Discovering a fascinating world of fungi at Bodnant Garden

It’s not all about the flowers. Our volunteer Dave Thomas, who normally leads walks at Bodnant, enjoys a guided tour from a fungus expert during our #Treefest month at the garden:

Deer shield (luteus cervinus) growing on rotten wood at Tyntesfield, Somerset

Think of Bodnant Garden and you immediately think of flowers and trees, but there is another natural world to be found – most of it is probably missed by our visitors, and possibly by many of us who are here every week as well.

In my 18 months volunteering and guiding visitors around the 25 miles of pathways I have seen various fungi but a Fungal Forage with Fungal Punk Dave and a group of visitors showed just how many of these fascinating specimens I have missed.

Starting on the Old Park you immediately notice the sheep, but look for many varieties of the Waxcap (Hygrocybe) fungus, generally up to 25mm diameter (one inch in old money) and all sorts of colours.  In just a few minutes we found the Scarlet Hood (red), Snowy (white), Meadow (peach), Butter (yellow) and Parrot (purple but starts off greenish-brown).  Apparently, this type of fungi is an indication of good, natural grassland so that bodes well for the future displays of daffodils and wild flowers.

Waxcap fungus

Waxcap fungus

You will also find the dung fungi, living on the sheep droppings and there is a different form that survives on what the rabbits leave behind, so you can tell which four-legged friend or foe has been there!

Moving into the Acer Glade there are more waxcaps – the Heath (greyish brown) and Honey (red) which smells of honey when crushed.  Under the beech trees you will find Lactarius fungi which expel milk and the tiny Mycena bonnet fungus of which there are 150 different types.

Into the Glades where the curiously named Lacceria amethystina Deceiver is violet when young and feels silky, whilst the “ordinary” Deceiver is cream.  You have to be extremely careful when it comes to selecting fungi for eating as it is often difficult to correctly identify the species.  The Amanita rubscens is blotchy brown and known as The Blusher – it can be eaten but there is an identical looking Panther Cap that is poisonous.  Another of the Amanita family is the easily recognised Fly Agaric – the red one with white spots that is often the one featured in fairy story illustrations – but don’t eat it.

Amethyst Deceiver Fungi amongst dead leaves at Calke Abbey, Derby, UK.

Amethyst Deceiver

The Beech Bank near the Bath gave us fungi with distinctive smells – Mycena galopus smells of coconut whilst the very pretty Russula (Beechwood Sickener) smells of unripe apples – it has a cherry colour cap and is very hot to the taste.  Another of the Russulas is Cyanoxantha also known as the Charcoal Burner – violet with green spots and has a mild, nutty taste.

Under the beech trees we found the tiny Spindle fungus – fully grown and only about 15mm long, 1mm diameter and bright orange in colour. Look closely and you’ll find quite a lot of it. Although the smallest we found it is one with the longest name – Clavulinopsis aurantiocinnabarina (who dreams up these names?)

Fungi are not confined to the ground, on some dead holly leaves near the Wisteria steps by the Lily Pond there is Holly Speckle, where we also found the rare Scurfy Twiglet (Tubaria furfuracea) which has a cap patterned like a dartboard.  Nearby was a Scaly Earthball (Sclerodema verrucosum), a puff ball which spreads its’ spores in a cloud when pressed.

Parasol mushroom at Porth y Swnt, Wales

Parasol mushroom

Parasol mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera) have snakeskin stems and smell of warm milk and can be found near the gate leading to Cae Poeth.  The gate leads to the compost area where the log pile produced a wealth of fungi – a large specimen of the Turkey Tail Bracket (Trametes versicolor) which is said to cure prostrate and breast cancer, various other bracket fungi on the old rotting logs and the Coral Spot Fungus (Nectina cinnabarina) which “decorates” dying branches by the bead like appearance.  There was also the Clepiota sepria which has a whiff of rubber.  There was even a fungus (Parasitic Bolete – Pseudoboletus parasiticus) that grows on another, the decaying Earthballs.

Fungi are essential for plant growth, feeding on rotting material and passing back essential nutrients to feed the many trees and plants we have in Bodnant.  However, there are some, notably the Honey Fungus, that need to be kept in check.

The UK has 14,000 different fungi, the world is believed to have as many as 1.6 million … in a couple of tours Fungal Punk Dave found nearly 70 different varieties. It certainly opened my eyes to just how much I have missed when wandering around…how many can you find?

