Let the great outdoors inspire you in 2016

As recent storms and flooding have reminded us, nature is truly awesome in its power…but nature also has the power to inspire and energise us like nothing else. Here are some new year thoughts from our events and engagement officer Charlie Stretton on reconnecting with the great outdoors:

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Wrapped up and ready for anything…Charlie at Bodnant Garden

I‘ve never been a particular fan of Bear Grylls. To me he has always been a bit of a showman, ramping up the danger factor and the breathless assertions that ‘I could die any minute on this rockface/river/dodgy old rope bridge’ when you know perfectly well that he has a camera crew, a safety line, a comfy hotel and a dozen risk assessments written by the BBC Health and Safety team tucked up his sleeve.

However, he wrote an article recently in the Sunday Times magazine. It was all about getting people – particularly over-cossetted movie stars – out into the wild. He even took Barack Obama into the wilderness, and talked about the importance of protecting that environment for their grandchildren. The article was thoughtful, well-considered and timely. It touched on many important points – primarily how we, in this day and age, live in such a bubble of comfort and technology that we rarely, if ever, experience that sense of being part of the natural world, or of pitting ourselves against the elements, or of having to use our innate survival skills, long-buried by centuries of development and increasing alienation from our environment. He makes the point that this kind of modern living induces a lethargy, a listless apathy in many of us.

However, before Christmas I had to chance to do a bit of unscheduled reconnecting with nature myself. I was dressed as an elf (bear with me here) running craft activities for our younger visitors here at Bodnant Garden. All was going well, despite it being a miserable sort of day, when my neighbour rang. “Come home now” she said “or you won’t get home at all”.

Be inspired…Join us for the Big Bodnant Garden Birdwatch on January 30 and 31

There had been considerable rainfall, the rivers were swollen and many roads had turned into torrents in a matter of hours. I left my colleagues (with their blessing) to continue with the crafts, hit the road and it soon became apparent what my neighbour was talking about. Turning off by Conwy Falls Café, a council van with yellow flashing lights blocked the road ahead, just in front of an enormous amount of water, spilling across the road into the field below. Three cars had already tried to get through, including the postman, and had conked out in the middle. “Don’t even think about it” was the advice.

Nothing for it, but to park up at the side of the road, don my waterproofs and wellies, top it off with my emergency hi-vis vest, and set off on foot. Five miles, in the fading light, down little country lanes, a considerable amount of which were underwater and were only passable by wading extremely slowly. The wind was whipping my wet hair into my eyes, and at times was so strong I had to stand still. The water in places was up to the top of my trusty wellies, and was flowing over the road so fast I had to think twice before crossing. After about two hours, trudging along with the full force of nature being flung in my face, I made it home.

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Be inspired…Plant snowdrops at Bodnant Garden this February half term

But the strange thing was, when I got home, I didn’t feel exhausted or traumatised. I felt massively energised, exhilarated and on a huge high. I felt like I had pitted myself against the elements, had set myself a challenge, and come though it with flying colours. It was an oddly euphoric sensation. Now I do realise that walking home in the rain is not in quite the same league as some of Mr Gryll’s exploits – I didn’t have to consume any warm yak’s blood en route, or drink my own urine at any point – but I still felt that same sense of elation, that sense of having connected with a more visceral and primal side of life, that he refers to in the article.

Of course, there are other, less soggy ways to connect with nature, and to feel that same sense of the timelessness and power of our environment. Just walking though the ancient trees here at Bodnant Garden, or through our fields of daffodils or bluebells, or dipping in the pond with a fishing net – all these can be enough to remind us what’s important. We need nature. We feel uncomfortable if we are denied access to nature for any length of time – and that’s because we are part of it. We are inextricably linked to the natural world, in a continuum that has existed for millennia. We are, as Bear Grylls says, a piece in a jigsaw so big that we can never see the edges, but into which we fit exactly.

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Be inspired…Join our team on a volunteer work day, we could certainly do with the help repairing the flooded Far End!

So, as we all sit in that state of self-induced lethargy brought on by the excesses of Christmas and New Year, maybe now is the time to shake things up a bit, and get outside, even if it’s a howling gale and pouring rain. Wrap up warm, put your best waterproofs on, and, just for a little while, remind yourself what it is to be a part of nature. No dodgy rope bridges required.

