New life begins for Bodnant Garden’s iconic Pin Mill borders

It’s not easy to improve on a masterpiece but unlike paintings even our finest gardens, as living works of art, need re-imagining from time to time. Here our head gardener John Rippin explains his design to refresh the Canal Terrace borders which flank Bodnant’s iconic Pin Mill:

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Canal Terrace borders before renovation. Image by Joe Wainwright

Since its conception in Georgian times Bodnant Garden has been the centrepiece of a much larger 2,000 acre estate.  Boasting a wonderful backdrop of mountain scenery and walks incorporating beautiful lakes, meadows and woodlands, the estate, like the garden itself, was shaped to be the perfect weekend escape for busy lives engaged in politics, industry and fast paced city life.

Gardeners have always gained inspiration from the way plants grow in the wild and natural styles of planting are currently very popular with garden and landscape designers. Many of their creations have a restful quality as well as being incredibly beautiful.

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In 2015 and 2016, after removing old plants, we planted a display of annuals in the Canal Terrace borders, while a new design was being considered

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Inspired by walking Bodnant’s estate paths, I am attempting to bring echoes of these uplifting experiences into the heart of the garden. You may have heard of ‘Prairie style’ planting, exemplified by famous garden designers such as Piet Oudolf. I have tried to create a similar natural effect but by taking elements of the Welsh hedgerows of Bodnant Estate.

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Hazels and elderberry will form the backbone of the border, grasses will add movement and a sense of natural harmony whilst flowering perennials will provide foliage, colour and contrasting shapes and textures. The thistles, rosebay willow herb, cow parsley, bluebells, foxgloves and wild garlic of the Welsh hedgerows have been substituted for well-behaved cultivated plants chosen to capture the essence of these native plants.

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Using the Canal Terraces traditional range of pastel shades I have planned for a graded colour scheme along the length of the borders; dark purple and magenta flowers in the centre, moving through pink to blue and then white in the four corners, to match the Pin Mill.

Leading up to this new planting scheme the garden team have been patiently preparing the ground, removing persistent weeds and improving the soil. In the spring the long yew hedge was also carefully cut back hard to help re-establish the original crisp outline and height.

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During September and October look out for a new section of York stone paving being laid and the phased planting of the new scheme, starting with wall plants, followed by the shrubs, herbaceous perennials, grasses and finally the bulbs.

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John tending the first of the new plants, this week

Planning ahead, the best time to see the border will be May for the spring bulbs and then August/ September for the late summer flowers and grasses. I think the border will take a year or two to completely fill out by which time it should look spectacular!

I really hope you enjoy watching these new borders develop and if they turn out as planned I will look forward to seeing some of you taking photos of the flowers and the beautiful setting as it changes throughout the seasons.

And from spring 2018 you’ll be able to enjoy the new floral display from new heights, when we open the upper floor of the Pin Mill to visitors for the first time in the garden’s history, following conservation and renovation work.  

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Get rooting for Bodnant Garden’s Welsh Champion Tree

This autumn, as dazzling leaf colour lights up Bodnant Garden’s 80 acres, we’re inviting everyone to go wild about trees in a month-long festival… and to kick off the celebrations we’re asking you to get rooting for one of our special residents.

Coast redwood by Rory FrancisOur Coast Redwood in The Dell is in the Wales finals for the Woodland Trust Tree of the Year 2017 competition. This 130-year-old native American lady (or is it an old man?) soars over the riverside where she’s made herself perfectly at home – a living symbol of the garden’s rich and amazingly beautiful tree collection.

We’ll be celebrating her and our other trees during Treefest from October 13 to November 10, with a host of woodland activities.

We love our trees here at Bodnant Garden. The collection goes back to the Georgian era when the first beech, oak, sycamore and chestnut were planted. Successive generations of the garden’s owners planted American conifers and Asian broad-leaved trees and today Bodnant is home to 42 UK Champion Trees – the biggest, rarest and best of their kind – plus 130 Welsh Champs too.

Giant Redwood tree (Sequoia sempervirens) in The Dell at Bodnant Garden in August, Conwy, Wales

The garden’s Victorian ‘founding father’ Henry Pochin planted the Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in 1887. At 51-metres she’s now a Wales Champion Tree (rated second tallest in the UK at the last Tree Register survey in 2016 and as she’s still growing, who knows how far she’ll go?)

It was Mr Pochin who developed the pinetum in the valley garden, planting American and oriental conifers along the banks of the River Hiraethlyn. Some of these were exotic to British gardens, newly discovered by 19th century plant hunters. In Bodnant’s waterside dells these new trees thrived, sheltered against the elements were they have grown taller and faster than in other areas of the garden.

