Our intrepid arborists have been taking down an old oak tree in the North Garden – and got these stunning shots of the garden from the canopy. If you haven’t got a head for heights look away now!
Our intrepid arborists have been taking down an old oak tree in the North Garden – and got these stunning shots of the garden from the canopy. If you haven’t got a head for heights look away now!
Our Old Park meadow is carpeted with snowdrops right now and with a little help from visitors there will soon be 15,000 more. From February 14 to 22 we’re inviting people to join gardeners and volunteers in a mass planting for posterity.
The Old Park is a rolling open meadow landscaped with native oak and beech trees, thought to be the oldest part of the original garden dating back to the Georgian era. Only opened to the public in 2013, it is now being managed as a wildlife meadow – the display of snowdrops are followed by swathes of daffodils in the spring and wildflowers in the summer.
Gardeners and volunteers have been planting snowdrops in the meadow for the last five years to ensure a bigger and better display in future.
This time of year it is traditional to plant snowdrops ‘in the green’ (at the end of flowering but when the leaves are still green). Visitors can drop by through the week and lend a hand at any time from 11am to 1pm. All plants and tools are provided, just bring are sturdy clothes and footwear.
All are welcome to drop by and join in with the planting, whether for five minutes or an hour – the more the merrier! It’s also a chance to have a look around our Winter Garden, now in its third year and positively blooming. In fact the whole garden is showing signs of spring and it’s a wonderful time to visit.
There are also events for families in the garden during half term, with a craft workshop in The Old Mill on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, February 16-18, 11am to 1pm. Don’t forget you can bring dogs too on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until the end of February.
No booking is required and there is no extra charge for the snowdrop planting or craft workshop (normal garden admission prices apply), but for information contact Bodnant Garden on 01492 650460.
Our Winter Garden is now two years old – it opened to the public in New Year 2013 and is already putting on an amazing show.
It’s come a long way in that short time. New plants have bulked up, bulbs have spread and while there are still tweaks to be made and gaps to be filled the riot of colours, shapes, textures and scents on display should inspire anyone looking out on their own back gardens right now.
Our winter garden was four years in the planning and two years in the making. At a cost of £35,000, it has been a major investment but is already paying off; it attracted 10,000 visitors in its opening three months and was so popular that, instead of closing the area to the public in March as originally planned, we have kept the ropes down all year.
The garden team launching the Winter Garden in January 2013
The area lies at the south-east fringes of The Terraces. It is believed to have been an Edwardian rockery but in recent memory it had become a densely overgrown forest of azaleas and rhododendrons which remained closed to the public, as seen in this old photo below. In the course of renovation work, shrubs were cut hard back and some removed, revealing the remains of alpine plants and stone beds.
In redesigning the area former head gardener Troy Smith retained the tall Lawson Cypress to give structure and height to the planting scheme. Many of the old shrubs such as rhododendrons and camellia were retained while some others like struggling and overgrown were azaleas cut back. Other taller plants were added such as the the white birches Betula utlis and the silky red cherry Prunus serrula, for their stunning coloured bark.
Forming the middle level of the planting scheme are shrubs such as hamamelis, daphne and sarcococca for scent, viburnum and camellia for flower, cornus and rubus for glowing stems and skimmia for berries. Below this was added a lower layer of small shrubs and herbaceous plants including red leaved bergenia and pittosporum, arching grasses and ferns, heathers and hellebores, interplanted with bulbs such as snowdrops, iris, cyclamen and crocus. Where possible we used propagated plants from our own nursery but many were also bought in – in all there are around 350 varieties of plants in the winter garden, and 10,000 new plants in total.
The result has been…well, you can see for yourself in these latest photos, taken for us by local photographer Joe Wainwright…a sight to delight on any winter day:
The wait is over – we have a new head gardener. After an 18-month search the coveted horticultural role goes to John Rippin (right), who joins us here on January 19. John was previously head gardener at the National Trust’s Castle Drogo, in Devon.
Our quest began with the departure of Troy Smith a year-and-a-half ago, who left to take the lead at another of the National Trust’s most prestigious sites, Sissinghurst in Kent.
Why has the recruitment taken so long? William Greenwood, our property manager, says: “It has taken some time, but we were determined to find the right person for this very special job. We have met some outstanding candidates along the way but at last we have found our head gardener.”
