Tempest to tropics: 2016 at Bodnant Garden

A garden is full of surprises; one minute you’re in waders, the next it’s flip-flops and a sarong.

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Our New Year 2016 at Bodnant Garden didn’t exactly get off to a great start. Floods hit over the Christmas period, bringing rain and river water surging through from the Pavilion tearoom at the top of the garden all the way down to the Far End, and leaving a trail of debris in its wake. But with true Bodnant Garden grit, staff and volunteers put their holiday breaks on hold to come in and clear up the mess.

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Things soon began to look brighter In January when we launched an appeal for special volunteers – Laburnum Archers – to help us look after the crowds of visitors who flock to see our famous floral pergola walkway in late spring. We were amazed by the response; in no time we were welcoming a new crack team of helpers into the fold and kitting them out with distinctive, not-to-be missed, eye-wateringly yellow jackets:

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Our Laburnum Archers with Bodnant Garden events officer Charlie Stretton (who may have been responsible for those yellow jackets…)

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In February we launched our #BodnantFountainAppeal to raise money to replace the crumbling 18th century water feature on the Croquet Terrace. Gardener Dave (seen below) kicked off the effort by collecting coins thrown into ponds around the garden. By the end of this year our volunteers had raised a whopping £5,000 from raffle ticket sales towards the conservation cause.

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A mild March arrived bringing blue skies, sunshine and the early appearance of flowers like this century-old magnolia on the Terraces. There was also a welcome sighting of daffodils in the Old Park:

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As well as providing wonderful garden displays this lovely spring weather, which continued into April, gave us a memorable Easter holiday, with families making the most of outdoor activities like kite flying, nature trails, crafts and wild art.

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In May some of our gardeners joined volunteers from Happy Valley in Llandudno (seen below) to share their experience of laburnum pruning with the team there, who look after their park’s own miniature arch. It’s not as long as our 55-metre version but with more TLC in years to come it should blossom into a beautiful feature.

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In May we opened the garden gates again to dogs, including the team from Guide Dogs Cymru who brought some of their VIP pooches along to launch our summer season:

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13332972_1138412542872953_289533962182889784_nThis month saw the first flowering of our Poppy Beds flanking the Terraces. Sown in 2015, these contain Himalayan poppies (like the blue Meconopsis seen here) and primulas. Our garden team also celebrated winning a national horticulture award for Best Garden Restoration (for the Far End, opened in 2015) – Maxine, Steve and Nathan (seen below) put on their best bibs and tuckers to attend a prize-giving at Chelsea Physic Garden, London.1431756014024-far-end.jpg

June is traditionally Laburnum Arch time but this year we also unveiled a floral wow of the future – The Penjerrick Walk. This is a newly planted avenue of historic rhododendrons on Furnace Hill, a garden area under renovation which opens to the public in spring 2017. We hope the 100m long Penjerrick Walk will be a feature to rival the Laburnum Arch in generations to come. Head gardener John Rippin (seen below) welcomed the press for a sneak preview of Furnace, unveiling an artists’s impression of how the Penjerrick Walk could look in future.

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The arch itself was featured on Gardener’s World (seen filming, below) and attracted a record-breaking crowds – 20,000 visitors in the first week of June – which kept our Laburnum Archers, along with other volunteers and staff, on their toes!

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In June we also had a day by the seaside in Llandudno where we set up a patio garden on the prom. Staff and volunteers, bearing home-made lemonade and shortbread, were able to chat with passers-by about the #WorldOfGardens around @NationalTrustWales.

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July sunshine brought out the wildflowers (and wildlife) on our temporary Canal Terrace borders. The collection was chosen by the public in response to our #PinMillFlowerPoll held earlier in the year. Thanks everyone who voted, the results were outstanding! These borders are now being permanently re-designed – watch this space.

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In August the garden was brought to life with a host of #50Things events like Pooh-Sticking, den building, pond dipping and bug hunting. We also hosted a textile exhibition staged by the members of North Wales Embroiderers’ Guild, whose beautiful, colourful, skilful work decorated the garden for two weeks through the summer (some of it modelled, below, by our volunteers.) The young musicians of Denbighshire Music Co-operative brought a summer party to the garden with a performance in front of the Pin Mill and the holidays closed with a bank holiday tree climbing weekend.

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In the summer we also opened a new riverside walkway in the Dell. The Mill Pond Path (below) has been renovated by gardeners and offers visitors a new view of the Waterfall Bridge – plus some surprising greenery along the way including tree ferns and carnivorous plants.

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September opened with a bang – and a hot-coloured tropical one at that – in the shape of a party to launch the opening of the Bath, our renovated poolside garden. Visitors who came to admire the exotic new planting scheme were greeted by staff and volunteers dressed in Hawaiian shirts and flower garlands, offering exotic fruit cocktails. We all cheered on gardeners as they introduced goldfish back into the ornamental pond:

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October brought a spectacular, long autumn display, with the leaf colour of trees and shrubs mingling with late flowering plants, as seen here in this magical image sent to us by visitor Nerys Haynes:

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Autumn was the perfect time to celebrate our Champion Trees. These are the biggest or best of their kind in the UK and a new survey by the Tree Register revealed that our collection has doubled to more than 40 in the last decade! We held a tree festival week with guided walks and a new Tree Trail and Map; children from Eglwysbach School came in to help us plant new oaks (seen below), and there followed a half term week full of woodland-inspired events.

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Below: Volunteer Gwen with our new Champion Tree Trail, and Great Orme ranger Doug doing wood turning demonstrations

And talking of trees, in November our old Sweet Chestnut on the Top Lawn (seen below) was also a finalist in the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year competition, making it onto the shortlist of six top specimens.

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15675864_1299018636812342_6620073918418315799_oDecember is all about the little people. Our Elves’ Workshop in the Old Mill in the Dell has become a popular event for families in the run-up to Christmas. The workshop was started by volunteers four years ago who renovated a redundant room in the mill building. It’s now a big part part of our Christmas calendar and this year the elves were happily run off their teeny-tiny feet.

As we say goodbye to 2016 were’re also waving a fond farewell to Jenny from the catering team, who’s retiring, and to garden supervisor Bill Warrell, who leaves us to become head gardener at our National Trust Wales neighbours, Plas Newydd and Penrhyn Castle. So we’ll leave you with an image of Bill (far left) as we’d like to remember him…in a Hawaiian shirt and sarong.

Happy New Year everyone!

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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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