Cep fungus

Thank you Dave Higginson-Tranter (Fungal Punk Dave) for leading our fungal forage at Bodnant Garden this October during #Treefest. Check out his website www.fungalpunknature.co.uk and go to the Natural Zone pages for information on fungi and many other subjects.

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

Help crown Bodnant Garden’s old chestnut as Wales Tree of the Year

Here at Bodnant Garden the grand old Sweet Chestnut on our Top Lawn is one of our most loved residents. Known as a ‘walking tree’, she’s now in the running for the title of Wales Tree of the Year.

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Gardener Dave Larter hugging our Sweet Chestnut

Striding across the grass of the formal lawn with her gnarled, many-legged trunk, the old girl is one of the first sights to greet visitors when they arrive through the garden gates, much photographed, painted and admired.

Now, she is one of six great trees around the country vying for the prestigious title of Wales Tree of the Year in a competition being run by the Woodland Trust. The public are being asked to vote for their favourite and the winner will be announced in mid-October.

So why is she so special? This tree is one of the oldest at Bodnant Garden, a remnant of its early, Georgian past.

Owner John Forbes built the original hall in 1782 and created a parkland around it in the Landscape style of the day after designers like Kent, Capability Brown and Repton. This brought nature close to the house with a panorama of rolling grassland dotted with native trees like oak, beech, sycamore and chestnut, and a ha-ha or ditch keep grazing animals away from the hall.

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She’s there somewhere… among the group of trees in front of the hall in this picture of Bodnant Garden from the mid 1800s

With her solid Georgian roots, our Sweet Chestnut has withstood the passage of time and the rugged North Wales weather, being encorporated into the later, formal Victorian upper garden and ageing into her very own, unique character. Her main stem was blown out at some point in the past by a lightening strike causing the trunk to split. Over time several of the larger branches have layered themselves upon the lawn, giving her ‘legs’.

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Today, a great place for a bug hunt

She’s a favourite of gardener Dave Larter who watches over our trees here at Bodnant Garden. He says: “I love trees! Especially old trees with some history, trees with character and trees with potential for the future. This one has it all. At well over 200 years of age, maybe 250, she is making her claim on the top lawn for sure.

“Having lost her top many decades ago, she started to ‘walk’ northwards. Beaten back by strong winds and chainsaws, she is now intent on a south-westerly route. A truly ‘walking tree’, she  appears almost Elephantine without foliage, placing her trunk where she wants to go next. She has already layered daughters which are layering their own offspring and, given chance, they will layer theirs. Who knows where she could be in years to come?”

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Perfect for just enjoying the shade on a hot day

Bodnant Garden is home to many exotic and native trees, some of them UK Champions – the biggest and best of their kind in the UK. The Sweet Chestnut is an honourary native, having been introduced to Britain by the Romans, and while ours hasn’t attained any official Champion status (yet!) she certainly holds a special place of honour here at the garden.

The Wales Tree of the Year competition runs until October 9. To vote for our Sweet Chestnut find the details at the Woodland Trust website here http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/tree-of-the-year/wales

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Draped in finery during our recent textile exhibition at the garden

 

 

Bring out the bubbly! Bodnant Garden makes history with 200,000 visitors

The team at Bodnant Garden downed tools recently to welcome our 200,000th visitor this year, who was greeted at the gates by staff and volunteers bearing bubbly and cake.

200,000 visitor to Bodnant Gardens, North Wales - Simon Samantha & Emily Hardman

Staff and volunteers greet the 200,000 visitors to Bodnant Garden – Simon, Samantha and Emily Hardman

We reached this milestone in a blaze of autumn colour, months ahead of target. It’s the first time in the garden’s 140-year history that visitor numbers have reached this level.

The lucky guests were Samantha and Simon Hardman, and their baby daughter Emily from Sheffield, for whom it was their first visit.

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They said: “We came here to Bodnant Garden on a relative’s recommendation. We were expecting a beautiful garden, but we were definitely not anticipating the shower of confetti, the huge cake, the bubbly and the crowd of staff, volunteers and visitors that greeted our arrival! This was our first ever visit to Bodnant Garden, but it won’t be our last – the garden is absolutely magnificent, and the autumn colours are stunning. We will be back, and we’ll be recommending it to all our friends.”

