2014 opened on a dramatic note with gales which tore through the garden leaving a number of horticultural casualties, including the mighty oak on the Top Lawn. Severe weather kept the garden team busy throughout January and February with chainsaws and chipper – one fallen pine took out a greenhouse polytunnel (below right) and the giant blue cedar on the Lily Terrace lost several limbs. February was also time for the annual stream clearance, when the watercourse running from the top of the garden down to the Dell gets mucked out by hand (below left).
After a stormy start to the year we were rewarded by a balmy spring with many flowers appearing early, including this Magnolia campbellii on the Croquet Terrace which gave the best show anyone can remember seeing for a long time.
The big event of March was the opening of the Yew Dell, three-and-a-half acres of garden which had until now been closed to the public. There was a big push by gardeners and volunteers to get the area ready for opening, which attracted a large amount of media attention, including a visit by Jules Hudson and the crew from Escape to the Country (seen above interviewing area supervisor Bill.)
Above, volunteers deadheading daffs and Kevin the Kiosk King
Then before we knew it the daffodils were out and it was Easter. It was a really busy one this year, with lovely weather bringing in visitors who lapped up our new offerings – a refreshment kiosk in the Dell, new picnic areas and even new loos. Volunteers really took the family events programme by the horns too, and managed a host of activities including hugely popular pond dipping sessions.
Gardeners enjoying an Easter picnic, above, and volunteers running pond dipping on the Lily Terrace
In April we had two visits by BBC television crews. Young garden designer Mathew Childs came to Bodnant looking for inspiration for his Chelsea Show garden, which was featured in the programme Countdown to Chelsea. Chris Beardshaw also dropped in to film for the new series of The Great British Garden Revival – which starts on January 5th, so don’t miss it!
But more importantly, in the Pavilion our famous cheese scones were back on the menu. Catering mananger Pietro (left) brought back the tearoom favourites after a deluge of requests from customers on comment cards. You asked – we delivered.
May was buzzing with activity…there was the small matter of the swarm of bees that decided to make the old head gardener’s house a home. Beekeepers from Bodnant Food Centre came to the rescue on that occasion. There was also the pitter patter of paws to be heard again as we opened to dogs for the summer season.
It was also the month we opened The Prim Path, an old walkway in the North Garden lined with native and exotic primulas, after a two-year renovation (seen below being inspected by acting head gardener Adam). Elsewhere students Nathan, Harvey and Huw were busy renovating the Tennis Lawn herbaceous beds.
In May and June we celebrated one of our finest assets -rhododendrons – with Rhodofest, a month long series of walks, talks and workshops. We were also busy alerting visitors to the early appearance of the famous Hankerchief Tree which was flowering before its time like many other plants in the garden.
Above, a garden art class and the ‘handkerchiefs’ of the Davidia
In June we had the first of several visits by a BBC crew filming a new series Glorious Garden from Above, with Christine Walkden. The programme featured appearances by gardener Fiona, volunteer Phylis, along with Andrew Lloyd from the craft units and his team Cameron and Iain (seen above). It was aired in November and was a great tribute to the garden.
As the year heated up so did work at the Far End, ten acres of riverside garden formerly closed to the public which opens in March 2015. The Dell team and volunteers have been working hard on the renovation for several years, which has involved some aquatic gardening (left, demonstrated by Alex and Steve.)
In July the roses were out and we celebrated the centenary of the garden’s Italianate terraces (seen above), which were built between 1905 and 1914 and completed just before the Great War. It was an opportunity to stop and remember those gardeners, stonemasons, carpenters and others who created our now famous terraces, who went to war and did not return home.
July was also the start of our Grow wild summer events – a daily offering of crafts, nature trails, pond dipping, seed sowing and other garden activities which drew families from far and wide, culminating in a Wild Wood Weekend in August.
In August we also ran a scything workshop when gardeners, volunteers and visitors were able to try a bygone art of grass cutting (right). Most who took part were pleasantly surprised…at the end of the day more ground was covered and fewer aches and pains encountered than people had expected!
In September it was all change for the students on our Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme – Harvey, Huw and Nathan (above). Harvey and Nathan secured full time positions in the garden and Huw was taken on at Bodnant Garden Nursery (well done lads). In their stead we welcomed three new students, Jess, Lee and Jette (below). Sadly Lee had to leave us (best wishes Lee) but Jess and Jette are going strong and working on a renovation of the large Top Lawn bed, left empty by the fallen oak at the beginning of the year.
October brought more change on the staff front, not least the long-awaited appointment of a new head gardener after an 18-month search. John Rippin (below left), currently head gardener at the National Trust’s Castle Drogo in Devon, will be joining us in January. We also opened a new NT shop and welcomed Daniel, Gwenda, supervisor Kate, Louise, Brenda and Laura to the fold (below right).
The mild weather continued giving a long and late autumn display of colour. Trees hung onto their leaves and flowers continued to flower (some salvias were still going in December!) Half term was a big hit with family visitors, with volunteers turning the Elves’ Workshop in The Dell into a Halloween and autumn craft-making emporium.
Catering assistant Hannah in the Halloween spirit and a popular half term craft workshop in the Old Mill
In November gardeners planted up the bare bed under the oak on the Tennis Lawn with a seasonal display of bulbs – and yes, due to the warm weather the snowdrops are already appearing! Elsewhere in the garden other plants bloomed earlier than expected including the Rhododendron Nobleanum (above right). Even the dwarf daffodil, Narcissus Cedric Morris, could be spotted in the Winter Garden.
This month we also picked the winners of out I Love Bodnant Garden photo competition, which were published in our first ever Bodnant Garden calendar (modelled here by property administrator Rose.)
And so to December…it’s only the second year we have opened during the winter and staff and volunteers worked hard, with our neighbours Bodnant Garden Centre, to give visitors a great Christmas day out. We had Winter Garden Walks, festive food at the Pavilion and Magnolia tearooms plus a brazier and refreshments in the Dell, a Santa’s Grotto…but the big hit was our Elves’ Workshop. Fashioned out of a redundant room in the Old Mill by our volunteers, it drew around 800 visitors in the four weekends leading up to Christmas.
In fact visitor numbers have sky-rocketed this year and we’re predicting a figure of around 192,000 by the end of the financial year (February), compared to 175,000 the previous year – no doubt a mark of the fine weather we’ve enjoyed (in spite of a stormy start) but also a tribute to all the hard work of staff and volunteers throughout 2014.
We’ve got another big year to look forward to, with a new head gardener joining the team soon and the opening of The Far End in March. So Happy New Year everyone – and bring on 2015!