A passion for flowers

Julie Pigula (2)If you’re a follower of Bodnant Garden on social media you may have seen the work of photographer Julie Pigula – most likely through her pictures of dog Bailey, one of our regular #WagWednesday visitors.

Here Julie talks about her passion for garden photography, why Bodnant Garden provides so much inspiration, and offers some tips for others keen to capture that perfect image:

I was born into a world of flowers. My father was a keen horticulturist and we had a large cottage garden and two very large greenhouses where dad used to grow his prize-winning chrysanthemums to show. As a little girl, I was always down the garden helping out in the greenhouses. I loved getting my hands dirty, transplanting the seedlings out ready for a new season. I actually bought my first camera just so I could take pictures of our garden and the flowers in it and it wasn’t too long before I became hooked on photography, and it has been my passion been ever since.

I attended night school for photography, joined a local camera club, and then became a member of the Royal Photographic Society, achieving first a Licentiateship, progressing onto Associateship and finally gaining my Fellowship with a panel of twenty macro images of flowers, frost and ice. I am also a member of and supporter of the Disabled Photographic Society, of which I also hold a Fellowship.

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I have visited many of the National Trust gardens, Bodnant Garden being one of my very favourite places to spend time with a camera, and especially now it is truly a garden for all seasons. The garden is ever changing and this is one of the things which keeps me coming back year after year. There is always something new to see and photograph.

Bodnant gives you the opportunity to do all types of photography, from close up pictures of the amazing array of plants to beautiful vistas taking in the whole of the garden. But where do you start? Today there are so many books about garden and flower photography, and even more articles on the web, that it is easy to get lost without even ever taking a picture. These are just a few things that go through my mind before I press the shutter.

Do I want to photograph just one flower, a group of flowers or a garden scene? Deciding what aperture to use: Do I want all the scene to be in focus using a small aperture, or isolating one element by opening up the lens and using an aperture of f4 or less? Remember also that the larger the length of the lens the shallower the depth of field will be.

When you have found your subject, look around the frame before you press the shutter to see if there are any distractions in the background. These days we can always fall back on photoshop but it is so much easier, and rewarding, to get it right in camera.

These are a few of my favourite pictures which I have taken over the last few years at Bodnant using a range of lenses and apertures.

Rosa 'Ann Aberconway'

Macro Lenses: These, of course, are specialist lenses but are well worth the investment if you like flower photography. Roses must top the list of the most photographed flowers with the range of colours and shapes, Bodnant has two wonderful rose terraces. I used a 100mm macro lens with an aperture of f11 for the picture of the rose because I wanted to get most of the flower in focus. A good thing about roses they do not blow about in the wind too much.

Poppy

Zoom Lenses: Of course, you do not have to have a macro lens, lots of zoom lenses have a macro setting, so you can get in close and fill the frame. The picture of the Red Poppy was taken when there was an annual selection of flowers on the Canal Terrace a couple of years ago. It was taken at the 300 mm end of a 70 – 300 mm zoom lens. I used an aperture of f5.6 because I wanted a shallow depth of field to give a softness to the picture with just the poppy in focus. Poppies have such vibrant colours and have such wonderful detail in the stamens and in the centre of the flowers. They are however very delicate and are easily moved by the slightest wind.

Pin Mill

Wide Angle lenses: This is the classic picture of Pin Mill which everyone takes. It was taken using a 17-40 mm zoom lens using a low viewpoint and focussing on the water lilies in the foreground. The focal length was 17 mm I used an aperture of f9 to get most of the scene in focus.

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Of course, there is not just flora in the garden there is also lots of wildlife too, blackbirds and grey squirrels scurry through the leaves under the trees and scrubs. If you’re lucky a robin will pose on one of the gardener’s spades for you. There are Yellow Wagtails near the top of the garden and  dippers in the Dell. During the spring and summer months, both the Lily Pond and Pin Mill have mayflies and dragonflies hovering over the lily pads and by late summer you may even see a few butterflies on the terraces.

AcerGarden photography is not just a summer hobby; Bodnant Garden is now open all year round. Spring brings not only daffodils but trees with beautiful blossom. Who could resist the swathes of azaleas and rhododendrons or the beauty of emerging new leaves in pristine condition to be captured by a lens? Summer and the garden is filled with colour in the Rose Terraces; autumn is also a great time to be out with the camera and the Acer Glade, in particular, looks spectacular. Winter brings snow and frost which bring a whole new dimension to garden photography and the Winter Garden has been planted specifically to show off winter trees and shrubs. From the beautiful barks of the white birches to the red stems of the dogwood. You will be amazed how much there is to photograph.

Autumn

On the subject of weather; it’s a very British thing to quote John Ruskin: “There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather”.  However, for outdoor flower photography, it is a lot easier if it is not raining or blowing a gale. Little or no wind makes close-ups of flowers so much easier and early morning and late evening are often the best times of day when the light is softer. Take advantage of the late opening on Wednesdays in summer when the garden is open until eight in the evening.

There is so much more I could say but the most important thing is to have fun, after all, that should be what photography is all about.

Bodnant Panorama

A Passion for Flowers by Julie Pigula FRPS FDPS

Thanks Julie for sharing your images – and your advice! For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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A season of new beginnings at Bodnant Garden

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Signs of spring are all around. Daffodils are out in the meadows, glades and woods, and in the formal garden bulbs are carpeting beds and borders with bright bursts of colour; iris, crocus, scilla and even the first tulips. Hellebores are everywhere, and the early herbaceous perennials such as blue pulmonaria and yellow primrose are lighting up shady spots under trees.

Evergreen camellias have been in flower for some weeks and other spring shrubs are now following their lead; early rhododendrons are an especially welcome sight and a promise of things to come. Take a walk at Bodnant Garden this Easter time and experience the joys of spring – here are just some of the sights you can enjoy right now:

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Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’ and Heleborus x hybridus ‘Ashwood Garden Hybrids’

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Rhododendron cilpinense and Rhododenron ‘Praecox’

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Corylopsis glabrescens and early native primroses

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Viburnum carlesii ‘Juddii’ and Pieris japonica

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Chaenomeles japonica

Chaenomoles japonica and Camellia JC WIlliams

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For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Quarter of a million Welcomes – now that’s something worth celebrating

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Any excuse for cake and bubbly…but this week we really did have a perfect excuse, as we officially marked a landmark quarter of a million visitors through our garden gates.

Staff and volunteers downed tools for a little celebration to mark the milestone – 250,000 visitors from March to February 2017/18, the first time in our garden’s 140-year-plus history that we’ve welcomed so many people.

BodnantVisitorCeleb-3Property manager William Greenwood (seen above, cutting the enormous cake – courtesy of our catering team) said: “Wow. I really can’t believe it. A quarter of a million visitors – and counting – in a single year. We’ve said ‘Hello’ and ‘Bore da’ 250,000 times. We’ve helped park cars, made countless cups of tea and sold thousands of home-made scones. We’ve run events and activities throughout the holidays, welcomed hundreds of happy dogs (and owners). We’ve opened more of the garden than ever before and are developing and refreshing even more.

“A huge thank you to all our staff and volunteers, whether they work in the garden, in the tea rooms or shop, in the office or at reception or helping us stay clean and tidy; we couldn’t have done it without all your hard work and dedication to the best garden in the UK!”

What was that…did someone mention ‘best garden’? Bodnant is also proud to be flying the flag for Wales right now in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards 2018 – the only Welsh garden in the final.

Wales finalists in other categories include Snowdonia (National Park of the Year) Pembrokeshire Coast (Holiday Destination of the Year) Newborough (Beach of the Year) and Castell Dinas Bran (Landmark of the Year). So here’s your chance to tell the world about our wonderful places in Wales – you can vote until March 5 at www.countryfile.com/category/tag-cloud/bbc-countryfile-magazine-awards

A huge Thank You and Diolch yn fawr to everyone who has visited Bodnant this year (in life or online) – garden lovers, families, nature spotters, photographers, we salute you! Your support helps us to maintain this truly special place #ForEverForEveryone.

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AND…just a reminder that Bodnant Garden recently hosted BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time. The show is broadcast this Friday, February 26 at 3pm, and repeated on Sunday at 2pm. We had a great time doing it and hope you enjoy listening.

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

 

GQT team bring a blast of spring to Bodnant Garden

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After a long, bone-chilling winter (cold enough to turn green-fingers blue) a visit from BBC Gardeners’ Question Time to Bodnant this week was just what we all needed to put a spring in our steps.

