Bodnant’s budding gardeners steal the show

P1200073Gardeners and students from Bodnant were at the RHS Malvern Show recently…not just as visitors mind you, but taking to the show stands and even to the stage.

They went to represent the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme, which trains gardening students at a number of top gardens in Wales. Our head gardener John, gardeners Katie, Harvey and Gemma, and our current students Jess and Jette joined others from the HHSS scheme to showcase what it offers at the Spring Festival.

Katie and Jess found themselves sharing the limelight with Carol Klein and Christine Walkden doing demonstrations of seed collecting and sowing and as Christine tweeted afterwards “You two girls did you and the industry proud.” Katie and John also bravely took part in a Gardener’s Question Time.

For the last four years the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme (HHSS) has been run by a group of associated garden sites in Wales: Aberglasney, Bodnant, Cardiff City Council, Dyffryn Gardens, Newport City Council, Picton Gardens and St Fagans.  The scheme offers a bursary and 14-month work-based placement at gardens.


Bodnant HHSS trainer Gemma with Carol Klein

Bodnant gardener Gemma Hayes has worked closely alongside our students during their training. assisted by fellow gardener Kate Croft. The trainees have all proved to be an invaluable part of the garden team and of our own graduates, one has already gone to to be head gardener, another to work for a national gardening magazine, and two more have gained staff positions at Bodnant Garden. Others from across Wales are now working in the horticultural industry in private gardens as well as at National Trust sites.
The Lottery funded project is drawing to a close this year but it will be followed on by a Lantra Level 3 scheme, to continue training horticulturalists of the future. The Malvern Show was an opportunity to launch the new scheme – and to celebrate what’as been achieved in the last four years. Here’s a taste:

Students Jette and Jess with graduate Harvey, who is now working at Bodnant Garden


Jess and Katie demonstrating seed collecting with Carol Klein

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Recent HHSS graduates with their turf mortar boards


The Bodnant Garden stand…and Katie taking a quiet moment before Gardener’s Question Time?


HHSS organisers, students and graduates at the show

To find out more about the HHSS and Lantra training contact

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.


A year in the life of a glorious garden – Looking back at 2014


2014 opened on a dramatic note with gales which tore through the garden leaving a number of horticultural casualties, including the mighty oak on the Top Lawn. Severe weather kept the garden team busy throughout January and February with chainsaws and chipper – one fallen pine took out a greenhouse polytunnel (below right) and the giant blue cedar on the Lily Terrace lost several limbs. February was also time for the annual stream clearance, when the watercourse running from the top of the garden down to the Dell gets mucked out by hand (below left).

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After a stormy start to the year we were rewarded by a balmy spring with many flowers appearing early, including this Magnolia campbellii on the Croquet Terrace which gave the best show anyone can remember seeing for a long time.

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The big event of March was the opening of the Yew Dell, three-and-a-half acres of garden which had until now been closed to the public. There was a big push by gardeners and volunteers to get the area ready for opening, which attracted a large amount of media attention, including a visit by Jules Hudson and the crew from Escape to the Country (seen above interviewing area supervisor Bill.)

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 Above, volunteers deadheading daffs and Kevin the Kiosk King

Then before we knew it the daffodils were out and it was Easter. It was a really busy one this year, with lovely weather bringing in visitors who lapped up our new offerings – a refreshment kiosk in the Dell, new picnic areas and even new loos. Volunteers really took the family events programme by the horns too, and managed a host of activities including hugely popular pond dipping sessions.


Gardeners enjoying an Easter picnic, above, and volunteers running pond dipping on the Lily Terrace

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In April we had two visits by BBC television crews. Young garden designer Mathew Childs came to Bodnant looking for inspiration for his Chelsea Show garden, which was featured in the programme Countdown to Chelsea. Chris Beardshaw also dropped in to film for the new series of The Great British Garden Revival – which starts on January 5th, so don’t miss it!

