Breathing life back into an old dream

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A special part of our garden which has been hidden from public view for more than a century will open to visitors for the first time in March.

  Named after the many yew trees that grow there, the Yew Dell  is a wooded area with stream running through it; full of old, rare rhododendrons and reminiscent of a Himalayan glade.  Its opening on the weekend of March 8 and 9 marks the first phase of a  renovation project. Visitors will be able to come along and see the work in progress – and even get their hands dirty helping the gardeners.

  Bill Warrell, area supervisor, says: “The Yew Dell is a beautiful and uniquely atmospheric part of the garden. With mature rhododendrons and hydrangeas overhung by oak, ash and magnolia, it has a secluded, lush atmosphere. We hope that, over the next couple of years, visitors will enjoy watching the transformation.”

  yew dell 011   The 3.5 acres of the Yew Dell were originally laid out from the 1870s by BodnantGarden’s creator Henry Pochin, who was inspired by leading Victorian designer William Robinson. In his book The Wild Garden, published in 1870, Robinson recommended mixing exotic and native plants suited to climate and terrain rather than according to a particular horticultural style. The popularity of this idea, together with the influx of foreign plants fed by the travels of intrepid plant hunters, led to the creation of woodland gardens like that at Bodnant which harmonised trees, shrubs and perennials from all over the world. The rugged environment of Snowdonia proved particularly suited to many Asian plants, particularly Himalayan ones like rhododendrons.

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A glade of rhododendrons and two which are flowering right now in the Yew Dell. The first (left) is a mystery – we think it’s a cross between Rh.praevernum and Rh. sutchuenense, both species rhododendrons which grow nearby – the vivid purple one (right)  is Rh. rirei, another old species.

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  Today the Yew Dell is home to many old rhododendrons grown from seed collected by famous plant hunters George Forrest and Frank Kingdon-Ward during their Asian travels in the early 1900s; also to many rare Bodnant Hybrid rhododendrons, bred at the garden last century. Over the years the area has remained untouched apart from basic management and during the last two years gardeners have been weeding, cutting back brambles, renovating shrubs and trees, as well as repairing paths and drains.

   Bill says: “After some hard work to make the area safe and accessible it is now ready to welcome the public – but there’s plenty more to do yet! During the renovation work new plants will be added, including hydrangea, euonymus and acer to extend interest into autumn. The rhododendron collection will also be expanded, as more Bodnant Hybrids are planted.”

  On the Yew Dell’s opening weekend we will also be launching our new Plant Hunter Tracker Packs – a backpack crammed with map and exploration kit to help families to enjoy discovery activities around the garden.  We will be launching a Mother’s Day competition too – the winner will receive a Bodnant rhododendron to take home and another to plant in the Yew Dell, plus lunch at the Pavilion tearoom on Mothering Sunday.

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Gardeners Graeme, Roger and Katie working on the Yew Dell

  The opening of the Yew Dell is the first phase in a transformation of the lower garden at Bodnant. It will be followed in 2015 by another private riverside area known as the Skating Pond, and in 2017 by Furnace Wood. The National Trust looks after special places, for ever for everyone – we hope a new generation of visitors will love exploring more of Bodnant Garden than ever before.

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