Bodnant Garden ranks among the finest in Britain and attracts around 180,000 visitors from all over the world, each year. Taking the helm of this national treasure is no mean feat. When Troy (seen left) arrived in 2006 he stepped into an illustrious role dominated by three generations of one family, The Puddles – head gardeners who famously helped shape the garden throughout much of the 20th century alongside the McLaren donor family.
But the story didn’t start there…the Puddles themselves built on the (literally) ground-breaking work of others.
The garden as we know it today really began when Victorian entrepreneur Henry Davis Pochin (seen right) bought Bodnant Estate in 1874, which then included a Georgian mansion house and parkland of native trees laid out in the late 1700s. Pochin was a self made man – the son of a farmer who became a chemist, industialist, businessman, landowner, MP, JP – a man of enormous energy and vision. Not content with remodelling the house, he enlisted landscape designer Edward Milner, apprentice to Joseph Paxton, to resculpt the hillside around Bodnant Hall.
Above, the Italianate house and parkland bought by Pochin and his remodelled version – with sloping lawn where now are terraces
Putting Milner’s grand plans (seen left) into effect were George Ellis and his team of gardeners. A native of Suffolk, Ellis had risen in the ranks to become head gardener at Kirkby Mallory in Leicestershire, the home of Lady Byron, estranged wife of the notorious lord. Taking on the Bodnant job in the mid 1870s, he settled in the nearby village of Eglwysbach with his wife Ellen and young family. Sadly Ellen died in 1881 aged only 45 and it appears Mr Ellis moved on, or moved away from the area, but not before a decade or so of work which truly shaped the garden.
Ellis would have been involved in the early development of the pinetum in The Dell and in planting the Asian and American conifers being newly discovered by plant hunters, in the laying out of paths throughout the valley, in the rockworks to re-enforce the banks of the River Hiraethlyn, in the establishment of new watercourses and sculpting of the pools and falls which define the lower garden.
He would also have overseen the planting of the famous Laburnum Arch in 1880 (above, with yew hedges now replaced by azaleas) and the construction of The Poem mausoeum, in 1883 (below).
In the early to mid 1800s a new head gardener appears in the Bodnant records. Joseph Saunderson previously worked at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, designed by Paxton and Milner…famous for it’s glasshouse (perhaps he is among the Victorian gardeners pictured here at Chatsworth?)
Saunderson certainly knew his onions, in fact all manner of fruit and veg and plenty about greenhouse growing. He arrived when Pochin was constructing the fernery and glasshouses; the fernery remains, attached to the house, but sadly the glasshouses, sited on the south wall which is now the Range border, were demolished in the 1980s. It is believed there was also a kitchen garden within the walls where the garden centre now stands, as this picture gives a tantalising glimpse:
Newspaper articles from the 1880s and 1890s record the success of Bodnant’s kitchen garden, with many awards for fruit, even grapes. The Manchester Courier reported in 1888 that “at the Chester Conference an account was given of the great success in the cultivation of pears and apples achieved by Mr Pochin of Bodnant Hall, Conway Valley…and opions were expressed that there was no reason such success could not be achieved on many a sunny slope in Cheshire.” That showed them.
Saunderson would also have been involved in work on the Italianate Terraces under Pochin’s daughter Laura and grandson Henry McLaren (Lord Aberconway) which began in 1904, and also the introduction to the garden, and Britain, of the first Chinese magnolias, camellias and other exotic plants.
Left, a young magnolia planted against a terrace wall
He had married wife Florence in Derbyshire in 1881 before moving to Eglwysbach. On his retirement in 1911 Joseph was awarded a silver teapot by Lord and Lady Aberconway for thirty years service. He and his family remained living in the area and son Eric also became a gardener – sadly Eric died aged 23, killed in France during the First World War along with 24 other young men from the village, including fellow garden and estate workers.
The mantle of head gardener was next taken on by George Gurney, originally from Hertfordshire, who held the role for almost a decade through these difficult years of World War One. It was a challenging time; in addition to those working men who left to fight and did not return, Bodnant mourned Francis McLaren, Henry’s younger brother, who was killed in 1917.
Gurney took over the massive building project of the Terraces (seen above), which was completed in 1914 with finishing touches in 1918. He died in 1920 at the age of 56…perhaps those sad times had taken their toll. An obituary in the Gardener’s Chronicle reported: “He was an enthusiastic and successful gardener, and passionately fond of flowers. Mr Gurney took an active part in War-Savings Associations, and the church and social events in the neighbourhood…a true patriot, loved and respected by all who knew him.”
Mr Gurney’s successor was Frederick Puddle (left) – and so began the most famous period in the garden’s history. For the next eight and a half decades the development of the garden was very much a family affair, a partnership between three generations of the McLarens – Henry, Charles and Michael (the current garden manager) – and three generations of Puddles – Fredrick (1920-1947) Charles (1947-1982) and Martin (1982-2005).
Frederick Puddle worked closely with Henry McLaren during a dynamic phase of the garden’s development. Through the 1920s and 1930s Henry sponsored expeditions by plant hunters such as George Forrest, Harold Comber and Frank Kingdon-Ward who brought back new plants from Asia and America to Bodnant. Most significantly, Forest introduced great quantities of rhododendrons to the garden. Frederick famously doubted whether these would thrive in North Wales…and was happily proved wrong. Not only did they thrive but he and Henry went on to breed new specimens, forming a collection of Bodnant hybrids.
The Canal Terrace before the Pin Mill
On another occasion Mr Puddle’s judgement was clearly spot on. Frederick oversaw the erection of the now iconic Pin Mill on the Canal Terrace, an 18th century building brought from Gloucestershire brick by brick in 1938. Legend has it that he persuaded Lord Aberconway not to site it in the middle of the terrace where it would spoil the mountain view – for which we can be forever thankful!
Frederick’s son Charles followed in his footsteps to become head gardener in 1947 and he was at the helm two years later when Henry McLaren, president of the Royal Horticultural Society, persuaded the National Trust to accept gardens on their own merit, handing over Bodnant to the care of the Trust – the second garden to be accepted after Hidcote.
So began another chapter of Bodnant Garden as a National Trust visitor attraction, but the continuity remained in the links between the Puddle family as head gardeners and the McLarens, as garden managers. Charles and Martin Puddle (seen above) steered Bodnant through this new era, during which time it became one of Wales’ and Britain’s most famous gardens. The family link was sadly broken when Martin died unexpectedly in 2005. This was a huge loss to the garden and to staff, many of whom are still at Bodnant today and remember him with pride and great fondness.
Troy and the team launching the new Winter Garden in 2012
On his arrival in 2007 Troy Smith drove forward a number of innovations at the garden; the renovation of the two rose terraces, the redesign and replanting of herbaceous beds and borders and the construction of our new winter garden. He also championed the introduction of volunteers to the team.
Since Troy left, the ship has been steered by acting head gardener Adam Salvin, who has been at Bodnant man and boy since coming here as a student for work experience. Adam has charted staff and volunteers through an incredibly busy 18 months which has seen the opening of new areas such as the Yew Dell and the Prim Path (above left) ongoing work to open The Far End this spring, the introduction of new picnic areas, family events, dog walking and winter garden openings.
John Rippin will be following in firm footsteps (no pressure there then) but brings a wide range of experience to Bodnant, from his career at Hilliers, Hidcote and laterlly Castle Drogo. He is relocating to North Wales along with his family and menagerie of animals…and there are some Bodnant parallels to make him feel at home. His former Devon domain is a National Trust property with a formal garden noted for its rhododendrons, magnolias, rose garden and even a croquet lawn. Here’s to another new era!
2014 opened on a dramatic note with gales which tore through the garden leaving a number of horticultural casualties, including the mighty oak on the Top Lawn. Severe weather kept the garden team busy throughout January and February with chainsaws and chipper – one fallen pine took out a greenhouse polytunnel (below right) and the giant blue cedar on the Lily Terrace lost several limbs. February was also time for the annual stream clearance, when the watercourse running from the top of the garden down to the Dell gets mucked out by hand (below left).
After a stormy start to the year we were rewarded by a balmy spring with many flowers appearing early, including this Magnolia campbellii on the Croquet Terrace which gave the best show anyone can remember seeing for a long time.
The big event of March was the opening of the Yew Dell, three-and-a-half acres of garden which had until now been closed to the public. There was a big push by gardeners and volunteers to get the area ready for opening, which attracted a large amount of media attention, including a visit by Jules Hudson and the crew from Escape to the Country (seen above interviewing area supervisor Bill.)
Above, volunteers deadheading daffs and Kevin the Kiosk King
Then before we knew it the daffodils were out and it was Easter. It was a really busy one this year, with lovely weather bringing in visitors who lapped up our new offerings – a refreshment kiosk in the Dell, new picnic areas and even new loos. Volunteers really took the family events programme by the horns too, and managed a host of activities including hugely popular pond dipping sessions.
