Heavenly scent of spring at Bodnant Garden

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We’re basking in a spectacular spring at Bodnant Garden. It began with an early display of daffodils, encouraged by a mild winter, and thanks to a spell of bright, sunny days the season has just got better and better. Beds and borders are ablaze with bright tulips, wooded glades speckled with bluebells, and everywhere the blooms of rhododendrons, magnolias, viburnums and other flowering shrubs and trees hang overhead and decorate the ground underfoot.

The garden is a kaleidoscope of colours; but the scent is something else. An intoxicating atmosphere hangs in the air everywhere you wander, mingling as you pass from plant to plant; the soapy-white aroma of Rhododendron loderi ‘King Goerge’ transforms into the sweetness of wisteria before merging into lemon-fresh Rhododenrdron luteum.

We hope you enjoy some images of Bodnant Garden at blossom time. Close your eyes and imagine the scent…or better still, come and visit!

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In the upper garden: Clematis and wisteria cloaking terrace walls; bright and blousy peonies and tulips filling beds; a riot of rhododendrons in the North Garden; pockets of Himalayan poppies and primulas

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Even the Winter Garden looks beautifully spring-like!

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In The Glades: Asian rhododendrons, acers, magnolias and primulas; native bluebells; our star plants of high spring Embothrium coccineum (Chilean Firebush) and Davidia involucrata (Handkerchief Tree)

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Magnolia soulangeana, drifts of blue Omphalodes beneath trees, and Viburnum plicatum

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In the valley garden: Scented ivory Rhododendron ‘Penjerrick’ and yellow Rhododendron luteum; unfurling tree ferns on the newly opened Furnace Hill; the grand vista of towering conifers and seclusion of shady pathways

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The spring spectacle will soon be crowned by the flowering of the Laburnum Arch – which we expect to be a week earlier this year (around the 20th of May), lasting for three weeks. A sudden change in weather can always set this back, so keep a watch on our website and social media for updates.

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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Magical May at Bodnant Garden

The Upper GardenWe’re all set for a magical May at Bodnant Garden. The month brings a crescendo of spring colour, from exotic rhododendrons to native bluebells and a riot of blossom in between all crowned, of course, by the show-stopping Laburnum Arch.

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This year we’re pulling out all the stops to make the experience a memorable one for everyone. From the beginning of the month we’re opening the garden gates early, and late, so visitors can make the most of the spring flower show.

We’re also offering breakfasts in the tearoom for early birds and have recruited a team of special volunteers, Laburnum Archers, to help visitors coming here for the famous floral spectacle, which attracts around 50,000 people over three weeks.

The 55 metre-long Laburnum Arch was created by the garden’s Victorian founder Henry Pochin in 1882 and is the longest and oldest in Britain. The display of golden flowers in late spring is the most visited, photographed and anticipated event of Bodnant Garden’s year.

We put ouGetAttachmentt an appeal earlier this year for volunteers to help with the display and our events and engagement officer Charlie Stretton has been busy recruiting and training the merry band, who will be in special Laburnum yellow uniforms.

Our Laburnum Archers will help direct visitors, answer queries, take photographs for people, hand out brollies if the weather’s wet or drinking water if it’s hot, and help make the Laburnum Arch experience fun, friendly and enjoyable for everyone.

To give everyone extended access to the garden, people will be able to visit from 9am in May and June and stay until 8pm on Wednesday evenings (from May to the end of August.) Dogs are welcome on Wag Wednesdays evenings too, from 5pm-8pm.

And fueling all those hungry visitors will be our award-winning Pavilion tearoom, which has recently undergone a makeover by staff and volunteers and will be providing breakfasts from 9am throughout May and June.

Azaleas and rhododendrons near the Shrub Borders at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales

Other horticultural highlights to enjoy at this time are the rhododendrons. It’s said there’s a rhododendron in flower every month of the year at Bodnant Garden, but they are at their peak in May. The garden’s oldest were brought here from Asia by Victorian and Edwardian plant hunters. In the 1920s and 1930s some of these plants were cross-bred at Bodnant Garden to make new hybrids which are now beloved by gardeners all over the world.

Adding color to the palette is the blossom of cherries, viburnums, late flowering magnolias and many other shrubs and trees; herbaceous plants are filling beds and borders and drifts of native bluebells run through the grass glades and wooded areas of the garden.

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Now is also a great time to see garden projects underway – the renovation of the Bath poolside garden and the Canal Terrace borders – and to see the new Himalayan Poppy Bed near the Pin Mill, created last year, flowering for the first time.

The Laburnum Arch is the icing on our spring cake. We’ll keep everyone updated here, on or website, Facebook and Twitter, about its ETA. We’re all set, so watch this space!