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The garden has attracted around 180,000 visitors per year for some years but visitor numbers have been steadily rising since 2013 with the opening of new areas – the Winter Garden, Old Park meadow, Yew Dell and Far End – and new initiatives like dog days, garden events and family activities.

General manager William Greenwood says: “It’s an absolutely amazing achievement and a stunning tribute to so much hard work and dedication in all weathers from our hardworking staff and volunteer team. I can’t thank enough every single one of them.

“I find it difficult to grasp just how many visitors 200,000 really is. Apparently we’d have to empty the Millennium Stadium over 2½ times, and then we’d need 3,175 double decker buses just to bring them all here!”

It’s been a proud moment for everyone at the garden, staff and volunteers, from the gardens to the tearooms and offices:

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Ann Smith, Visitor Services Manager

“Having worked at the garden for many years I’ve been privileged to see all the changes and developments as they’ve happened. I’m full of admiration for our gardeners who passionately and creatively work in harmony with nature and often have to battle with the elements. I’ve seen their sorrow when they’ve had to take down a very old tree which has come to the end of its life; their stoicism as they’ve tackled the devastating damage caused by floods and high winds, and their joy when a new area they’ve worked so hard to restore is finally opened to visitors.

“But what I’m most proud of is the commitment and enthusiasm of all staff and volunteers to sharing their love of the garden with visitors, ensuring that they have a fantastic time here, that they come back again and again, and that they become ambassadors for Bodnant Garden.  And, clearly it works – reaching this amazing milestone of our 200,000th visitor in under a year is a tangible testament to the dedication and success of the team at Bodnant Garden.”

Gardener working in August at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales.

Mark Morris, gardener

Mark has been working at Bodnant Garden for around 30 years, man and boy, and is font of all knowledge for everyone on the garden team.

He says: I’ve been lucky enough to work with both the third Lord Aberconway and with head gardener Martin Puddle in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then we welcomed around 140,000 visitors a year – we thought that was a lot of people! But Bodnant is a large garden with so many different areas for people to explore and it never feels crowded.

“There have been massive changes in that time, the garden has completely changed – new areas have opened up and the planting which used to be more conservative is now more contemporary – but to me it is equally as magical now as it has always been. This place is who I am. It’s just really pleasing to know more people are now enjoying and appreciating this special place.”

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Visitor Services Volunteer Richard Berry

Richard helps meet and greet visitors and organise a whole range of events in the garden. Over the past two years he and fellow ‘Voles’ have been the brains and the brawn behind transforming part of the Old Mill in the Dell into a hub for visitors, including an Elves Workshop in winter. He says: “I love my role as a volunteer working alongside my colleagues in our varied activities and now seeing another achievement in having our 200,000 visitor this year. Another highlight has been to help clean out part of the Old Mill which is now used for family activities and garden presentations.”  

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Student gardener Jess Mehers

Jess has been at Bodnant Garden for the past year training with the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme. She and fellow trainee Jaette Nielson have redesigned and replanted the Vanessa Bed on the Top Lawn, which was decimated by an oak tree which fell in storms of 2013.

Jess says: It’s been such an exciting time to be at Bodnant Garden with new areas opening and new projects going on. It’s been wonderful to work alongside such a vibrant team of skilled gardeners, staff and volunteers, and I’ve loved meeting all the visitors. It’s particularly special to be here for the 200,000th visitor. That’s quite an achievement.”

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John Baxendale, Visitor reception assistant

John is one of the team at the ‘frontline’ who welcomes visitors at reception and has been here for around four years. He says: It’s wonderful news to reach 200,000 visitors – we’re just glad they don’t all come on the same day! I get to meet people from all four corners of the world – in many different languages which makes for interesting scenarios! There’s never a dull moment. People are always just amazed by this internationally acclaimed garden. I wouldn’t be here unless I loved it. And I really do love it.”

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Michael McLaren, Garden Director

Michael McLaren, of the donor family, said: “I am delighted that this month Bodnant will be welcoming its 200,000th visitor – the first time ever that we have had more than 200,000 visitors in one year. My grandfather, Henry 2nd Lord Aberconway, who gave the garden to the National Trust in 1949 and who more than anyone else was responsible for the creation of the garden, loved seeing visitors appreciating the beauty of the garden and learning about horticulture and garden design. He too would have been thrilled to see this record broken…and with the prospect of further milestones being passed before the end of the year.

“Huge thanks from me and all the donor family to the staff and volunteers who have made this great achievement possible, and particularly to the gardeners for ensuring that the garden looks better than ever.”

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Helen MacDonald, tearoom assistant

Helen has worked here for three years, also on the frontline making sure visitors get that leisurely lunch in the bustling tearooms or much-needed snack in the new al-fresco kiosks down in The Dell and Far End.

She says: “It’s a beautiful place to work and I feel very lucky. It gets busy in summer mind you, but I like that. I enjoy meeting all the different people who come in, from all over the world, and having a chat. Some more familiar faces come regularly and pop in to say hello which is nice. 200,000 visitors is quite something.The gardeners do a wonderful job and that’s what people come to see, it’s a real credit to them.”

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John Rippin, Head Gardener

John joined the team in January this year, coming from Castle Drogo in Devon, another National Trust property.

He says: “The rich gardening tradition at Bodnant stretches far back into history. When the Statue of Liberty was being dedicated the first giant redwoods were being planted in The Dell.  Despite many triumphs and tragedies including two apocalyptic 20th Century world wars that changed the economic and social landscape of this nation, the celebrated team of Bodnant gardeners here have always continued with what gardeners do best – getting on with what they know and love.

“The spirit of resilience and pride continues with the present Bodnant Garden Team and has seen them through their own share of challenges that a garden of this size and significance will always encounter. After years of hard work, change and periods of uncertainty however, the taste of success is always sweeter and more satisfying than if there had been no struggle.

“I believe the 200,000th visitor marks and important moment in time for the team at Bodnant Garden; it says categorically that the dedication and painstaking attention to detail of the garden team employs in their every-day work is greatly appreciated. Perhaps more importantly it says that the ongoing creative revitalisation of the garden and the opening of new areas has been hugely successful with our visitors and is a winning formula we can all celebrate.

“I’m glad that Bodnant gardeners have been able to step away from their beautiful borders, streams and glades today to take part in the occasion and albeit briefly to reflect on the magnitude of the moment with a renewed sense of satisfaction of a job well done.”

Justin_Albert_webJustin Albert, National Trust Director for Wales

“Quite simply Bodnant Garden is paradise on Earth.  Sublime, restful and inventive twelve months a year it has earnt its place as one of the very best of the world’s gardens.”

“I want to thank the McLaren family not just for the wonderful gift to the nation of Bodnant Garden, a masterpiece they created and nurtured, but also for continuing inspiration and vision that their close involvement brings to its success. 200,000 visitors is a genuine milestone, and I am so proud that we have achieved it without losing the essential tranquillity and wonder of the Bodnant Garden experience.”

“As Director for Wales I am not allowed to have a favourite place, but for me Bodnant represents the very best that the Trust has to offer. A great beauty, a long history of invention, partnership with the family that gave us the garden and most of all extraordinary staff and volunteers who deliver great experiences to everyone who visits.”

“I challenge anyone not to fall in love with Bodnant Garden, well done to all the staff and volunteers on reaching this historic milestone, and most importantly giving so many people such wonderful experiences in the Welsh paradise.”

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General manager William, left, with staff Charlie, Adam, Fran and Rose.

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.

200,000 visitors…and counting!

Tension is mounting. Bodnant Garden is about to hit a landmark 200,000 visitors through the famous wrought-iron gates, any day now. If you’re visiting over the next few days, it could be you!

As the garden radiates with autumn colour this mid October, we’re all set to reach this milestone for the first time in our 140-year history – months ahead of target. All eyes will be on the ticket office for the coming days as garden staff and volunteers prepare to greet the 200,000th visitor with bubbly, cake and a rousing welcome.

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Ready with balloons are events officer Charlie Stretton, property manager William Greenwood and property administrator Rose James

Our property manager William Greenwood says: “We never thought this would happen this year; one day yes, but not yet!

“It’s terribly exciting for all of us that so many of our visitors love coming here so much that we’re going to welcome the 200,000th any day now. It’s an amazing compliment to all our staff and volunteers and the dedication they’ve shown in helping make this the great garden that it is.”

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Bodnant Garden was founded in 1874 by Victorian industrial chemist and entrepreneur Henry Pochin (seen right). It has since been developed by five generations of his family, in conjunction with the National Trust since 1949.