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1939642_642962205751325_1215953490_n (1)But more importantly, in the Pavilion our famous cheese scones were back on the menu. Catering mananger Pietro (left) brought back the tearoom favourites after a deluge of requests from customers on comment cards. You asked – we delivered.

May was buzzing with activity…there was the small matter of the swarm of bees that decided to make the old head gardener’s house a home. Beekeepers from Bodnant Food Centre came to the rescue on that occasion. There was also the pitter patter of paws to be heard again as we opened to dogs for the summer season.

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It was also the month we opened The Prim Path, an old walkway in the North Garden lined with native and exotic primulas, after a two-year renovation (seen below being inspected by acting head gardener Adam). Elsewhere students Nathan, Harvey and Huw were busy renovating the Tennis Lawn herbaceous beds.

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In May and June we celebrated one of our finest assets -rhododendrons – with Rhodofest, a month long series of walks, talks and workshops. We were also busy alerting visitors to the early appearance of the famous Hankerchief Tree which was flowering before its time like many other plants in the garden.

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 Above, a garden art class and the ‘handkerchiefs’ of the Davidia


In June we had the first of several visits by a BBC crew filming a new series Glorious Garden from Above, with Christine Walkden. The programme featured appearances by gardener Fiona, volunteer Phylis, along with Andrew Lloyd from the craft units and his team Cameron and Iain (seen above). It was aired in November and was a great tribute to the garden.


As the year heated up so did work at the Far End, ten acres of riverside garden formerly closed to the public which opens in March 2015. The Dell team and volunteers have been working hard on the renovation for several years, which has involved some aquatic gardening (left, demonstrated by Alex and Steve.)


In July the roses were out and we celebrated the centenary of the garden’s Italianate terraces (seen above), which were built between 1905 and 1914 and completed just before the Great War. It was an opportunity to stop and remember those gardeners, stonemasons, carpenters and others who created our now famous terraces, who went to war and did not return home.

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July was also the start of our Grow wild summer events – a daily offering of crafts, nature trails, pond dipping, seed sowing and other garden activities which drew families from far and wide, culminating in a Wild Wood Weekend in August.

???????????????????????????????In August we also ran a scything workshop when gardeners, volunteers and visitors were able to try a bygone art of grass cutting (right). Most who took part were pleasantly surprised…at the end of the day more ground was covered and fewer aches and pains encountered than people had expected!


In September it was all change for the students on our Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme – Harvey, Huw and Nathan (above). Harvey and Nathan secured full time positions in the garden and Huw was taken on at Bodnant Garden Nursery (well done lads). In their stead we welcomed three new students, Jess, Lee and Jette (below). Sadly Lee had to leave us (best wishes Lee) but Jess and Jette are going strong and working on a renovation of the large Top Lawn bed, left empty by the fallen oak at the beginning of the year.


October brought more change on the staff front, not least the long-awaited appointment of a new head gardener after an 18-month search. John Rippin (below left), currently head gardener at the National Trust’s Castle Drogo in Devon, will be joining us in January. We also opened a new NT shop and welcomed Daniel, Gwenda, supervisor Kate, Louise, Brenda and Laura to the fold (below right).

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The mild weather continued giving a long and late autumn display of colour. Trees hung onto their leaves and flowers continued to flower (some salvias were still going in December!) Half term was a big hit with family visitors, with volunteers turning the Elves’ Workshop in The Dell into a Halloween and autumn craft-making emporium.

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Catering assistant Hannah in the Halloween spirit and a popular half term craft workshop in the Old Mill

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In November gardeners planted up the bare bed under the oak on the Tennis Lawn with a seasonal display of bulbs – and yes, due to the warm weather the snowdrops are already appearing! Elsewhere in the garden other plants bloomed earlier than expected including the Rhododendron Nobleanum (above right). Even the dwarf daffodil, Narcissus Cedric Morris, could be spotted in the Winter Garden.

This month we also picked the winners of out I Love Bodnant Garden photo competition, which were published in our first ever Bodnant Garden calendar (modelled here by property administrator Rose.)



