Highlights – and high winds – reflections on 2017 at Bodnant Garden

As a new year approaches, we take a little look back…

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It has been a turbulent year – and not just in politics. Here at Bodnant Garden we’ve had our share of weather dramas but we’ve managed to rise above a series of stormy setbacks to enjoy some real highs – achieving major work in the garden, welcoming more visitors than ever and even picking up a couple of awards along the way.

We opened the year by launching our new guidebook (modelled above by our volunteer Den) updated with recent historical discoveries that we’ve been making from the archives. In February we welcomed lots of families for half term with our ever-popular snowdrop planting; this year we also set up a Plant Hunters expedition camp at the Old Mill for young explorers (like our volunteer Gethin here) which proved really popular.

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But February also brought an unwelcome visitor – Storm Doris. Gales wreaked havoc in the garden, ripping up trees and leaving debris.

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Especially badly affected was Furnace Hill, a new area we were readying to open to the public. With just a month to go until the grand opening the team (Nathan, Maxine, Alex, Fiona, Steve and Christina, seen below) had to grit their teeth and begin a massive clear-up operation throughout March.

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They did it. After an amazing effort by gardeners and volunteers, on April 11 the ropes came down, a ceremonial log was chain-sawed, and hundreds of visitors entered Furnace Wood and Meadow for the first time. TV naturalist Iolo Williams joined us and lead a mass, celebratory daffodil planting in the meadow.

There followed a period of calm after the storm, bringing a beautiful spring. Many plants flowered a little earlier than usual, from the daffodils in March to the famous Laburnum Arch in late May, which was in bloom a good week before expected. Visitors flocked to enjoy the fabulous old rhododendrons in Furnace Wood, and picnic in the meadow for the first time.

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IMG_5984Elsewhere in the garden work continued  planting up the new North Garden woodland beds and the Himalayan poppies and primulas were flowering in recently redesigned beds alongside the Pin Mill. Fantastic flower displays weren’t the only things catching visitors’ eyes – the family of Canada Geese at the Far End were the focus of much admiration and many photographs too.

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19429680_1482825888431615_6517026061134862382_nAfter the heady highlight of the arch, Bodnant Garden won Best Garden Renovation (for The Bath), as well as runner up for Best Volunteer Project (Laburnum Archers) in the prestigious industry Horticulture Week Awards – Charlie, Lynne and Fran enjoying a trip to the ceremony at Woburn Abbey in June to represent the team.

In July we bid a fond farewell to our Visitor Services Manager Ann Smith, who retired after more than 30 years with Bodnant Garden. In a fitting tribute, as a leaving gift we named a unique rhododendron after her, which means she’ll always have a place here at the garden. We also welcomed our new Visitor Experience Manager (below right).

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The children of Eglwysbach School helped us celebrate National Meadows Day with a visit to Furnace in sunny July. We also took a little bit of Bodnant Garden’s meadows to the National Eisteddfodd on Anglesey in August, as part of a National Trust Wales exhibition. It was a combined effort from staff and volunteers across North West Wales, (like our Andy, below) who ran the week-long event, meeting and greeting visitors… in the face of torrential downpours which opened the school holiday season!

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And so began a fun-packed, if slightly damp summer of family events at Bodnant Garden, highlights including a workshop with North Wales Embroiderers Guild, and an unforgettable afternoon with Denbighshire Music Co-Operative who gave us a garden party on the Canal Terrace.

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September brought better weather and a lovely display of late summer flowers (plus an unusual number of late butterflies too). We launched our first Silent Space at the Arboretum in September, encouraging visitors to enjoy perfect peace and quiet. Elsewhere, lively chatter was most definitely allowed, with our volunteers leading a new series of guided tours in the Welsh language.

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DSC_2174As schools returned we welcomed our own new horticultural student at Bodnant Garden – Julie (seen right) swapped her catering uniform for garden gear as she moved across from working at the Pavilion tearoom to being part of the garden team. Autumn also brought two more additions to the garden team with the appointment of supervisors Merlin and Ann (seen below).

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4In the autumn Bodnant Garden’s 51-metre Coast Redwood in the Dell was runner up for the title Tree of the Year in a competition by the Woodland Trust (the eventual worthy winner was the Hollow Oak at Gnoll Estate Country Park). Thankfully our veteran tree, a Welsh Champion, was not damaged in Storms Ophelia and Brian which followed in October, but in their wake they left another clean-up operation for our garden team. In spite of the damage and debris, the team managed to make the garden safe and tidy for half term, so that we were able to go ahead with our autumn and half term Treefest celebrations.