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Head Gardener John Rippin says: “For me the most dramatic tree at Bodnant is the champion Sequoia sempervirens which is the tallest of its kind in Wales. It’s not just about the immense size (which is pretty awesome) but also the potential this tree has to carry on growing.

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“The average age of redwoods in the wild is 600 years but some are believed to be over 2,000 years old. Conwy Valley has ideal growing conditions for them and I would love to think Bodnant’s giants will be going strong in 200 years, possibly reaching the magical 100 metre mark, providing future visitors with an even more awesome sight and helping preserve one of the world’s most incredible trees.”

There are some amazing stories behind our trees; the rare and exotic ones discovered by intrepid plant hunters in centuries past, and the native ones which are home to so much wildlife today. Come and discover more during Treeefest… and in the meantime, if you feel inspired to cast a vote for our Coast Redwood, you can do it here until October 8:  www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/tree-of-the-year/wales Our Sweet Chestnut on the Top Lawn was a runner-up in the competition last year and featured on a Channel 4 documentary – let’s see if we can go all the way!

You can see the full programme of events for Treefest on our website at Treefest Bodnant Garden 2017

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For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

Having a field day at Bodnant Garden

July is meadows month when, up and down the land, we celebrate this precious native habitat.

Plas newydd-3Here at Bodnant Garden we’re inviting visitors to enjoy our own meadows at their swaying, summer peak, swishing with the sound of Yellow Rattle seed-heads and buzzing with insects. We recently welcomed local school children – our events and engagement officer Charlie led the pupils of Ysgol Eglwysbach on a perfect, sunny nature trail around Furnace Meadow, newly opened to the public this year.

Our gardeners have been out exploring too, recently joining colleagues on a meadow study day looking at the conservation work done by National Trust Wales at Moss Farm near Ysbyty Ifan – and coming back buzzing with inspiration for our own grassy acres.

The traditional native meadow is an endangered species in Britain today so this restored plot at Moss Farm (seen below, on a somewhat damper day) is a precious example of what we’ve lost in the landscape… and what can yet be put back.

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The meadow has been restored in partnership with conservation group Plantlife, which has spearheaded the Coronation Meadows project. This initiative aims to create a ‘model’ meadow in every county in the UK, harvesting seed from these wildflower-rich donor meadows which is distributed to other local meadows-in-the-making.

Moss Farm is one such Coronation Meadow and wildflower seed from here has been donated to other local sites in Gwynedd and the Conwy Valley – including a field belonging to Plantlife’s own botanist Trevor Dines, near Bodnant Garden.

IMG_6532Bodnant gardeners Hollie, Christina, Harvey with Trevor Dines of Plantlife on their field trip to Trevor’s meadow, spotting Eye Bright, Bird’s Foot Trefoil and Betany – indicators of a propsering meadow.

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Our garden team visited Trevor’s Farm after viewing the donor site at Moss Farm. It was a great day learning about the diversity of meadow habitats, discovering wild flowers…and impressively-horned cattle!

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It’s inspiration for our own conservation work at Bodnant Garden, where we manage three wildflower meadows – the Old Park (opened to the public in 2012), Furnace Meadow (newly opened in 2017) and Cae Poeth Meadow (opening 2019.)  Since 2012 we’ve been working to a grassland management plan to enrich the wildlife found there with traditional, low level maintenance – a regime of mowing and removing hay in August, grazing with sheep in autumn, avoiding fertilisers and herbicides, along with sowing seed of Yellow Rattle to keep down grasses and encourage the growth of flowers. Already we’ve seen an increase in wildflowers flowers in The Old Park (seen below), including orchids.

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Why do it? Today in the UK there remains only 3% of the meadows which existed in the 1930s – that’s a staggering loss of 7.5 million acres of wild flower grassland.  In conservation terms the knock on effect is a massive decline in butterflies and bees, which has big implications for the pollination of our crops and gardens. There is an effect on water quality too; low use of chemicals and low intensity grassland management reduces the level of pollutants entering water sources and nutrients being washed out of the soil. In the larger scheme of things, there’s evidence the decline in grasslands may be affecting climate change too, as they store and use carbon at a higher rate than forests.

That’s why, alongside Plantlife, National Trust Wales is a leading partner in the campaign Save Our Magnificent Meadows, a Lottery funded effort to restore wildflower meadows and other grasslands.

We’re also working with Plantlife at Parc Farm, the National Trust site on the Great Orme. This limestone headland provides a very different grassland habitat to the damp meadow at Moss Farm but here, careful management can again make a world of difference to wildlife. Grazing with sheep is helping to keep grasses down and allow quite unique wildflowers to thrive (seen below, images courtesy of Plantlife.)

