A season of new beginnings at Bodnant Garden

Magnolias MarchSigns of spring are all around us, Easter will soon be here and a season of new beginnings is dawning at Bodnant Garden.

Around the garden trees are greening, blossom and flowers opening and birdsong filling the air. It’s a great time to see new beds and borders created last year, now flowering for the first time, and to watch gardeners at work planting new schemes too.

Our early spring garden highlights include the native and the exotic, from massed displays of camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons to swathes of daffodils and bluebells.

You’ll find many mature Chinese magnolias dotted throughout the garden, which were brought to Bodnant from their native lands by famous plant hunters at the turn of the 1900s. They light up the garden  from March to May; some, like the grand old Magnolia campbellii mollicromata on the Croquet Terrace (seen above), began flowering in February.

Azaleas and rhododendrons near the Shrub Borders at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales

Bodnant Garden is famous for its Asian rhododendrons, including unique hybrids bred at the garden from the 1920s. It’s said that there’s a rhododendron in bloom every month of the year here, even in winter, but they reach a dazzling peak in April and May. Herbaceous beds are filling out too, with tulips, iris, and early flowering perennials.

For a special spring treat, wander through wild daffodils in the Old Park meadow (you can also watch gardeners and volunteers deadheading the flowers to keep the display looking good – that’s dedication for you.) Following hard on the daffodils’ heels are native bluebells which run through the garden’s woods and glades.

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Volunteers deadheading the daffodils

This year you can see gardeners starting work on new planting schemes – sowing annual flower seeds in the Pin Mill borders for a summer display and beginning work on the renovation of the Deep Bath, which is being replanted with tropical species.

You can also see beds which were created just last year now coming to life; the Poppy Bed near the terraces was replanted with Himalayan primulas and poppies and the large Vanessa Bed near the Front Lawn, formerly shrubs and rhododendrons, was redesigned by our student gardeners as a mixed bed of plants with year-round interest.

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Of course Easter is a family time, and our wildlife-inspired activities will engage little hands, hearts and minds over the holiday period (Friday, March 25, to  Sunday, April 10):

  • Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt: Sunday March 27 and Monday March 28, search the garden for clues to discover a chocolate surprise, 10am to 3pm (cost £3 per child)
  • Pond Dipping Tuesdays: March 29 and April 5, 12pm-3pm (no extra charge)
  • Wildlife Garden Wednesdays; March 30 and April 6, 11am-2pm (no extra charge)
  • Make a Kite Thursdays: March 31 and April 7, 11am-2pm (no extra charge)
  • Teddy Bear Trails: Friday April 1-4 and April 8-10, all day (no extra charge)

Whether you want to bask quietly in nature or bring the family for a day out, there are 80 acres to explore and enjoy at Bodnant Garden this Easter time. Don’t miss springtime in Wales – with a little taste of the East thrown in for good measure!

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

The Skating Pond at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales

The tranquil lakeside at the Far End in spring.

 

 

 

 

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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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The secret magic in a garden

Local school pupils gave us a welcome hand in the garden recently. It brought back memories of childhood for Bodnant’s events officer Charlie Stretton:

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When I was a child, my very favourite book was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It’s the story of a spoilt and unhappy young girl who is brought from India to Yorkshire after the death of her parents. She discovers a hidden garden in the grounds of the rambling and lonely mansion where she is sent to live, and gradually, with the help of two friends, and of the blossoming nature all around her, she finds happiness again.

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It’s a magical tale, with beautiful and evocative descriptions of a garden being tended back to life and I think its message still rings true today – that nature has healing and restorative powers, and that everyone, especially children, can benefit from contact with the great outdoors.

Recently, our gardeners had a helping hand from the young people at Ysgol Nant Y Coed Gardening Club. The twelve girls, aged 8 to 11, visited on a (fortunately very sunny) day, and worked hard, raking leaves from under the trees and shrubs in the North Garden.

As they worked they were visited, not only by several of the gardeners here, who thanked them for their efforts, but also by a hungry robin and a blackbird, who were probably no less grateful for their work, as they hoovered up the bugs and worms in the children’s wake! The girls were fascinated by the birds pecking around in the disturbed earth, as was Mary, in The Secret Garden.

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Particularly at this time of year, when gardens are emerging from winter, we want to inspire children to take an interest in the natural world and to learn what they can do to help, whether that be by gardening, planting trees and flowers, or by feeding their garden birds. These young children are the gardeners and the conservationists of the future, and we here at Bodnant Garden are pleased and proud to have helped them on their way.

“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

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The Ysgol Nant y Coed garden club hard at work – thanks guys!

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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.

Let the great outdoors inspire you in 2016

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

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Wrapped up and ready for anything…Charlie at Bodnant Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring on 2016…and a little calm after the storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clodagh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Take a walk in our Winter Wonderland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The garden opens again on December 27. For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

Propagating great garden talent

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

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

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Jette, Christina and Jess making a bug hotel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jess doing some watery weeding

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

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

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

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

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Regular plant identification sessions

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

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Leading guided walks

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

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Jette enjoying a quiet moment

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

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.