In November it was ‘glad rags’ on as we celebrated more award successes – a first for our work at Parc Farm at the PR Week Awards in London (attended by manager William and farmer Dan), Best Attraction at the Welsh Hospitality Awards in Cardiff (attended by catering manager Ailsa) and runner-up for Best Attraction and Green Award at the Go North Wales awards in Llandudno (attended by Visitor Welcome staff Rachel and Pip).

Fresh from storm clearance, gardeners progressed with other work in November, completing the new planting of the Canal Terrace borders and taking down a row of Lawson Cypress on the East Garden. Both areas have been newly designed and should be flowering in 2018, so watch this space.

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The team managed to get their work done just in time before the heavens opened and snow descended in December. The garden was closed for a day while gardeners set to, once again, clearing paths to welcome pre-Christmas visitors but thankfully no major damage was done…and the dusting of white made for some magical photographs.

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And so to 2018…we’re working towards opening the third of our meadows, Cae Poeth, next year and seeing all the new design work around the garden developing. We’ll also be marking the national centenary of Women’s Suffrage – celebrating Bodnant’s donor family who played a pivotal role in the fight to secure votes for women. We’ll be sharing more about the history behind the garden over the course of next year here on the blog, on our website and social media, and around the garden itself.

Thank you everyone for visiting the garden and following us in 2017 – your support helps the National Trust look after this very special place. We wish you all a Happy New Year!

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

 

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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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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.

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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.

 

 

A year in the life of a glorious garden – Looking back at 2014

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2014 opened on a dramatic note with gales which tore through the garden leaving a number of horticultural casualties, including the mighty oak on the Top Lawn. Severe weather kept the garden team busy throughout January and February with chainsaws and chipper – one fallen pine took out a greenhouse polytunnel (below right) and the giant blue cedar on the Lily Terrace lost several limbs. February was also time for the annual stream clearance, when the watercourse running from the top of the garden down to the Dell gets mucked out by hand (below left).

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After a stormy start to the year we were rewarded by a balmy spring with many flowers appearing early, including this Magnolia campbellii on the Croquet Terrace which gave the best show anyone can remember seeing for a long time.

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The big event of March was the opening of the Yew Dell, three-and-a-half acres of garden which had until now been closed to the public. There was a big push by gardeners and volunteers to get the area ready for opening, which attracted a large amount of media attention, including a visit by Jules Hudson and the crew from Escape to the Country (seen above interviewing area supervisor Bill.)

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 Above, volunteers deadheading daffs and Kevin the Kiosk King

Then before we knew it the daffodils were out and it was Easter. It was a really busy one this year, with lovely weather bringing in visitors who lapped up our new offerings – a refreshment kiosk in the Dell, new picnic areas and even new loos. Volunteers really took the family events programme by the horns too, and managed a host of activities including hugely popular pond dipping sessions.

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Gardeners enjoying an Easter picnic, above, and volunteers running pond dipping on the Lily Terrace

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In April we had two visits by BBC television crews. Young garden designer Mathew Childs came to Bodnant looking for inspiration for his Chelsea Show garden, which was featured in the programme Countdown to Chelsea. Chris Beardshaw also dropped in to film for the new series of The Great British Garden Revival – which starts on January 5th, so don’t miss it!

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1939642_642962205751325_1215953490_n (1)But more importantly, in the Pavilion our famous cheese scones were back on the menu. Catering mananger Pietro (left) brought back the tearoom favourites after a deluge of requests from customers on comment cards. You asked – we delivered.

May was buzzing with activity…there was the small matter of the swarm of bees that decided to make the old head gardener’s house a home. Beekeepers from Bodnant Food Centre came to the rescue on that occasion. There was also the pitter patter of paws to be heard again as we opened to dogs for the summer season.

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It was also the month we opened The Prim Path, an old walkway in the North Garden lined with native and exotic primulas, after a two-year renovation (seen below being inspected by acting head gardener Adam). Elsewhere students Nathan, Harvey and Huw were busy renovating the Tennis Lawn herbaceous beds.

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In May and June we celebrated one of our finest assets -rhododendrons – with Rhodofest, a month long series of walks, talks and workshops. We were also busy alerting visitors to the early appearance of the famous Hankerchief Tree which was flowering before its time like many other plants in the garden.