Join us celebrating our precious grassland heritage at Bodnant Garden, Great Orme and other National Trust Wales sites this month. You can find out more here :

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Bodnant’s Bath cleans up at horticulture awards

We did it again! Bodnant Garden has won another industry award for horticultural excellence. The garden team’s transformation of The Bath has been named Best Garden Restoration and Development Project 2017, by Horticulture Week magazine.

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An award-winning tropical garden from Bill Warrell, Graeme Jones, Harvey Baker, Roger Chesters and Lynne Clifton

Our Visitors Services team also made the final five for a volunteering award, giving Bodnant Garden two moments in the spotlight among a host of renowned UK organisations. (Another award should have gone to gardener Lynne Clifton for fastest sprint to the podium to collect the certificate – despite some pre-event nerves, there was just no holding her back!)

19429680_1482825888431615_6517026061134862382_nLynne travelled to the awards at Woburn Abbey Sculpture Gallery on June 28th to represent the Glades garden team, along with events officer Charlie Stretton representing the Laburnum Archers and myself (Fran, garden media officer). It was a long day on many trains, but rewarded by great company and the pleasure of seeing Bodnant Garden showcased among the horticultural cream of the nation.

Horticulture Week is a leading industry magazine found in garden mess rooms up and down the land. Their Custodian Awards 2017 received entries from wide-ranging organisations from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval, to bodies such as the National Trust, English Heritage, Woodland Trust, as well as council parks and private gardens.

Nominations were judged by independent panel of judges including Tony Arnold, chair of the Professional Gardeners Guild, Sally Drury, technical editor of Horticulture Week, Sue Ireland former open spaces director of the City of London, gardens consultant Alan Sargent and arboriculture expert Dave Lofthouse. Presenting the awards, Lord Michael Heseltine spoke about the importance of gardens and green space and how they could transform disadvantaged communities.

joe2-bodnant-garden-the-bath-in-october-10.jpgBodnant Garden won the category Best Garden Restoration and Development Project, for The Bath (seen above, last September) The tropical redesign by former supervisor Bill Warrell and the team beat off competition from projects at Quarry Bank National Trust and Compton Verney House Trust.

Bill, now head gardener at our NT neighbours Plas Newydd and Penrhyn Castle, was over the moon at the news when tweeted and sent congratulations to his old muckers. He added: “I am delighted for the team at Bodnant Garden that they have received this prestigious award. It is wonderful recognition for all the hard work that went in to making the renovation of the Bath a success.”

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Our Laburnum Archers (seen above) was shortlisted for the Best Community/Volunteer Project, alongside Hardwick Hall (National Trust), Audley End (English Heritage) and Woburn Abbey – the award going to Woodland Trust for Observatree, a project which created a tree health early warning system for tree pests and diseases using citizen science.

Stiff competition…in fact surveying the organisations present at the ceremony, Bodnant Garden has cause to be proud. Having won the Horticulture Week awards in 2016 for the renovation of the Far End we’re now on a roll and aiming for the hat-trick next time!

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Heavenly scent of spring at Bodnant Garden

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We’re basking in a spectacular spring at Bodnant Garden. It began with an early display of daffodils, encouraged by a mild winter, and thanks to a spell of bright, sunny days the season has just got better and better. Beds and borders are ablaze with bright tulips, wooded glades speckled with bluebells, and everywhere the blooms of rhododendrons, magnolias, viburnums and other flowering shrubs and trees hang overhead and decorate the ground underfoot.

The garden is a kaleidoscope of colours; but the scent is something else. An intoxicating atmosphere hangs in the air everywhere you wander, mingling as you pass from plant to plant; the soapy-white aroma of Rhododendron loderi ‘King Goerge’ transforms into the sweetness of wisteria before merging into lemon-fresh Rhododenrdron luteum.

We hope you enjoy some images of Bodnant Garden at blossom time. Close your eyes and imagine the scent…or better still, come and visit!

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In the upper garden: Clematis and wisteria cloaking terrace walls; bright and blousy peonies and tulips filling beds; a riot of rhododendrons in the North Garden; pockets of Himalayan poppies and primulas

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IMG_5882 Bath April 2017 (2)

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Even the Winter Garden looks beautifully spring-like!

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In The Glades: Asian rhododendrons, acers, magnolias and primulas; native bluebells; our star plants of high spring Embothrium coccineum (Chilean Firebush) and Davidia involucrata (Handkerchief Tree)

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Magnolia soulangeana, drifts of blue Omphalodes beneath trees, and Viburnum plicatum

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In the valley garden: Scented ivory Rhododendron ‘Penjerrick’ and yellow Rhododendron luteum; unfurling tree ferns on the newly opened Furnace Hill; the grand vista of towering conifers and seclusion of shady pathways

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The spring spectacle will soon be crowned by the flowering of the Laburnum Arch – which we expect to be a week earlier this year (around the 20th of May), lasting for three weeks. A sudden change in weather can always set this back, so keep a watch on our website and social media for updates.

