As 2017 begins we bid farewell to garden supervisor Bill Warrell, who leaves us to take up the position of head gardener with our National Trust neighbours at Plas Newydd and Penrhyn Castle further along the North Wales coast – an exciting opportunity at two major gardens.
Bill has been in charge of the Glades at Bodnant for around 8 years during what’s been a dynamic phase for the garden. In that time these informal acres, comprising old shrub borders, grass glades and a wildflower meadow, have been given a new lease of life to welcome a new generation of visitors.
It’s been no mean feat. Bill arrived when Bodnant Garden was under the shadow of plant disease Phytophthora ramorum. Originating in the US where it was known as Sudden Oak Death, this fungal killer was making its way northwards through Britain, targeting a host of ornamental trees and shrubs. Signs of the fungal killer had begun appearing around the garden, especially the old shrub borders.
This area was developed in the early 1900s by garden owner Henry McLaren (2nd Lord Aberconway) who filled it with plants sourced from Asian botanical expeditions, including rhododendrons, magnolias and other newly discovered ‘exotic’ specimens. Almost a century later these lovely, and in some cases rare plants were elderly, and some ailing. Bill managed the renovation of the old shrub borders, which included a programme of removing diseased plants and monitoring others, taking the opportunity to introduce new plantings which provide all-year round colour and interest.
He has also led the renovation and opening to the public of private areas of the garden. In 2013 we opened the Old Park, a meadow dating back to the garden’s Georgian Landscape period. Today this is managed for wildflowers in summer, and there is a programme of bulb planting to enhance displays of snowdrops and daffodils in spring. In 2014 Bill and team opened the Yew Dell, a treasure trove of mature rhododendrons, again dating back to the collections of early 20th century plant hunters.
Most recently Bill masterminded the flamboyant redesign and replanting of The Bath in 2016 – elevating it from a tired, Victorian shrub-lined ornamental pool area to tropical garden, which has delighted visitors.
Bill has a serious love of plants, and has been a great ambassador for Bodnant Garden, giving talks in the community and braving a camera and microphone when media call (most memorably, in a Hawaiian shirt and sarong for the opening of The Bath.) Among his list of broadcast credentials he has been our front man for Gardener’s World, ITV News, BBC Radio and even Escape to the Country, always on hand with his depth of knowledge, sincerity and humour.
Horticulture aside, he has also done a huge amount of work on health and safety issues, including championing accessible routes around the garden, plans for which we are now taking forward.
Bill has been a big personality who’ll be missed by his crew and by everyone here, staff and volunteers. Thanks Bill for all the hard work, love and commitment you’ve given to Bodnant Garden. We wish you and family all the best for the future.
Bill Warrell (left) with current garden team Graeme, Harvey, Roger and Lynne in Hawaiian mood at the grand opening of the Bath in September.