Memories are made of this

The Laburnum Arch may be fading for another year, but what a show it’s been…and what memories it’s made. Visitors numbers to Bodnant Garden soared during the annual spectacle, from around 8,000 a week in mid May BL (Before Laburnum) to almost 14,000 one week later, where figures hovered for four weeks of the flowering phenomenon. The display made the BBC Wales news, The Times newspaper and whipped up a storm on social media.

Clodagh Murphy

What is it that generates such a frenzy of interest? As a wonder of nature (or horticulture) this pergola walkway of drooping golden flowers is dazzlingly beautiful and on a scale not many of us get to see very often. At a jaw-dropping 180 feet our arch is believed to be the longest in the UK and is certainly the oldest, at 130 years plus. It’s both a testament to the man who envisaged it but never saw it in its full glory – the garden’s founder Henry Pochin – and to the gardeners who have painstakingly cared for it in the years since.

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Derek Brockway gives us a shout out on BBC Wales News weather

But the emotions the Laburnum Arch conjures are something else. From the visitor numbers, the comment cards and just the look on people’s faces as you watch them wandering through, it clearly means a lot of things to a lot of people. There are those just delighted by the all-enveloping sensory experience – the sight, the scent, the hum of bees feasting on the flowers – there are others for whom it’s creating memories, as they enjoy the delight on their children’s faces, and others for who it brings back memories, of visiting as children themselves, or with loved ones now gone.

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Comments ranged from the ‘amazing’, ‘stunning’ and ‘magical’ to one visitor who described it as a ‘tunnel of yellowy loveliness’ and another who made the post-general election quip, ‘reminds me of the Lib Dems hanging out to dry’ (views expressed do not reflect our own)! Several visitors, moved by thoughts of previous visits with family and friends, suggested the idea of a memory tree or garden feature for people to somehow mark their reminiscences.

The surge in smart phones has brought a deluge of photos and feedback from people all wanting to share their experience (including, for all those of a certain age,  H from Steps)… 2015 has officially been the year of the Laburnum Selfie! As pictures speak a thousand words, here are just a few which sum up the Laburnum effect perfectly. Thanks everyone for sharing your Laburnum Arch with us – here’s to next year:

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Chris and Ria

Sarah Breeze-Roberts Mandy Farrall

Charlotte Mattin Clare Miller

Kirstie Pool

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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 fascinating world of grass…really!

Do you know your smooth from your rough meadow grass? Bodnant gardener Katie and others took part in a training day recently to learn just that… 

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Can you tell what it is yet? Barbara and Katie

Last week I had a great day out with gardeners Bill, Laura, Alex and volunteer gardener Barbara at a meadows training day at Plas Newydd, our National Trust neighbours. The training was organised by the Coronation Meadows scheme, which aims to promote, protect and increase species-rich grassland throughout the UK.

As you may know, 98% of species-rich meadows have been destroyed since 1945, mostly through intensive agricultural management for dairy and beef cattle grazing, or development. This has had a devastating effect on wildlife that is dependent on this habitat, including butterflies, moths, beetles and birds.

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The species rich meadow at Plas Newydd

Plas Newydd has an amazing example of a species-rich meadow, which includes evocative sounding species such as the Greater Butterfly Orchid, Eye-bright, Lesser Stichwort, Yellow Rattle and Shamrock. It is a designated Coronation Meadow and is also a donor site for creating new meadows.

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Our day at Plas Newydd was a training session on grass identification for meadow monitoring. Don’t yawn now – it was brilliant! Well, OK, I do realise that spending a long time crouched in a field, comparing the size and hairiness of ligules through a hand lens, in order to tell the difference between smooth meadow grass and rough meadow grass might not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, a really important part of managing meadows is that you monitor what species are in it, year on year, that way you can tell if your management regime is having the desired effect, and identify any problems. And, of course, to be able to record your species, you do have to be able to tell the difference between the grasses!

So a group of us from Bodnant Garden came along to the training so that we could improve our monitoring skills, as well as support our colleagues at Plas Newydd.

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Learning the survey method…

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We spent a few hours in the morning looking at key identification characteristics in the classroom, and learning about the importance of grasses on a global scale. The rest of the day was spent in the field (literally) looking at common and important species before having a go at the surveying method that the Coronation Meadows scheme use.

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…and putting it into action in the field

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This was great fun, laying out ‘quadrats,’ scrabbling through to find all the species in there, and how often they appear, in order to capture a series of samples of the vegetation. It was a great experience and I am now much more confident in identifying grasses. You might not think it at first but the world of grasses is fascinating, and pretty addictive! Earlier this week I found myself crouched in the Old Park back at Bodnant Garden, getting very excited that I’d found a clump of Crested Dog’s Tail! Might be time for a holiday…

If you’d like to help with the management of the meadow at Plas Newydd, they are looking for volunteers to help with monitoring. Contact Helen Buckingham, wildlife and countryside advisor, at helen.buckingham@nationaltrust.org.uk

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The Old Park meadow at Bodnant Garden, one of three which we are managing for wildlife

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.

Getting closer to nature

kidsOur half term activities for children have been a massive success. Bodnant Garden’s new events and engagement officer Charlie Stretton has been run off her feet – in a good way – organising a packed week of activities and it certainly paid off, judging from the comments from families.

It’s part of our commitment to the National Trust’s project ‘50 Things to do before you’re 11¾‘, which is aimed at encouraging kids to get mucky, discover their wild side and get closer to nature.

We’ve had pond dipping, pooh sticks and den making at The Far End, fairy house building in the Yew Dell, barefoot walking in the Old Park meadow, mud pie making in the Shrub Borders as well as seed sowing and wild art sessions. Here’s a snapshot of the week as sent in by our visitors – thanks to everyone who took part, gave us their feedback and sent in some great pictures:

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Barefoot Walking in The Old Park and den building at The Far End

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Building fairy houses in the Yew Dell and tip-toeing through bluebells

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Events officer Charlie with one of our mud pie makers

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Jumping for joy…and just chilling in the old Chestnut tree

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And just sharing quality time with the family

Clodagh Murphy

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.

Laburnum fever hits Bodnant Garden

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Says it all! A picture by visitor Jules Girling

All across the UK Laburnum trees are coming into blossom, unfurling their long drooping bunches of yellow flowers. In warmer, southern climes some have been in bloom for a while – but here in our little corner of North Wales this annual happening is being watched and waited for by thousands upon thousands of people.

photo comp Zsolt D KovatsBodnant Garden’s Laburnum Arch is the most visited, photographed, talked about spectacle in our garden – eagerly anticipated for weeks and visited by up to 50,000 people in the month when it is in flower, during late May/early June. It’s a spectacular sight – both the arch and the visitors – and something that its creator could probably never have imagined.

The garden’s founder, Henry Pochin, bought Bodnant estate in 1874 and employed Edward Milner, apprentice to Joseph Paxton, to redesign the land around the house which was then largely lawns surrounded by farmland. They dramatically landscaped the garden to the west of the house, making the most of the terrain and views sweeping down the valley side. In the top section of the garden Henry’s lasting legacy was the Laburnum Arch, built around 1881.

Henry died in 1895 and while he probably saw the young Laburnum plants flower he would not have witnessed their full splendour…as he never saw the conifers he planted reach their towering stature.

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Henry Davis Pochin

Pochin was a largely self made man. Hailing from a Leicestershire farming family, he trained as an industrial chemist and made his name and fortune inventing a process to clarify soap, turning it from brown colour to white. He went on to be a successful businessman, mayor and JP and when he ‘retired’ to North Wales in his 50s he became a successful farmer and horticulturalist too.

Like many wealthy landowners of the day he invested much into making his estate a showpiece – raising prize winning cattle and crops, as well as flowers, fruit and vegetables, filling the garden with plants newly discovered from foreign lands, and leading the latest horticultural trends. One such garden ‘must have’ was the pergola walkway, a feature which was fashionable in the 16th and 17th centuries and became popular again in Victorian times. However our Mr Pochin, being Mr Pochin, created the longest archway in Britain.

943403_517912141589666_730808800_nSo what we have today is an arch 180 (55m) feet long, made up of 48 plants which have been replaced over the years but have provided a continual display of golden flowers in late spring since 1882. Called Golden Rain, Laburnum produces a dazzling flush of bright yellow pea-shaped flowers up to 50cm long in hanging racemes, followed by seedpods. In late May and early June the arch is literally buried under long, golden yellow pendulous bunches of flowers.

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The original arch with yew hedges

The arch was originally made of Laburnum anagyroides plants, later replaced with hybrid cultivar Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’ – a cross between L.anagyroides and L. alpinum which was found occurring naturally in the Tyrol in 1856. A decade later the hybrid Vossii became available through Waterer’s Nursery in Surrey, a hybrid which is less toxic, not producing much seed.

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The arch today

The structure was originally wooden but this was subject to rot and replaced in 2007 after major refurbishment. The metal framework is more pliable and the plants are able to wrap themselves around without bruising or damage to stems. There used to be yew hedges alongside the arch but these were in poor condition and removed in the 1950s, replaced by azaleas, creating a wider tunnel with a colourful flowering backdrop.

Today, it takes two gardeners up to a month to prune the arch in January at the coldest time of the year – painstakingly untying, cutting back and tying back in each strand to the framework – and it takes a further two weeks of work deadheading the flowers in July.

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For many years the work was done by gardener Tony Mitchell (seen above), who retired two years ago. Gardener Laura is now carrying on the baton and training other gardeners in the delicate art.

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Tony pruning the arch in winter

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Laura deadheading the flowers in summer

We know that people plan their visits to Bodnant Garden around the Laburnum Arch, some even plan their annual holidays. Our latest Laburnum Watch post on the garden’s Facebook page reached 30,000 people and received 1,000 ‘Likes’. It really is a phenomenon and once seen is never forgotten. So if you’re visiting Bodnant Garden over the next few weeks enjoy the spectacle, and send us your photos…and if you’re not, sit back and enjoy the pictures.

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.

50 Things to do (and some) at Bodnant Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIs Half Term terror rising among parents out there? Never fear, we have plenty for families to do here at Bodnant Garden over the school holiday. We’ve got a great week of activities, with something on every day. It’s part of our commitment to the National Trust’s project ‘50 Things to do before you’re 11¾‘, which is aimed at encouraging kids to get mucky, discover their wild side and get closer to nature.

Here’s what’s happening at Bodnant Garden:

Saturday to Wednesday: Plant it, Grow it, Eat it – At the Old Mill (outdoors if the weather is fine, inside if wet) from 11am-3pm. Kids can pick a pot, fill it with compost, put a bean or pea in it, tiny bit of water, put in a brown bag and take home.

Tuesday: Pond dipping at the Far End Skating Pond, from 12 to 3pm.

Thursday: Wild Art Fairy Houses – In the Yew Dell, by the tree stump tables, from 12 noon to 3pm. Children can have fun building a little “fairy house” from natural materials they find around the garden.

Thursday to Sunday: Mud Pie Making – At the Winter Garden entrance to the Old Park, 11am to 3pm. There will be compost, buckets, water, mud, paper plates and petals for children make their mud pies, rinse their hands in a bucket of water (if they want to wash them!) and leave their pie in a wheelbarrow to be composted later.

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In addition to these events everyone is welcome to have a go at Barefoot Walking through the Old Park, Pooh Sticks at The Old Mill and the Yew Dell, and Den Building at the Far End near the refreshment kiosk, every day from Saturday May 24th to Sunday May 31st. What’s more there are also free Fifty Things scrapbooks on offer at reception – children can come back to collect a sticker or stamp when they have done their activity.

For the whole family, we’ve also got some special events on over the Bank Holiday weekend and Half Term week. There’s music in the Pin Mill on Sunday May 24th, with the Conwy Clarinet Trio playing from 2pm, an open day at The Poem mausoleum on Tuesday May 26th, and don’t forget dogs are welcome every Wednesday evening through the summer too, at our late night openings from 5-8pm.

And if you time your visit right you may see the famous Laburnum Arch in bloom – the spectacle is expected to flower from end of May and it’s something young and old will never forget.

David Ackers, Birkenhead

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 your seat for a tour of Bodnant Garden

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Bodnant is a garden for all seasons…but May is a bit special, a time when the garden is at its most dazzling. The sudden burst of rhododendrons, along with other flowering trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants, all combine to make the garden explode with colour. That’s before we even mention the Laburnum Arch, the garden’s most famous and most visited attraction, which crowns the season with its breathtaking golden display at the end of the month.

I am now enjoying my fourth spring working at Bodnant Garden and am still taken aback by the intensity of the spectacle at this time of year. Hardy surprising, when you consider that this kaleidoscopic show is the result of a century or more of plant collecting and husbandry; from the towering magnolias introduced at the turn of the 1900s, to the thousands of rhododendrons brought here and bred here in the 1920s and 30s, the gnarled and twisted old wisteria which drape walls and pergolas, the swathes of tulips, iris and lilies planted by generations of gardeners and, to give Mother Nature her due, the carpets of English Bluebells which cross meadows and glades.

If you’re visiting this Bank Holiday weekend you are in for a real treat. If not, sit back and take a tour here:

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As you walk through the entrance gates, prepare to drop your jaw at the upper garden. The Range Borders are a riot of hot-coloured herbaceous plants emblazened against a backdrop of sweeping manicured lawns, giant conifers and of course rhododendrons upon rhododendrons upon rhododendrons. Take it all in as you walk from the Puddle Garden to the The Round Garden and Winter Garden (which is still full of interest mid spring.) And of course if you’re here at the end of May/beginning of June when the Laburnum Arch is flowering, put your sunglasses on and bask in a stroll through this 180-foot tunnel of light.

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Above: Bodnant’s famous Laburnum Arch and our rhododendrons

Below: On The Range borders Helianthemum ‘Henfield Brilliant’, Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night, Trollius cultorum ‘Orange Princess, Bergenia ‘Sunningdale’, Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ and Paeonia delayvii.

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Crossing the Old Park meadow you move from the finery and formality of the upper garden to the cool, laid back lushness of The Shrub Borders. Bluebells run through the grass of Chapel Park and The Glades and under the dappled shade of trees are beds filled with native and exotic shrubs, underplanted with herbaceous perennials – if you’re lucky you may see the first tissue-papery bracts of the Handkerchief Tree (Davidia involucrata.) Continue to the Yew Dell where you’ll find a wonderful collection of old rhododendrons, among them many Bodnant hybrids.

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Above:Bluebells in Chapel Park and old rhododendrons in the Yew Dell

Below: Enkianthus campanulatus, Viburnum x judii, Exochorda x macrantha ‘The Bride’ and Davidia involucrata in the Shrub Borders

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 Below: Take your pick of paths to the Far End

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Continuing from the Yew Dell you can take one of the paths to the Far End – through a 140-year-old arboretum of native and foreign trees, or following the River Hiraethlyn upstream passing a series of pools and water features – both of which bring you to the Skating Pond, a lake lined with weeping willows. This area only opened to the public in March and has a natural, tranquil character quite different to the rest of the garden. There are some exotic trees for sure – Asian magnolias, acers and conifers – but the natives blend the whole scene into the valley landscape beyond. Look out for the enormous Royal Ferns (Osmunds regalis) unfurling along the water’s edge, some of which we think may be a century old.

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Above: Clumps of Royal Fern by the lake at The Far End

Below: The Waterfall Bridge in The Dell

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Returning to The Dell downstream along the River Hiraethlyn the mood becomes more dramatic; as you pass the Waterfall Bridge the valley sides steepen, water now rushes through a narrow channel over rocks and boulders and the eyes are drawn skywards to the canopy of giant conifers. Beneath the breathtaking collection of trees, some of them UK Champions because of their age and size, rhododendrons light up the shade. One to look out for (you will smell it before you see it) is Rhododendron luteum with its intense perfume.

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Above: Layers of conifers and rhododendrons in The Dell, underplanted by hostas, astilbes, ferns and the distinctive cerise Primula pulverulenta

Below: Maianthemum racemosum, Rhododendron luteum

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When you get to The Old Mill stop and take it all in, look up and admire The Rockery which cascades down the valley side (seen left)…and take a breath before starting the climb back up to the upper garden! A short, winding walk brings you back into sunlight and open spaces. This is where you’ll see the grandeur of Bodnant Garden at its best – looking across the Italianate Terraces to the Conwy Valley and Carneddau mountains beyond.

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 Above: The Pin Mill  seen from the Yucca Garden

Below: Clematis, wisteria and climbing roses on terrace walls 

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Perennials are filling out beds in the White Garden and Pink Garden, wisteria and clematis are now climbing walls and pergolas and the first climbing roses are even in bloom, setting the scene for the show to come (and talking of things to come, you may notice some empty beds nearby – these are under renovation as we speak – watch this space.) Near the Lower Rose Terrace take a look at the newly renovated Gentian Bed, which has some miniature gems to wonder at, such as the contender for one of Bodnant’s tiniest rhododendron, Rhododendron campylogynum ‘Myrtilloides’ (seen below).

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASummer is when the terraces really take on their starring role in the garden, with the glorious display of roses, water lilies, herbaceous perennials and hydrangeas. That said, bucking this trend is the Yucca Garden which is providing a splash of hot colour right now, with vibrant euphorbias billowing out of every nook and cranny. While you’re here take a side-step from the Terraces along the Prim Path, opened just last year, and discover the Himalayan primulas now settling in there (seen above). This will bring you out at the North Garden, home to another wonderful collection of rhododendrons, and to the Alpine Garden on the Top Rose Terrace, which is full of dainty sun-loving curiosities like this Pulsatilla turczaninovii (seen below).

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Whichever route you take around Bodnant Garden, however much or little of the garden you cover, there will be something to surprise and delight you right now, that we can promise. Added to the floral factor we’ve also got some special events on over the Bank Holiday weekend and Half Term week which follows. There’s music in the Pin Mill on Sunday May 24th, with the Conwy Clarinet Trio playing from 2pm, an open day at The Poem mausoleum on Tuesday May 26th and family activities running every day through the Half Term week. Don’t forget dogs are welcome every Wednesday evening through the summer too, at our late night openings from 5-8pm.

Of course a garden is not just for Bank Holiday it’s for life…and if you’re visiting we hope you’ll take away some lasting memories.

Bodnant Garden map

Compiled by gardener Fran Llewellyn. For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or catch us on Facebook  or Twitter.

Bodnant’s budding gardeners steal the show

P1200073Gardeners and students from Bodnant were at the RHS Malvern Show recently…not just as visitors mind you, but taking to the show stands and even to the stage.

They went to represent the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme, which trains gardening students at a number of top gardens in Wales. Our head gardener John, gardeners Katie, Harvey and Gemma, and our current students Jess and Jette joined others from the HHSS scheme to showcase what it offers at the Spring Festival.

Katie and Jess found themselves sharing the limelight with Carol Klein and Christine Walkden doing demonstrations of seed collecting and sowing and as Christine tweeted afterwards “You two girls did you and the industry proud.” Katie and John also bravely took part in a Gardener’s Question Time.

For the last four years the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme (HHSS) has been run by a group of associated garden sites in Wales: Aberglasney, Bodnant, Cardiff City Council, Dyffryn Gardens, Newport City Council, Picton Gardens and St Fagans.  The scheme offers a bursary and 14-month work-based placement at gardens.

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Bodnant HHSS trainer Gemma with Carol Klein

Bodnant gardener Gemma Hayes has worked closely alongside our students during their training. assisted by fellow gardener Kate Croft. The trainees have all proved to be an invaluable part of the garden team and of our own graduates, one has already gone to to be head gardener, another to work for a national gardening magazine, and two more have gained staff positions at Bodnant Garden. Others from across Wales are now working in the horticultural industry in private gardens as well as at National Trust sites.
The Lottery funded project is drawing to a close this year but it will be followed on by a Lantra Level 3 scheme, to continue training horticulturalists of the future. The Malvern Show was an opportunity to launch the new scheme – and to celebrate what’as been achieved in the last four years. Here’s a taste:
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Students Jette and Jess with graduate Harvey, who is now working at Bodnant Garden

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Jess and Katie demonstrating seed collecting with Carol Klein

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Recent HHSS graduates with their turf mortar boards

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The Bodnant Garden stand…and Katie taking a quiet moment before Gardener’s Question Time?

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HHSS organisers, students and graduates at the show

To find out more about the HHSS and Lantra training contact http://www.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.