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Big opening for #BodnantGardenFurnace

Pictures paint a thousand words…so we hope you enjoy this little round-up of our big opening day for Furnace Wood and Meadow, in full, glorious colour: 

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ME =)Many of the images were taken by our volunteer Gethin here, who was duty photographer for the day, and by other staff and volunteers. They capture what a fantastic, frenetic and fun day it was from beginning to end…from the early round of media crews in the morning, the VIP speeches and the chainsaw opening ceremony, through to a sunny afternoon of trails, crafts and daffodil planting, closing with the mass devouring of a truly gigantic cake. I feel a caption competition coming on…

If you have images of the day to share we’d love to see them and include them in our photo gallery – send them to us marked #BodnantGardenFurnace.

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

Welcome to Furnace Wood and Meadow

At last, after a decade of work, we’ve taken down the ropes to reveal a restored jewel in the crown of Bodnant Garden – Furnace Wood and Meadow, a 20 acre woodland of native and exotic trees and a wildflower-rich meadow.

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We celebrated our big opening day with the help of special guests – Dame Helen Ghosh (Director General of the National Trust), Justin Albert (Director for National Trust in Wales), Michael McLaren (Bodnant Garden Director and member of the garden’s donor family) and the naturalist and broadcaster Iolo Williams…and most importantly with our visitors, who we welcomed to Furnace for the first time in the garden’s history.

After speeches from our guests, arborist Richard performed the ‘ribbon-cutting’ (cutting a log with a chainsaw) to open the garden for a sunny afternoon of celebrations – guided walks by gardeners, woodcraft demonstrations, plant hunter activities for children in the wood and daffodil planting in the meadow. Iolo rounded off the day for us by sharing out the 1m square cake to visitors – a baking triumph by our catering team for which we almost needed the chainsaw again (because of its size, not texture!)
Cutting the Log (During)

This beautiful and historic area has been at the heart of a 21st century battle against plant disease and decay. Its rescue is the biggest conservation effort in Bodnant’s history and brings us closer to our ambition of opening the entire garden to the public.

Head gardener John Rippin says: “The opening is a high point in the garden’s 140-year history. This segment of the garden is the last significant piece of the Bodnant jigsaw to be fitted into place – with 75 of the 80 acres now open, we are now tantalisingly close to the day when visitors can enjoy all of this gardening masterpiece.

Furnace Hill lies alongside the west bank of the River Hiraethlyn in the valley garden. It is named after a blast furnace known to have operated in the area in the 1700s. Originally a hillside dotted with native trees, it was transformed from the 1870s under Bodnant Garden’s owner Henry Pochin and his daughter Laura McLaren, who planted North American conifers. Laura’s son Henry added many Asian rhododendrons and magnolias from the early 1900s.

Lying on the fringes of the estate, Furnace remained a private area for many decades, beloved by the McLaren donor family who cherished its tranquillity and its panoramic views, and filled it with exotic trees and shrubs from foreign lands.

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As recently as February 2017 gardeners faced another struggle, when Storm Doris brought down several trees in the renovated area

In around 2007 the killer plant disease Phytophthora ramorum (Sudden Oak death) was spotted in the garden where it began attacking ornamental plants, particularly in Furnace Wood. Gardeners acted quickly; there followed a campaign of action supervised by DEFRA, to mass clear the area of purple woodland Rhododendron ponticum and other species such as larch trees which carried the disease. While some plants were lost, the spaces left behind gave gardeners an opportunity to plant anew and kick-started a major renovation.

This has included the restoration of the Penjerrick Walk, an avenue of rare rhododendrons originally planted by Henry McLaren, 2nd Lord Aberconway, from the 1920s. The feature had died out but Bodnant Garden has been able to clone surviving plant material and replant the 100 metre-long walkway, which it is hoped will rival the famous Laburnum Arch in future.

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As well as containing a historic collection of magnolias, rhododendrons and other Asian plants, Furnace Wood offers visitors panoramic views over the rest of the garden, including a bird’s-eye vista of the Italianate terraces on the other side of the river.

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While the plants, views and seclusion of Furnace Wood will delight lovers of horticulture, nearby Furnace Meadow is rich in wildlife. The garden team are managing this grassland in a traditional way to promote the rich diversity of species there.

John Rippin adds: “Furnace Wood and Meadow offer extraordinary glimpses across the surrounding Welsh countryside but the biggest surprise for visitors will be breath-taking views of the Terraces and Bodnant Hall and out across the Vale of Conwy where the estuary meanders close by against the stunning backdrop of the Carneddau mountain range. Add to that the abundance of rare or beautiful trees, shrubs and wild flowers along with a sense of tranquility and peace and you have something truly spectacular.”
For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram