New life begins for Bodnant Garden’s iconic Pin Mill borders

It’s not easy to improve on a masterpiece but unlike paintings even our finest gardens, as living works of art, need re-imagining from time to time. Here our head gardener John Rippin explains his design to refresh the Canal Terrace borders which flank Bodnant’s iconic Pin Mill:

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Canal Terrace borders before renovation. Image by Joe Wainwright

Since its conception in Georgian times Bodnant Garden has been the centrepiece of a much larger 2,000 acre estate.  Boasting a wonderful backdrop of mountain scenery and walks incorporating beautiful lakes, meadows and woodlands, the estate, like the garden itself, was shaped to be the perfect weekend escape for busy lives engaged in politics, industry and fast paced city life.

Gardeners have always gained inspiration from the way plants grow in the wild and natural styles of planting are currently very popular with garden and landscape designers. Many of their creations have a restful quality as well as being incredibly beautiful.

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In 2015 and 2016, after removing old plants, we planted a display of annuals in the Canal Terrace borders, while a new design was being considered

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Inspired by walking Bodnant’s estate paths, I am attempting to bring echoes of these uplifting experiences into the heart of the garden. You may have heard of ‘Prairie style’ planting, exemplified by famous garden designers such as Piet Oudolf. I have tried to create a similar natural effect but by taking elements of the Welsh hedgerows of Bodnant Estate.

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Hazels and elderberry will form the backbone of the border, grasses will add movement and a sense of natural harmony whilst flowering perennials will provide foliage, colour and contrasting shapes and textures. The thistles, rosebay willow herb, cow parsley, bluebells, foxgloves and wild garlic of the Welsh hedgerows have been substituted for well-behaved cultivated plants chosen to capture the essence of these native plants.

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Using the Canal Terraces traditional range of pastel shades I have planned for a graded colour scheme along the length of the borders; dark purple and magenta flowers in the centre, moving through pink to blue and then white in the four corners, to match the Pin Mill.

Leading up to this new planting scheme the garden team have been patiently preparing the ground, removing persistent weeds and improving the soil. In the spring the long yew hedge was also carefully cut back hard to help re-establish the original crisp outline and height.

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During September and October look out for a new section of York stone paving being laid and the phased planting of the new scheme, starting with wall plants, followed by the shrubs, herbaceous perennials, grasses and finally the bulbs.

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John tending the first of the new plants, this week

Planning ahead, the best time to see the border will be May for the spring bulbs and then August/ September for the late summer flowers and grasses. I think the border will take a year or two to completely fill out by which time it should look spectacular!

I really hope you enjoy watching these new borders develop and if they turn out as planned I will look forward to seeing some of you taking photos of the flowers and the beautiful setting as it changes throughout the seasons.

And from spring 2018 you’ll be able to enjoy the new floral display from new heights, when we open the upper floor of the Pin Mill to visitors for the first time in the garden’s history, following conservation and renovation work.  

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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Get rooting for Bodnant Garden’s Welsh Champion Tree

This autumn, as dazzling leaf colour lights up Bodnant Garden’s 80 acres, we’re inviting everyone to go wild about trees in a month-long festival… and to kick off the celebrations we’re asking you to get rooting for one of our special residents.

Coast redwood by Rory FrancisOur Coast Redwood in The Dell is in the Wales finals for the Woodland Trust Tree of the Year 2017 competition. This 130-year-old native American lady (or is it an old man?) soars over the riverside where she’s made herself perfectly at home – a living symbol of the garden’s rich and amazingly beautiful tree collection.

We’ll be celebrating her and our other trees during Treefest from October 13 to November 10, with a host of woodland activities.

We love our trees here at Bodnant Garden. The collection goes back to the Georgian era when the first beech, oak, sycamore and chestnut were planted. Successive generations of the garden’s owners planted American conifers and Asian broad-leaved trees and today Bodnant is home to 42 UK Champion Trees – the biggest, rarest and best of their kind – plus 130 Welsh Champs too.

