Tony Mitchell, who has retired after 26 years at Bodnant Garden, has been the deft fingers behind the pruning and training of our crowd-pulling, main attraction for the last ten years. He’s handed over the secateurs to arch partner Laura who’ll now be training up the next generation of gardeners to look after the laburnum.
Tony’s been more than just a master of the arch of course – he’s been a part of the garden for more than a quarter of a century and his huge knowledge and experience will be missed by us all. As will the no-nonsense, down to earth attitude for which we know and love him!
Tony started his horticultural career in 1963 with five years at the prestigious Wakehurst Place in Sussex, now run by the National Trust and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In the years that followed he travelled widely – gardening from the south coast to Scotland, including six years with the famous Hillier Nurseries, and even a stint landscaping in Sweden before finally moving to North Wales.
He’s seen many changes at Bodnant Garden in 26 years: “When I started gardeners used to scythe the banks of The Dell. There was no machinery like strimmers or hedge cutters and the only transport was wheelbarrow. It’s hard work at times but it’s been a great job. I will miss the garden and my work mates – and of course the arch.”
The 180 foot Laburnum Arch attracts thousands of visitors every year when it flowers in May. It takes Laura and Tony four weeks to prune and tie the plants into the metal framework in January, painstaking and intricate work at the coldest time of the year. It then takes them another three weeks to deadhead the flowers in July.
Tony recalls taking over the job of pruning the arch more than a decade ago. He started a new technique of fanning the branches out to let more light in and it seems to have paid off. Joined by gardener Laura Jones a few years ago, the pair now have the job down to a fine art.
Tony says: “It’s a labour of love and I will miss it…but it’s in good hands. I certainly won’t miss the cold and the rain and the aching joints on winter mornings!”
Our Tony won’t be resting on his laurels. He is renovating a new flat and garden in Rhos and also pursuing his other interests, metal detecting, stamp and postcard collecting – he has a collection of almost 200 old postcards of Bodnant Garden through the ages. He will even be taking up bowls…do we see a future in green keeping?
We had a farewell party for Tony at the Pavilion tearoom recently and he was presented with cards and gifts. There is an empty space at the head of the mess room table at break times now…but it will always be there when you call in for a ‘panad’ Tony!