From Bodnant borders to pastures new

 

IMG_4985 As 2017 begins we bid farewell to garden supervisor Bill Warrell, who leaves us to take up the position of head gardener with our National Trust neighbours at Plas Newydd and Penrhyn Castle further along the North Wales coast – an exciting opportunity at two major gardens.

Bill has been in charge of the Glades at Bodnant for around 8 years during what’s been a dynamic phase for the garden. In that time these informal acres, comprising old shrub borders, grass glades and a wildflower meadow, have been given a new lease of life to welcome a new generation of visitors.

It’s been no mean feat. Bill arrived when Bodnant Garden was under the shadow of plant disease Phytophthora ramorum. Originating in the US where it was known as Sudden Oak Death, this fungal killer was making its way northwards through Britain, targeting a host of ornamental trees and shrubs. Signs of the fungal killer had begun appearing around the garden, especially the old shrub borders.

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Beautiful shrub borders in spring

This area was developed in the early 1900s by garden owner Henry McLaren (2nd Lord Aberconway) who filled it with plants sourced from Asian botanical expeditions, including rhododendrons, magnolias and other newly discovered ‘exotic’ specimens. Almost a century later these lovely, and in some cases rare plants were elderly, and some ailing. Bill managed the renovation of the old shrub borders, which included a programme of removing diseased plants and monitoring others, taking the opportunity to introduce new plantings which provide all-year round colour and interest.

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Daffodil-filled Glades in spring and Old Park meadow in summer

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He has also led the renovation and opening to the public of private areas of the garden. In 2013 we opened the Old Park, a meadow dating back to the garden’s Georgian Landscape period. Today this is managed for wildflowers in summer, and there is a programme of bulb planting to enhance displays of snowdrops and daffodils in spring. In 2014 Bill and team opened the Yew Dell, a treasure trove of mature rhododendrons, again dating back to the collections of early 20th century plant hunters.

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Visitors gather for the official opening of The Bath

Most recently Bill masterminded the flamboyant redesign and replanting of The Bath in 2016 – elevating it from a tired, Victorian shrub-lined ornamental pool area to tropical garden, which has delighted visitors.

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Cameras roll…showing BBC’s Jules Hudson around the Yew Dell

Bill has a serious love of plants, and has been a great ambassador for Bodnant Garden, giving talks in the community and braving a camera and microphone when media call (most memorably, in a Hawaiian shirt and sarong for the opening of The Bath.) Among his list of broadcast credentials he has been our front man for Gardener’s World, ITV News, BBC Radio and even Escape to the Country, always on hand with his depth of knowledge, sincerity and humour.

Horticulture aside, he has also done a huge amount of work on health and safety issues, including championing accessible routes around the garden, plans for which we are now taking forward.

Bill has been a big personality who’ll be missed by his crew and by everyone here, staff and volunteers. Thanks Bill for all the hard work, love and commitment you’ve given to Bodnant Garden. We wish you and family all the best for the future.

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Bill Warrell (left) with current garden team Graeme, Harvey, Roger and Lynne in Hawaiian mood at the grand opening of the Bath in September.

 

 

A floral gift to future generations

As our world-famous Laburnum Arch bursts into June flower we’re unveiling an exciting conservation project to safeguard some rare and special plants at Bodnant Garden, and to create a floral spectacle for future generations.

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Artist impression of the new Penjerick Walk, by Clive McWilliam

Our garden team is restoring the Penjerrick Walk, a historic avenue of rhododendrons, back to its former glory. The hope is that in years to come it will be a floral showstopper to match the Victorian arch, which attracts around 50,000 visitors every June.

The Penjerrick Walk forms part of Furnace Hill, which lies on the west of the garden overlooking the River Hiraethlyn, Bodnant Hall and the spectacular Italianate terraces. The area includes woodland and a wildflower-rich meadow which will open to the public for the first time next spring, creating an extra 20 acres for visitors to explore.

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Furnace Hill and the newly planted Penjerrick Walk

Furnace Hill was first developed by Henry Pochin, who bought Bodnant Garden in 1874. His descendants, the McLaren family, shared his botanical passion and filled it with plants from around the world, planting American conifers and Asian rhododendrons and magnolias.

Pochin’s grandson Henry Duncan McLaren, 2nd Lord Aberconway, had a pivotal role in the story of rhododendrons in Britain. He sponsored plant hunting expeditions to Asia in the early 1900s which brought a great influx of new varieties into the country. He also bred 350 unique Bodnant hybrids at the garden from these species plants and worked with other UK plant breeders such as Penjerrick Garden in Cornwall.

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An existing Penjerrick rhododendron at Bodnant Garden

Henry planted the Penjerrick Walk in the 1920s and it would have been quite a sight when mature a couple of decades later – Rhododendron ‘Penjerrick’ has large scented white, cream or pink flowers and characteristic red-pink bark. However it is notoriously difficult to propagate and cannot be reproduced from cuttings. For this reason it has never been a common sight in UK gardens and as plants have died off they have not been replaced. The walkway at Furnace Hill eventually disappeared and was reclaimed by nature.

