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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Spring is in the air…and in the garden

Spring is definitely in the air; mornings and evenings are lighter, birds are singing, snowdrops are giving way to daffodils and even the odd tulip; the first magnolia has burst it’s buds  – the grand old Magnolia campbellii on the Croquet Terrace – and gardeners were even spotted wearing t-shirts during one fine, sunny day this week.

Here’s a look at some of the colourful sights and scents to be enjoyed around the garden right now:

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Rhododendron racemosum, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Pink Spotted Lady’

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Daphne bholua, Narcissus ‘Peeping Tom’, Iris reticulata ‘Alida’

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Rhododendron ‘Portia’, Helleborus x hybridus (white)

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Helleborus x hybridus ‘Ashwood Strain’ and Euphorbia characias

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Magnolia campbellii and Tulipa ‘Show Winner’

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Narcissus cyclamineus and Pulmonaria ‘Lewis Palmer’

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Cyclamen coum and Eranthis hyemanis ‘Guinea Gold’

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Scilla mischtschenkoana and Rhododendron ‘Ostara’

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Pastel splashes of Rhododendron praecox all around the garden

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT

 

 

 

A proud history of head gardeners

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The wait is over – we have a new head gardener. After an 18-month search the coveted horticultural role goes to John Rippin (right), who joins us here on January 19. John was previously head gardener at the National Trust’s Castle Drogo, in Devon.

Our quest began with the departure of Troy Smith a year-and-a-half ago, who left to take the lead at another of the National Trust’s most prestigious sites, Sissinghurst in Kent.

Why has the recruitment taken so long? William Greenwood, our property manager, says: “It has taken some time, but we were determined to find the right person for this very special job. We have met some outstanding candidates along the way but at last we have found our head gardener.”

Troy Scott Smith, Head Gardener at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales

Bodnant Garden ranks among the finest in Britain and attracts around 180,000 visitors from all over the world, each year. Taking the helm of this national treasure is no mean feat. When Troy (seen left) arrived in 2006 he stepped into an illustrious role dominated by three generations of one family, The Puddles – head gardeners who famously helped shape the garden throughout much of the 20th century alongside the McLaren donor family.

But the story didn’t start there…the Puddles themselves built on the (literally) ground-breaking work of others.

3The garden as we know it today really began when Victorian entrepreneur Henry Davis Pochin (seen right) bought Bodnant Estate in 1874, which then included a Georgian mansion house and parkland of native trees laid out in the late 1700s. Pochin was a self made man – the son of a farmer who became a chemist, industialist, businessman, landowner, MP, JP – a man of enormous energy and vision. Not content with remodelling the house, he enlisted landscape designer Edward Milner, apprentice to Joseph Paxton, to resculpt the hillside around Bodnant Hall.

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Above, the Italianate house and parkland bought by Pochin and his remodelled version – with sloping lawn where now are terraces

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Putting Milner’s grand plans (seen left) into effect were George Ellis and his team of gardeners. A native of Suffolk, Ellis had risen in the ranks to become head gardener at Kirkby Mallory in Leicestershire, the home of Lady Byron, estranged wife of the notorious lord. Taking on the Bodnant job in the mid 1870s, he settled in the nearby village of Eglwysbach with his wife Ellen and young family. Sadly Ellen died in 1881 aged only 45 and it appears Mr Ellis moved on, or moved away from the area, but not before a decade or so of work which truly shaped the garden.

Ellis would have been involved in the early development of the pinetum in The Dell and in planting the Asian and American conifers being newly discovered by plant hunters, in the laying out of paths throughout the valley, in the rockworks to re-enforce the banks of the River Hiraethlyn, in the establishment of new watercourses and sculpting of the pools and falls which define the lower garden.

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He would also have overseen the planting of the famous Laburnum Arch in 1880 (above, with yew hedges now replaced by azaleas) and the construction of The Poem mausoeum, in 1883 (below).

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In the early to mid 1800s a new head gardener appears in the Bodnant records. Joseph Saunderson previously worked at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, designed by Paxton and Milner…famous for it’s glasshouse (perhaps he is among the Victorian gardeners pictured here at Chatsworth?)