For more details about volunteering at Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, for details of upcoming events check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

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Bring on 2016…and a little calm after the storm

Well…surveying the damage to the garden caused by flooding and gales, what can we say? It’s been a storm-battered end to 2015. But nature has a way of bouncing back – with help from us mortals – and we still have 200,000 reasons to be cheerful, because that’s the record number of visitors who came through the gates this year.

JanLast New Year brought a truly fresh start here with the arrival of new head gardener John Rippin, formerly of the National Trust’s Castle Drogo in Devon. The hunt for a head took almost two years following the departure of Troy Smith who took over at Sissinghurst in Kent. During that time our deputy head gardener Adam Salvin took the helm (seen here welcoming John Rippin on a frosty January morning).

It was sleeves up and straight to work for John in the following weeks as we all raced to open the new Far End garden. Gardeners, office staff (like property adminstrator Rose James here) and volunteers all mucked in on team work days, mulching beds, gravelling paths and getting the 10 acres ready for the grand opening.

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Thankfully we enjoyed a bright February of cold but clear days which made the work easier. The weather was also perfect for snowdrop planting and lots of families joined us in our annual effort towards planting 1 million bulbs in the Old Park. Work also began on the renovation of the Gentian Bed near the Pin Mill being redesigned by gardener Katie Croft (seen below) as an ericaceous bed suitable for moisture loving woodland plants, including some rare specimens.

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In March everyone downed tools and took up gadgets and gizmos (some professional, some DIY) in order to view the solar eclipse.

Also in March came our big event of the year with the opening of the Far End. Horticultural broadcaster Christine Walkden did the honours by cutting the ribbon and garden director Michael McLaren gave a speech on behalf of Bodnant’s donor family. We even had Morris Dancers and a harpist providing music for the occasion.

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AprilIn April we welcomed another new member of the team. Charlie Stretton, our new events and engagement officer (seen right) brought with her a wealth of experience with the RSPB in Conwy and has been developing a full programme of events for visitors, especially pop guided bird watching walks with local experts which are becoming increasingly popular, and a range of wildlife events for families.

In spring gardeners were busy on a number of new projects. Ros Puma and Tracy Jones began planting up a ‘experimental’ wildflower border on the Canal Terrace, to fill a gap while the long herbaceous beds are being replanned. Students Jess Mehers and Jette Nielsen (seen below) also started planting up their new design for the Vanessa Beds on the Top Lawn (named after the hybrid Rhododendron Vanessa there), which were damaged when an oak tree came down the previous winter.

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Clodagh

May was Laburnum Arch time of course, with tens of thousands of visitors pouring through the gates to see the annual spectacle. This year marked a new phenomenon – the Laburnum Selfie was huge on our Facebook and Twitter pages! This month the National Trust also acquired Parc Farm on the Great Orme in Llandudno, which will be managed by the Bodnant Garden team. The 145 acres is a site of botanical importance and home to species such as wild cotoneaster, which does not exist anywhere else.

May

Also in May, a team from Bodnant Garden had star billing at the Malvern Show to showcase the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme. Katie and Jess found themselves sharing the limelight with Carol Klein (seen below) and Christine Walkden doing demonstrations of seed collecting and sowing.

Jess and student mentor Katie Croft with Carol Klein at the Malvern Show

In June head gardener John and former-student gardener David Green attended the grand unveiling of a new sensory garden at the Blind Veterans Llandudno Centre. David worked with volunteers there to help develop the garden in a previously overgrown, wooded area of their grounds. Soon afterwards David secured a permanent position at Bodnant Garden, having trained with the team for three years.

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Two of our other former students, Harvey Baker and Nathan Lewis, also gained positions as full-time gardeners here and their colleague Huw Edwards (all seen right) bagged a position with Bodnant Garden Nursery. Well done lads – a testament to the quality of our training scheme!

In July the results of the wildflower ‘experiment’ came to fruition, in a spectacular display which exceeded all expectations. It was such a huge hit with visitors that Tracy and Ros (seen below) are repeating it again in 2016, this time on both sides of the Canal Pond.

