! It’s a magical sight to behold; people come from miles around to see it, and even plan their holidays around it.

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“To make that experience as enjoyable as possible for everyone we’re looking for a special bunch of helpers for the three week period when the arch is in flower. They will be a bit like the Olypmic ‘Gamesmakers’ – their jobs will be making sure that the people have a great visit, showing them the way, answering questions, taking photos for them, even handing out drinks of water if there’s a heat wave.

“That could be retired people with some time to give, students looking for work experience or anyone who just wants to be part of this amazing horticultural phenomenon. It could be just a few hours, a day or more – and we’ll be giving helpers with special yellow Laburnum Archers t-shirts. I should just add, they won’t be asked to hum the famous radio show theme tune.”

Anyone who can help should contact Charlie Stretton, Bodnant Garden’s events and engagement officer, on 01492 650460.

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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.

The secret magic in a garden

Local school pupils gave us a welcome hand in the garden recently. It brought back memories of childhood for Bodnant’s events officer Charlie Stretton:

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When I was a child, my very favourite book was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It’s the story of a spoilt and unhappy young girl who is brought from India to Yorkshire after the death of her parents. She discovers a hidden garden in the grounds of the rambling and lonely mansion where she is sent to live, and gradually, with the help of two friends, and of the blossoming nature all around her, she finds happiness again.

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It’s a magical tale, with beautiful and evocative descriptions of a garden being tended back to life and I think its message still rings true today – that nature has healing and restorative powers, and that everyone, especially children, can benefit from contact with the great outdoors.

Recently, our gardeners had a helping hand from the young people at Ysgol Nant Y Coed Gardening Club. The twelve girls, aged 8 to 11, visited on a (fortunately very sunny) day, and worked hard, raking leaves from under the trees and shrubs in the North Garden.

As they worked they were visited, not only by several of the gardeners here, who thanked them for their efforts, but also by a hungry robin and a blackbird, who were probably no less grateful for their work, as they hoovered up the bugs and worms in the children’s wake! The girls were fascinated by the birds pecking around in the disturbed earth, as was Mary, in The Secret Garden.

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Particularly at this time of year, when gardens are emerging from winter, we want to inspire children to take an interest in the natural world and to learn what they can do to help, whether that be by gardening, planting trees and flowers, or by feeding their garden birds. These young children are the gardeners and the conservationists of the future, and we here at Bodnant Garden are pleased and proud to have helped them on their way.

“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

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The Ysgol Nant y Coed garden club hard at work – thanks guys!

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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.

Bodnant’s big drive for volunteers

Visitors being driven in an electric vehicle at  Croome Park, Worcestershire.

Is your New Year resolution to give time to help others? We might have something right up your street…or garden path.

We want to start a shuttle service in 2016 to help visitors get around the garden and need volunteer drivers to run a two-week trial from January 26. If the trial is successful we’ll buy a 6-seater electric vehicle to ferry visitors to the far reaches of the site, from spring.

As property manager William Greenwood says: “Bodnant Garden is getting bigger! In recent years we’ve opened up more areas on the outer fringes of the garden and we’ve got more planned in the next few years too.

“Visitors have flocked to the new areas – and are loving them judging by our record visitor numbers – but we know it’s further for some people to walk so we want to make the whole garden more easily accessible to everyone.”

The garden spans 80 acres of Conwy valley hillside, from formal upper gardens down to wilder riverside areas. In 2014 we opened the formerly private sections of the Yew Dell, followed in 2015 by The Far End, and in 2017 will be unveiling Furnace Meadow and Wood.

William says: “Last year we hired a mini bus on a few days to take visitors to the Far End, which proved popular, but if we have our own vehicle (and people to run it) we can provide transport around the garden on a regular basis.”

“This golf buggy type vehicle is very straightforward to operate – accelerator pedal, brake pedal, no gears, comes with lights and indicators – and full instruction will be given. If the trial is successful we’ll be looking to buy one of these vehicles and using it daily to shuttle visitors, staff and volunteers around the garden.”

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Some of out garden volunteers

We’re also appealing for more volunteers to help in a variety of roles – whether mucking in with the garden team, meeting and greeting visitors, giving informal guided walks, or running family activities.

William says: “Volunteers are the lifeblood of Bodnant Garden, helping us in everything from the day to day work of running the garden to making the big projects possible – like opening the Far End.

“Gardeners, carpenters, historians, wildlife enthusiasts, photographers…whatever your skills there’s a place here at Bodnant Garden. We welcome anyone with a few hours to give, and promise you’ll get back lots from being part of the team. It’s also a perfect chance to get outdoors and shake off those Christmas cobwebs!”