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Saunderson certainly knew his onions, in fact all manner of fruit and veg and plenty about greenhouse growing. He arrived when Pochin was constructing the fernery and glasshouses; the fernery remains, attached to the house, but sadly the glasshouses, sited on the south wall which is now the Range border, were demolished in the 1980s. It is believed there was also a kitchen garden within the walls where the garden centre now stands, as this picture gives a tantalising glimpse:

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Newspaper articles from the 1880s and 1890s record the success of Bodnant’s kitchen garden, with many awards for fruit, even grapes. The Manchester Courier reported in 1888 that “at the Chester Conference an account was given of the great success in the cultivation of pears and apples achieved by Mr Pochin of Bodnant Hall, Conway Valley…and opions were expressed that there was no reason such success could not be achieved on many a sunny slope in Cheshire.” That showed them.

58Saunderson would also have been involved in work on the Italianate Terraces under Pochin’s daughter Laura and grandson Henry McLaren (Lord Aberconway) which began in 1904, and also the introduction to the garden, and Britain, of the first Chinese magnolias, camellias and other exotic plants.

Left, a young magnolia planted against a terrace wall

He had married wife Florence in Derbyshire in 1881 before moving to Eglwysbach. On his retirement in 1911 Joseph was awarded a silver teapot by Lord and Lady Aberconway for thirty years service. He and his family remained living in the area and son Eric also became a gardener – sadly Eric died aged 23, killed in France during the First World War along with 24 other young men from the village, including fellow garden and estate workers.

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The mantle of head gardener was next taken on by George Gurney, originally from Hertfordshire, who held the role for almost a decade through these difficult years of World War One. It was a challenging time; in addition to those working men who left to fight and did not return, Bodnant mourned Francis McLaren, Henry’s younger brother, who was killed in 1917.

Gurney took over the massive building project of the Terraces (seen above), which was completed in 1914 with finishing touches in 1918. He died in 1920 at the age of 56…perhaps those sad times had taken their toll. An obituary in the Gardener’s Chronicle reported: “He was an enthusiastic and successful gardener, and passionately fond of flowers. Mr Gurney took an active part in War-Savings Associations, and the church and social events in the neighbourhood…a true patriot, loved and respected by all who knew him.”

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Mr Gurney’s successor was Frederick Puddle (left) – and so began the most famous period in the garden’s history. For the next eight and a half decades the development of the garden was very much a family affair, a partnership between three generations of the McLarens – Henry, Charles and Michael (the current garden manager) – and three generations of Puddles – Fredrick (1920-1947) Charles (1947-1982) and Martin (1982-2005).

Frederick Puddle worked closely with Henry McLaren during a dynamic phase of the garden’s development. Through the 1920s and 1930s Henry sponsored expeditions by plant hunters such as George Forrest, Harold Comber and Frank Kingdon-Ward who brought back new plants from Asia and America to Bodnant. Most significantly, Forest introduced great quantities of rhododendrons to the garden. Frederick famously doubted whether these would thrive in North Wales…and was happily proved wrong. Not only did they thrive but he and Henry went on to breed new specimens, forming a collection of Bodnant hybrids.

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 The Canal Terrace before the Pin Mill

On another occasion Mr Puddle’s judgement was clearly spot on. Frederick oversaw the erection of the now iconic Pin Mill on the Canal Terrace, an 18th century building brought from Gloucestershire brick by brick in 1938. Legend has it that he persuaded Lord Aberconway not to site it in the middle of the terrace where it would spoil the mountain view – for which we can be forever thankful!

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Frederick’s son Charles followed in his footsteps to become head gardener in 1947 and he was at the helm two years later when Henry McLaren, president of the Royal Horticultural Society, persuaded the National Trust to accept gardens on their own merit, handing over Bodnant to the care of the Trust – the second garden to be accepted after Hidcote.

So began another chapter of Bodnant Garden as a National Trust visitor attraction, but the continuity remained in the links between the Puddle family as head gardeners and the McLarens, as garden managers. Charles and Martin Puddle (seen above) steered Bodnant through this new era, during which time it became one of Wales’ and Britain’s most famous gardens. The family link was sadly broken when Martin died unexpectedly in 2005. This was a huge loss to the garden and to staff, many of whom are still at Bodnant today and remember him with pride and great fondness.

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 Troy and the team launching the new Winter Garden in 2012

On his arrival in 2007 Troy Smith drove forward a number of innovations at the garden; the renovation of the two rose terraces, the redesign and replanting of herbaceous beds and borders and the construction of our new winter garden. He also championed the introduction of volunteers to the team.

Primula Path

Since Troy left, the ship has been steered by acting head gardener Adam Salvin, who has been at Bodnant man and boy since coming here as a student for work experience. Adam has charted staff and volunteers through an incredibly busy 18 months which has seen the opening of new areas such as the Yew Dell and the Prim Path (above left) ongoing work to open The Far End this spring, the introduction of new picnic areas, family events, dog walking and winter garden openings.

John Rippin will be following in firm footsteps (no pressure there then) but brings a wide range of experience to Bodnant, from his career at Hilliers, Hidcote and laterlly Castle Drogo. He is relocating to North Wales along with his family and menagerie of animals…and there are some Bodnant parallels to make him feel at home. His former Devon domain is a National Trust property with a formal garden noted for its rhododendrons, magnolias, rose garden and even a croquet lawn. Here’s to another new era!

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT

 

Spring puts on its best bonnet this Easter

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  Happy Easter Bank Holiday everyone! It’s not all about the chocolate though…it’s about new beginnings, and where better to celebrate that than in the garden. If you make it along to ours this holidays there are some wonderful spring sights in store – and if you can’t make it we hope these pictures will bring you closer.

  We’ve got beautiful blossom as far as the eye can see but the rhododendrons are the stars of the show right now, like this Rhododendron davidsonianum framed perfectly against Magnolia x soulangeana and a blue sky.

  You might also like to join our celebration of these dazzling plants in our Rhododendron Festival, from April 17 to May 22,  which includes walks talks and workshops from April 17 to May 22.

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Pulsatilla halleri subsp. slavica and Tulipa ‘Maytime

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Ceanothus ‘Trewithen Blue’ and Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’

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Kerria japonica and Osmanthus delavayi

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Erithronium ‘Revolutum,’ and Amelanchier lamarckii

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Viburnum carlesii and Exochorda x macrantha ‘The Bride’

Chaenomeles Prunus 'Shirotae'

Chaenomeles ‘Spitfire’ and Prunus ‘Shirotae’

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT

 

Magnificent magnolias

  Copy of Copy of Magnolia x loebneri 'Merrill'

  This week the first magnolias burst forth, coaxed out by a few days of glorious sunshine. One of the earliest to make an entrance has been the grand old Magnolia campbellii on the Lily Terrace, whose gorgeous fat, pink blooms have stopped visitors in their tracks and set cameras clicking. It heralds the start of many months of magnolias here at Bodnant Garden. In fact the latest, Magnolia grandiflora with its huge, saucer-like ivory flowers, blossoms in autumn.

  Bodnant Garden has a National Collection of magnolias which go back a long way. Many of them are 100 years old or more, such as the grand Magnolia veitchii x ‘Peter Veitch’ which towers over the Laburnum Arch and is a landmark for visitors approaching the garden.

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That magnificent magnoliamon the Lily Terrace. The long, cold winter knocked it back last year but it’s making up for it now!

  During the early 1900s the garden’s owner, the second Lord Aberconway Henry McLaren, was an avid plantsman who later became president of the Royal Horticultural Society. He sponsored expeditions by plant hunters to bring back seeds and plants from Asia and South America – not just magnolias but rhododendrons, embothrium and eucryphia, of which we also now have National Collections.

  The Magnolia campbellii mollicomata (to give it its full name) on the Lily Terrace was brought here by plant hunter George Forrest. When ‘exotic’ new plants arrived in Britain, nobody knew for sure how hardy they would be, so to protect them they were often planted against walls. It turned out that many were pretty hardy and the magnolia now has its head well above the top of the wall. When the famous Veitch nurseries closed in the early 1900s Lord Aberconway bought all the remaining stock – and commissioned a whole train to deliver all the plants to Bodnant Garden! Now that’s what you call leaves on the line.

