Taking a walk on the wilder side

To many people summer at Bodnant Garden means roses, water lilies and perfect beds, borders and lawns, which are at their formal finest right now. But this year we went, well, a little bit wild and planted an artistic ‘mini-meadow’ on our sophisticated Italianate terraces.

You might not immediately think of the Canal Terrace with its grand, iconic Pin Mill as the obvious place for a wildflower border, but it’s been a real success – not just with visitors but with butterflies, bees and even dragonflies finding their way to its billowing display from the Canal Pond.

The 77 metre long border was previously a formal display of herbaceous perennials which was tired and in need of renovation.

Gardeners Tracy and Ros (seen below) came up with the idea of sowing a wildflower mix to create a summer display while the bed was empty, awaiting a new design. Ros said: “We thought, why not sow annuals? If we’d left the bed bare this year the weeds would have kept growing anyway and we’d be working hard just to keep it tidy.”

In the spring they put the idea to our new head gardener John Rippin who was up for trying out the ‘experiment’ on the formal terrace. The old plants were removed from the border, it was cleared of weeds (no mean feat as it was full of ground elder) and the soil dug over and prepared for sowing.

Then came the fiddly task of sowing the seed, which is a pastel mix of cream coloured Bishop’s Flower (Ammi majus), pink Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), blue Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus),  mauve Rose Angel (Viscaria oculata) and red and pink Shirley Poppy  (Papaver rhoeas). As the seed company Pictorial Meadows points out this is not a traditional native wildflower meadow mix – you would not find this mix together naturally, or in such density – but a blend of annuals to give an ‘impressionistic’ meadow effect.

 

Ros said: “You only have to sow a tiny amount of seed per square metre and it’s quite hard to get an even spread. I was on tenterhooks waiting to see if they would take but the display has been amazing and exceeded all our expectations. The bed has been absolutely full of flowers and is teeming with wildlife.

“You can see the display changing as the time goes on and different flowers come out. Visitors have loved it. It would be great to do the same again next year elsewhere in the garden where there is empty space. We could make it an annual event.”

The formal Canal Terrace – a surprise setting for an informal display

Judging from the comment cards, emails and posts to social media, visitors have been delighted with the display. One Facebook follower sums up the feedback: “It’s a beautiful part of the garden anyway with the water lilies and the Pin Mill but the wild flowers just soften it somehow and when you look down from the terrace it’s just stunning.”

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The floral display changing from pinks to blues over the summer

Elsewhere at Bodnant Garden we’re doing our best to promote native wildflowers through our grassland management project. We have three meadows which we are managing for wildlife – one, the Old Park, is open to the public and the others will open in the next few years. When last surveyed the Old Park contained 26 species of wildflowers and we’re hoping that by old-style management methods (like cutting and removing the hay in late summer and grazing the land in autumn) the floral display will get better each year.

Our Canal Terrace wildflowers haven’t had to compete with meadow grasses and weeds and have provided an intense floral display which has surprised and delighted all of us. So as we plan a permanent new design for the Canal Terrace, we’re also thinking about where to sow next year’s ‘pop-up’ mini-meadow. Pay us a visit next year to discover where…

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.

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