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 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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Feel the love this February

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It’s February – spring is around the corner and love is in the air. Snowdrops are popping out, as are the first lambs, and Valentine’s Day (like it or not) is slap bang in the middle of the month.

If ever there was a time to embrace spring it’s after the long wet winter we’ve all had. So let’s celebrate – with family, friends and nature – fill our lungs with fresh air and get inspired for the year ahead.

Here at Bodnant Garden we’ve got plenty for families to do this school holiday, so pull on those wellies and get outdoors for some fun, creativity and, more importantly, that special together-time.

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There will be activities around the garden for kids every day from 11am-3pm Monday to Friday of half term, February 15-19. Create some memories with our Trail Making Mondays, Pond Dipping Tuesdays, Wildlife Wednesdays, Pooh Stick Thursdays and Wild Art Fridays.

There’s also snowdrop planting in the Old Park, every day 1pm-3pm from Saturday, February 13, to Sunday, February 21.

The humble snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is an important symbol of hope and rebirth in many cultures. Every year at Bodnant Garden we plant more snowdrops ‘in the green’ – in flower – to bulk up the display for the future. This year we’re hoping to give a home to 25,000 of them – so there’s plenty to go round!

We supply the plants and gardeners will dig the holes, all we ask is some help from visitors to fill them. There’s no need to book, just drop by and do as many or as few as you like…the more the merrier. Then come back next year and see your efforts growing.

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And how could we forget, it’s also Valentine’s Day on Sunday, February 14. Treat the love of your life – person or pooch – with a visit to the garden. Dogs are welcome in the garden every day throughout February.

Enjoy the camellias, first flowering rhododendrons and magnolia buds ripening; spring flowers such as primroses and hellebores; and bulb displays of crocus, early daffodils and even, thanks to the warm winter, some tulips chomping at the bit!

Come along and feel the love…

There’s no extra charge for any of these events – normal garden admission applies. 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.

 

 

Let the great outdoors inspire you in 2016

As recent storms and flooding have reminded us, nature is truly awesome in its power…but nature also has the power to inspire and energise us like nothing else. Here are some new year thoughts from our events and engagement officer Charlie Stretton on reconnecting with the great outdoors:

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Wrapped up and ready for anything…Charlie at Bodnant Garden

I‘ve never been a particular fan of Bear Grylls. To me he has always been a bit of a showman, ramping up the danger factor and the breathless assertions that ‘I could die any minute on this rockface/river/dodgy old rope bridge’ when you know perfectly well that he has a camera crew, a safety line, a comfy hotel and a dozen risk assessments written by the BBC Health and Safety team tucked up his sleeve.

However, he wrote an article recently in the Sunday Times magazine. It was all about getting people – particularly over-cossetted movie stars – out into the wild. He even took Barack Obama into the wilderness, and talked about the importance of protecting that environment for their grandchildren. The article was thoughtful, well-considered and timely. It touched on many important points – primarily how we, in this day and age, live in such a bubble of comfort and technology that we rarely, if ever, experience that sense of being part of the natural world, or of pitting ourselves against the elements, or of having to use our innate survival skills, long-buried by centuries of development and increasing alienation from our environment. He makes the point that this kind of modern living induces a lethargy, a listless apathy in many of us.

However, before Christmas I had to chance to do a bit of unscheduled reconnecting with nature myself. I was dressed as an elf (bear with me here) running craft activities for our younger visitors here at Bodnant Garden. All was going well, despite it being a miserable sort of day, when my neighbour rang. “Come home now” she said “or you won’t get home at all”.

Be inspired…Join us for the Big Bodnant Garden Birdwatch on January 30 and 31

There had been considerable rainfall, the rivers were swollen and many roads had turned into torrents in a matter of hours. I left my colleagues (with their blessing) to continue with the crafts, hit the road and it soon became apparent what my neighbour was talking about. Turning off by Conwy Falls Café, a council van with yellow flashing lights blocked the road ahead, just in front of an enormous amount of water, spilling across the road into the field below. Three cars had already tried to get through, including the postman, and had conked out in the middle. “Don’t even think about it” was the advice.

Nothing for it, but to park up at the side of the road, don my waterproofs and wellies, top it off with my emergency hi-vis vest, and set off on foot. Five miles, in the fading light, down little country lanes, a considerable amount of which were underwater and were only passable by wading extremely slowly. The wind was whipping my wet hair into my eyes, and at times was so strong I had to stand still. The water in places was up to the top of my trusty wellies, and was flowing over the road so fast I had to think twice before crossing. After about two hours, trudging along with the full force of nature being flung in my face, I made it home.

