All across the UK Laburnum trees are coming into blossom, unfurling their long drooping bunches of yellow flowers. In warmer, southern climes some have been in bloom for a while – but here in our little corner of North Wales this annual happening is being watched and waited for by thousands upon thousands of people.
Bodnant Garden’s Laburnum Arch is the most visited, photographed, talked about spectacle in our garden – eagerly anticipated for weeks and visited by up to 50,000 people in the month when it is in flower, during late May/early June. It’s a spectacular sight – both the arch and the visitors – and something that its creator could probably never have imagined.
The garden’s founder, Henry Pochin, bought Bodnant estate in 1874 and employed Edward Milner, apprentice to Joseph Paxton, to redesign the land around the house which was then largely lawns surrounded by farmland. They dramatically landscaped the garden to the west of the house, making the most of the terrain and views sweeping down the valley side. In the top section of the garden Henry’s lasting legacy was the Laburnum Arch, built around 1881.
Henry died in 1895 and while he probably saw the young Laburnum plants flower he would not have witnessed their full splendour…as he never saw the conifers he planted reach their towering stature.
Pochin was a largely self made man. Hailing from a Leicestershire farming family, he trained as an industrial chemist and made his name and fortune inventing a process to clarify soap, turning it from brown colour to white. He went on to be a successful businessman, mayor and JP and when he ‘retired’ to North Wales in his 50s he became a successful farmer and horticulturalist too.
Like many wealthy landowners of the day he invested much into making his estate a showpiece – raising prize winning cattle and crops, as well as flowers, fruit and vegetables, filling the garden with plants newly discovered from foreign lands, and leading the latest horticultural trends. One such garden ‘must have’ was the pergola walkway, a feature which was fashionable in the 16th and 17th centuries and became popular again in Victorian times. However our Mr Pochin, being Mr Pochin, created the longest archway in Britain.
So what we have today is an arch 180 (55m) feet long, made up of 48 plants which have been replaced over the years but have provided a continual display of golden flowers in late spring since 1882. Called Golden Rain, Laburnum produces a dazzling flush of bright yellow pea-shaped flowers up to 50cm long in hanging racemes, followed by seedpods. In late May and early June the arch is literally buried under long, golden yellow pendulous bunches of flowers.
The arch was originally made of Laburnum anagyroides plants, later replaced with hybrid cultivar Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’ – a cross between L.anagyroides and L. alpinum which was found occurring naturally in the Tyrol in 1856. A decade later the hybrid Vossii became available through Waterer’s Nursery in Surrey, a hybrid which is less toxic, not producing much seed.
The structure was originally wooden but this was subject to rot and replaced in 2007 after major refurbishment. The metal framework is more pliable and the plants are able to wrap themselves around without bruising or damage to stems. There used to be 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.
Today, it takes two gardeners up to a month to prune the arch 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.
For many years the work was done by gardener Tony Mitchell (seen above), who retired two years ago. Gardener Laura is now carrying on the baton and training other gardeners in the delicate art.
We know that people plan their visits to Bodnant Garden around the Laburnum Arch, some even plan their annual holidays. Our latest Laburnum Watch post on the garden’s Facebook page reached 30,000 people and received 1,000 ‘Likes’. It really is a phenomenon and once seen is never forgotten. So if you’re visiting Bodnant Garden over the next few weeks enjoy the spectacle, and send us your photos…and if you’re not, sit back and enjoy the pictures.
For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or catch up with us on Facebook or Twitter.