Gardeners enjoying an Easter picnic, above, and volunteers running pond dipping on the Lily Terrace
In April we had two visits by BBC television crews. Young garden designer Mathew Childs came to Bodnant looking for inspiration for his Chelsea Show garden, which was featured in the programme Countdown to Chelsea. Chris Beardshaw also dropped in to film for the new series of The Great British Garden Revival – which starts on January 5th, so don’t miss it!
But more importantly, in the Pavilion our famous cheese scones were back on the menu. Catering mananger Pietro (left) brought back the tearoom favourites after a deluge of requests from customers on comment cards. You asked – we delivered.
May was buzzing with activity…there was the small matter of the swarm of bees that decided to make the old head gardener’s house a home. Beekeepers from Bodnant Food Centre came to the rescue on that occasion. There was also the pitter patter of paws to be heard again as we opened to dogs for the summer season.
It was also the month we opened The Prim Path, an old walkway in the North Garden lined with native and exotic primulas, after a two-year renovation (seen below being inspected by acting head gardener Adam). Elsewhere students Nathan, Harvey and Huw were busy renovating the Tennis Lawn herbaceous beds.
In May and June we celebrated one of our finest assets -rhododendrons – with Rhodofest, a month long series of walks, talks and workshops. We were also busy alerting visitors to the early appearance of the famous Hankerchief Tree which was flowering before its time like many other plants in the garden.
Above, a garden art class and the ‘handkerchiefs’ of the Davidia
In June we had the first of several visits by a BBC crew filming a new series Glorious Garden from Above, with Christine Walkden. The programme featured appearances by gardener Fiona, volunteer Phylis, along with Andrew Lloyd from the craft units and his team Cameron and Iain (seen above). It was aired in November and was a great tribute to the garden.
As the year heated up so did work at the Far End, ten acres of riverside garden formerly closed to the public which opens in March 2015. The Dell team and volunteers have been working hard on the renovation for several years, which has involved some aquatic gardening (left, demonstrated by Alex and Steve.)
In July the roses were out and we celebrated the centenary of the garden’s Italianate terraces (seen above), which were built between 1905 and 1914 and completed just before the Great War. It was an opportunity to stop and remember those gardeners, stonemasons, carpenters and others who created our now famous terraces, who went to war and did not return home.
July was also the start of our Grow wild summer events – a daily offering of crafts, nature trails, pond dipping, seed sowing and other garden activities which drew families from far and wide, culminating in a Wild Wood Weekend in August.
In August we also ran a scything workshop when gardeners, volunteers and visitors were able to try a bygone art of grass cutting (right). Most who took part were pleasantly surprised…at the end of the day more ground was covered and fewer aches and pains encountered than people had expected!
In September it was all change for the students on our Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme – Harvey, Huw and Nathan (above). Harvey and Nathan secured full time positions in the garden and Huw was taken on at Bodnant Garden Nursery (well done lads). In their stead we welcomed three new students, Jess, Lee and Jette (below). Sadly Lee had to leave us (best wishes Lee) but Jess and Jette are going strong and working on a renovation of the large Top Lawn bed, left empty by the fallen oak at the beginning of the year.
October brought more change on the staff front, not least the long-awaited appointment of a new head gardener after an 18-month search. John Rippin (below left), currently head gardener at the National Trust’s Castle Drogo in Devon, will be joining us in January. We also opened a new NT shop and welcomed Daniel, Gwenda, supervisor Kate, Louise, Brenda and Laura to the fold (below right).
The mild weather continued giving a long and late autumn display of colour. Trees hung onto their leaves and flowers continued to flower (some salvias were still going in December!) Half term was a big hit with family visitors, with volunteers turning the Elves’ Workshop in The Dell into a Halloween and autumn craft-making emporium.
Catering assistant Hannah in the Halloween spirit and a popular half term craft workshop in the Old Mill
In November gardeners planted up the bare bed under the oak on the Tennis Lawn with a seasonal display of bulbs – and yes, due to the warm weather the snowdrops are already appearing! Elsewhere in the garden other plants bloomed earlier than expected including the Rhododendron Nobleanum (above right). Even the dwarf daffodil, Narcissus Cedric Morris, could be spotted in the Winter Garden.
This month we also picked the winners of out I Love Bodnant Garden photo competition, which were published in our first ever Bodnant Garden calendar (modelled here by property administrator Rose.)
