There’s blooming good fun to be had at Bodnant Garden this summer

The roses are out…summer has officially arrived at Bodnant Garden and it’s time to get the family out and enjoying the great outdoors.

Family visitors looking at the waterlilies on the Canal Terrace in August at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales

The garden has six weeks of special summer activities and events to delight visitors of all ages. Charlie Stretton, our events officer, says: “There’s something for everyone; adults can enjoy the beauty of the garden to the sound of harp music, while the kids can get their hands dirty building dens, pond dipping  and even being gardeners for a day. It’s the perfect place for everyone to get outdoors and a little closer to nature.”

Our summer kicks-off with a fortnight of Kids’ Crafts, from July 20. There will be activities Monday to Friday at the Old Mill in The Dell (11-1pm), a chance to get creative making Cone Creatures, Dancing Dragonflies and Lovely Leaf Crowns.

In August our Grow Wild events take over, with a programme of nature activities for youngsters: Pond Dipping at the Skating Pond on Tuesdays (12-3pm), Nature Walks on Wednesdays (11-12noon), Wild Art on Thursdays under the Laburnum Arch (12-3pm), Wildlife Detectives on Fridays (2-3.30pm), Den Building on Saturday in the Far End (11-3pm) and Gardener’s Apprentice on Sundays (2-3pm).

There’s also Music in the Pin Mill most Sundays through the summer (2-4pm), plus a series of Guided Walks (2-3pm) including Champion Trees on July 29, Students’ Walk on August 12 and History of Bodnant Garden on August 26.

There are Falconry Displays on July 22 and August 19 (10.30-4pm) and Poem Open Days on July 28 and August 25, offering a chance to explore inside the mausoleum dedicated to Bodnant Garden’s founder family.

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Play Nature Detectives during our Grow Wild month

Summer ends on a high note with our Big Tree Climb on August 30 and 31 (10-3pm) when visitors of all ages can join experts to scale some of our giants. There’s no extra charge for any of these events but booking is essential for a place on the tree climbing and guided walks, by calling 01492 650460.

Don’t forget dogs are welcome every Wednesday evening all through the summer, from 5-8pm, until the end of August.

After all that activity if you have time to stop and eat there’s indoor dining at the garden’s two tearooms and al fresco snacks at kiosks at The Old Mill and the newly opened Far End. Visitors can also picnic among the meadow grass in the Old Park and Chapel Park, under trees in the Yew Dell and in The Dell.

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Arts and crafts under the Laburnum Arch

Charlie says: “And let’s not forget the garden! There are spectacular displays on our two rose terraces, flowering beds and borders are at their peak, wildflower meadows are buzzing with butterflies and bees, and the riverside gardens are cool and lush. There’s so much to do and see you could spend all summer here!”

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 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.

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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

 

Celebrating a century of roses

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  This year we’re marking a special centenary of Bodnant Garden’s grand terraces, with their rose gardens, lily pools and stunning mountain views.

  Our famous terraces were completed just before the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 and are probably the biggest achievement in the garden’s 140-year development. They are a testament to the vision of the garden’s founder family and also to the men who built them too. It’s sad to think that some of that workforce went away to the fight and never came back; that all that achievement and creativity in our little corner of North Wales was followed by four years of death and destruction on the battlefields of Europe. 

  But the fact that roses are still blooming on our beautiful terraces, and visitors from all over the world come to see them a hundred years later, is a life affirming and a lasting tribute.  

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  The five Italianate terraces were built by the garden’s owner Henry McLaren in the years between 1904 and 1914, with some final works in 1919. He completely resculpted the grassed hillside overlooking the Snowdonian mountain range creating a Top Rose Terrace, lawned Croquet Terrace, Lily Terrace with pond, Lower Rose Terrace with pergola walkways and Canal Terrace with it’s now iconic canal pond and Pin Mill.

  It was a grand earth and stone moving project all done by hand by men with wheelbarrows. It is estimated that the work done by 50 labourers in an hour before WW1 would equate to one skilled labourer using machinery after 1966. Granite was quarried from the surrounding estate to build great buttressed walls which supported the earthed up levels and provided shelter for tender and exotic new plants being introduced to the garden from abroad such as Chinese magnolias.

  In recent years the two rose terraces have been completely renovated; the Top Rose Terrace 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 award winning David Austin collection, which provide a continuous display from June to October.

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    On June 25 there’s chance to explore the rose terraces with one of the gardeners who cares for them, with an afternoon guided tour. On July 15 visitors can enjoy a unique opportunity to meet Michael Marriot, technical director of the award-winning David Austin Roses, who was involved in the renovation of the rose beds. He will be giving a morning tour of the rose terraces and this will be followed by slap up breakfast in the Pavilion tearoom.  Then In August there will be a planting of a special rose to mark the completion of the terraces and the centenary of the First World War.

For information about any events and to book a place on the breakfast walk (cost £25) contact the garden office on 01492 650460.

We did promise you a rose garden…

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The roses are out at Bodnant Garden and giving their best display in living memory – crowning seven years of dedicated work to create one of the finest rose gardens in Wales.

Our two rose terraces have been completely redesigned and the hard work is paying off this year with a spectacular display of around 1,500 plants – that’s around 30,000 flowers, at least!

Acting head gardener Adam Salvin says: “Developing the rose beds has been a top priority in recent years and has taken a lot of time, skill and dedication by our gardeners. It’s finally paying off this year and I’m proud to say we now have one of the finest rose gardens in Wales.

 “The sunny weather has been perfect too as the roses haven’t been battered by rain. The next couple of weeks is the time to see the first flush at its best.”

The rose terraces of Bodnant Garden were originally created in the early 1900s and over the years had become tired and in need of rejuvenation.  The Top Rose Terrace was renovated in 2006 and the Lower Rose Terrace last year. Gardeners had to dig out and replace around 500 tonnes of soil from both terraces. Paths were re-laid and pergolas repainted.

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The Lower Rose Terrace, renovated just last year

The beds were then planted with fragrant English Roses (many from the award winning David Austin collection) which provide flushes in July and August but a continuous display from June to October…some even going on until November.

There are now at least 1,500 plants on the Terrace beds as well as hundreds of climbing roses clambering across the garden’s walls and pergolas. Adam says: “The roses spreading their way across the pergolas are already giving a fantastic display and could well be our Laburnum Arch of the future!

 “None of the gardeners here can remember the roses ever looking this good and from here on it’s going to get better each year.”

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The Top Rose Terrace

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Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, Rosa ‘Pretty Lady’ and Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’

For more details about Bodnant Garden see our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnantgarden or check our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/#!/BodnantGardenNT