First aired in 1947, the popular Radio 4 show is a regular part the week for keen gardeners up and down the land, so for all us North Wales enthusiasts (ok, self-confessed ‘geeks’) it was a real thrill to host it at our National Trust beauty spot in the Conwy Valley.

5Our head gardener John Rippin was able to give the well-known horticulturists Bob Flowerdew, Mathew Biggs, Pippa Greenwood and Eric Robson a little pre-show tour of the garden. Mother Nature obligingly set the scene – during the late afternoon the chill wind dropped, clouds parted, even the sun showed itself and (I kid you not) bird song filled the frosty air.

Our guests seemed blown away with the charm of our February garden – waxing lyrical about the range of plants, the scents and those spectacular snow-capped views – and especially by our Winter Garden (which received glowing praise for being so well maintained…well done gardeners!) They were also mightily impressed at the bare beauty of the Laburnum Arch and how much skill went into pruning the 55-metre pergola walkway.

4Invigorated (if a little breathless…but the walk to the Dell viewpoint was declared well worth it) our guests then returned to a full house at the Pavilion tearoom where they expertly rattled their way through audience questions, with trademark warmth and humour, providing their thoughts on topics from whether to prune an overgrown magnolia (NO!), to how gardening can tend the troubled soul.

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It was fascinating to get a peep into how the show is made; many of us were impressed at how little editing was needed, and how smoothly the recording flowed. #BBCGQT is clearly a well-oiled machine; and a super-friendly one at that, so thank you to the whole team, it was a delight to have you all at Bodnant Garden.

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We must give a shout-out to our staff and volunteers who hosted the event too, especially Ailsa and the catering team for the refreshments – and a special mention to volunteer David (right) who hot-footed it back from holiday to assist colleague Linda as door steward!

Of course, a big thank you goes to our keen, knowledgable and cheery audience –  all you fellow gardening ‘geeks’ who came along, submitted questions and made it such an enjoyable occasion. We could have filled a venue twice the size but for those who weren’t able to come, our edition of BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time is scheduled to be broadcast on Friday, February 26th and repeated on Sunday (watch this space for any updates.) May it fill you all with the joys of spring!

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GQT heaven: Anna, our visiting horticultural student from Germany, with Bodnant gardeners Christina and Fiona; below, a chuffed head gardener John gets a treasured book signed by Bob Flowerdew.

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For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

 

 

Highlights – and high winds – reflections on 2017 at Bodnant Garden

As a new year approaches, we take a little look back…

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It has been a turbulent year – and not just in politics. Here at Bodnant Garden we’ve had our share of weather dramas but we’ve managed to rise above a series of stormy setbacks to enjoy some real highs – achieving major work in the garden, welcoming more visitors than ever and even picking up a couple of awards along the way.

We opened the year by launching our new guidebook (modelled above by our volunteer Den) updated with recent historical discoveries that we’ve been making from the archives. In February we welcomed lots of families for half term with our ever-popular snowdrop planting; this year we also set up a Plant Hunters expedition camp at the Old Mill for young explorers (like our volunteer Gethin here) which proved really popular.

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But February also brought an unwelcome visitor – Storm Doris. Gales wreaked havoc in the garden, ripping up trees and leaving debris.

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Especially badly affected was Furnace Hill, a new area we were readying to open to the public. With just a month to go until the grand opening the team (Nathan, Maxine, Alex, Fiona, Steve and Christina, seen below) had to grit their teeth and begin a massive clear-up operation throughout March.

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Iolo and Fans

They did it. After an amazing effort by gardeners and volunteers, on April 11 the ropes came down, a ceremonial log was chain-sawed, and hundreds of visitors entered Furnace Wood and Meadow for the first time. TV naturalist Iolo Williams joined us and lead a mass, celebratory daffodil planting in the meadow.

There followed a period of calm after the storm, bringing a beautiful spring. Many plants flowered a little earlier than usual, from the daffodils in March to the famous Laburnum Arch in late May, which was in bloom a good week before expected. Visitors flocked to enjoy the fabulous old rhododendrons in Furnace Wood, and picnic in the meadow for the first time.

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IMG_5984Elsewhere in the garden work continued  planting up the new North Garden woodland beds and the Himalayan poppies and primulas were flowering in recently redesigned beds alongside the Pin Mill. Fantastic flower displays weren’t the only things catching visitors’ eyes – the family of Canada Geese at the Far End were the focus of much admiration and many photographs too.

