Having a field day at Bodnant Garden

July is meadows month when, up and down the land, we celebrate this precious native habitat.

Plas newydd-3Here at Bodnant Garden we’re inviting visitors to enjoy our own meadows at their swaying, summer peak, swishing with the sound of Yellow Rattle seed-heads and buzzing with insects. We recently welcomed local school children – our events and engagement officer Charlie led the pupils of Ysgol Eglwysbach on a perfect, sunny nature trail around Furnace Meadow, newly opened to the public this year.

Our gardeners have been out exploring too, recently joining colleagues on a meadow study day looking at the conservation work done by National Trust Wales at Moss Farm near Ysbyty Ifan – and coming back buzzing with inspiration for our own grassy acres.

The traditional native meadow is an endangered species in Britain today so this restored plot at Moss Farm (seen below, on a somewhat damper day) is a precious example of what we’ve lost in the landscape… and what can yet be put back.

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The meadow has been restored in partnership with conservation group Plantlife, which has spearheaded the Coronation Meadows project. This initiative aims to create a ‘model’ meadow in every county in the UK, harvesting seed from these wildflower-rich donor meadows which is distributed to other local meadows-in-the-making.

Moss Farm is one such Coronation Meadow and wildflower seed from here has been donated to other local sites in Gwynedd and the Conwy Valley – including a field belonging to Plantlife’s own botanist Trevor Dines, near Bodnant Garden.

IMG_6532Bodnant gardeners Hollie, Christina, Harvey with Trevor Dines of Plantlife on their field trip to Trevor’s meadow, spotting Eye Bright, Bird’s Foot Trefoil and Betany – indicators of a propsering meadow.

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Our garden team visited Trevor’s Farm after viewing the donor site at Moss Farm. It was a great day learning about the diversity of meadow habitats, discovering wild flowers…and impressively-horned cattle!

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It’s inspiration for our own conservation work at Bodnant Garden, where we manage three wildflower meadows – the Old Park (opened to the public in 2012), Furnace Meadow (newly opened in 2017) and Cae Poeth Meadow (opening 2019.)  Since 2012 we’ve been working to a grassland management plan to enrich the wildlife found there with traditional, low level maintenance – a regime of mowing and removing hay in August, grazing with sheep in autumn, avoiding fertilisers and herbicides, along with sowing seed of Yellow Rattle to keep down grasses and encourage the growth of flowers. Already we’ve seen an increase in wildflowers flowers in The Old Park (seen below), including orchids.

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Why do it? Today in the UK there remains only 3% of the meadows which existed in the 1930s – that’s a staggering loss of 7.5 million acres of wild flower grassland.  In conservation terms the knock on effect is a massive decline in butterflies and bees, which has big implications for the pollination of our crops and gardens. There is an effect on water quality too; low use of chemicals and low intensity grassland management reduces the level of pollutants entering water sources and nutrients being washed out of the soil. In the larger scheme of things, there’s evidence the decline in grasslands may be affecting climate change too, as they store and use carbon at a higher rate than forests.

That’s why, alongside Plantlife, National Trust Wales is a leading partner in the campaign Save Our Magnificent Meadows, a Lottery funded effort to restore wildflower meadows and other grasslands.

We’re also working with Plantlife at Parc Farm, the National Trust site on the Great Orme. This limestone headland provides a very different grassland habitat to the damp meadow at Moss Farm but here, careful management can again make a world of difference to wildlife. Grazing with sheep is helping to keep grasses down and allow quite unique wildflowers to thrive (seen below, images courtesy of Plantlife.)

Join us celebrating our precious grassland heritage at Bodnant Garden, Great Orme and other National Trust Wales sites this month. You can find out more here :

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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!

Grow Wild this summer!

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Ever looked up into the canopy of one of Bodnant Garden’s giant trees and thought about climbing it? Ever wanted to whip a fishing net under those water lilies to see what’s living underneath, or fancied getting your hands dirty with the gardeners? Go on, admit it…chances are you’ve thought about it, because for most of us our love of gardens started with a love of outdoor play.

Which is why we’re inviting youngsters to come along and do just that this summer. We’ve got seven weeks of holiday fun for families lined up with Grow Wild, Bodnant Garden’s first ever, tailor-made events programme jam-packed with activities to entertain, educate and inspire our younger visitors, and hopefully get them closer to nature.

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The National Trust is spearheading a drive to get children loving the great outdoors with a campaign called 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 ¾. It’s all about  the simple childhood pleasures like jumping in a puddle, rolling down a hill or making a mud pie. At Bodnant we’re doing our bit by sharing the joy of our beautiful garden with today’s techno-savvy younger generation.

As part of the Grow Wild summer we’ll have regular garden activities every weekday afternoon from July 22 to September 6, plus some special weekend events.