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Be inspired…Plant snowdrops at Bodnant Garden this February half term

But the strange thing was, when I got home, I didn’t feel exhausted or traumatised. I felt massively energised, exhilarated and on a huge high. I felt like I had pitted myself against the elements, had set myself a challenge, and come though it with flying colours. It was an oddly euphoric sensation. Now I do realise that walking home in the rain is not in quite the same league as some of Mr Gryll’s exploits – I didn’t have to consume any warm yak’s blood en route, or drink my own urine at any point – but I still felt that same sense of elation, that sense of having connected with a more visceral and primal side of life, that he refers to in the article.

Of course, there are other, less soggy ways to connect with nature, and to feel that same sense of the timelessness and power of our environment. Just walking though the ancient trees here at Bodnant Garden, or through our fields of daffodils or bluebells, or dipping in the pond with a fishing net – all these can be enough to remind us what’s important. We need nature. We feel uncomfortable if we are denied access to nature for any length of time – and that’s because we are part of it. We are inextricably linked to the natural world, in a continuum that has existed for millennia. We are, as Bear Grylls says, a piece in a jigsaw so big that we can never see the edges, but into which we fit exactly.

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Be inspired…Join our team on a volunteer work day, we could certainly do with the help repairing the flooded Far End!

So, as we all sit in that state of self-induced lethargy brought on by the excesses of Christmas and New Year, maybe now is the time to shake things up a bit, and get outside, even if it’s a howling gale and pouring rain. Wrap up warm, put your best waterproofs on, and, just for a little while, remind yourself what it is to be a part of nature. No dodgy rope bridges required.

For more details about volunteering at Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, for details of upcoming events check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

Recognition for our rare rhododendrons

If you’ve ever walked around Bodnant Garden and wondered what the green plant labels mean…they are reserved for special rhododendrons, those unique to Bodnant, our Bodnant Hybrids.

We’ve recently had news that the conservation body Plant Heritage has approved this group as an important new National Collection – to give them their full title, Rhododendron Hybrids Bred at Bodnant Garden 1927-1983. This takes our number of National Collections to five – we already hold collections of Magnolia, Eucryphia, Embothrium and Rhododendron forrestii.

It’s a big deal – the collection reflects Bodnant’s place in the great British history of rhododendrons. It also highlights our quest to save these hybrid plants, some of which are ‘lost’ to records and some even nearing extinction.

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This is something close to the heart of Bodnant Garden’s taxonomist Alison Clarke (seen right) who has been working for several years to nurture our hybrids and safeguard their future.

Bodnant Garden played a lead role in the story of rhododendrons in Britain. These ‘exotic’ new plants began trickling into Britain in the late 1800s but it was in the early 20th century that they really made their mark. Bodnant Garden’s owner Henry Duncan McLaren, second Lord Aberconway, was active in sponsoring the expeditions of plant hunters such as George Forrest, Ernest Wilson, Frank Kingdom Ward, Joseph Rock, which brought back to our large country houses, parks and gardens quantities of these and other Asian plants, like magnolias.

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Head gardener Frederick Puddle and Lord Aberconway

The first rhododendron came to Bodnant Garden in 1910. Legend has it that head gardener Frederick Puddle at first didn’t believe they would be hardy enough to grow in North Wales – thankfully he was proved wrong! They acclimatised so well that Lord Aberconway and Mr Puddle went on to develop a successful breeding programme.

Rhododendron griersonianum 01Their hybridisation programme started during 1920s. Many of the early rhododendrons offered a new colour palette and range of genes to work with. Those that were most used at Bodnant Garden included Rh. wardii (the first strong yellow), Rh. cinnabarinum (which introduced orange shades), and the reds for which the garden became so famous, including Rh. forrestii and Rh. griersonianum (seen above). Nearly half of all hybrids registered were reds – the Bodnant Bloody Reds.

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Rhododendron wardii and Rhododendron cinnabarinum

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Rhododendron ‘Elizabeth’

One aim was to extend the flowering season by using particularly early and late flowering species; also to produce stronger plants by crossing tender plants with more hardy species; another reason was to produce smaller plants suitable for the domestic market, the most famous example being Rh.‘Elizabeth’ – still one of the most popular rhododendrons in the UK.

Alison says: “Over 300 hybrids were raised and registered to Bodnant. To date we have 115 varieties in the garden. Some exist only as a singular specimen. Those under threat of extinction are being actively propagated.

“Sadly today there are only perhaps ten or so that are widely available to buy. Some of the most well know are Rhododendrons Elizabeth, Cilpinense, Vanessa Pastel, Fabia Tangerine and Matador. We are actively searching for the others both in the garden and elsewhere, including nurseries selling them and other gardens which may have them.”