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19429680_1482825888431615_6517026061134862382_nAfter the heady highlight of the arch, Bodnant Garden won Best Garden Renovation (for The Bath), as well as runner up for Best Volunteer Project (Laburnum Archers) in the prestigious industry Horticulture Week Awards – Charlie, Lynne and Fran enjoying a trip to the ceremony at Woburn Abbey in June to represent the team.

In July we bid a fond farewell to our Visitor Services Manager Ann Smith, who retired after more than 30 years with Bodnant Garden. In a fitting tribute, as a leaving gift we named a unique rhododendron after her, which means she’ll always have a place here at the garden. We also welcomed our new Visitor Experience Manager (below right).

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The children of Eglwysbach School helped us celebrate National Meadows Day with a visit to Furnace in sunny July. We also took a little bit of Bodnant Garden’s meadows to the National Eisteddfodd on Anglesey in August, as part of a National Trust Wales exhibition. It was a combined effort from staff and volunteers across North West Wales, (like our Andy, below) who ran the week-long event, meeting and greeting visitors… in the face of torrential downpours which opened the school holiday season!

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And so began a fun-packed, if slightly damp summer of family events at Bodnant Garden, highlights including a workshop with North Wales Embroiderers Guild, and an unforgettable afternoon with Denbighshire Music Co-Operative who gave us a garden party on the Canal Terrace.

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September brought better weather and a lovely display of late summer flowers (plus an unusual number of late butterflies too). We launched our first Silent Space at the Arboretum in September, encouraging visitors to enjoy perfect peace and quiet. Elsewhere, lively chatter was most definitely allowed, with our volunteers leading a new series of guided tours in the Welsh language.

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DSC_2174As schools returned we welcomed our own new horticultural student at Bodnant Garden – Julie (seen right) swapped her catering uniform for garden gear as she moved across from working at the Pavilion tearoom to being part of the garden team. Autumn also brought two more additions to the garden team with the appointment of supervisors Merlin and Ann (seen below).

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4In the autumn Bodnant Garden’s 51-metre Coast Redwood in the Dell was runner up for the title Tree of the Year in a competition by the Woodland Trust (the eventual worthy winner was the Hollow Oak at Gnoll Estate Country Park). Thankfully our veteran tree, a Welsh Champion, was not damaged in Storms Ophelia and Brian which followed in October, but in their wake they left another clean-up operation for our garden team. In spite of the damage and debris, the team managed to make the garden safe and tidy for half term, so that we were able to go ahead with our autumn and half term Treefest celebrations.

In November it was ‘glad rags’ on as we celebrated more award successes – a first for our work at Parc Farm at the PR Week Awards in London (attended by manager William and farmer Dan), Best Attraction at the Welsh Hospitality Awards in Cardiff (attended by catering manager Ailsa) and runner-up for Best Attraction and Green Award at the Go North Wales awards in Llandudno (attended by Visitor Welcome staff Rachel and Pip).

Fresh from storm clearance, gardeners progressed with other work in November, completing the new planting of the Canal Terrace borders and taking down a row of Lawson Cypress on the East Garden. Both areas have been newly designed and should be flowering in 2018, so watch this space.

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The team managed to get their work done just in time before the heavens opened and snow descended in December. The garden was closed for a day while gardeners set to, once again, clearing paths to welcome pre-Christmas visitors but thankfully no major damage was done…and the dusting of white made for some magical photographs.

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And so to 2018…we’re working towards opening the third of our meadows, Cae Poeth, next year and seeing all the new design work around the garden developing. We’ll also be marking the national centenary of Women’s Suffrage – celebrating Bodnant’s donor family who played a pivotal role in the fight to secure votes for women. We’ll be sharing more about the history behind the garden over the course of next year here on the blog, on our website and social media, and around the garden itself.

Thank you everyone for visiting the garden and following us in 2017 – your support helps the National Trust look after this very special place. We wish you all a Happy New Year!

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

Revealing an old vista at Bodnant Garden

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If you’re a regular visitor to Bodnant you’ll have spotted something missing in the upper garden – five towering Lawson Cypress which lined the East Terrace close to Bodnant Hall are no more. Gardeners have removed them in readiness for a new planting design in 2018.