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 Above, a garden art class and the ‘handkerchiefs’ of the Davidia

July

In June we had the first of several visits by a BBC crew filming a new series Glorious Garden from Above, with Christine Walkden. The programme featured appearances by gardener Fiona, volunteer Phylis, along with Andrew Lloyd from the craft units and his team Cameron and Iain (seen above). It was aired in November and was a great tribute to the garden.

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As the year heated up so did work at the Far End, ten acres of riverside garden formerly closed to the public which opens in March 2015. The Dell team and volunteers have been working hard on the renovation for several years, which has involved some aquatic gardening (left, demonstrated by Alex and Steve.)

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In July the roses were out and we celebrated the centenary of the garden’s Italianate terraces (seen above), which were built between 1905 and 1914 and completed just before the Great War. It was an opportunity to stop and remember those gardeners, stonemasons, carpenters and others who created our now famous terraces, who went to war and did not return home.

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July was also the start of our Grow wild summer events – a daily offering of crafts, nature trails, pond dipping, seed sowing and other garden activities which drew families from far and wide, culminating in a Wild Wood Weekend in August.

???????????????????????????????In August we also ran a scything workshop when gardeners, volunteers and visitors were able to try a bygone art of grass cutting (right). Most who took part were pleasantly surprised…at the end of the day more ground was covered and fewer aches and pains encountered than people had expected!

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In September it was all change for the students on our Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme – Harvey, Huw and Nathan (above). Harvey and Nathan secured full time positions in the garden and Huw was taken on at Bodnant Garden Nursery (well done lads). In their stead we welcomed three new students, Jess, Lee and Jette (below). Sadly Lee had to leave us (best wishes Lee) but Jess and Jette are going strong and working on a renovation of the large Top Lawn bed, left empty by the fallen oak at the beginning of the year.

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October brought more change on the staff front, not least the long-awaited appointment of a new head gardener after an 18-month search. John Rippin (below left), currently head gardener at the National Trust’s Castle Drogo in Devon, will be joining us in January. We also opened a new NT shop and welcomed Daniel, Gwenda, supervisor Kate, Louise, Brenda and Laura to the fold (below right).

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The mild weather continued giving a long and late autumn display of colour. Trees hung onto their leaves and flowers continued to flower (some salvias were still going in December!) Half term was a big hit with family visitors, with volunteers turning the Elves’ Workshop in The Dell into a Halloween and autumn craft-making emporium.

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Catering assistant Hannah in the Halloween spirit and a popular half term craft workshop in the Old Mill

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In November gardeners planted up the bare bed under the oak on the Tennis Lawn with a seasonal display of bulbs – and yes, due to the warm weather the snowdrops are already appearing! Elsewhere in the garden other plants bloomed earlier than expected including the Rhododendron Nobleanum (above right). Even the dwarf daffodil, Narcissus Cedric Morris, could be spotted in the Winter Garden.

This month we also picked the winners of out I Love Bodnant Garden photo competition, which were published in our first ever Bodnant Garden calendar (modelled here by property administrator Rose.)

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And so to December…it’s only the second year we have opened during the winter and staff and volunteers worked hard, with our neighbours Bodnant Garden Centre, to give visitors a great Christmas day out. We had Winter Garden Walks, festive food at the Pavilion and Magnolia tearooms plus a brazier and refreshments in the Dell, a Santa’s Grotto…but the big hit was our Elves’ Workshop. Fashioned out of a redundant room in the Old Mill by our volunteers, it drew around 800 visitors in the four weekends leading up to Christmas.

In fact visitor numbers have sky-rocketed this year and we’re predicting a figure of around 192,000 by the end of the financial year (February), compared to 175,000 the previous year – no doubt a mark of the fine weather we’ve enjoyed (in spite of a stormy start) but also a tribute to all the hard work of staff and volunteers throughout 2014.

We’ve got another big year to look forward to, with a new head gardener joining the team soon and the opening of The Far End in March. So Happy New Year everyone – and bring on 2015!

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 big Bodnant Garden Happy New Year

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The Winter Garden

  It’s been a year of change at Bodnant Garden. 2013 began with a real fanfare as we opened our new Winter Garden, which hit the headlines in print, on radio and on television news. Four years in the planning and two in the making, the Winter Garden attracted 10,000 visitors in its first three months and was so popular that instead of closing it in March we kept the ropes down all year. The other big news of January was the start of our Dogs Welcome days. Not to be outdone, one couple even brought their (purr-fectly behaved) cat along for a visit!

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January: A first firing for the brazier in The Dell and gardener Tracy with her pooch Rossi, launching our Dogs Welcome days

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February: Volunteers planting 10,000 snowdrops in the Old Park, a visit from Smudge the cat, a goodbye to student gardener Melissa who landed a job with Garden News and gardener Fiona welcoming visitors at the new refreshment kiosk in The Dell

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  In March the scaffolding came down from the Pin Mill, which re-opened after major renovations – just in time for the historic building to host drinks and nibbles for our first Walk and Wine event in April, which was the first time the garden had been open in the evenings.

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March: The Pin Mill after refurbishment, a visit from the Welsh Secretary David Jones, seen with our visitor services manager Ann..and Rose and Elvina swap the office for quoits in a blizzard. Easter brought an unseasonal deluge of snow!

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April: The new DG of the National Trust, Dame Helen Ghosh, drops in, and gardener David launches a ’20s themed Walk and Wine evening

  The main event of May was the departure of head gardener Troy Smith who left after 7 creative years at Bodnant to take up the helm at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, another prestigious National Trust property.  We also bade a fond farewell to catering manager Debbie and welcomed Pietro to the popular Pavilion tearoom. After a long, long spring plants were around a month late in blossoming, including the Laburnum Arch which kept everyone waiting until June…but when it came the flower show was amazing.

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May: Troy saying farewell to staff and volunteers at his leaving do, one of the delighted visitors who bombarded our Facebook pages with pictures of the arch when it finally appeared, and a spectacular late spring merging into early summer.

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  However, from July onwards it was sun all the way, perfect for the opening of the new White Garden, designed by our student gardener David Green; also for a fabulous flush of roses on the renovated rose terraces and for the inaugural opening to the public of the Old Park, a wildflower meadow which has been a private area until this year. The sun also shone on our new family events programme, Grow Wild, which was a massive hit with younger visitors.

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June: Gardeners kick back with a Teddy Bears’ Picnic while Dave gives a helping hand to thousands of froglets migrating the Canal pond

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A glorious summer: Tai Chi on the lawn, acting head gardener Adam congratulates student gardener Mark on a successful year at Bodnant, family fun in the garden and roses, roses roses!

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  As autumn rolled in another major project started with £150,000 renovations to the Waterfall Bridge in The Dell. Sadly, September marked another goodbye with the retirement of gardener Tony who left after 27 years and whose deft fingers have been behind the care of our Laburnum Arch for more than a decade.

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October: Not only did we say goodbye to gardener Tony, but to student gardeners Keith and Richard. However we did welcome three new students Harvey, Huw and Nathan…and marked arborist Paul’s 25 years at Bodnant Garden.

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November: Volunteers helping artist Tim Pugh create a giant oakleaf in the Dell, and repairs to the Waterfall Bridge.

  We enjoyed a brilliant show of autumn colour this year – albeit a little later than usual – but the big news of the season has been the garden staying open! It’s been the first year we’ve kept the gates open throughout the winter and to keep people toasty warm and inspired we’ve now got a brazier in The Dell, a kiosk serving hot snacks and a series of winter walks, talks and workshops. Our volunteers also got into the festive spirit in December by transforming part of the Old Mill into an Elves’ Workshop providing Christmas crafts for families. 

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December: Volunteer elves toast marshmallows in The Dell and Santa pays a surprise visit to gardener Mark

  The year closed with very unfestive spate of stormy weather which has taken down several trees around the garden and caused flood damage in The Dell…but as we speak gardeners and volunteers are on the case clearing the debris and damage to keep the garden open to visitors. Nature can be harsh at times but the garden also has an incredible way of bouncing back (with a little graft from us mortals) and Bodnant has weathered many a storm in its history.  

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Sadly the storms which closed 2013 brought down a 200-year-old oak on the Tennis Lawn…but arborist Richard is on the case 

  We’re looking forward to 2014. There are more new developments to come, not least the grand opening in March of the Yew Dell, another formerly private area of the garden. We’re also about to launch a year-long photography competition to harness visitors’ artistic talent, the results of which will be made into a 2015 calendar. 

  From all at Bodnant Garden a massive Happy New Year everyone – thank you for your visits, your support, your comments and pictures and ideas – and we’ll see you in 2014!