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In the summer we learned that the conservation body Plant Heritage had granted Bodnant Garden a fifth National Plant Collection – for Bodnant Garden Hybrid Rhododendrons. It recognises the unique plants bred here at the garden, begun by the Second Lord Aberconway and head gardener Frederick Puddle from the 1920s. Today Bodnant Garden has around 300 hybrid rhododendrons, marked by green tags. The award now brings our collections to five, along with Rhododendron forrestii, Magnolia, Embothrium and Eucryphia.

AugustAugust was the month of love, with two couples popping the question in the garden which they shared with us on social media. It was also the month for children, who lapped up the pond dipping, wildlife crafts, nature trails and other family activities arranged by Charlie with the help of our trusty band of volunteers and helpers. Among them was local lad Gethin Mullock-Jones, doing his Duke of Edinburgh Award, and Italian horticulture students Jacopo Pedol and Stefania Moro (all seen below).

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SeptemberIn September a new student joined us. Christina Smart (seen right) is with us for 14 months as part of the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme. Sadly we also said goodbye to Jette and Jess in the autumn, who finished their placement and bade a temporary farewell to gardener Katie, who jetted off on a year-long study trip to Japan and America.

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We also welcomed new catering manager Ailsa Morris (seen above) and the Pavilion tearoom was awarded the Quality Café Accolade for 2016 by Visit Wales.

October marked a special milestone, as we welcomed those 200,000th visitors through the gates. Staff and volunteers greeted the VIP guests with cake, bubbly and rousing cheers.  Samantha and Simon Hardman, and their baby daughter Emily from Sheffield, were also presented with a picture of the garden by Visitor Services Manager Ann Smith…and after getting over the surprise they said they would definitely be back again!

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It was a long, mild autumn of spectacular colour too, with plants flowering later than usual and the trees hanging onto their leaves for longer. This took us into a busy and successful Half Term Week when families flocked to the crafts and Halloween events…and some volunteers (you know who you are Sally and Phyllis) really got into the spirit of witches’ hovel making.

Children playing in the autumn leaves at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales, in October.

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In November we had more all-team work days to tidy the upper garden ready for winter (seen below). Then in the blink of an eye it was December – off with the witches hats an on with the pixie uniforms as Voles started organising our popular Christmas Elves’ Workshop. The event is in its third year now and getting bigger and better each time – despite pretty poor weather.

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Things turned from mild and mellow to windy and relentlessly wet in November and December and two mature trees were lost in gales. Sadly record amounts of rainfall have brought the year to a dramatic end – in recent days water has rushed down through the garden ripping up gravel paths and coursed through the valley flooding much of the Far End and Dell. It’s been all hands to the pump for staff and volunteers repairing the damage to open parts of the garden.

???????????????????????????????As one hardy gardener commented, “We’ve seen worse.”

On a more hopeful note, the warm spell has coaxed out flowering plants ahead of schedule – some daffodils have made an appearance before the snowdrops! So we end 2015 wishing well to those out there whose lives and livelyhoods have been so affected by the storms, with a heartfelt ‘Hang in there, spring is around the corner.’

There’s plenty to look forward to at Bodnant Garden – a new Poppy Bed, more wildflower borders, early morning openings to view the Laburnum Arch, extended dog walking, a play area for the Far End, and opening the upstairs of the Pin Mill to give you but a tantalising taster. Happy New Year everyone, we hope to see you in 2016.

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.

 

 

Take a walk in our Winter Wonderland

Bodnant Garden January 2015 Web Size - Joe Wainwright-40We hope you’ve all had a great Christmas Day…maybe you’re getting ready for round two today?! By tomorrow many of us will be in need of a good walk and some fresh air. Well it so happens we have the perfect solution for you…get yourselves down to our Winter Garden.

Bodnant’s Winter Garden is now three years old. Four years in the planning and two years in the making, it opened in New Year 2013 and is coming on in leaps and bounds. Plants have bulked up and filled out, now putting on a wonderfully colourful display of leaves, flowers, bark – and scent too. And for those of you who don’t want to walk too far after the festivities, it’s all in the upper garden!

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The site of our Winter Garden was a former Edwardian rockery which for many years had been a densely overgrown forest of azaleas and rhododendrons, closed to the public. The renovation cost £35,000 and the garden attracted 10,000 visitors in its opening three months. It was so popular that, instead of closing it to the public in March as originally planned, we kept the ropes down all year.