The garden has attracted around 180,000 visitors per year for some years – regularly welcoming around 50,000 in May alone who flock to see the famous Laburnum Arch, the UK’s oldest and longest pergola walkway.

Visitor numbers have been steadily rising since 2013 with the opening of new areas – the Winter Garden, Old Park meadow, Yew Dell and Far End lakeside garden.

William says: “Bodnant has always been a great garden, a horticultural gem, but we’ve now got so much more to offer visitors, with all-year opening, new areas to explore and a growing events programme for all tastes whether it’s holidaying families, weekend dog walkers and the serious garden lovers.

“We’re seeing new visitors coming – locally and from further afield – and they’re coming back time and again at different times of year. We aim to build on this loyalty in coming years, with more new areas opening and garden plans in the pipeline.”

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Celebrating the opening of The Far End in March, garden manager Michael McLaren, with wife Caroline and garden broadcaster Christine Walkden

Michael McLaren, garden manager and descendant of the donor family, said: “I am delighted that this month Bodnant will be welcoming its 200,000th visitor – the first time ever that we have had more than 200,000 visitors in one year.

“My grandfather, Henry 2nd Lord Aberconway, who gave the garden to the National Trust in 1949 and who more than anyone else was responsible for the creation of the garden, loved seeing visitors appreciating the beauty of the garden and learning about horticulture and garden design.

“He too would have been thrilled to see this record broken…and with the prospect of further milestones being passed before the end of the year.

“Huge thanks from me and all the donor family to the staff and volunteers who have made this great achievement possible, and particularly to the gardeners for ensuring that the garden looks better than ever.”

So if you’re visiting in the next few days who knows…look out for gardeners bearing balloons!

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.

 

Talking the talk and walking the walk

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We’ve got an amazing garden…and a passionate team of staff and volunteers willing, able and just itching to tell you about it! Whether it’s Champion Trees, everything you ever wanted to know about salvias or Bodnant history, our team regularly give talks, from daytime guided walks around the garden to evening presentations for outside groups.

Our head gardener John Rippin, supervisor Bill Warrell and gardener Fiona Braithwaite regularly give presentations to local groups, and some further afield, on subjects ranging from garden history to plants to wildlife, supported by other staff and volunteers.

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Head gardener John joined the team in January but is already making his mark and giving presentations on his vision for Bodnant Garden, what areas of the garden are opening in the coming years and our plans for the future.

It’s all about the plants for Bill, who will wax lyrical about the diverse collection of plants to be found throughout the seasons, as well as the garden work entailed in maintaining this much-visited, much-loved, Grade 1 listed gem.

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Bill Warrell giving a talk on Champion Trees

Fiona is our history expert and is well known, and in demand, for her presentations about Bodnant Garden through the ages; the families, famous plant hunters and gardeners who developed it.

If you’d like one of our team to come and give a presentation to your group all we ask is a donation; £50 for small local groups under 25 members and £60 for large local groups over 25 members within 10 miles (with a travel allowance for further distances.)

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Volunteers giving a tour of the garden

As well as group presentations there is a regular programme of monthly specialist guided walks and talks around the garden provided by our gardeners and students. Topics covered this year have ranged from rose care, plants and folklore to propagation.  This year we’ve also started a new series of bird walks with local experts BirdwatchingTrips, which are becoming increasingly popular. Our knowledgeable volunteers also provide free guided tours of areas of the garden throughout the week.

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A Birds of Bodnant tour

For details of our guided garden walks check our website and Facebook page and if you’d like to book a presentation to your group call the garden office on 01492 650460.

 

Autumn’s so bright you’ll need to wear shades

There’s plenty to warm the cockles of your heart at Bodnant Garden this autumn. We’ve got 80 acres of autumn glow, plus events for all the family and a warm welcome in our tearooms.

Bodnant Garden is a firework display of colour in autumn, with the dazzling leaf colour of trees and shrubs, ripening fruit and berries and late flowering plants putting on a show to rival the bright colours of summer.

The garden’s 140-year-old collection of trees are at their finest at this time of year, especially in Chapel Park (seen below) where you can enjoy the reds, purples and ambers of Japanese acers plus many others – some exotics collected by plant hunters more than a century ago along with other beautiful native trees.

Chapel Park in all its autumn glory2

For the first time in the garden’s history this autumn, visitors can explore the arboretum in the newly opened lakeside area, The Far End, which includes some of the garden’s Champion Trees.