For more information about volunteering at Bodnant Garden call the garden office on 01492 650460. Anyone who can help with the vehicle trial, or through the season as a driver, can call or email emma.baxendale@nationaltrust.org.uk for details.

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.

 

Let the great outdoors inspire you in 2016

As recent storms and flooding have reminded us, nature is truly awesome in its power…but nature also has the power to inspire and energise us like nothing else. Here are some new year thoughts from our events and engagement officer Charlie Stretton on reconnecting with the great outdoors:

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Wrapped up and ready for anything…Charlie at Bodnant Garden

I‘ve never been a particular fan of Bear Grylls. To me he has always been a bit of a showman, ramping up the danger factor and the breathless assertions that ‘I could die any minute on this rockface/river/dodgy old rope bridge’ when you know perfectly well that he has a camera crew, a safety line, a comfy hotel and a dozen risk assessments written by the BBC Health and Safety team tucked up his sleeve.

However, he wrote an article recently in the Sunday Times magazine. It was all about getting people – particularly over-cossetted movie stars – out into the wild. He even took Barack Obama into the wilderness, and talked about the importance of protecting that environment for their grandchildren. The article was thoughtful, well-considered and timely. It touched on many important points – primarily how we, in this day and age, live in such a bubble of comfort and technology that we rarely, if ever, experience that sense of being part of the natural world, or of pitting ourselves against the elements, or of having to use our innate survival skills, long-buried by centuries of development and increasing alienation from our environment. He makes the point that this kind of modern living induces a lethargy, a listless apathy in many of us.

However, before Christmas I had to chance to do a bit of unscheduled reconnecting with nature myself. I was dressed as an elf (bear with me here) running craft activities for our younger visitors here at Bodnant Garden. All was going well, despite it being a miserable sort of day, when my neighbour rang. “Come home now” she said “or you won’t get home at all”.

Be inspired…Join us for the Big Bodnant Garden Birdwatch on January 30 and 31

There had been considerable rainfall, the rivers were swollen and many roads had turned into torrents in a matter of hours. I left my colleagues (with their blessing) to continue with the crafts, hit the road and it soon became apparent what my neighbour was talking about. Turning off by Conwy Falls Café, a council van with yellow flashing lights blocked the road ahead, just in front of an enormous amount of water, spilling across the road into the field below. Three cars had already tried to get through, including the postman, and had conked out in the middle. “Don’t even think about it” was the advice.

Nothing for it, but to park up at the side of the road, don my waterproofs and wellies, top it off with my emergency hi-vis vest, and set off on foot. Five miles, in the fading light, down little country lanes, a considerable amount of which were underwater and were only passable by wading extremely slowly. The wind was whipping my wet hair into my eyes, and at times was so strong I had to stand still. The water in places was up to the top of my trusty wellies, and was flowing over the road so fast I had to think twice before crossing. After about two hours, trudging along with the full force of nature being flung in my face, I made it home.

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Be inspired…Plant snowdrops at Bodnant Garden this February half term

But the strange thing was, when I got home, I didn’t feel exhausted or traumatised. I felt massively energised, exhilarated and on a huge high. I felt like I had pitted myself against the elements, had set myself a challenge, and come though it with flying colours. It was an oddly euphoric sensation. Now I do realise that walking home in the rain is not in quite the same league as some of Mr Gryll’s exploits – I didn’t have to consume any warm yak’s blood en route, or drink my own urine at any point – but I still felt that same sense of elation, that sense of having connected with a more visceral and primal side of life, that he refers to in the article.

Of course, there are other, less soggy ways to connect with nature, and to feel that same sense of the timelessness and power of our environment. Just walking though the ancient trees here at Bodnant Garden, or through our fields of daffodils or bluebells, or dipping in the pond with a fishing net – all these can be enough to remind us what’s important. We need nature. We feel uncomfortable if we are denied access to nature for any length of time – and that’s because we are part of it. We are inextricably linked to the natural world, in a continuum that has existed for millennia. We are, as Bear Grylls says, a piece in a jigsaw so big that we can never see the edges, but into which we fit exactly.

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Be inspired…Join our team on a volunteer work day, we could certainly do with the help repairing the flooded Far End!

So, as we all sit in that state of self-induced lethargy brought on by the excesses of Christmas and New Year, maybe now is the time to shake things up a bit, and get outside, even if it’s a howling gale and pouring rain. Wrap up warm, put your best waterproofs on, and, just for a little while, remind yourself what it is to be a part of nature. No dodgy rope bridges required.