In redesigning the area our former head gardener Troy Smith made the most of the light, which at midday shines from the south across the Old Park backlighting the plants.  The design of the garden followed the former layout of stone beds, but paths have been slightly altered to give a more sinuous sweep.

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Existing Lawson Cypress were retained to give structure to the planting scheme, as were many of the old shrubs such as rhododendrons, garrya, camellia and the stunningly gnarled old Acer palmatum. Other taller structural plants were added such as the white birches Betula utlis and the silky red cherry Prunus serrula.

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Forming the middle level are shrubs such as hamamelis, daphne and sarcococca for scent, viburnum and camellia for flower, cornus and rubus for stems and skimmia for berries. A lower layer of small shrubs and herbaceous plants include red leaved bergenia and pittosporum, arching grasses and ferns, heathers and hellebores, with a colourful underplanting of bulbs such as snowdrops, iris, cyclamen and crocus.

Here’s a little gallery of pictures to tempt you. If you can’t make it in person we hope you’ll curl up on the sofa and enjoy them (along with that other mince pie). If you’re feeling more energetic there’s the rest of Bodnant Garden to explore, including our new area The Far End which is open to the public for the first time in winter.

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The garden opens again on December 27. 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.

Forget the high street…take our garden path to a traditional Christmas

Staff, volunteers…and elves are getting ready for a festive family Christmas at Bodnant Garden.

Decorations on a Christmas tree - part of the National Trust seasonal retail items collection.

We’ve got sacks to offer this winter – enjoy walks in the frost-sparkling garden, bring the children to meet Santa and the elves, discover traditional gifts at the shop, garden centre and craft units, and top your day off with Christmas fare, whether it’s a sit-down lunch or al fresco toasted marshmallows.

Bodnant Garden is open all year-round (apart from Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day) with 80 acres of beautiful landscape to enjoy, including a blooming Winter Garden.

Events officer Charlie Stretton says: “We’re looking forward to a magical Christmas here at Bodnant Garden. It’s the place to come if you want to escape the madness of the high street!”

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Chief elf aka volunteer Dave Horsley

The star on our Christmas tree is the Elves’ Workshop, now in its third successful year. The idea was developed by Bodnant Garden volunteers who have renovated part of the historic Old Mill in the riverside garden of The Dell, transforming it into a cosy indoor hub for family activities. This December families will be able to drop in and enjoy Christmas crafts, followed by toasted marshmallows by the roaring brazier outside.

Charlie says: “The Elves’ Workshops are great fun for all the family and have proved very popular. Children really enjoy meeting the resident elves and creating small decorations to take home for their own Christmas tree.”

Workshops will be running every Saturday and Sunday from November 28 to December 20, from 11am to 3pm (no extra charge and no booking required). There will also be a traditional Tree Dressing Day on Sunday, December 6, from 11am to 3pm, when visitors can come along and create a decoration to hang on our very own Bodnant Garden tree.

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Then of course there is the small matter of our famous Grade I Listed garden to explore; visitors can soak in seasonal highlights of the Winter Garden (above), which opened in 2012 and is now a blaze of colour, also for the first time in winter explore The Far End, ten acres of riverside garden which opened to the public this year. Walkers can being their dogs on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until the end of December, then every day from January to the end of February 2016.

Visitors enjoying a warming drink in the cafe at Christmas time, Standen House and Garden, West Sussex.

For refreshment after all that activity there will be hot lunches served at the two tearooms and al fresco snacks at the kiosk in The Dell – where you can keep toasty warm beside the brazier at weekends.

As for that Christmas shopping – sorted! The National Trust Gift shop and our neighbours at Bodnant Garden Centre offer a huge range of Christmas ideas, from cards, decorations and gifts to plants, and of course Christmas trees and wreaths. What’s more there’s a unique collection of local arts and crafts products at Bodnant Craft Centre, from jewellery, paintings, ceramics and furniture.

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And not forgetting Santa, who will be dropping in at Bodnant Garden Centre on Saturdays and Sundays, November 28 to December 20, from 11am to 4pm each day. Entry to Santa’s Grotto is free and donations go towards Ty Gobaith and Ysgol y Gogarth. (He may be swapping his traditional sleigh and for a more horticultural mode of transport…Hoe Hoe Hoe!)