And so to December…it’s only the second year we have opened during the winter and staff and volunteers worked hard, with our neighbours Bodnant Garden Centre, to give visitors a great Christmas day out. We had Winter Garden Walks, festive food at the Pavilion and Magnolia tearooms plus a brazier and refreshments in the Dell, a Santa’s Grotto…but the big hit was our Elves’ Workshop. Fashioned out of a redundant room in the Old Mill by our volunteers, it drew around 800 visitors in the four weekends leading up to Christmas.

In fact visitor numbers have sky-rocketed this year and we’re predicting a figure of around 192,000 by the end of the financial year (February), compared to 175,000 the previous year – no doubt a mark of the fine weather we’ve enjoyed (in spite of a stormy start) but also a tribute to all the hard work of staff and volunteers throughout 2014.

We’ve got another big year to look forward to, with a new head gardener joining the team soon and the opening of The Far End in March. So Happy New Year everyone – and bring on 2015!

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website or Facebook page


Gardening with the cream of the crop


  Calling green-fingered hopefuls – here’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn the garden trade alongside the cream of the crop…and this could be your classroom!

  New students are being invited for the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme, which offers placements at the best gardens and parks in Wales, including ours.

  Students who secure a place at Bodnant Garden will get the chance to work on the Laburnum Arch – which draws around 40,000 visitors during its three-week flowering in May. They will also get chance to hone their gardening skills on the grand rose terraces, among giant old Champion Trees and a historic plant collection gathered from all around the globe.


  Our property administrator Rose James says: “If you fancy learning and training alongside the very best gardeners at Bodnant Garden or other high calibre gardens in Wales this scheme is for you. The deadline for applications is June 27 so don’t miss this fantastic opportunity.”

  The HHSS is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and offers traineeships at Bodnant Garden and Dyffryn Gardens (National Trust), at Aberglasney, Picton Castle, and with Newport City Council, Cardiff City Council and St Fagans Natural History Museum.

   Starting in September, up to 16 chosen trainees will get a £10,000 bursary from Lantra for 14-month placements at these organisations, where they will receive practical training in specialised, heritage horticultural techniques.

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  One of our recent HHSS students has now gone on to work at a national gardening magazine; others have gone on to permanent jobs at other National Trust gardens.

  One of last year’s Bodnant trainees Richard Marriott, now working at Norbury Manor National Trust, says: “I learnt so much at Bodnant. The scheme is a fantastic mixture of theory and countless opportunities for hands-on gardening. It’s an invaluable opportunity to gain real life horticultural skills in a world class garden. It is great for your CV and stands you in good stead for a life long career in horticulture.”

  More information is available at Bodnant Garden on 01492 650460 or from the HHSS website at

When it comes to trees, we are the champions!

dell1 Bodnant Garden is home to some fine Champion Trees – trees introduced many years ago from all over the world which are now some of the best of their kind to be found in the UK.

  It takes something special to be included in the Tree Register of the British Isles, which maintains a database of more than 190,000 Champion Trees dating back centuries. All are exceptional examples of their species because of their enormous size, great age, rarity or historical significance.


Richard admiring the Arbutus x andrachnoides on the Top Rose Terrace, planted in 1902

  Our student gardener Richard Marriot has been researching and cataloguing Bodnant Garden’s ‘champs’ and they tell a fascinating tale not just about the garden but of global horticultural discovery.

  The history of Bodnant Garden’s trees goes back to the 1700s when the land around the original house was landscaped. Around this time native species such as oak and beech were planted in The Old Park, now a wildflower meadow, which can be seen there today.


The Sweet Chestnut on the Top Lawn

  We think this is also when the massive Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa) on the Top Lawn was planted, now much loved by visitors because of its twisted trunk…the main stem was blown out at some point in the past and several larger branches have layered themselves on the lawn. The Sweet Chestnut is considered an ‘honourary’ native, having been introduced by the Romans.

  But the story of our Champion Trees really started when the house and estate was bought by entrepreneur Henry Pochin in the 1870s. Pochin and his descendents were inspired by the plant hunting expeditions of the Victorian and Edwardian period and introduced many newly-discovered trees from all over the world to North Wales.

