The team down in The Dell are a hardy and intrepid bunch who take on some challenges in the course of their daily work, as gardener Alex Cox can testify.
The area of the garden we call The Dell is in the lower part of the grounds. If you are at all unsure where that is, as a general rule if it is sloping or there is water running through it then that is where you will find our small band of gardeners. Headed up by Maxine our supervisor, we are Steve (our fire starter extraordinaire), Fiona (often found outside the garden, in village halls, giving talks on the history of Bodnant), and myself, Alexandra.
Another way you can tell if you have spotted a Dell gardener is that we are generally less tanned than anyone else. Being in a valley, and with the shade from our massive trees (40-45 metres tall), we only get glimpses of the sun filtering through the canopy. Many’s the time we have walked back up at the end of the day, still wearing our coats, to find everyone else in t-shirts! But what the Dell lacks in sunlight it more than makes up for in atmosphere and challenging gardening situations.
Lush plantings in The Dell; Primulas, Hostas, Ferns, the blue Meconopsis and colourful Azaleas
Running through the heart of the Dell is the river Hiraethlyn. In the summer it is a sparkling, babbling brook. This is when we don our waders and set about weeding the river edges. In the winter however, it can turn into a crashing torrent of muddy, hot chocolate coloured water. It is often known to burst its banks and flood the lower edges of the lawns leaving tide lines of leaves for us to clear.
November 27th, 2012, was an extreme example of this. On walking down to the Dell that morning I was met with the sight of water where lawns and paths should be. Trees had turned into vertical islands for very confused squirrels. All our wooden bridges were under water, acting as strainers for the river debris. Only the stone bridge outside the Old Mill was crossable. Grabbing my radio, the only words that would come out were: “We have no lawns!” (Having spent the previous day blowing all the leaves off them it was a particularly sore point to me). All we could do was stand and stare, then head to higher ground.
The following day, when the flood had subsided, the extent of the devastation was impressive and disheartening at the same time: Large sections of path had been ripped out, the gravel deposited on the lawns; hydrangeas had been smashed; soil, stone and drainage pipes washed away; plants torn from the ground and a tide line consisting, not just of leaves, but logs and branches too. The strangest sight however, was the multitude of turnips that littered the ground and were wedged into shrubs and trees! There must be a farmer upstream with only half a field left and some very hungry animals.
And so, with the dell motto “crack on” the clean up operation began. Removing all the detritus from where it had amassed, cutting down the broken shrubs, shovelling gravel off the lawns and bringing in a lot more to fill in the sunken paths. All of this has taken several weeks to achieve. Whilst we have repaired most of the damage done in the garden open to the public, there is still a massive amount to do in the private area upstream. This bore the brunt of the water damage and will take some time to fix. We are hoping to open this area of the garden in a couple of years, so we really could do without any more floods!
When we are not battling the elements we have a varied range of gardening tasks. From abseiling down the precipitous banks to weed and prune, to the more normal pursuits of leaf collecting and mulching. This winter we have extended our skills to include starting the fire in the brazier each morning (particularly challenging in the rain), and setting up the food stall in the Dell. Here we have been selling snacks and soup made by the Pavilion catering team. As you might imagine with all this running around we can be fairly elusive, but if you happen to meet a gardener in the dell, please feel free to ask us a question, or at least tell us if the sun is shining!
A summer display of exotic plants near the Old Mill
Looking up…The Dell’s famous giant conifers…and looking down…abseiling Alex takes the plunge!
Left, Alex with Paul and Richard, our tree specialists, who do a lot of work in The Dell, and right, Maxine, Steve and Fiona