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.

Propagating great garden talent

11825581_969359913111551_3992441335471548899_n (1)Budding gardeners come a long way to learn horticulture at Bodnant. Jessica Mehers came from Scotland and Jette Nielsen from Denmark. They have been training with us since September 2014 but sadly their placement finishes this week. Here they look back on their time:

Around this time last year we were the new trainees on the Heritage Horticultural Skills Scheme (HHSS). However, our time is coming to an end and we are handing over to Christina Smart, the new recruit.

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Jette, Christina and Jess making a bug hotel

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Leading the HHSS scheme at Bodnant Garden, student mentor Gemma Hayes

The HHSS bursary programme provides practical training in heritage gardening, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund through its Skills for the Future programme. The bursary is administered by Lantra. The scheme has operated for four years and has now been extended to finish in November 2016. It aims to increase the number of skilled gardeners available to the heritage horticulture sector in Wales and the UK and is run within a group of seven gardens in Wales: Aberglasney, Bodnant, Cardiff, Dyffryn, Newport, Picton and St Fagans.

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Gardener Mark Morris instructing Jette in the art of mowing, big style

We have had a fantastic time here at Bodnant, learning a huge amount from the great team here.  We have undertaken the RHS Level 2 Practical Assessments and have also completed a new Lantra Award in Creating a Planted Area for a Heritage Site. This award was created specifically for the HHSS programme.

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We were given two plots where an old oak came down in a Boxing Day storm in 2013 and the area had been in need of renovation ever since. It was a big task but we were able to renew the plants to be kept in the beds, create designs for new planting and have now finished our plots and have all our plants in place.

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Above and below, preparing turf and planting the new Vanessa Beds

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In one part of our bed we were able to include some exotic plants that tie in with a sheltered pond area with a tropical feel to it and the rest of our beds as woodland planting.

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Jess doing some watery weeding

As well as our day to day work and training in the garden, we have been on trips to Westonbirt Arboretum, Painswick Rococo Gardens, St Fagans, The National Botanic Garden of Wales, the Centre for Alternative Technology and Plas Cadnant. The scheme also had a large stand at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival.

Jess and student mentor Katie Croft with Carol Klein at the Malvern Show

Jess and Bodnant student mentor Katie Croft with Carol Klein, putting on a show at Malvern

We got to do a couple of stage presentations with Carol Klein and Christine Walkden, which was fun! We were also able to take part in the Rhododendron and Camelia Societies’ centenary meeting here at Bodnant, with some of the other HHSS students. We were able to learn a lot of new plants in a short space of time going on visits with such knowledgeable and enthusiastic group of people.

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Regular plant identification sessions

A few major events have occurred in Bodnant during our time here. Our new head gardener, John Rippon, joined us in January. In March we opened the Far End – 10 acres newly accessible to the public. Also, just the other week the garden reached a landmark of 200,000 visitors in one year for the first time. This was celebrated with cake and champagne and gifts for the lucky family (who were a bit taken back by the reception they got upon their arrival!)

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Leading guided walks

We shall be very sad to be leaving, but Christina, our new HHSS student who comes from nearby Deganwy has been here a few weeks now and seems to be settling in fine. We have made a pact to both be back to the garden for the opening of another new area, the Furnace Bank in 2017. We can visit everyone and we can see how our beds are looking at the same time!

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Jette enjoying a quiet moment

From everyone at Bodnant Garden, a very warm welcome to Christina and a huge thank you to Jette and Jess – you will be missed. Best of luck for your future and Jette, if you don’t follow a gardening path we reckon there’s a career in photography for you – thanks for all the great pictures of your year!

Recognition for our rare rhododendrons

If you’ve ever walked around Bodnant Garden and wondered what the green plant labels mean…they are reserved for special rhododendrons, those unique to Bodnant, our Bodnant Hybrids.

We’ve recently had news that the conservation body Plant Heritage has approved this group as an important new National Collection – to give them their full title, Rhododendron Hybrids Bred at Bodnant Garden 1927-1983. This takes our number of National Collections to five – we already hold collections of Magnolia, Eucryphia, Embothrium and Rhododendron forrestii.

It’s a big deal – the collection reflects Bodnant’s place in the great British history of rhododendrons. It also highlights our quest to save these hybrid plants, some of which are ‘lost’ to records and some even nearing extinction.