IMG_4373_zpssxagkx2aIt’s always sad to lose old faces in the garden landscape but the trees, thought to be 30-40 years old, were not in the best health and had grown so large that they were putting a strain on nearby walls – as well as shading out everything in surrounding beds. Now they are gone, already a new vista has opened up from the Top Lawn across the Front Lawn towards the Carneddau Mountains.

The East Terrace has undergone several transformations over the years, from a sloping lawn in late Victorian times, to an avenue of Hollyhocks and a formal bedding scheme in the Edwardian period, later replaced by shrubs and conifers.

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ABOVE East Terrace circa 1880s and BELOW early 1900s

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A new design for the East Terrace is part of our ongoing work to refresh the formal East Garden; this has included the creation of the Puddle Garden in 2011 and the Winter Garden in 2012, a revamp of the Range borders in 2014 and an ambitious redesign of the Bath in 2015. We’ll also be renovating the nearby Round Garden in 2018.

We hope you’ll come back and see the new design progressing next year and in the meantime, enjoy the new view!

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

A warm Christmas welcome at Bodnant Garden

However you like to celebrate Christmas there’s something for all at Bodnant Garden; whether you’re after peace and tranquility, or food, fun and festivity, you’ll find it in our 80 acres. It all starts with a warm welcome from our Visitor Centre staff, who’re putting on their best Christmas pullies just for you…

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Enjoy peaceful walks in a frost-sparkling landscape, bring the children to meet Santa and the elves, discover unique gifts at the shops and craft units and warm up with seasonal food – be that marshmallows over a brazier or a full Christmas lunch.

Bodnant Garden - Winter Garden in FebruaryThe star on our tree is the Winter Garden. This feature was opened five years ago after a major garden renovation and is now bursting with colour, texture and scent. As other gardens are going to sleep the Winter Garden springs into life; flowers, foliage and bark creating a real winter pick-me-up for the senses. A cold weather forecast is an added bonus – it looks even more beautiful with a dusting of frost and snow.

See our website for the Winter Garden Trail, which guides you around highlights of the this area and formal East Garden. It’s a short, level, accessible trail, which will suit all the family – perfect for a quick escape from the high street hurly-burly.

Take your ease over our Christmas menu in the tearooms, or combine lunch and a gardener guided walk on one of our special events. If you drop in at the Pavilion you can leave a memento of your hopes and dreams for for 2018 on our special Wish Tree…and pause to read some of the moving, and funny, wishes left by others.

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Kids will love the popular Elves’ Workshop. Drop in at the Old Mill in the Dell and make Christmas crafts with our band of Bodnant elves, followed by toasted marshmallows by the roaring brazier outside. There’s hot food in our special marquee in The Dell at weekends too, where children can have a go at decorating Christmas cookies.

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The National Trust Gift shop and our neighbours at Bodnant Garden Centre offer a huge range of Christmas ideas, from cards, decorations and gifts to plants, as well as Christmas trees and wreaths (you might even bump into Santa.) What’s more there’s a unique collection of local arts and crafts products at Bodnant Craft Centre, from jewellery, paintings, ceramics and furniture.

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And of course there’s a big beautiful garden to explore; you can bring your dogs every day from November until the end of March too.

We’re open all year-round (apart from Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day). We hope you’ll join us – every visit helps us look after Bodnant Garden #ForeverForEveryone, so your support will certainly make our Christmas!

  • Elves’ Workshops: November 25/26, December 2/3, December 8/9 and December 16/17 from 11am – 2.30pm (£3 drop-in event, booking not required)
  • Santa’s Grotto: Pop along to our neighbours at Bodnant Garden Centre and see Father Christmas, on December 2/3, December 9/10, December 16/17 and 23rd from 11am – 2pm (£3 donation per child, proceeds to charity)
  • Winter walk and tea: Wednesday, December 6 from 11am, a guided walk with a gardener followed by afternoon tea in the Pavilion (£19.95 per person, call to book)
  • Birds of Bodnant Walk: Friday, December 8, 11am (free, please book)
  • Winter walk and lunch: Wednesday, December 13, a guided walk with the head gardener at 11am followed by a two course Christmas lunch in the Pavilion (£25.95pp, call to book)
  • Festive dessert tasting evening: Friday, December 15, sample puddings created by our chef in the Pavilion (£24.95 pp, call to book)

All details on our website www.nationaltrust.orh.uk/bodnant-garden

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