Mondays are Garden Apprentice days when families can join in with the gardeners on a whole range of daily tasks. Tuesday is Pond Dipping day when you can do a bug hunt in the Lily Terrace pond.

Wednesday is a biggie – in the afternoon you can muck in at our vegetable plot and Plant Your Own Dinner and in the evening come along to late night opening for a wildlife walk, followed by hot dogs and marshmallows in front of a fire in The Dell.

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Discover Secret Bodnant on Thursdays, when private areas of the garden will be open to explore, and then on Friday have a go at Garden Games such as quoits and croquet on the lawns.

In addition to all this we’ve also got a Craft Week from July 22-26 and a Wild Art Week from August 19-23 with themed activities by visiting artists taking place around the garden.

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The highlight of the summer will be two extra special weekends; August 3-4 is Tree Climbing, an opportunity to scale a Bodnant Garden tree with the professionals and watch demonstrations of tree felling and wood carving by our arborists; then on August 17-18 it’s Mega Machinery when all our vehicles and equipment will be on show in the Old Park for visitors to see and try.

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All of these events are free apart from Tree Climbing run for us by The Big Tree Climb Co which is pre-bookable at a cost of £12.50. Otherwise normal garden admission charges apply, just drop in on any of the activities that take your fancy.

For details of all these events see our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnantgarden or check our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/#!/BodnantGardenNT but most importantly come along and join in!

From little acorns…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a real energy about Bodnant Garden last week as families flocked to enjoy our Half Term children’s events.

We want to offer more to families as part of a National Trust campaign called 50 Things To Do Before You Are 11 3/4 – which aims to reconnect today’s high-tech youngsters with the great outdoors.

Gardener Katie Croft is leading the effort for us at Bodnant Garden and has been organising a programme of school holiday activities which will help children and their parents get the most out of their visit…and hopefully inspire a new generation of nature-lovers.

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Katie…talented gardener and also just the right person to be leading our kids’ activities!

Katie says: “We had a really fun Half Term at Bodnant. Lots of families enjoyed exploring the garden and helping the gardeners – we got lots of weeding done which was a bonus!

“More than 500 mud pies were made and they were stunning too, really creative. This activity seemed as popular with the grown-ups as the children, as did the croquet on the lawn.

“Lots of people hunted for bugs and bees and made flower kebabs and played Pooh Sticks in The Dell. The whole week went down really well with families and everyone had a great time.”

And if you don’t believe it, here are some of the pictures to prove it!

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More fun than you can shake a Pooh Stick at…bug hunting, mud pie making, lawn games, pond dipping, helping the gardeners and plant hunting were just some of the things to do this Half Term. One activity that didn’t feature highly was puddle jumping – after a wet start, the sun shone on our events.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur next family event is a Teddy Bear’s Picnic on Saturday and Sunday, June 15 and 16, to celebrate National Picnic Week – bring your picnics and teddies and enjoy lunch on the front lawn from 12.30 – 1.30pm.

The following weekend, June 22 and 23, Midsummer Madness abounds with a host of nature inspired activities for youngsters around the garden and at Bodnant Garden Centre, from crafts and storytelling to seed planting and pond dipping.

Then it’s the big one! In July we launch our first ever, summer-long events programme for families called Grow Wild. There will be gardening and nature activities going on around the garden everyday throughout the school holidays, late night wildlife trails on Wednesdays and special events at the weekends including a machinery festival, when kids (ok, and grown-ups too) can try sitting on a tractor or using the leaf blowers, and tree climbing days with specialist instructors.

For more information about future events see our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnantgarden Facebook pages https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT and follow updates on this blog.

Garden fun for half-pints this Half Term

Child in the Kitchen Garden at Tintinhull Garden, Somerset.

  Remember the things you loved doing as a child? They probably included climbing trees, making mud pies, splashing in puddles and building dens (whether for playing house or playing army camp…and there’s no gender reference implied there). I bet your best memories are of the outdoors and I bet they don’t involve screens of any kind, whether phones, laptops or televisions.

  There is widespread concern that youngsters today are losing out on the simple pleasures of outdoor play. The National Trust is trying to turn this around with a campaign called 50 Things to Do Before You Are 11 and 3/4 and at Bodnant Garden we’re doing our bit too.

  We’re looking hard at ways to make the garden more family friendly – both in the facilities we offer and the experiences we can give to our visitors. As part of this we’re running a host of activities for kids over the spring and summer and it starts this Bank Holiday and Half Term.

  Throughout the week why don’t you try out our Top Things To Do at Bodnant Garden?

Child taking part in the Full Bloom Festival at Acorn Bank, near Penrith, Cumbria

– Explore inside a tree on the Top Rose Terrace
– Play croquet on the Croquet Terrace
– Make a flower kebab
– Make a paper boat
– Lend a gardener a hand
– Make a mud pie in the Glades
– Look for a birds nest
– Play pooh sticks on the Mill Bridge
– Hunt for butterflies
– Take a photo of the coolest thing you see. Upload it onto our facebook site and share it.