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This is something close to the heart of Bodnant Garden’s taxonomist Alison Clarke (seen right) who has been working for several years to nurture our hybrids and safeguard their future.

Bodnant Garden played a lead role in the story of rhododendrons in Britain. These ‘exotic’ new plants began trickling into Britain in the late 1800s but it was in the early 20th century that they really made their mark. Bodnant Garden’s owner Henry Duncan McLaren, second Lord Aberconway, was active in sponsoring the expeditions of plant hunters such as George Forrest, Ernest Wilson, Frank Kingdom Ward, Joseph Rock, which brought back to our large country houses, parks and gardens quantities of these and other Asian plants, like magnolias.

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Head gardener Frederick Puddle and Lord Aberconway

The first rhododendron came to Bodnant Garden in 1910. Legend has it that head gardener Frederick Puddle at first didn’t believe they would be hardy enough to grow in North Wales – thankfully he was proved wrong! They acclimatised so well that Lord Aberconway and Mr Puddle went on to develop a successful breeding programme.

Rhododendron griersonianum 01Their hybridisation programme started during 1920s. Many of the early rhododendrons offered a new colour palette and range of genes to work with. Those that were most used at Bodnant Garden included Rh. wardii (the first strong yellow), Rh. cinnabarinum (which introduced orange shades), and the reds for which the garden became so famous, including Rh. forrestii and Rh. griersonianum (seen above). Nearly half of all hybrids registered were reds – the Bodnant Bloody Reds.

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Rhododendron wardii and Rhododendron cinnabarinum

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Rhododendron ‘Elizabeth’

One aim was to extend the flowering season by using particularly early and late flowering species; also to produce stronger plants by crossing tender plants with more hardy species; another reason was to produce smaller plants suitable for the domestic market, the most famous example being Rh.‘Elizabeth’ – still one of the most popular rhododendrons in the UK.

Alison says: “Over 300 hybrids were raised and registered to Bodnant. To date we have 115 varieties in the garden. Some exist only as a singular specimen. Those under threat of extinction are being actively propagated.

“Sadly today there are only perhaps ten or so that are widely available to buy. Some of the most well know are Rhododendrons Elizabeth, Cilpinense, Vanessa Pastel, Fabia Tangerine and Matador. We are actively searching for the others both in the garden and elsewhere, including nurseries selling them and other gardens which may have them.”

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Rhododendron Fabia Tangerine and Rhododendron Vanessa Pastel

Many of the ‘missing’ plants are thought to be still in the garden but have lost their labels so we are working with metal detectorists from Mold Historical Society to help find labels. In future DNA analysis may also help identify plants thought to be missing hybrids.

Meanwhile we are actively propagating ‘at risk’ hybrids using alternative methods such as grafting, layering and micro-propagation, and hope to one day restart a Bodnant Garden hybridisation programme.

Our registration as a National Collection will raise the profile of these special plants and hopefully encourage more people to grow them, helping to safeguard their future.

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.

There’s blooming good fun to be had at Bodnant Garden this summer

The roses are out…summer has officially arrived at Bodnant Garden and it’s time to get the family out and enjoying the great outdoors.

Family visitors looking at the waterlilies on the Canal Terrace in August at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales

The garden has six weeks of special summer activities and events to delight visitors of all ages. Charlie Stretton, our events officer, says: “There’s something for everyone; adults can enjoy the beauty of the garden to the sound of harp music, while the kids can get their hands dirty building dens, pond dipping  and even being gardeners for a day. It’s the perfect place for everyone to get outdoors and a little closer to nature.”

Our summer kicks-off with a fortnight of Kids’ Crafts, from July 20. There will be activities Monday to Friday at the Old Mill in The Dell (11-1pm), a chance to get creative making Cone Creatures, Dancing Dragonflies and Lovely Leaf Crowns.

In August our Grow Wild events take over, with a programme of nature activities for youngsters: Pond Dipping at the Skating Pond on Tuesdays (12-3pm), Nature Walks on Wednesdays (11-12noon), Wild Art on Thursdays under the Laburnum Arch (12-3pm), Wildlife Detectives on Fridays (2-3.30pm), Den Building on Saturday in the Far End (11-3pm) and Gardener’s Apprentice on Sundays (2-3pm).