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In the formal gardens on The Terraces roses are still in bloom and herbaceous beds are full with late flowering asters, sedums and dahlias; in The Dell our swathes of hydrangeas are changing all the colours of the kaleidoscope as they age; and in the Shrub Borders plants are laden with berries and fruit.

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Look out for the weirdest fruit of the garden, the blue pods of Decaisnea fargesii (Dead Man’s Fingers), and giant raspberries of Cornus kousa (seen above). Birds are loving the autumn too as they make the most of the fruits on offer. There’s a chance to see them on October 9 with our Birds of Bodnant Walk at 11am. This is a free guided tour with an expert from Birdwatching Trips.

There’s plenty for younger visitors during half term week – from Monday October 26 to Friday October 31 we’re hosting Wild About Gardens Week with craft activities in the Old Mill in The Dell, from 11am to 2pm.

There will be environmental art around the garden and families will be encouraged to make their own from items like leaves and cones. There will also be a trail of pumpkins to lead people to the Old Mill. On Saturday, October 31, there are Halloween activities at The Far End and the Old Mill from 12am to 3pm including Making a Witch’s Hovel. These are free events so drop in at any time.

On Wednesday November 18 there’s a Walk with the Head Gardener – this is an opportunity to meet John Rippin, who took over in January, and find out about his vision for the future (cost £10, call 01492 650460 to book a place.)

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And talking of walks…Dogs Welcome starts again in November (Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays), with the garden now open to our four-legged friends every day from January until the end of February.

If the candyfloss scent of Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura Tree) gives you an appetite there are refreshments on offer every day in the Pavilion and Magnolia tearooms throughout the autumn, plus the kiosks in the Dell and Far End at weekends.

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.

In praise of the humble hydrangea

Hydrangeas in The Dell

One of the memorable sights of summer and early autumn at Bodnant Garden is the swathe of blue hydrangeas which light up the lush shade of the riverside in The Dell, along with the kaleidoscopic Liquorice Allsorts display lining Lily Terrace walls.

So often sniffed at as suburban stalwarts there’s no denying that, seen on mass, these huge, flamboyant flowers create an fantastic visual impact…well worth a double take.

Originally a foreign import, the hydrangea has become a staple in our gardens, now regarded as traditionally British as…rhododendrons…which aren’t British either! Among my own earliest memories are the big, blousy blooms which lined the path to my nan’s front door – as a child I couldn’t resist batting the flowerheads as I walked by, along with popping the fuchsia buds (sorry Nan.)

Sadly hydrangeas have suffered the same fate as their other exotic friends – that’s to say not being abused by small children, but their hardiness and dependability has made them such a common sight that they have pretty much lost their mystique. But it’s not all about the pom-poms. Aside from the ornamental displays on our Terraces, the shrubs dotted through The Dell and Shrub Borders give a glimpse of how the plants look in their native lands – in woods, scrabbling up rocky slopes and along riverbanks.

Trees, shrubs and climbers native to Asia and the Americas, hydrangeas have been around for longer than the people loving or hating them – the oldest fossil finds come from North America from 40 to 65 million years ago. In China and Japan hydrangeas have been cultivated for their ornamental value for thousands of years, while in North America they were used in medicine.

The first Hydrangea arborescens was introduced in England around 1736 from Pennsylvania by Peter Collison. A little later in 1788 explorer Sir Joseph Banks presented a Hydrangea macrophylla from Japan to Kew Gardens. Specimens continued to dribble into Europe but in 1879 the English nursery Veitch sent botanist Charles Maries to China and Japan and in the decades following, as planthunters were discovering new species abroad nurseries from Europe were introducing numerous cultivars to the market.

Today, there are known to be around 70 species of hydrangea. Here are some of the most notable you can see at Bodnant Garden:

Mophead Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Renate Steiniger’

The most common forms are Hydrangea macrophylla which produce characteristic blue, pink and purple flowers (most other species are white). They come in two types, the mopheads and the lacecaps, distinct by the shape of the blooms – the mopheads bear showy, dense, pompom-like blooms while the lacecaps have frothy heads made up of fertile flower buds in the centre surrounded by sterile blossom. Both have large, thick, toothed leaves, often heart-shaped.