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Rhododendron Fabia Tangerine and Rhododendron Vanessa Pastel

Many of the ‘missing’ plants are thought to be still in the garden but have lost their labels so we are working with metal detectorists from Mold Historical Society to help find labels. In future DNA analysis may also help identify plants thought to be missing hybrids.

Meanwhile we are actively propagating ‘at risk’ hybrids using alternative methods such as grafting, layering and micro-propagation, and hope to one day restart a Bodnant Garden hybridisation programme.

Our registration as a National Collection will raise the profile of these special plants and hopefully encourage more people to grow them, helping to safeguard their future.

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.

Laburnum fever hits Bodnant Garden

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Says it all! A picture by visitor Jules Girling

All across the UK Laburnum trees are coming into blossom, unfurling their long drooping bunches of yellow flowers. In warmer, southern climes some have been in bloom for a while – but here in our little corner of North Wales this annual happening is being watched and waited for by thousands upon thousands of people.

photo comp Zsolt D KovatsBodnant Garden’s Laburnum Arch is the most visited, photographed, talked about spectacle in our garden – eagerly anticipated for weeks and visited by up to 50,000 people in the month when it is in flower, during late May/early June. It’s a spectacular sight – both the arch and the visitors – and something that its creator could probably never have imagined.

The garden’s founder, Henry Pochin, bought Bodnant estate in 1874 and employed Edward Milner, apprentice to Joseph Paxton, to redesign the land around the house which was then largely lawns surrounded by farmland. They dramatically landscaped the garden to the west of the house, making the most of the terrain and views sweeping down the valley side. In the top section of the garden Henry’s lasting legacy was the Laburnum Arch, built around 1881.

Henry died in 1895 and while he probably saw the young Laburnum plants flower he would not have witnessed their full splendour…as he never saw the conifers he planted reach their towering stature.

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Henry Davis Pochin

Pochin was a largely self made man. Hailing from a Leicestershire farming family, he trained as an industrial chemist and made his name and fortune inventing a process to clarify soap, turning it from brown colour to white. He went on to be a successful businessman, mayor and JP and when he ‘retired’ to North Wales in his 50s he became a successful farmer and horticulturalist too.

Like many wealthy landowners of the day he invested much into making his estate a showpiece – raising prize winning cattle and crops, as well as flowers, fruit and vegetables, filling the garden with plants newly discovered from foreign lands, and leading the latest horticultural trends. One such garden ‘must have’ was the pergola walkway, a feature which was fashionable in the 16th and 17th centuries and became popular again in Victorian times. However our Mr Pochin, being Mr Pochin, created the longest archway in Britain.

943403_517912141589666_730808800_nSo what we have today is an arch 180 (55m) feet long, made up of 48 plants which have been replaced over the years but have provided a continual display of golden flowers in late spring since 1882. Called Golden Rain, Laburnum produces a dazzling flush of bright yellow pea-shaped flowers up to 50cm long in hanging racemes, followed by seedpods. In late May and early June the arch is literally buried under long, golden yellow pendulous bunches of flowers.

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The original arch with yew hedges

The arch was originally made of Laburnum anagyroides plants, later replaced with hybrid cultivar Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’ – a cross between L.anagyroides and L. alpinum which was found occurring naturally in the Tyrol in 1856. A decade later the hybrid Vossii became available through Waterer’s Nursery in Surrey, a hybrid which is less toxic, not producing much seed.

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The arch today

The structure was originally wooden but this was subject to rot and replaced in 2007 after major refurbishment. The metal framework is more pliable and the plants are able to wrap themselves around without bruising or damage to stems. There used to be yew hedges alongside the arch but these were in poor condition and removed in the 1950s, replaced by azaleas, creating a wider tunnel with a colourful flowering backdrop.

Today, it takes two gardeners up to a month to prune the arch in January at the coldest time of the year – painstakingly untying, cutting back and tying back in each strand to the framework – and it takes a further two weeks of work deadheading the flowers in July.

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For many years the work was done by gardener Tony Mitchell (seen above), who retired two years ago. Gardener Laura is now carrying on the baton and training other gardeners in the delicate art.

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Tony pruning the arch in winter

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Laura deadheading the flowers in summer

We know that people plan their visits to Bodnant Garden around the Laburnum Arch, some even plan their annual holidays. Our latest Laburnum Watch post on the garden’s Facebook page reached 30,000 people and received 1,000 ‘Likes’. It really is a phenomenon and once seen is never forgotten. So if you’re visiting Bodnant Garden over the next few weeks enjoy the spectacle, and send us your photos…and if you’re not, sit back and enjoy the pictures.

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.