There’s also Music in the Pin Mill most Sundays through the summer (2-4pm), plus a series of Guided Walks (2-3pm) including Champion Trees on July 29, Students’ Walk on August 12 and History of Bodnant Garden on August 26.

There are Falconry Displays on July 22 and August 19 (10.30-4pm) and Poem Open Days on July 28 and August 25, offering a chance to explore inside the mausoleum dedicated to Bodnant Garden’s founder family.

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Play Nature Detectives during our Grow Wild month

Summer ends on a high note with our Big Tree Climb on August 30 and 31 (10-3pm) when visitors of all ages can join experts to scale some of our giants. There’s no extra charge for any of these events but booking is essential for a place on the tree climbing and guided walks, by calling 01492 650460.

Don’t forget dogs are welcome every Wednesday evening all through the summer, from 5-8pm, until the end of August.

After all that activity if you have time to stop and eat there’s indoor dining at the garden’s two tearooms and al fresco snacks at kiosks at The Old Mill and the newly opened Far End. Visitors can also picnic among the meadow grass in the Old Park and Chapel Park, under trees in the Yew Dell and in The Dell.

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Arts and crafts under the Laburnum Arch

Charlie says: “And let’s not forget the garden! There are spectacular displays on our two rose terraces, flowering beds and borders are at their peak, wildflower meadows are buzzing with butterflies and bees, and the riverside gardens are cool and lush. There’s so much to do and see you could spend all summer here!”

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.

Bodnant helps volunteers create veterans’ sensory garden

Bodnant gardener David Green has been helping volunteers and staff of the Blind Veterans Association create a sensory garden at their Llandudno centre, and was guest at the recent opening:

David and Bodnant’s head gardener John at the opening

The Blind Veterans Llandudno Centre has been developing a sensory garden in a previously overgrown, wooded area of their grounds.

The charity provides support to both ex-Service men and women blinded in action, and for veterans who have lost their sight through accident, illness or old age to discover life beyond sight loss. This support includes helping them to relearn vital life skills and providing them with the tools they need to be independent in their own homes as well as offering new learning, training and recreation opportunities and providing long-term nursing, residential and respite care.

 The new garden provides a safe and stimulating outdoor environment for visitors to the centre, but also provides a venue for other educational activities. A rope handrail is available to guide visitors around the garden which is planted with difference textures and colours for the partially sighted as well as numerous scented plants. Listening guides have also been provided so that visitors can learn to identify the birdsong in the garden.

It was designed by a garden designer from London but most of the physical activity in clearing and replanting the area has been done by volunteer groups co-ordinated by staff at the centre.

Originally I was asked to advise on creating a vegetable garden from the pallets left over from their plant delivery. In the future, I will also be providing a maintenance plan with advice on things like pruning cornus to get the maximum winter colour and keeping some more thuggish plants such as periwinkle in their place.

 

A wildlife hotel made from palettes and a bench carved from a tree

The opening of the garden is in celebration of the charity’s 100 years of service. It was also an opportunity to thank all the volunteers involved in the creation of the garden as well as recognising the vital input they made by volunteers at the centre during National Volunteer’s Week.

For more information contact the centre at Blind Veterans UK, Queens Road, Llandudno, LL30 1UT (call 01492 868700) or go to the website www.blindveterans.org.uk

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.

Memories are made of this

The Laburnum Arch may be fading for another year, but what a show it’s been…and what memories it’s made. Visitors numbers to Bodnant Garden soared during the annual spectacle, from around 8,000 a week in mid May BL (Before Laburnum) to almost 14,000 one week later, where figures hovered for four weeks of the flowering phenomenon. The display made the BBC Wales news, The Times newspaper and whipped up a storm on social media.

Clodagh Murphy

What is it that generates such a frenzy of interest? As a wonder of nature (or horticulture) this pergola walkway of drooping golden flowers is dazzlingly beautiful and on a scale not many of us get to see very often. At a jaw-dropping 180 feet our arch is believed to be the longest in the UK and is certainly the oldest, at 130 years plus. It’s both a testament to the man who envisaged it but never saw it in its full glory – the garden’s founder Henry Pochin – and to the gardeners who have painstakingly cared for it in the years since.

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Derek Brockway gives us a shout out on BBC Wales News weather

But the emotions the Laburnum Arch conjures are something else. From the visitor numbers, the comment cards and just the look on people’s faces as you watch them wandering through, it clearly means a lot of things to a lot of people. There are those just delighted by the all-enveloping sensory experience – the sight, the scent, the hum of bees feasting on the flowers – there are others for whom it’s creating memories, as they enjoy the delight on their children’s faces, and others for who it brings back memories, of visiting as children themselves, or with loved ones now gone.

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Comments ranged from the ‘amazing’, ‘stunning’ and ‘magical’ to one visitor who described it as a ‘tunnel of yellowy loveliness’ and another who made the post-general election quip, ‘reminds me of the Lib Dems hanging out to dry’ (views expressed do not reflect our own)! Several visitors, moved by thoughts of previous visits with family and friends, suggested the idea of a memory tree or garden feature for people to somehow mark their reminiscences.

The surge in smart phones has brought a deluge of photos and feedback from people all wanting to share their experience (including, for all those of a certain age,  H from Steps)… 2015 has officially been the year of the Laburnum Selfie! As pictures speak a thousand words, here are just a few which sum up the Laburnum effect perfectly. Thanks everyone for sharing your Laburnum Arch with us – here’s to next year:

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Ruth and Alan

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LIndsay williams Laura Fairbairn

Chris and Ria

Sarah Breeze-Roberts Mandy Farrall

Charlotte Mattin Clare Miller

Kirstie Pool

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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.

 

The fascinating world of grass…really!

Do you know your smooth from your rough meadow grass? Bodnant gardener Katie and others took part in a training day recently to learn just that… 

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Can you tell what it is yet? Barbara and Katie

Last week I had a great day out with gardeners Bill, Laura, Alex and volunteer gardener Barbara at a meadows training day at Plas Newydd, our National Trust neighbours. The training was organised by the Coronation Meadows scheme, which aims to promote, protect and increase species-rich grassland throughout the UK.

As you may know, 98% of species-rich meadows have been destroyed since 1945, mostly through intensive agricultural management for dairy and beef cattle grazing, or development. This has had a devastating effect on wildlife that is dependent on this habitat, including butterflies, moths, beetles and birds.

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The species rich meadow at Plas Newydd

Plas Newydd has an amazing example of a species-rich meadow, which includes evocative sounding species such as the Greater Butterfly Orchid, Eye-bright, Lesser Stichwort, Yellow Rattle and Shamrock. It is a designated Coronation Meadow and is also a donor site for creating new meadows.

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Our day at Plas Newydd was a training session on grass identification for meadow monitoring. Don’t yawn now – it was brilliant! Well, OK, I do realise that spending a long time crouched in a field, comparing the size and hairiness of ligules through a hand lens, in order to tell the difference between smooth meadow grass and rough meadow grass might not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, a really important part of managing meadows is that you monitor what species are in it, year on year, that way you can tell if your management regime is having the desired effect, and identify any problems. And, of course, to be able to record your species, you do have to be able to tell the difference between the grasses!

So a group of us from Bodnant Garden came along to the training so that we could improve our monitoring skills, as well as support our colleagues at Plas Newydd.

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Learning the survey method…

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We spent a few hours in the morning looking at key identification characteristics in the classroom, and learning about the importance of grasses on a global scale. The rest of the day was spent in the field (literally) looking at common and important species before having a go at the surveying method that the Coronation Meadows scheme use.

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…and putting it into action in the field

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This was great fun, laying out ‘quadrats,’ scrabbling through to find all the species in there, and how often they appear, in order to capture a series of samples of the vegetation. It was a great experience and I am now much more confident in identifying grasses. You might not think it at first but the world of grasses is fascinating, and pretty addictive! Earlier this week I found myself crouched in the Old Park back at Bodnant Garden, getting very excited that I’d found a clump of Crested Dog’s Tail! Might be time for a holiday…

If you’d like to help with the management of the meadow at Plas Newydd, they are looking for volunteers to help with monitoring. Contact Helen Buckingham, wildlife and countryside advisor, at helen.buckingham@nationaltrust.org.uk

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The Old Park meadow at Bodnant Garden, one of three which we are managing for wildlife

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.