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

Bring on 2016…and a little calm after the storm

Well…surveying the damage to the garden caused by flooding and gales, what can we say? It’s been a storm-battered end to 2015. But nature has a way of bouncing back – with help from us mortals – and we still have 200,000 reasons to be cheerful, because that’s the record number of visitors who came through the gates this year.

JanLast New Year brought a truly fresh start here with the arrival of new head gardener John Rippin, formerly of the National Trust’s Castle Drogo in Devon. The hunt for a head took almost two years following the departure of Troy Smith who took over at Sissinghurst in Kent. During that time our deputy head gardener Adam Salvin took the helm (seen here welcoming John Rippin on a frosty January morning).

It was sleeves up and straight to work for John in the following weeks as we all raced to open the new Far End garden. Gardeners, office staff (like property adminstrator Rose James here) and volunteers all mucked in on team work days, mulching beds, gravelling paths and getting the 10 acres ready for the grand opening.

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Thankfully we enjoyed a bright February of cold but clear days which made the work easier. The weather was also perfect for snowdrop planting and lots of families joined us in our annual effort towards planting 1 million bulbs in the Old Park. Work also began on the renovation of the Gentian Bed near the Pin Mill being redesigned by gardener Katie Croft (seen below) as an ericaceous bed suitable for moisture loving woodland plants, including some rare specimens.

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In March everyone downed tools and took up gadgets and gizmos (some professional, some DIY) in order to view the solar eclipse.

Also in March came our big event of the year with the opening of the Far End. Horticultural broadcaster Christine Walkden did the honours by cutting the ribbon and garden director Michael McLaren gave a speech on behalf of Bodnant’s donor family. We even had Morris Dancers and a harpist providing music for the occasion.

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AprilIn April we welcomed another new member of the team. Charlie Stretton, our new events and engagement officer (seen right) brought with her a wealth of experience with the RSPB in Conwy and has been developing a full programme of events for visitors, especially pop guided bird watching walks with local experts which are becoming increasingly popular, and a range of wildlife events for families.

In spring gardeners were busy on a number of new projects. Ros Puma and Tracy Jones began planting up a ‘experimental’ wildflower border on the Canal Terrace, to fill a gap while the long herbaceous beds are being replanned. Students Jess Mehers and Jette Nielsen (seen below) also started planting up their new design for the Vanessa Beds on the Top Lawn (named after the hybrid Rhododendron Vanessa there), which were damaged when an oak tree came down the previous winter.

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May was Laburnum Arch time of course, with tens of thousands of visitors pouring through the gates to see the annual spectacle. This year marked a new phenomenon – the Laburnum Selfie was huge on our Facebook and Twitter pages! This month the National Trust also acquired Parc Farm on the Great Orme in Llandudno, which will be managed by the Bodnant Garden team. The 145 acres is a site of botanical importance and home to species such as wild cotoneaster, which does not exist anywhere else.

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Also in May, a team from Bodnant Garden had star billing at the Malvern Show to showcase the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme. Katie and Jess found themselves sharing the limelight with Carol Klein (seen below) and Christine Walkden doing demonstrations of seed collecting and sowing.

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

In June head gardener John and former-student gardener David Green attended the grand unveiling of a new sensory garden at the Blind Veterans Llandudno Centre. David worked with volunteers there to help develop the garden in a previously overgrown, wooded area of their grounds. Soon afterwards David secured a permanent position at Bodnant Garden, having trained with the team for three years.

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Two of our other former students, Harvey Baker and Nathan Lewis, also gained positions as full-time gardeners here and their colleague Huw Edwards (all seen right) bagged a position with Bodnant Garden Nursery. Well done lads – a testament to the quality of our training scheme!

In July the results of the wildflower ‘experiment’ came to fruition, in a spectacular display which exceeded all expectations. It was such a huge hit with visitors that Tracy and Ros (seen below) are repeating it again in 2016, this time on both sides of the Canal Pond.

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In the summer we learned that the conservation body Plant Heritage had granted Bodnant Garden a fifth National Plant Collection – for Bodnant Garden Hybrid Rhododendrons. It recognises the unique plants bred here at the garden, begun by the Second Lord Aberconway and head gardener Frederick Puddle from the 1920s. Today Bodnant Garden has around 300 hybrid rhododendrons, marked by green tags. The award now brings our collections to five, along with Rhododendron forrestii, Magnolia, Embothrium and Eucryphia.

AugustAugust was the month of love, with two couples popping the question in the garden which they shared with us on social media. It was also the month for children, who lapped up the pond dipping, wildlife crafts, nature trails and other family activities arranged by Charlie with the help of our trusty band of volunteers and helpers. Among them was local lad Gethin Mullock-Jones, doing his Duke of Edinburgh Award, and Italian horticulture students Jacopo Pedol and Stefania Moro (all seen below).