And so to December…it’s only the second year we have opened during the winter and staff and volunteers worked hard, with our neighbours Bodnant Garden Centre, to give visitors a great Christmas day out. We had Winter Garden Walks, festive food at the Pavilion and Magnolia tearooms plus a brazier and refreshments in the Dell, a Santa’s Grotto…but the big hit was our Elves’ Workshop. Fashioned out of a redundant room in the Old Mill by our volunteers, it drew around 800 visitors in the four weekends leading up to Christmas.
In fact visitor numbers have sky-rocketed this year and we’re predicting a figure of around 192,000 by the end of the financial year (February), compared to 175,000 the previous year – no doubt a mark of the fine weather we’ve enjoyed (in spite of a stormy start) but also a tribute to all the hard work of staff and volunteers throughout 2014.
We’ve got another big year to look forward to, with a new head gardener joining the team soon and the opening of The Far End in March. So Happy New Year everyone – and bring on 2015!
At last we can reveal the winning entry in our photo competition – which graces the front of our new, and first, Bodnant Garden calendar.
This lovely image over the Terraces was taken by Matt Morrow of Wrexham; the runner up was Rolf Kraehenbuehl, of Y Felinheli. They and a further 19 highly commended entries have now been included in our 2015 calendar, which goes on sale this weekend.
We launched our I Love Bodnant Garden competition back in January. Visitors are always sending us great photographs of their time here so we thought a competition would give people chance to show us in pictures what it is they love about this beautiful place, whether in pictures of people, landscapes or close-ups of flowers.
Hundreds of visitors sent in an amazing selection of pictures – some funny and quirky, some very artistic – and it was hard to judge between them, but we think the images we’ve chosen reflect the love people have for Bodnant Garden.
The winner will receive £100 in vouchers for Cambrian Photography Shop in Colwyn Bay. The winner and runner-up will get a with workshop Pierino Algieri, a landscape and nature photographer born and raised in Conwy Valley, well known for his images of Snowdonia. They will also have their photographs displayed in the entrance to the garden and together with highly commended entries they make up our calendar 2015.
The calendar goes on sale at the garden during December and costs £6.99. Dare we say it would make a perfect Christmas present?
A massive thanks to everyone who took the time to enter the competition and share their favourite images of the garden. And so without further ado, here they are…
It’s going to be a cracker of a Christmas at Bodnant this year, with more than ever to see and do during the festive season. We’ve joined forces with our neighbours Bodnant Garden Centre to make Christmas 2014 a spectacular seasonal event.
Enjoy frosty garden walks in the garden, shopping at the garden centre (which now includes a new Edinburgh Woollen Mill) and craft units, bring the children to meet Santa and the elves and top the day off with Christmas fare – from a sit-down turkey lunch to al fresco chestnuts and mulled wine.
Bodnant Garden is now open all year-round (apart from Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day with 80 acres of frosty winter landscape to enjoy, including a Winter Garden. Every weekend through December in the run up to Christmas visitors can enjoy guided winter walks with a gardener and, for the kids, an Elves’ Workshop in the Old Mill in The Dell. Visitors can also bring their dogs for a walk on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through the winter.
There will be hot lunches at the two garden tearooms plus al fresco refreshments in front of a roaring brazier in the Dell, a barbecue in the garden centre and a roasted chestnut stall. Visitors can also do some Christmas shopping in the new National Trust Gift shop.
Bodnant Garden Centre (seen above) has a huge range of Christmas ideas for shoppers, from cards, decorations and gifts to plants, and of course Christmas trees and wreaths. There will be a chance to do some late night shopping on Friday, December 19, and Santa will also be popping in to the grotto every weekend in December up to Christmas. A big new addition to the site is the Edinburgh Woollen Mill – perfect for those winter woollies! What’s more there’s a unique collection of local arts and crafts products at Bodnant Craft Centre, from jewellery, paintings, ceramics and furniture.
Meet Santa and the elves…and stroll in the Winter Garden
Events November 29-December 21, Saturdays and Sundays
Elves’ workshops 11am-2.50pm. Book on 01492 650460. Free event, normal garden admission.
Winter Garden walks, 12 noon and 2pm. Free event, normal garden admission.
Bodnant Garden Centre:
Santa’s Grotto 11am-4pm. Free entry, donation to charity.
Friday, December 19
Late night shopping until 8pm, Bodnant Garden NT shop, Bodnant Garden Centre, Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Bodnant Craft Units.
Magnolia Tearoom open until 8pm.