We’re tidying up the tinsel after our best and busiest ever Elves’ Workshop in the Old Mill. We’ve waved goodbye and ‘Happy Christmas’ to hundreds of young visitors, who have left the garden happy, armed with hand-made Christmas decorations, and filled with a warm glow of pride and hot chocolate.
It’s hard to believe that only four years ago this cosy ‘log cabin’ deep in the woods in The Dell used to be a cold, dark, dusty old storeroom, home only to spiders and garden tools. It’s been magically transformed into a Christmas emporium by some very special Santa’s helpers – otherwise known as our Bodnant Garden volunteers.
Once upon a time Bodnant Garden used to close to visitors through the winter. Then, in 2012, we stayed open for the season to unveil our new Winter Garden. This had been four years in the creation and was instantly a big hit with garden-lovers. We also opened our gates for the first time to dog walkers, giving visitors another reason to enjoy coming to Bodnant Garden during the dark winter months.
Then, the following year, our volunteers came up with the bright idea of turning part of the Old Mill into a Christmas activity room for families.
The mill on the east bank of the River Hiraethlyn must be one of the most photographed parts of our garden. A Grade 2 listed building, it was built around 1837, harnessing water to turn the wheels of the estate flourmill and then the estate sawmill.
It has long been out of service and closed to the public; beautiful but redundant, awaiting renovation. However, volunteers Richard Berry and Dave Horsley took the initiative to spruce-up one of the rooms which had been used as a garden tool store. And so with a lot of elbow grease and some pixie dust – plus some cones and holly for decoration, logs for seating and a brazier for warmth – it was reborn as our first Elves’ Workshop in 2013.
Humble beginnings…our volunteers sprucing-up the mill workshop
Since then our volunteers have taken pride in making the event more special each year. The experience now begins with a lights and ribbon trail leading families down through the garden to the mill. There, they are welcomed into the workshop decked with greenery provided by gardeners and dressed up with added ribbons, bows and sparkle by our volunteers. Craft tables are laden with goodies and elf helpers are on hand to help children make Christmas decorations (this year our ranger Doug cut and drilled hundreds and hundreds of birch discs which the children loved decorating.)
Families at this year’s Elves’ Workshop
After their craft session children can join Chief Elves Dave and Richard (seen below) toasting marshmallows on the brazier outside and enjoy hot chocolate and Santa cookies provided by our catering team.
The popular craft-making, based on nature themes, is masterminded by our events officer Charlie Stretton. Richard, Dave and the volunteer team work tirelessly through December to make sure everything runs smoothly; that we have goody bags, reindeer food, Christmas lights, and other things too numerous to mention, which make it such a special time for all the families.
Judging by the comment cards, families love it. Here are just some of the comments that are music to our ears as we sweep up the pine needles and pipe cleaners:
“Really enjoyed the elves workshop, great crafts kit, great atmosphere and even better singing from the elves.”
“Fantastic all round. Lovely activity for Christmas and some wonderful keepsakes. Liked toasting marshmallows, having a great time painting pine cones.”
“We are members and come all year round, but always come in December to the elf craft workshop, never miss it!”
The make-over of the Old Mill isn’t just for Christmas. The revamp by volunteers has turned the space into a cosy all-year round hub for visitors which serves as a meeting place for talks, workshops and an indoor seating area for refreshments.
The Elves’ Workshop is a free event – though donations are welcome and all the money given this year will go towards our #BodnantFountainAppeal to replace the crumbling fountain on the Croquet Terrace. So we’d like to say a GIANT thank-you to our volunteers for making all the elf magic happen and to all who came along and joined us in the fun – your support helps us look after the nation’s special places, For Ever For Everyone. And that’s all we want for Christmas!
Bodnant Garden is closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day but open again from December 27, with 80 acres of winter walks to explore. 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.