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SeptemberIn September a new student joined us. Christina Smart (seen right) is with us for 14 months as part of the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme. Sadly we also said goodbye to Jette and Jess in the autumn, who finished their placement and bade a temporary farewell to gardener Katie, who jetted off on a year-long study trip to Japan and America.

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We also welcomed new catering manager Ailsa Morris (seen above) and the Pavilion tearoom was awarded the Quality Café Accolade for 2016 by Visit Wales.

October marked a special milestone, as we welcomed those 200,000th visitors through the gates. Staff and volunteers greeted the VIP guests with cake, bubbly and rousing cheers.  Samantha and Simon Hardman, and their baby daughter Emily from Sheffield, were also presented with a picture of the garden by Visitor Services Manager Ann Smith…and after getting over the surprise they said they would definitely be back again!

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It was a long, mild autumn of spectacular colour too, with plants flowering later than usual and the trees hanging onto their leaves for longer. This took us into a busy and successful Half Term Week when families flocked to the crafts and Halloween events…and some volunteers (you know who you are Sally and Phyllis) really got into the spirit of witches’ hovel making.

Children playing in the autumn leaves at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales, in October.

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In November we had more all-team work days to tidy the upper garden ready for winter (seen below). Then in the blink of an eye it was December – off with the witches hats an on with the pixie uniforms as Voles started organising our popular Christmas Elves’ Workshop. The event is in its third year now and getting bigger and better each time – despite pretty poor weather.

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Things turned from mild and mellow to windy and relentlessly wet in November and December and two mature trees were lost in gales. Sadly record amounts of rainfall have brought the year to a dramatic end – in recent days water has rushed down through the garden ripping up gravel paths and coursed through the valley flooding much of the Far End and Dell. It’s been all hands to the pump for staff and volunteers repairing the damage to open parts of the garden.

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On a more hopeful note, the warm spell has coaxed out flowering plants ahead of schedule – some daffodils have made an appearance before the snowdrops! So we end 2015 wishing well to those out there whose lives and livelyhoods have been so affected by the storms, with a heartfelt ‘Hang in there, spring is around the corner.’

There’s plenty to look forward to at Bodnant Garden – a new Poppy Bed, more wildflower borders, early morning openings to view the Laburnum Arch, extended dog walking, a play area for the Far End, and opening the upstairs of the Pin Mill to give you but a tantalising taster. Happy New Year everyone, we hope to see you in 2016.

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 a walk in our Winter Wonderland

Bodnant Garden January 2015 Web Size - Joe Wainwright-40We hope you’ve all had a great Christmas Day…maybe you’re getting ready for round two today?! By tomorrow many of us will be in need of a good walk and some fresh air. Well it so happens we have the perfect solution for you…get yourselves down to our Winter Garden.

Bodnant’s Winter Garden is now three years old. Four years in the planning and two years in the making, it opened in New Year 2013 and is coming on in leaps and bounds. Plants have bulked up and filled out, now putting on a wonderfully colourful display of leaves, flowers, bark – and scent too. And for those of you who don’t want to walk too far after the festivities, it’s all in the upper garden!

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The site of our Winter Garden was a former Edwardian rockery which for many years had been a densely overgrown forest of azaleas and rhododendrons, closed to the public. The renovation cost £35,000 and the garden attracted 10,000 visitors in its opening three months. It was so popular that, instead of closing it to the public in March as originally planned, we kept the ropes down all year.

In redesigning the area our former head gardener Troy Smith made the most of the light, which at midday shines from the south across the Old Park backlighting the plants.  The design of the garden followed the former layout of stone beds, but paths have been slightly altered to give a more sinuous sweep.

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Existing Lawson Cypress were retained to give structure to the planting scheme, as were many of the old shrubs such as rhododendrons, garrya, camellia and the stunningly gnarled old Acer palmatum. Other taller structural plants were added such as the white birches Betula utlis and the silky red cherry Prunus serrula.

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Forming the middle level are shrubs such as hamamelis, daphne and sarcococca for scent, viburnum and camellia for flower, cornus and rubus for stems and skimmia for berries. A lower layer of small shrubs and herbaceous plants include red leaved bergenia and pittosporum, arching grasses and ferns, heathers and hellebores, with a colourful underplanting of bulbs such as snowdrops, iris, cyclamen and crocus.

Here’s a little gallery of pictures to tempt you. If you can’t make it in person we hope you’ll curl up on the sofa and enjoy them (along with that other mince pie). If you’re feeling more energetic there’s the rest of Bodnant Garden to explore, including our new area The Far End which is open to the public for the first time in winter.

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The garden opens again on December 27. 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.