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.


Jette, Christina and Jess making a bug hotel


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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!)


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!


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!


A big Bodnant ‘Thank You’ to student volunteers

We’ve had some extra helping hands at Bodnant Garden this summer. Students have been spending some of their down-time with us to gain work experience – one of them from Snowdonia and two others from a little further afield near the Italian Dolomites.

Local lad GethinMullock-Jones has been assisting Charlie Stretton, our events and engagement officer, with the summer family events – and very welcome he’s been too (as you can see here, pictured with his own work of art.)

Gethin is a student at Ysgol y Creuddyn in Llandudno and volunteering at Bodnant Garden as part of his Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award.


Gethin helping children make dragonfly mobiles

He says: “I like volunteering here because I have met many great people. The staff and members of the public always greet you with a smile.

“I have been helping with pond dipping at the newer part of the gardens – the Skating Pond – every Tuesday as part of Grow Wild in August. I have enjoyed helping the children discover what interesting creatures there are here.

“I like the different opportunities I get here with the National Trust at Bodnant Garden, whether its pond dipping, Wild Art or even making little dragonflies!”

Gethin’s input has been a real boost, as Charlie says: “One aspect of our work here is growing fast, and that’s providing events and activities for families. We need more volunteers than ever to help with running pond dipping, craft and wild art sessions, taking children on nature walks, or showing them the bugs and beasties that live in the grasslands here.

“So we have been especially pleased to welcome Gethin to help out with our children’s activities. He’s proved a real asset to us, and shown maturity and initiative in working with families and children.”

We’ve also enjoyed the company of two Italian students helping us in the garden. Jacopo Pedol and Stefania Moro have joined the garden team for two weeks, coming all the way from the Veneto region, close to the Dolomites.

Jacopo and Stefania – at home on our Italianate terraces!

They’re both hoping to make careers in horticulture in the future and have been getting some work experience, as well as improving their English (and learning some Welsh). They’ve been a friendly and enthusiastic addition to the team and have enjoyed meeting staff, other volunteers and members of the public.

Charlie says: “We couldn’t do without volunteers here at Bodnant Garden, and it’s always a pleasure to welcome a new person who is willing to give up their own time to help us out.

“This could be meeting and greeting visitors in the car park, helping puzzled people to make sense of their map, guiding groups round the garden, or actually getting their hands dirty weeding, pruning and grass cutting.”

If you’re interested in gaining some work experience at Bodnant Garden or joining our team of regular volunteers we’d love to hear from you. Contact our property administrator Rose James.

Meanwhile, for all those budding gardeners…we’re also recruiting students for a placement at Bodnant Garden starting from September. As part of the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme there are 14-month and 4-month placements available at Bodnant and other top gardens in Wales. The deadline for applications is the end of August and you can find details at

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

Bodnant’s budding gardeners steal the show

P1200073Gardeners and students from Bodnant were at the RHS Malvern Show recently…not just as visitors mind you, but taking to the show stands and even to the stage.

They went to represent the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme, which trains gardening students at a number of top gardens in Wales. Our head gardener John, gardeners Katie, Harvey and Gemma, and our current students Jess and Jette joined others from the HHSS scheme to showcase what it offers at the Spring Festival.

Katie and Jess found themselves sharing the limelight with Carol Klein and Christine Walkden doing demonstrations of seed collecting and sowing and as Christine tweeted afterwards “You two girls did you and the industry proud.” Katie and John also bravely took part in a Gardener’s Question Time.

For the last four years the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme (HHSS) has been run by a group of associated garden sites in Wales: Aberglasney, Bodnant, Cardiff City Council, Dyffryn Gardens, Newport City Council, Picton Gardens and St Fagans.  The scheme offers a bursary and 14-month work-based placement at gardens.


Bodnant HHSS trainer Gemma with Carol Klein

Bodnant gardener Gemma Hayes has worked closely alongside our students during their training. assisted by fellow gardener Kate Croft. The trainees have all proved to be an invaluable part of the garden team and of our own graduates, one has already gone to to be head gardener, another to work for a national gardening magazine, and two more have gained staff positions at Bodnant Garden. Others from across Wales are now working in the horticultural industry in private gardens as well as at National Trust sites.
The Lottery funded project is drawing to a close this year but it will be followed on by a Lantra Level 3 scheme, to continue training horticulturalists of the future. The Malvern Show was an opportunity to launch the new scheme – and to celebrate what’as been achieved in the last four years. Here’s a taste:

Students Jette and Jess with graduate Harvey, who is now working at Bodnant Garden


Jess and Katie demonstrating seed collecting with Carol Klein

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Recent HHSS graduates with their turf mortar boards


The Bodnant Garden stand…and Katie taking a quiet moment before Gardener’s Question Time?


HHSS organisers, students and graduates at the show

To find out more about the HHSS and Lantra training contact

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

Waking up to the beauty of roses


  Gardeners start work at 7.45am here at Bodnant when it’s out of bed and straight into mowing or hoeing – but our student horticulturalist Harvey Baker enjoyed a rather civilised start to the day this week, taking part in a special Breakfast of Roses, a morning guided walk and talk with expert Michael Marriot.

  Michael, the adviser to award-winning growers David Austin Roses, has been involved in the redesign of our two rose terraces in recent years. The Top Rose Terrace was renovated in 2006 and the Lower Rose Terrace in 2012. Gardeners had to dig out and replace around 500 tonnes of soil from both terraces; paths were re-laid and pergolas repainted. The beds were then planted with fragrant English Roses, many from the David Austin collection, which provide a continuous display from June to October…so there’s still plenty of time to come along and enjoy them.

  For those who were at Michael’s walks an talk on Tuesday but didn’t make notes and would like more information, or for those who just want to know more about our roses, here are Harvey’s jottings:

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Student Harvey Baker and the Top Rose Terrace

  “At half past eight, after doing my weekly plant identification test, I went to join a group of rose enthusiasts on a rose ‘talk-and-walk’ by Michael Marriott, from David Austin Roses. The talk began by The Range, then we moved across to the Upper Rose Terrace, and then down to the Lower Rose Terrace. I wrote notes down as we moved from one rose to another, so I’m going to transcribe what I wrote into bullet points as if you were walking the same route as we were –

Near The Range:

Rosa x odorata ‘Mutabilis’, which is growing against the wall by The Range border is a China rose, with pink to crimson flowers, are slender and almost thornless

– R.banksia is growing against the same wall, has good thorns for climbing, very vigorous and difficult to control, a bit of a ‘brute’. Thornless.

– R.’Dusky Maiden’ has crimson flowers and is near the exit gate. This vintage rose was bred by Edward LeGrice in 1959. This has been used by David Austin in his breeding program for red English roses. It is one of the middle period Floribundas.

– R.primula, which is by the house, is a species rose and is often ignored because it flowers only once. It is a spring flowering rose with arching branches wreathed in soft yellow, single blooms. The foliage is fern-like and smells of incense. Has good autumn colour.


Rosa ‘Pretty Lady’ on the Top Rose Terrace

In the Upper Rose Terrace:

– The Upper Rose Terrace is a hundred years old this year; the roses which you see today are not the originals. They would have been Hybrid Tea Roses, which were fasionable at the time. Unfortunately, they would have been very weak and prone to diseases. The Upper Rose Terrace was re-planted in 2005 with floribunda roses.

– R.’Pretty Lady’ was pointed out as being particularly healthy. It was breed by an amateur breeder, Len Scrivens, from the Black Country, in 1996. It has a peach bloom and although the flowers are produced in clusters, they have the form of a Hybrid Tea.

– R.’Susan Williams Ellis’ is a white rose, with a strong fragrance and Old Rose in character. It is disease free. Susan Williams Ellis was a designer who, together with her husband Euan Cooper-Willis, founded Portmeirion Pottery.

– It is good practice to mix roses with others plants, particularly plants which will bring in beneficial insects to eat insects like aphids, which are a great problem for roses.

– ‘ SB Plant Invigorator’ was recommended as a pesticide/mildewcide/foliar nutrient to spray on roses to kill aphids. It is biodegradable, non-toxic, and environmentally friendly.

– The ‘secret’ to success with roses is good pre-planting ground preparation, and carefull selection of a good rose variety for the spot.

– The four main roses diseases are: Black Spot, Powdery Mildew (caused by dryness of roots…roses love water around their roots), Downy Mildew (which looks like Black Spot and causes rapid defoliation), and Rose Rust.

– Box hedges have traditionally been planted around rose beds. This can cause problems because they have ‘greedy’ roots, which compete with the roses for nutrients.

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Michael Marriot on the Lower Rose Terrace and (right) Rosa ‘Felicia’

In the Lower Rose Terrace

– R.’Felicia’ is a Hybrid Musk rose, with fragrant, double, light pink flowers. The majority of hybrid musk roses were bred in the first thirty years of the last century by a country clergyman, the Rev. Joseph Pemberton. All hybrid musks share three species in their ancestry, Rosa chinensis, R.moschata and R.multiflora, crossed with various more modern roses, such as Trier and ‘Ophelia’.

– R.’Nuits de Young’ is a Moss rose with red-brown moss on stems and buds, and fragrant, flat, double, deep maroon flowers. Moss roses first appeared as mutations of Centifolia roses in 1720, in which the sepal, calyx and stems have a mossy growth. This is particularly attractive in the bud stage and has a noticeable balsam-like fragrance when touched.

– Attention must be taken when replanting a rose bed, otherwise re-plant disease can affect the new roses. One method is to completely renew the soil in the bed, to a depth of 18″ to 2′. If this is not possible, dig out as much soil as possible around the planting hole, add new soil and plenty of well-rotted organic matter. Using a mycorrhizal fungi product helps stimulate the roots of new roses and helps the plants cope with environmental stress.

– R.’England’s Rose’ is a tough, medium sized rose with double flowers of deep glowing pink. It flowers from June to October, sometimes November. The flower fragrance is strong, warm, spicy like a classic Old Rose.

– R.’Harlow Carr’ bears shallow cupped flowers of pink. It’s very thorny and can be used as deterrent hedge, against such animals as deer!

– R.’Albertine’ is a large and vigorous rambling shrub up to 5m in the Pink Garden. It has strong thorny, reddish stems and dark glossy foliage. Has very fragrant double, salmon-pink flowers in clusters. The petals don’t fall off after flowering, so can be a problem if you want to dead-head it and it’s growing high up a wall.

– ‘Maxicrop’ was recommended as good seaweed fertilizer for roses.


 Thanks Harvey! Harvey and two other students are currently at Bodnant Garden on a 14-month placement as part of the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme. You can find out more about the scheme on the website For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website or Facebook page but most importantly…come and see the roses!

Gardening with the cream of the crop


  Calling green-fingered hopefuls – here’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn the garden trade alongside the cream of the crop…and this could be your classroom!

  New students are being invited for the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme, which offers placements at the best gardens and parks in Wales, including ours.

  Students who secure a place at Bodnant Garden will get the chance to work on the Laburnum Arch – which draws around 40,000 visitors during its three-week flowering in May. They will also get chance to hone their gardening skills on the grand rose terraces, among giant old Champion Trees and a historic plant collection gathered from all around the globe.


  Our property administrator Rose James says: “If you fancy learning and training alongside the very best gardeners at Bodnant Garden or other high calibre gardens in Wales this scheme is for you. The deadline for applications is June 27 so don’t miss this fantastic opportunity.”

  The HHSS is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and offers traineeships at Bodnant Garden and Dyffryn Gardens (National Trust), at Aberglasney, Picton Castle, and with Newport City Council, Cardiff City Council and St Fagans Natural History Museum.

   Starting in September, up to 16 chosen trainees will get a £10,000 bursary from Lantra for 14-month placements at these organisations, where they will receive practical training in specialised, heritage horticultural techniques.

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  One of our recent HHSS students has now gone on to work at a national gardening magazine; others have gone on to permanent jobs at other National Trust gardens.

  One of last year’s Bodnant trainees Richard Marriott, now working at Norbury Manor National Trust, says: “I learnt so much at Bodnant. The scheme is a fantastic mixture of theory and countless opportunities for hands-on gardening. It’s an invaluable opportunity to gain real life horticultural skills in a world class garden. It is great for your CV and stands you in good stead for a life long career in horticulture.”

  More information is available at Bodnant Garden on 01492 650460 or from the HHSS website at

The best office in the world

Student gardener Richard Marriott reflects on life at Bodnant, where he is studying with the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme.

“Either work hard or you might as well quit.” So said MC Hammer in his 1990 smash hit “U Can’t Touch This.” Somewhat rather curiously this phrase became my mantra for the two years spent at college whilst studying towards my horticultural degree.

Finally it would appear that hard work and determination to succeed is beginning to pay dividends as I write this three months into my traineeship here at Bodnant Garden.

I would have dialed 999 and expected you to be taken away in a strait-jacket had anyone even dared suggest I may be employed within such a fantastic garden within the first three years of beginning my horticultural career. But it truly does seem to be so – if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

To date I have helped in the completion of the new Winter Garden, worked upon the world renowned Laburnum Arch and I have passed my tractor driving course, a skill which is used on a daily basis. These past weeks I have also laid foundations for a new Champion Trees of Bodnant leaflet which the public will be able to use as they wander around the gardens.

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At work on The Range

Each area of Bodnant has its own distinct personality, from the expansive views commanded by the Terraces, the diverse range of species on display within the Shrub Borders to the other worldly feeling created by the mammoth sized trees of the Dell. Individually these areas would impress as stand-alone gardens, but collectively the mind is blown away. So, what is it like to work as a trainee at Bodnant Garden? In a word, fantastic! Never a dull moment, something new to learn each and every day, along with being within a diverse team which makes my job a joy to arrive at each morning.

Without a doubt the highlight of my week is 8am Monday morning for the plant identification test. Such is my sadistic mind, I welcome with open arms the challenge of learning 20 new Latin plants names each week and being able to recount them word perfect so as to achieve the ever illusive 100%.

Possibly the only downside to working at Bodnant is there being no specific jobs which allow us to shelter away from the Welsh rain, which has been abundant this last year. But us gardeners are made of stern stuff and we’re not going to let a little bit of the wet stuff slow us down. So come rain or shine you will find me with a smile on my face as I work in the best office in the world!

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Richard, on tractor, and fellow student gardener Keith Phelan