A passion for flowers

Julie Pigula (2)If you’re a follower of Bodnant Garden on social media you may have seen the work of photographer Julie Pigula – most likely through her pictures of dog Bailey, one of our regular #WagWednesday visitors.

Here Julie talks about her passion for garden photography, why Bodnant Garden provides so much inspiration, and offers some tips for others keen to capture that perfect image:

I was born into a world of flowers. My father was a keen horticulturist and we had a large cottage garden and two very large greenhouses where dad used to grow his prize-winning chrysanthemums to show. As a little girl, I was always down the garden helping out in the greenhouses. I loved getting my hands dirty, transplanting the seedlings out ready for a new season. I actually bought my first camera just so I could take pictures of our garden and the flowers in it and it wasn’t too long before I became hooked on photography, and it has been my passion been ever since.

I attended night school for photography, joined a local camera club, and then became a member of the Royal Photographic Society, achieving first a Licentiateship, progressing onto Associateship and finally gaining my Fellowship with a panel of twenty macro images of flowers, frost and ice. I am also a member of and supporter of the Disabled Photographic Society, of which I also hold a Fellowship.

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I have visited many of the National Trust gardens, Bodnant Garden being one of my very favourite places to spend time with a camera, and especially now it is truly a garden for all seasons. The garden is ever changing and this is one of the things which keeps me coming back year after year. There is always something new to see and photograph.

Bodnant gives you the opportunity to do all types of photography, from close up pictures of the amazing array of plants to beautiful vistas taking in the whole of the garden. But where do you start? Today there are so many books about garden and flower photography, and even more articles on the web, that it is easy to get lost without even ever taking a picture. These are just a few things that go through my mind before I press the shutter.

Do I want to photograph just one flower, a group of flowers or a garden scene? Deciding what aperture to use: Do I want all the scene to be in focus using a small aperture, or isolating one element by opening up the lens and using an aperture of f4 or less? Remember also that the larger the length of the lens the shallower the depth of field will be.

When you have found your subject, look around the frame before you press the shutter to see if there are any distractions in the background. These days we can always fall back on photoshop but it is so much easier, and rewarding, to get it right in camera.

These are a few of my favourite pictures which I have taken over the last few years at Bodnant using a range of lenses and apertures.

Rosa 'Ann Aberconway'

Macro Lenses: These, of course, are specialist lenses but are well worth the investment if you like flower photography. Roses must top the list of the most photographed flowers with the range of colours and shapes, Bodnant has two wonderful rose terraces. I used a 100mm macro lens with an aperture of f11 for the picture of the rose because I wanted to get most of the flower in focus. A good thing about roses they do not blow about in the wind too much.

Poppy

Zoom Lenses: Of course, you do not have to have a macro lens, lots of zoom lenses have a macro setting, so you can get in close and fill the frame. The picture of the Red Poppy was taken when there was an annual selection of flowers on the Canal Terrace a couple of years ago. It was taken at the 300 mm end of a 70 – 300 mm zoom lens. I used an aperture of f5.6 because I wanted a shallow depth of field to give a softness to the picture with just the poppy in focus. Poppies have such vibrant colours and have such wonderful detail in the stamens and in the centre of the flowers. They are however very delicate and are easily moved by the slightest wind.

Pin Mill

Wide Angle lenses: This is the classic picture of Pin Mill which everyone takes. It was taken using a 17-40 mm zoom lens using a low viewpoint and focussing on the water lilies in the foreground. The focal length was 17 mm I used an aperture of f9 to get most of the scene in focus.

Robin

Of course, there is not just flora in the garden there is also lots of wildlife too, blackbirds and grey squirrels scurry through the leaves under the trees and scrubs. If you’re lucky a robin will pose on one of the gardener’s spades for you. There are Yellow Wagtails near the top of the garden and  dippers in the Dell. During the spring and summer months, both the Lily Pond and Pin Mill have mayflies and dragonflies hovering over the lily pads and by late summer you may even see a few butterflies on the terraces.

AcerGarden photography is not just a summer hobby; Bodnant Garden is now open all year round. Spring brings not only daffodils but trees with beautiful blossom. Who could resist the swathes of azaleas and rhododendrons or the beauty of emerging new leaves in pristine condition to be captured by a lens? Summer and the garden is filled with colour in the Rose Terraces; autumn is also a great time to be out with the camera and the Acer Glade, in particular, looks spectacular. Winter brings snow and frost which bring a whole new dimension to garden photography and the Winter Garden has been planted specifically to show off winter trees and shrubs. From the beautiful barks of the white birches to the red stems of the dogwood. You will be amazed how much there is to photograph.

Autumn

On the subject of weather; it’s a very British thing to quote John Ruskin: “There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather”.  However, for outdoor flower photography, it is a lot easier if it is not raining or blowing a gale. Little or no wind makes close-ups of flowers so much easier and early morning and late evening are often the best times of day when the light is softer. Take advantage of the late opening on Wednesdays in summer when the garden is open until eight in the evening.

There is so much more I could say but the most important thing is to have fun, after all, that should be what photography is all about.

Bodnant Panorama

A Passion for Flowers by Julie Pigula FRPS FDPS

Thanks Julie for sharing your images – and your advice! For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Quarter of a million Welcomes – now that’s something worth celebrating

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Any excuse for cake and bubbly…but this week we really did have a perfect excuse, as we officially marked a landmark quarter of a million visitors through our garden gates.

Staff and volunteers downed tools for a little celebration to mark the milestone – 250,000 visitors from March to February 2017/18, the first time in our garden’s 140-year-plus history that we’ve welcomed so many people.

BodnantVisitorCeleb-3Property manager William Greenwood (seen above, cutting the enormous cake – courtesy of our catering team) said: “Wow. I really can’t believe it. A quarter of a million visitors – and counting – in a single year. We’ve said ‘Hello’ and ‘Bore da’ 250,000 times. We’ve helped park cars, made countless cups of tea and sold thousands of home-made scones. We’ve run events and activities throughout the holidays, welcomed hundreds of happy dogs (and owners). We’ve opened more of the garden than ever before and are developing and refreshing even more.

“A huge thank you to all our staff and volunteers, whether they work in the garden, in the tea rooms or shop, in the office or at reception or helping us stay clean and tidy; we couldn’t have done it without all your hard work and dedication to the best garden in the UK!”

What was that…did someone mention ‘best garden’? Bodnant is also proud to be flying the flag for Wales right now in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards 2018 – the only Welsh garden in the final.

Wales finalists in other categories include Snowdonia (National Park of the Year) Pembrokeshire Coast (Holiday Destination of the Year) Newborough (Beach of the Year) and Castell Dinas Bran (Landmark of the Year). So here’s your chance to tell the world about our wonderful places in Wales – you can vote until March 5 at www.countryfile.com/category/tag-cloud/bbc-countryfile-magazine-awards

A huge Thank You and Diolch yn fawr to everyone who has visited Bodnant this year (in life or online) – garden lovers, families, nature spotters, photographers, we salute you! Your support helps us to maintain this truly special place #ForEverForEveryone.

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AND…just a reminder that Bodnant Garden recently hosted BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time. The show is broadcast this Friday, February 26 at 3pm, and repeated on Sunday at 2pm. We had a great time doing it and hope you enjoy listening.

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

 

 

GQT team bring a blast of spring to Bodnant Garden

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After a long, bone-chilling winter (cold enough to turn green-fingers blue) a visit from BBC Gardeners’ Question Time to Bodnant this week was just what we all needed to put a spring in our steps.

First aired in 1947, the popular Radio 4 show is a regular part the week for keen gardeners up and down the land, so for all us North Wales enthusiasts (ok, self-confessed ‘geeks’) it was a real thrill to host it at our National Trust beauty spot in the Conwy Valley.

5Our head gardener John Rippin was able to give the well-known horticulturists Bob Flowerdew, Mathew Biggs, Pippa Greenwood and Eric Robson a little pre-show tour of the garden. Mother Nature obligingly set the scene – during the late afternoon the chill wind dropped, clouds parted, even the sun showed itself and (I kid you not) bird song filled the frosty air.

Our guests seemed blown away with the charm of our February garden – waxing lyrical about the range of plants, the scents and those spectacular snow-capped views – and especially by our Winter Garden (which received glowing praise for being so well maintained…well done gardeners!) They were also mightily impressed at the bare beauty of the Laburnum Arch and how much skill went into pruning the 55-metre pergola walkway.

4Invigorated (if a little breathless…but the walk to the Dell viewpoint was declared well worth it) our guests then returned to a full house at the Pavilion tearoom where they expertly rattled their way through audience questions, with trademark warmth and humour, providing their thoughts on topics from whether to prune an overgrown magnolia (NO!), to how gardening can tend the troubled soul.

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It was fascinating to get a peep into how the show is made; many of us were impressed at how little editing was needed, and how smoothly the recording flowed. #BBCGQT is clearly a well-oiled machine; and a super-friendly one at that, so thank you to the whole team, it was a delight to have you all at Bodnant Garden.

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We must give a shout-out to our staff and volunteers who hosted the event too, especially Ailsa and the catering team for the refreshments – and a special mention to volunteer David (right) who hot-footed it back from holiday to assist colleague Linda as door steward!

Of course, a big thank you goes to our keen, knowledgable and cheery audience –  all you fellow gardening ‘geeks’ who came along, submitted questions and made it such an enjoyable occasion. We could have filled a venue twice the size but for those who weren’t able to come, our edition of BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time is scheduled to be broadcast on Friday, February 26th and repeated on Sunday (watch this space for any updates.) May it fill you all with the joys of spring!

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GQT heaven: Anna, our visiting horticultural student from Germany, with Bodnant gardeners Christina and Fiona; below, a chuffed head gardener John gets a treasured book signed by Bob Flowerdew.

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

 

 

 

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

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

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Canal Terrace borders before renovation. Image by Joe Wainwright

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

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

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

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

Canal terrace

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

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

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

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

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John tending the first of the new plants, this week

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

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

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

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

Get rooting for Bodnant Garden’s Welsh Champion Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapel Park in all its autumn glory2

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