Lacecap Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Blue Wave’

As they flower on wood produced the previous year it’s best to prune after flowering by cutting out one or two of the oldest stems at the base to encourage the production of new growth. However neglected plants can be renovated by cutting off all the stems at the base (though you’ll have to wait a year for it to flower). The dead flower heads are decorative in their own right and can be left on over winter, cutting back in spring.

Similar to the macrophylla (some botanists believe it to be a sub-species) is the Japanese Hydrangea serrata (Japanese Mountain Hydrangea) which produces neat shrubs with lacecap-type clusters of blue and pink flowers in summer and autumn. Like the macrophylla it flowers on old wood but because of its compact size and form needs little pruning.

hydrangea serrata 'Blue Bird' 

Above, H. serrata ‘Blue Bird’ and H. paniculata ‘Grandiflora’

One of the white forms is Hydrangea paniculata. Some of these are upright and some drooping in shape but they all bear cone shaped flowers, starting creamy white and turning shades of pale pink as they age in the autumn. The leaves are smaller, thinner, and rougher than leaves of the macrophyllas. The plants can be sprawling but they can be kept compact (and flower more profusely) if you cut back last year’s sideshoots to 5cm of the older wood in spring, keeping to a framework of branches.

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Another lovely white hydrangea is the Hydrangea arborescens. Like macrophyllas they bear large lollipop-type blooms but the leaves of arborescens are generally thin, heart shaped, and not as stiff. Some flowers open green and turn white, then back to green again. Like Hydrangea paniculata, they can be pruned in spring back to pair of healthy buds to maintain a permanent framework.

Hydrangea quercifolia

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oak Leaved Hydrangea) gets its name from the shape of its beautiful large leaves which turn russet in the autumn. Again these hydrangeas open ivory, turning to pink as they age. Like macrophyllas they flower on old wood and to keep their informal shape need only minimal pruning in spring to remove old and rangey stems.

H.involucrata ‘Hortensis’

A smaller hydrangea is Hydrangea involucrata which has peony-shaped, pinky flowers that open late summer to autumn, with velvety leaves. They flower on new wood and can be pruned early in the year, though their size rarely makes it necessary.

Hydrangea aspera, villosa and sargentiana are tall, erect plants characterised by their furry foliage, and leaves which are the longest of all species, reaching as much as a foot in shade. They have large flat flower heads, usually pale pink and blue, and need little pruning, being more suited to informal settings.

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Above, H.aspera villosa and H.anomola petiolaris

And then there’s the climbing hydrangea Hydrangea anomola petiolaris a vigorous and sturdy plant which has creamy blooms and lacecap flowers in mid-summer. Long hanging shoots should be cut back after flowering and again spring to maintain a framework.

Hydangeas have become so popular because they are generally tough, suited to a range of situations, and reliably produce long lasting and eye catching displays. They last into autumn, changing colour wonderfully as they age, and even the seedheads and bare stems provide welcome structure to beds and borders in winter. Granted, the only thing missing is scent.

 Hydrangea macrophylla 'Altona' (2)

Ageing gracefully (and disgracefully) in winter

Achieving that Holy Grail of hydrangeas – the vivid blue – depends on your species and your soil type. White hydrangeas do not generally change colour but it is possible to change pinks to blues and vice-versa. If the soil is naturally acidic and contains aluminium the colour of the hydrangea will tend to be blue and purple. Aluminium sulfate may be added to the soil, and a fertilizer low in phosphorus and high in potassium may help too. Here at Bodnant Garden we’re lucky to have acidic soil, responsible for some amazing electric blues like the Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Renate Steiniger’ in our Shrub Borders.

Visually rewarding, hardy, versatile, long lived…what’s not to like? The right plant in the right place, or even in glorious abundance, the homely hydrangea has earned its place in out hearts and gardens.

Hotting up for half term

Woman with a child wearing wearing a paper mask, sitting on a bench in Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales, in October.

The temperature may be dropping but things are hotting at Bodnant Garden as we get ready for a half term. We’ve got plenty to offer all our visitors – young, old and even the four-legged variety – with events for families, garden lovers and dog walkers too.

Autumn is a wonderful time to explore the garden. Enjoy trees and shrubs bursting with colourful foliage and berries; the sunlight shining through acers in Chapel Park is a sight to behold, as is the dramatic waterfall in The Dell, now in full flow after seasonal rains. In the upper garden herbaceous beds are still alight with late flowers, swaying ornamental grasses and the weird and wonderful seedheads of perennials.

