Taking a walk on the wilder side

To many people summer at Bodnant Garden means roses, water lilies and perfect beds, borders and lawns, which are at their formal finest right now. But this year we went, well, a little bit wild and planted an artistic ‘mini-meadow’ on our sophisticated Italianate terraces.

You might not immediately think of the Canal Terrace with its grand, iconic Pin Mill as the obvious place for a wildflower border, but it’s been a real success – not just with visitors but with butterflies, bees and even dragonflies finding their way to its billowing display from the Canal Pond.

The 77 metre long border was previously a formal display of herbaceous perennials which was tired and in need of renovation.

Gardeners Tracy and Ros (seen below) came up with the idea of sowing a wildflower mix to create a summer display while the bed was empty, awaiting a new design. Ros said: “We thought, why not sow annuals? If we’d left the bed bare this year the weeds would have kept growing anyway and we’d be working hard just to keep it tidy.”

In the spring they put the idea to our new head gardener John Rippin who was up for trying out the ‘experiment’ on the formal terrace. The old plants were removed from the border, it was cleared of weeds (no mean feat as it was full of ground elder) and the soil dug over and prepared for sowing.

Then came the fiddly task of sowing the seed, which is a pastel mix of cream coloured Bishop’s Flower (Ammi majus), pink Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), blue Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus),  mauve Rose Angel (Viscaria oculata) and red and pink Shirley Poppy  (Papaver rhoeas). As the seed company Pictorial Meadows points out this is not a traditional native wildflower meadow mix – you would not find this mix together naturally, or in such density – but a blend of annuals to give an ‘impressionistic’ meadow effect.

 

Ros said: “You only have to sow a tiny amount of seed per square metre and it’s quite hard to get an even spread. I was on tenterhooks waiting to see if they would take but the display has been amazing and exceeded all our expectations. The bed has been absolutely full of flowers and is teeming with wildlife.

“You can see the display changing as the time goes on and different flowers come out. Visitors have loved it. It would be great to do the same again next year elsewhere in the garden where there is empty space. We could make it an annual event.”

The formal Canal Terrace – a surprise setting for an informal display

Judging from the comment cards, emails and posts to social media, visitors have been delighted with the display. One Facebook follower sums up the feedback: “It’s a beautiful part of the garden anyway with the water lilies and the Pin Mill but the wild flowers just soften it somehow and when you look down from the terrace it’s just stunning.”

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The floral display changing from pinks to blues over the summer

Elsewhere at Bodnant Garden we’re doing our best to promote native wildflowers through our grassland management project. We have three meadows which we are managing for wildlife – one, the Old Park, is open to the public and the others will open in the next few years. When last surveyed the Old Park contained 26 species of wildflowers and we’re hoping that by old-style management methods (like cutting and removing the hay in late summer and grazing the land in autumn) the floral display will get better each year.

Our Canal Terrace wildflowers haven’t had to compete with meadow grasses and weeds and have provided an intense floral display which has surprised and delighted all of us. So as we plan a permanent new design for the Canal Terrace, we’re also thinking about where to sow next year’s ‘pop-up’ mini-meadow. Pay us a visit next year to discover where…

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.

Jewels of July at Bodnant Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASummer at Bodnant Garden means roses, water lilies and formal beds and borders …and now, for the first time, wildflowers. We’ve created a mini-meadow next to the Pin Mill and it’s been a real success, with visitors and with butterflies, bees and dragonflies. The long border is being renovated and the idea was to sow a wildflower mix to create a summer display while we plan a new design. By popular request, we may be doing it again at other places around the garden in future.

Elsewhere, the garden is looking splendid is all its summer glory, from the rose-tinted formality of the Terraces to the drama of The Dell with it’s swathes of blue hydrangeas and the lakeside tranquiltiy of the Far End. Here’s a little tour in pictures:

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Hot colours in The Range border

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Calceolaria integrifolia (left) alliums and campanula on the Top Lawn

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Dierama pulcherrimum (Angel’s Fishing Rod) on the Terraces

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Water lilies and roses, roses, roses…

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Also causing a stir on the rose terraces, Lilium regale

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Shrubs and perennials mingle in the shade of the Shrub Borders

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Lilium martagon and Hemerocalis lilioasphodelus  

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Sprawling Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (left) and Desmodium elegans

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Lovely all in white, the Poem beds

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Blue hydrangeas and Cardiocrum giganteum in The Dell

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Astilbe and campanula light up the shade

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You’ll even find a late flowering Rhododendron ‘Argosy’

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Lush lakeside in the Far End...you may spot an otter

Back to the upper the garden, and the subject of meadows…as well as out little ‘experiment’ at the Pin Mill we’re developing three wildflower meadows. The Old Park is already open to the public and we’re hoping to open Cae Poeth and Furnace meadows in the next few years. When last surveyed we identified 26 species of wildflowers in The Old Park. Come along and have a look for yourself; sit and enjoy the birds, butterflies and bees, even have a picnic. After your grand your of the garden, what nicer way to relax on a summer’s day?

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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.

 

 

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.

 

Spring is blossoming at Bodnant Garden

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We’re basking in an amazing April here at Bodnant Garden. We’ve enjoyed a week of brilliant sunshine and blue skies which has coaxed out many wonderful plants. From the vivid tulips on the Range border which seemed to burst open, their petals wide to the warmth, to the delicious aroma of Osmanthus filling the air…the birds singing, bees buzzing… the gentle hum of the mower and smell of cut grass…it feels that summer is just around the corner.

But take a moment and enjoy this lovely unfolding of spring sights, sounds and scents. Here’s a sample of some of the things to enjoy this weekend if you’re visiting, starting with the colourful herbaceous perennials and bulbs to the scented and flowering and trees shrubs:

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Electric blue Pulmonaria ‘Lewis Palmer’ and Epimedium pubigernum

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Erythronium 'Pagoda' Bergenia cordifolia

Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ and Bergenia cordifolia, and below, more Erythronium, this time the pink flowered ‘Revolutum’

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From the sublime Anemone nemerosa to… Lysichiton americanus!

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Eye-catching colours…Tulips in the parterre and, below, Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’ and Euphorbia polychroma

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Flowering shrubs are really romping away right now. Our magnolias have been in flower for a month and are still going – some later forms will still be flowering in May and June. Rhododendrons have also been blooming since early spring but are now gearing up for the big show in May, building up layers upon layers of dazzling colour around the garden. And then there are the flowering cherries, which have just started to open and promise a bounty of blossom over the next few weeks.

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Magnolia stellata and, below, Magnolia ‘Heaven Scent’ 

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Rh. 'Janet'

Large blousey blooms of Rhododendron ‘Janet’ 

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Rhododendron ‘Redwing’ and Rh ‘Bluestone’ both Bodnant Hybrids

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Fothergilla major and, below, Forsythia x intermedia

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Prunus Kanzan and, below, Pieris ‘Flaming Silver’

Pieris 'Flaming Silver' (2)

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Scented Exochorda macrantha ‘The Bride’ and, below, the beautiful foliage of Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis Osmanthus delayvii, seen here on the Tennis Lawn, is just one of the glorious plants to be enjoyed around the garden right now – and there’s much more to follow in the coming weeks – scented viburnums, blossoming clematis and wisteria…and don’t forget the Laburnum Arch, which is on schedule to flower at the end of May and is a spectacle, once seen, we promise you will never forget.

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

When is a field not just a field?

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  The grass cutting season is coming to an end, to the delight of many! But grass is not all about creating the perfect turf – at Bodnant Garden we’ve been doing a bit more than striping the lawns this year.

  We are developing a Grassland Management Plan to take care of all of our 80 acres, from the formal areas of the Italianate Terraces to the meadows of the Shrub Borders and even areas of rough grass in the car park. It’s part of our long term aim to protect the wildlife so dependent on grasslands and so under threat from their decline in recent years…and also to enable more visitors to enjoy them.

  Environmental consultant Mike Howe has produced as report for us, looking at the garden’s grasslands and at ways to look after them.

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The Old Park in spring.

 Put simply, there are two types of grass at Bodnant Garden; the formal lawns, managed for visitors, and meadow grassland, managed for wildlife. Our three flower meadows, The Old Park, Cae Poeth and Furness Field, are all different in character but of great wildlife value and recent surveys show them to be thriving and species-rich.

  The Old Park is one of the oldest parts of the garden, parkland dating back to the late 1700s. In spring it is a mass of snowdrops then daffodils and in summer it sways with grasses and flowers, and buzzes with butterflies and bees. The meadow has been cut for hay occasionally in the past and grazed by sheep. It was opened to the public for the first time this summer and was a big hit with visitors.

  Cae Poeth is a private area to the north of the garden which is particularly rich in wildflowers, as well as bluebells beneath the oak trees in spring. It has been cut for hay in the last two years though not grazed. 

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Cae Poeth field

  Furnace Field is another private area at the west of the garden, although we are planning to open this to the public from 2017. It is another flower-rich meadow which is cut for hay every year by a local farmer, but not grazed. The grassland is dominated by Hay Rattle, which keeps the grasses down so that other species have flourished. When surveyed it was found that there were a high number of bumble bees.

  The garden’s other informal grassland, in public areas of the Shrub Borders, are left to grow, mown in August and grass cuttings collected for compost. In the car park too, grass is allowed to grow until summer when it is mown and strimmed.

meadow5  As Mike points out, there are many benefits to maintaining our meadows; on a purely heritage basis, we have lost 99% of our flower-rich hay meadows in Wales in the last 60 years. In conservation terms the knock on effect is a massive decline in butterflies and bees, which has big implications for the pollination of our crops and gardens. There is an effect on water quality too; low intensity grassland management is good for soil structure and does not result in nutrients being washed out of the soil into water courses, and in the larger scheme of things, there’s evidence the decline in grasslands may be affecting climate change, as they store and use carbon at a higher rate than forests.

  And then there’s people…visitors enjoy meadows, and meadow wildlife, and there’s a huge benefit to education, recreation and tourism in nurturing them.

  So we’re looking at implementing Mike’s ideas for annual, low level maintenance –  cutting grass and removing the hay in August, steering clear of feeds and herbicides, grazing in the autumn where possible (though perhaps not in the Shrub Borders and car park!), monitoring the wildlife species present, mechanically removing invasive species such as bracken, thistles, docks and nettles – and just as importantly, extending access so people can enjoy these areas.

  Mike says: “On a summer’s day in the Old Park…bees and butterflies flit among the flower heads searching for nectar and when you sit in the grass in the warm sunshine many species of insect can be found crawling, jumping and flying amongst the foliage. Swallows and swifts fly after insects overhead and in the evening bats and owls emerge.”

  When you put it like that, what more reason do we need to look after our grasslands?

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Furnace Field in summer. All of these great pictures were kindly provided by Mike Alexander – thanks Mike!

  See our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT for more about Bodnant Garden.