  It was Pochin who created the Pinetum in the Dell, planting the giant American and Asian conifers; the redwoods, cypress and firs (like the Douglas Fir, named after the ill fated David Douglas who scaled mountains and battled Indians, bears and disease in his North American quest for new plants during the 1830s, only to die from being gored by a bull in Hawaii.) In the early 1900s the garden became home to more broad-leaved exotics brought back from Asia by by other famous plant hunters such as Ernest ‘Chinese Wilson’ and George Forrest, who endured their own hair-raising, life-threatening expeditions.

  Many of Bodnant Garden’s Champion Trees can now be found in The Dell. The valley has helped shelter them against the elements and they have been able to grow taller and more quickly than in other areas of the garden. Look out for these next time you visit: 

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

Sequoia sempervirens

Sequoia sempervirens – This Californian Redwood is the tallest in Britain, at 49m. Planted in 1886 and among Bodnant Garden’s tallest trees, this example almost perfectly mimics wild specimens by being sited within a deep gorge next to a fast flowing river.


Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’

Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’ – Arching silvery-blue stems make this arguably the most spectacular of all ‘blue‘ conifers and at 39m this specimen is the tallest in Britain. In common with so many trees in the Dell, this tree has been forced upwards in order to search out the light.


Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Squarrosa’

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Squarrosa’ – Differing from the species form in that it has softer blue foliage, this contrasts with the bright rusted bark. A Native of Japan, this is the tallest specimen in the UK at 25m, having been planted in 1890.


Sequioadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’

Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’ – An unusual Champion Tree given that this cultivar rarely attains much height, preferring to grow at a corkscrewed slant. Displaying a much narrower main stem than the species, stiff pendulous side branches hang down from this attractive specimen. Planted in 1890, this is the tallest of its form at 34m and has the largest girth at 298cm.


Acer palmatum ‘Hagoromo’ – Quite a rare acer, the tallest in the UK at 12m and with the largest girth at 180cm. Typically quite a small tree, this acer exhibits short stalked, deeply cut leaves which colour an attractive scarlet come the autumn. 


Meliosma beaniana

Meliosma beaniana – A rarity in UK gardens, this species is almost unknown outside a few very select gardens. Handsome ash-like leaves are produced during the summer months folowed by fragrant white flowers in large panicles. Native to China and Korea, this species was introduced by the plant hunter Ernest Wilson in 1900. Bodnant Garden’s example is the tallest at 19.5m and has the largest girth at 169cm.

Other Champion Trees can be found in the Shrub Borders too, including:


Acer truncatum

Acer truncatum – Situated in Chapel Park, this tree is characterised by its many lobed bright green leaves leaves which are heart shaped at the base. This particular tree is the largest by girth in Britain at 219cm.

Eucryphia x intermedia 'Rostrevor'

Eucryphia x intermedia ‘Rostrevor’

Eucryphia x intermedia ‘Rostrevor’ with the largest girth at 128cm, this cultivar found on the Magnolia Walk displays fragrant white flowers which smother the slender stems in August. 

  In all there are currently throught to be 16 Champion Trees around the garden, along with many others which are magnificent in their own right and all have tall tales to tell: The massive cedars on the Lily Terrace, planted in the 1870s, around which the terraces were later built so as not to disturb the trees; the towering Magnolia campbellii brought back as seed from from Asia in the early 1900s by Forrest, grown against the shelter of the terrace walls because it was not known how hardy they were; the Handkerchief Tree in the Shrub Borders grown from seed collected by Wilson on one of his trips to China; and the Embothrium (Chilean Fire Bush) and Eucryphia brought back from South America by Harold Comber, of which we now hold National Collections of both.

  Richard’s full list of Bodnant Garden’s Champion Trees will soon be on our website and we’re hoping to produce a printed garden guide too, so watch out for that.  We also run special Champion Tree guided walks where you can find out more about these fascinating giants.

  For more details contact Bodnant Garden on 01492 650460, check out our website or Facebook page

Gardening with the cream of the crop

Calling budding gardeners! There’s an exciting opportunity to learn specialist skills alongside the cream of the crop at Bodnant Garden and other top horticultural institutions in Wales.

The National Trust garden near Conwy is hosting an open day to showcase the work of the HHSS – Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme – which is recruiting new applicants now.

Prospective trainees and employers are invited to come along to Bodnant Garden on Thursday, June 20, to meet current students and instructors from across Wales and to find out more about the prestigious scheme.


Bodnant’s current HHSS student gardeners Keith Phelan and Richard Marriott with instructor Gemma Hayes

Bodnant Garden’s property administrator Rose James says: “If you fancy learning and training alongside the very best at Bodnant Garden or other high calibre gardens in Wales this scheme is for you!

 “Come along and find out more at our open day, which is also an opportunity for prospective employers to see the high quality training the HHSS offers.”

The HHSS is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and offers traineeships at Bodnant Garden and Dyffryn Gardens (National Trust), at Aberglasney, PictonCastle, Portmerion and Plas Brondanw, and with Newport City Council, Cardiff City Council and St Fagans Natural History Museum.

Starting in September, up to 16 chosen trainees will get a £10,000 bursary from Lantra for 14-month placements at these organisations, where they will receive practical training in specialised, heritage horticultural techniques.

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Tractor training, just one of the many practical skills mastered by our HHSS students Keith and Richard

One of Bodnant Garden’s current HHSS students, Richard Marriott, says: “I have learnt so much already at Bodnant. The scheme is a fantastic mixture of theory and countless opportunities for hands-on gardening.

“It’s an invaluable opportunity to gain real life horticultural skills in a world class garden. It is great for your CV and stands you in good stead for a life long career in horticulture.”

The open day is from 10am to 4pm. More information is available at BodnantGarden on 01492 650460 or from the HHSS website at

The best office in the world

Student gardener Richard Marriott reflects on life at Bodnant, where he is studying with the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme.

“Either work hard or you might as well quit.” So said MC Hammer in his 1990 smash hit “U Can’t Touch This.” Somewhat rather curiously this phrase became my mantra for the two years spent at college whilst studying towards my horticultural degree.

Finally it would appear that hard work and determination to succeed is beginning to pay dividends as I write this three months into my traineeship here at Bodnant Garden.

I would have dialed 999 and expected you to be taken away in a strait-jacket had anyone even dared suggest I may be employed within such a fantastic garden within the first three years of beginning my horticultural career. But it truly does seem to be so – if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

To date I have helped in the completion of the new Winter Garden, worked upon the world renowned Laburnum Arch and I have passed my tractor driving course, a skill which is used on a daily basis. These past weeks I have also laid foundations for a new Champion Trees of Bodnant leaflet which the public will be able to use as they wander around the gardens.

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At work on The Range

Each area of Bodnant has its own distinct personality, from the expansive views commanded by the Terraces, the diverse range of species on display within the Shrub Borders to the other worldly feeling created by the mammoth sized trees of the Dell. Individually these areas would impress as stand-alone gardens, but collectively the mind is blown away. So, what is it like to work as a trainee at Bodnant Garden? In a word, fantastic! Never a dull moment, something new to learn each and every day, along with being within a diverse team which makes my job a joy to arrive at each morning.

Without a doubt the highlight of my week is 8am Monday morning for the plant identification test. Such is my sadistic mind, I welcome with open arms the challenge of learning 20 new Latin plants names each week and being able to recount them word perfect so as to achieve the ever illusive 100%.

Possibly the only downside to working at Bodnant is there being no specific jobs which allow us to shelter away from the Welsh rain, which has been abundant this last year. But us gardeners are made of stern stuff and we’re not going to let a little bit of the wet stuff slow us down. So come rain or shine you will find me with a smile on my face as I work in the best office in the world!

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Richard, on tractor, and fellow student gardener Keith Phelan