Former head gardener at Bodnant, Troy Smith was inspired to reinstate the Penjerrick Walk after discovering a speech by Henry McLaren in which he said: If I could switch the clock to any season of the year to enjoy a two minute walk at Bodnant, my choice would be the Penjerrick Walk in the first week of May

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Troy Smith checking on the new plants

With help from the Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group of the RHS, plant material from existing Penjerricks in Bodnant Garden was micro-propagated at a specialist laboratory in Duchy College, Cornwall. Under Troy’s successor John Rippin, the garden team has nursed on and replanted some of the young plants in a 120 metre avenue on Furnace Hill. Around 40 Penjerricks have been interplanted with purple flowering Rhododendron augustinii and pink Rhododendron ‘Reve d’Amour’.

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Bodnant’s head gardener John Rippin

John said: “We go to great lengths to conserve and tend to the plants at Bodnant Garden to ensure the grounds look incredible all year round. Since 2012 the team here has opened new parts of the garden. We can’t wait to open Furnace Hill and will be eagerly waiting for the Penjerrick Walk to come into full bloom. The support from Duchy College and the RHS has been invaluable in making this happen.”

Justin Albert, director of National Trust Wales said: “Collected by intrepid plant hunters from as far back as 300 years ago, our precious plant life stands as testament to the vision and passion for plants shared by generations of owners and their gardeners.

“This fantastic project at Bodnant Garden is just one of conservation projects that our team of gardeners and volunteers are undertaking at our gardens across Wales to restore and preserve plants from across the world for visitors to enjoy.”

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Gardener Fiona Braithwaite giving members of Abergwyngregyn Gardening Club a sneak preview of Furnace Hill

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.

Polishing perfection

How do you improve on perfection? Bodnant Garden’s famous Italianate terraces, with their breathtaking mountain views, are pretty close to that…but even perfection needs a polish now and then.

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Gardener David Green collecting coins from one of our ponds

This spring we’re launching a fundraising appeal to replace the fountain on our Croquet Terrace.  To kick-off the appeal we’re collecting all the pennies thrown into Bodnant Garden’s many ‘wishing’ pools and ponds by visitors. Raffle money collected at the garden this year will also go to the cause. It’s one of a number of things going on around our beautiful, century-old terraces to maintain this very special part of the garden in all its full glory.

Lower Rose Terrace circa 1920s

The terraces were designed at the turn of the 1900s by Laura McLaren and her son Henry (who gifted the garden to the National Trust in 1949.) Five levels were carved out of the grassy hillside which sloped westward down from Bodnant Hall to the valley of the River Hiraethlyn. It was massive earth-moving project done by men without modern machinery, which begun in 1905 and was completed just before the outbreak of WWI.

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The Croquet Terrace today and, below, under construction in the Edwardian period

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It was a celebration of a new Edwardian style – made famous in the partnership of Arts and Crafts architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, with her cottage garden planting. Bodnant Garden’s terraces combined formal Italian influences with carefully designed steps, stone paths, pergolas and garden rooms, and an exuberant planting of roses, herbaceous plants and flowering shrubs.

Henry later added classical adornments such as the four stone sphinxes on the rose terraces, the fountain on the Croquet Terrace and the statue of Bacchus on the Top Rose Terrace…and most famously, the now iconic 18th century Pin Mill building on the Canal Terrace (seen below).

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In the 21st Century gales, frosts, floods and the passage of time have taken their natural toll on the garden – its plants, buildings and ornaments. There have been improvements to the terraces in recent years: The Top Rose Terrace and the Lower Rose Terrace were completely renovated in 2006 and 2012; in 2013 a White Garden was created on the Lower Rose Terrace (the companion Pink Garden is undergoing improvements); in 2014 beds of Bodnant Garden hybrid rhododendrons were planted on the Lily Terrace; and in 2015 a Himalayan Poppy Bed was created.

In 2013 the Pin Mill underwent extensive repair work to the exterior, which will be crowned this year by the redecoration of the upper floor parlour. This work has been partly funded by £1,138 in raffle money raised at the garden in 2015 and it means we can open the upper room to visitors for the first time.

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From the upper window you’ll see a fantastic view of the five terraces never seen before, and also get a bird’s eye view of the long herbaceous beds bordering the Canal Terrace, which are awaiting redesign. Last year, as an experiment, one of these beds was planted with annual wildflowers. It was so popular – with visitors and wildlife – that we’re repeating it on both sides of the Canal Pond in 2016.

The once-impressive baroque fountain on the Croquet Terrace, thought to date from around 1700 by Bouchardon, was brought to Bodnant Garden in 1940. It has an elaborate design of dolphin, fish, nymphs on a scalloped edged clam shell, surrounded by waves, but you’ll have to take our word for it! Over the years, as you can see in pictures below, the running water and weathering has worn away the sandstone carvings.

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We are looking at making a new one based on the old design. The first stage will be making a maquette, a 50-60cm scale model of the fountain in clay, from which a full scale version will be produced in stone. The total cost of the project is estimated to be around £50,000… but first things first; we need to raise an initial £2,000 to get the scale model done.

We hope you’ll enjoy the changes and improvements, and watching them in progress. Thanks for helping us – by contributing your raffle money, throwing your pennies in the pools, giving us your feedback, support and coming back again and again – ensuring that everyone continues to enjoy these beautiful gardens for years to come.

You can follow our #BodnantFountainAppeal here and on Facebook and Twitter. 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.

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