– And if it’s raining, just bring your wellies and add to the list …run around in the rain and jump in a puddle!

  There will be quizzes and trails to do and we will be giving out checklists to children so they can tick off how many Top Things they get through during the week.

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  But that’s not all! Events planned this week for all visitors include:

– Storytelling in the Pinmill both Saturdays, 2pm-2.30pm (free event).

– Music in the Pinmill on Sunday May 26, from 2pm-4pm (free event).

– Open day at The Poem mausoleum on Tuesday May 28 (free event).

– Late night opening on Wednesday May 29, 5pm-8pm, when families can bring the dog too (normal admission applies).

– Walk and Wine evening on Thursday May 30 when the garden is open 5pm-8pm for a stroll, drinks and nibbles at the Pinmill (£6 entry).

Face-painting at the Full Bloom Festival at Acorn Bank, near Penrith, Cumbria

  There are plenty more events planned at Bodnant Garden for the summer and these are some of the highlights to put in your diary:

Teddy Bears’ Picnic 15 & 16 June – To launch National Picnic Week, with garden games and a best dressed teddy contest.

Midsummer Madness, 22 & 23 June – Events at Bodnant Garden Centre and around the garden including planting, colouring, pond dipping and garden games. We’re also going to open a secret area of the garden for a special sneak preview before it opens in 2014.

Grow Wild! 22 July- 6 September – Summer holiday fun for the family including mud pie making, evening nature walks, a machinery weekend, tree climbing and chance to be a garden apprentice.

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For all these events and more keep an eye on our website http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden  Facebook page www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT and this blog.

Photos supplied by National Trust and Bodnant Garden

Magical May at Bodnant Garden

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‘Transforming’ is how visitor Rosie Massey describes May at Bodnant, when the rhododendrons burst into life invigorating the garden…and the heart.

I gaze dreamily on the little stream as it gurgles noisily down the Welsh hillside to the valley bottom, dancing and cascading through narrow twisting channels hewn out of the surrounding earth. The water tumbles over rocks and stones covered in spongy moss which seems to be there deliberately to impede the water’s impatient journey.

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It rushes between banks of lush green foliage, surrounded by an abundance of beautiful trees and shrubs. The stream races on in its timeless quest to reach the bottom of the hill, as shafts of sunlight slant and sparkle throughout the tall majestic trees and reflect in the cool, clear, tumbling water.

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Rhododendron ‘Bluebird’

Birdsong, mostly sweet but occasionally loud and shrill, echoes through this beautiful hillside garden, a garden for all seasons, which despite crowds of garden lovers meandering through seems to retain utter peace and silence.

It is mid May when I visit this time and out in the open away from the woodland swathes of beautifully manicured, bright green lawns create a backdrop for the kaleidoscope of the richest colours imaginable. Gentle sunshine bathes the great banks of azaleas and rhododendrons which compete with each other, ablaze in every shade and spreading out like a giant tapestry in all directions.

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Rhododendron citriniflorum

Not just a glorious profusion of colours but also of rich, tantalising scents, the perfume hanging heavily in the warm balmy air of this late spring day; an amalgamation of hundreds of fragrant blooms, no one scent distinct from another but overpowering in its headiness. I want to smell each flower to identify each wonderful, exotic scent, then bottle it up and create one wonderful perfume I can wear.

 I continue all along the woodland path but at the bottom now, on a level with the stream. From here the tall trees create a giant lacy umbrella high above me, blocking out most of the sunlight now, as the leaves sigh and whisper in the still, quiet air, creating a cool and gentle breeze. I wander slowly through this magical, peaceful place; transformed, any worries forgotten.

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Rhododendron ‘Budget Farthing’

I stroll on through the garden, sitting occasionally to rest for a while, enjoying the coolness of the trees or the warmth of the sun. Gazing quietly around me and in no hurry I relish every moment here, until I finally make my way to the spectacular Laburnum Arch; a framework drenched in beautiful, golden yellow Laburnum blossom which hangs and drapes over the frame like a delicate lace curtain as one wanders through its length. This is the finale for me and for which, amongst everything else in this magnificent place, Bodnant Garden is famous.

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The famous Laburnum Arch

Almost time to leave, but first I visit the excellent restaurant to enjoy some welcome and delicious refreshment. A perfect ending to a very special day spent amongst the sighing, whispering, magnificent trees and the glorious kaleidoscope of colours in this area of Outstanding Natural Beauty beside the stunning mountains and coastline of Snowdonia National Park.

By Rosie Massey, Warrington

A big Bodnant Garden thank you to Rosie for sending us this account of her visit last year.