   Some of the Chinese magnolias you can see at Bodnant garden include some of the species seen here…there are many more cultivars to be enjoyed too:

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Left: Magnolia dawsoniana – A deciduous tree, discovered in 1869 by Père Armand and introduced to Britain by Ernest Wilson.

Right: Magnolia delavayi – An evergreen magnolia, named after missionary Father Delavay who discovered it.

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LEFT: Magnolia denudata – The official flower of Shanghai, a small, deciduous magnolia grown in Buddhist temple gardens since 600 AD.

RIGHT: Magnolia sargentiana – Another deciduous magnolia, this large type is fairly uncommon in cultivation and threatened by habitat loss.

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LEFT: Magnolia sprengeri – A small deciduous magnolia.  

RIGHT: Magnolia globosa – The Globe Magnolia is deciduous and closely related to M. wilsonii and M. sieboldii, but is rare in cultivation.

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LEFT: Magnolia stellata – Sometimes called the star magnolia, this slow-growing shrub is native to Japan.

RIGHT: Couldn’t resist…that Magnolia campbellii again!

Come and see the magnolias at Bodnant Garden over the next couple of months when they’re at their finest. It’s a sight not to be missed.

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT

Now showing: Blossom time at Bodnant Garden

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After a slow start the garden is truly waking up and making up for the long winter…and how! We have beautiful blossom and lush foliage in spades.

The stars of the show at the moment are the magnificent magnolias, stunning velvety ivory and pink flowers framed against blue spring skies and carpeting the ground like confetti where they fall. Among them are some grand specimens as old as the garden itself such as the many Magnolia campbellii – sourced and planted by the garden’s creators more than one hundred years ago and a testament to their vision.

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Rhododendrons, towering magnolias and blue skies

The rhododendrons for which Bodnant Garden is famous are now really romping away, providing a breathtaking kaleidoscope of colours around every corner, from vibrant reds, purples and tangerines to pastel yellows and pinks.

In the upper garden tulips in every shape, form and colour are lighting up beds and borders, clematis are climbing the terrace walls (in a good way) racing to beat the budding wisteria and…wait for it…the drooping flowerheads of our famous Laburnum Arch are just poised to burst. Fingers crossed for a little more sunshine in the next fortnight.

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Tulipa ‘Monte Flame’ and Clematis ‘Frances Rivis’ on The Terraces

In the Shrub Borders swathes of bluebells are taking over from the daffodils sweeping grassy glades and a variety of trees and shrubs are flowering. Look out Amelanchier lamarckii, Prunus ‘Shirotae’, Chaenomeles japonica, Fothergilla monticola, Weigela middendorffiana and Exochorda x macrantha. Your nose will lead you to the gloriously scented Osmanthus delaviyi and Viburnum judii.

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Cerise Primula pulverulenta amongst greenery the Dell

In The Dell ferns are opening and herbaceous plants are suddenly providing a deep, lush pile. Dotting through this carpet are clumps of fluffy white Maianthemum racemosum and nodding heads of Leucojum aestivum, while fritillaries, primulas native and exotic, and sapphire blue pulmonaria, omphalodes and brunnera break through the green.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALet’s not forget the much-maligned but impressively sculptural skunk cabbage, Lysichiton americanus (seen left), which line the river banks underneath giant conifers. Love them or hate them they look so right here in the other-wordly space of The Dell.

As the garden hots up so does the pace of work. This week gardeners have been making pea stick frames to support growing herbaceous plants, mulching and feeding and furiously weeding beds while our arborists have been doing maintenance on trees.

But even the simple task of weeding takes on new meaning at Bodnant Garden, with gardeners getting into ponds and streams to clear debris and overgrowth and abseiling down cliffs to beautify steep banks. There’s never a dull moment, but as you can see it’s worth it!

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For more pictures of what’s looking good at the moment see the album Now Showing on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT where you can also see work going on around the garden.