After warming up with a walk crunching through a carpet of fallen leaves, stop off for hot refreshments from our tearooms or dine al fresco from the kiosk in the riverside garden of The Dell, where you can toast yourself in front of a roaring brazier.

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Half term activities kick-off on Saturday, October 25, with storytelling in the Pin Mill, from 2pm-2.30pm. The family fun really starts on Monday, October 27, with the start of our Kids’ Craft Week, running 11am-1pm, until Friday.

The Poem in the Shrub Borders is open to visitors on Tuesday, October 28. Built by the garden’s founder Henry Pochin in the 1880s as a mausoleum for his family, this is a rare chance to see the lovely architecture, sculpture and stained glass inside the building.

On Wednesday, October 29, enjoy an Autumn Colour walk with a gardener, taking in the best that the garden has to offer at this time of year, from 2pm-3pm.

The highlight of the week is on Friday, October 31, when we’re inviting visitors on a Halloween Spooky Night Walk. Join the walks at 5.30pm and 6.3pm, meet spooky characters and hear ghost stories.

Finally, from Saturday, November 1, the garden is once again open to dogs. Visitors can bring their pets every Thursday, Friday and Saturday right through until the end of February.

Opening hours change from Monday, October 27, when the garden is open 10am-4pm. All events are free (normal admission) except the Halloween walk – book this on 01492 650460.

Chapel Park in all its autumn glory2

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT

Far reaching dream coming to fruition

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In Spring 2015 we will be revealing part of Bodnant Garden never before seen by the public.

Our Conwy hillside garden is well know for its Italianate Terraces, expansive Shrub Borders and pinetum in The Dell. Until now visitors have not been able to walk further than the dramatic Waterfall Bridge in The Dell, but from April next year they will be able to explore what lies beyond…The Far End.

It is the latest private area on the fringes of the garden to be opened to the public and part of our vision for the future – in 2012 we opened The Old Park, a wildflower meadow, and in 2013 the Yew Dell, a wooded Himalayan style glade. In 2017 we will also be opening Furnace Wood, to the west of the garden.

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Leaving the Waterfall Bridge and Dell behind and following the river upstream to the Far End

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The Far End is a tranquil riverside haven which follows the course of River Hiraethlyn, forming pools and ponds as it winds along, finally opening out into a lake. It is one of the oldest parts of the garden, originally laid out by Bodnant’s creator Henry Pochin from the 1870s who envisaged it as The Wild Garden – blending native and exotic trees to form an area very different from both the formal terraces at the top of the garden and from other wilder, informal areas of the garden too.

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Pochin began by creating paths along the riverside and planting Asian and American conifers, some of which were new to Britain being introduced by plant hunters of the Victorian era. His successors continued planting along the banks of the river, adding a Skating Pond and an Arts and Crafts style boathouse (seen above).

Perhaps because it has never been open to the public and intensively managed, this area has a very different character from anywhere else in the garden. Making your way upstream from the steep sided Dell the valley opens out more widely; the conifers here don’t soar overhead in enclosed space but blend into the hillside along with wide drifts of deciduous natives an exotics – Chinese magnolias and Japanese acers mingling with waterside willows. The water doesn’t roar and rush quite like it does through the waterfall-powered gorge of The Dell (though it has done just that, quite spectacularly, when in flood!)

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Bogside planting along the river which opens out into the Otter Pond (below)

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The Boat House on the tranquil Skating Pond

The riverside here is less manicured with its reeds and bogside planting and the whole effect if less dramatic is more naturalistic, with a charm all of its own. It is a paradise for wildlife too; here you’re more likely to see birds and even otters enjoying the calm waters.

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2012 flood damage to riverside beds (above) didn’t stop play…the new bridge takes shape (below)

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Over the last few years area supervisor Maxine Singleton and her team have been renovating banks, beds and paths, creating a new circular walkway and bridge which will give visitors an easy access, level route around this beautiful part of the garden. It hasn’t been without setbacks – the floods of winter 2012 caused extensive damage as water swept away vast quantities new riverside plantings, but the work has continued and the ropes will come down in spring 2015.

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The Far End in autumn

If you’d like to have a preview of The Far End and Furnace Wood before opening we’re running Secret Bodnant walks on the second Wednesday of every month, at 2pm. There’s no extra charge (normal garden entry applies) but call 01492 650460 to book a place as numbers are limited. For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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:

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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 www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT