The annual excitement over Bodnant Garden’s Laburnum Arch has reached fever pitch once again. The arch attracts around 45,ooo people in the three weeks of its flowering (property adminstrator Rose also estimates this number have phoned in asking about it…the lines have been red hot!) It is without doubt the most visited, photographed, talked about and eagerly anticipated event of our year.
Feeling the love…visitor Jules Girling
Why so popular? I guess it’s a question of scale; there are other lovely laburnum arches in the UK – including at nearby Ness Gardens on the Wirral, the Dorothy Clive Gardens in Shropshire, at Kew Palace as well as others at private gardens up and down the country – but we believe ours is the oldest and certainly the longest, forming a dazzling 55 metre-long, shimmering golden walkway.
We’ve got the garden’s founder Henry Pochin (seen above) to thank for that. A ground-breaking chemist, businessman, JP, MP and visionary, Henry bought the Bodnant estate in 1874 and dramatically landscaped the garden to the west of the house, making the most of the terrain and views sweeping down the valley side by planting the Pinetum in The Dell. In the top of the garden Henry’s other lasting legacy was the Laburnum Arch, built around 1881.
It’s not just people who love the Laburnum
The first pergola walkways were developed during the Renaissance period in the Mediterranean, to provide shelter, shade and a place to grow flowering vines and fruit bearing trees – the Italian word ‘pergola’ actually meaning ‘a close walk of boughs’. They became popular throughout European gardens up to the 1600s, but fell out of fashion in the centuries which followed, replaced by grand formal gardens and by the naturalistic landscape movement.
They rose in favour again in the late Victorian era with the rustic, romantic Arts and Crafts movement. Henry Pochin decided he wanted a pergola walkway at Bodnant and, not being a man to do things by halves, he designed the biggest and the best!
The arch looking quite different with its original yew hedges
The arch was originally made of Laburnum anagyroides plants, the common laburnum which occurs across Southern Europe. It was later replaced with hybrid cultivar Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’ developed in the 1860s by Waterer’s Nursery in Surrey. This form produces longer racemes, up to 5ocm long, and fewer toxic seeds, something which deters people from planting them in their gardens. There is doubt these days about exactly how harmful the seeds are; you would probably have to eat alot of them…but we wouldn’t recommend anyone trying it!
The structure of the arch was originally wooden but as these rotted it has been replaced by a metal frame. Originally there were 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.
Former gardener Tony winter pruning the arch and Laura deadheading in July
It takes two gardeners up to five weeks to prune the arch by hand 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. But as the visitor figures prove, it’s well worth the effort.
There’ s still time to see the Laburnum Arch at Bodnant Garden. If you’ve not been lucky enough to get here you can still enjoy the pictures on our social media sites. For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460 or check out:
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