Giant Redwood tree (Sequoia sempervirens) in The Dell at Bodnant Garden in August, Conwy, Wales

The garden’s Victorian ‘founding father’ Henry Pochin planted the Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in 1887. At 51-metres she’s now a Wales Champion Tree (rated second tallest in the UK at the last Tree Register survey in 2016 and as she’s still growing, who knows how far she’ll go?)

It was Mr Pochin who developed the pinetum in the valley garden, planting American and oriental conifers along the banks of the River Hiraethlyn. Some of these were exotic to British gardens, newly discovered by 19th century plant hunters. In Bodnant’s waterside dells these new trees thrived, sheltered against the elements were they have grown taller and faster than in other areas of the garden.

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Head Gardener John Rippin says: “For me the most dramatic tree at Bodnant is the champion Sequoia sempervirens which is the tallest of its kind in Wales. It’s not just about the immense size (which is pretty awesome) but also the potential this tree has to carry on growing.

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“The average age of redwoods in the wild is 600 years but some are believed to be over 2,000 years old. Conwy Valley has ideal growing conditions for them and I would love to think Bodnant’s giants will be going strong in 200 years, possibly reaching the magical 100 metre mark, providing future visitors with an even more awesome sight and helping preserve one of the world’s most incredible trees.”

There are some amazing stories behind our trees; the rare and exotic ones discovered by intrepid plant hunters in centuries past, and the native ones which are home to so much wildlife today. Come and discover more during Treeefest… and in the meantime, if you feel inspired to cast a vote for our Coast Redwood, you can do it here until October 8:  www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/tree-of-the-year/wales Our Sweet Chestnut on the Top Lawn was a runner-up in the competition last year and featured on a Channel 4 documentary – let’s see if we can go all the way!

You can see the full programme of events for Treefest on our website at Treefest Bodnant Garden 2017

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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

 

Walkies at Bodnant Garden just got better

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Big ones and small ones, fluffy ones and sleek ones…we’ve grown accustomed to seeing dogs of all shapes and sizes in the garden over the summer on #WagWednesday evenings, and we’ve been loving your pictures too. The season has come to an end, but it’s not long until November dog days begin again. And we’ve got some news to get those tails wagging…next year we’re extending our welcome to dog walkers throughout the year.

From 2018 dogs will be welcome all day, every day in autumn and winter (from beginning of October to the end of March) and on #WagWednesday evenings in spring and summer (from beginning of April to end of September.) So apart from Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (when the garden is closed) there will be an opportunity to bring your dog to Bodnant every week of the year.

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Earl and Poppy both enjoying the hydrangeas – proving to be a popular posing spot!

We know many dog owners love bringing their best friends and furry family members with them when they visit – in some cases, not being able to bring the pooch prevents people being able to visit. We do also appreciate that other visitors are not so comfortable around canines, or just prefer to enjoy the garden dog-free, frankly.  So we’ve tried our best to develop a programme that will allow all of our visitors the time and space they’d like in Bodnant Garden.

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Bobby just chilling on the Top Lawn

We first trialled dog entry in winter 2013 and have been tweaking the programme since, thanks to your feedback.  Up to now we’ve had a March/April and September/October break in the programme – a ‘breathing space’ to review the impact of dogs on the garden and on visitors – and are now filling in the blanks. We’ll keep reviewing how it goes, so if you have any comments or suggestions keep letting us know.

As always we just have a few simple asks of our dog walkers – please use a short lead (not extendable ones) stick to the gravel and grass paths, and of course clean up after your dog (bags are provided in reception.) And keep sending those fabulous photos!

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Freddy here (above) and Bailey (top picture) have become #WagWednesday regulars…and familiar faces on social media too. Thanks everyone for sharing your pictures 🙂

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

 

 

A sweet treat from Bodnant Garden

 

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As well as being the crème de la crème of the horticultural world, Bodnant Garden is branching out in a new culinary direction and opening our tearoom for seasonal evening dining experiences.

The first is a must for pudding lovers – a Dessert Tasting Evening on Friday, September 1, when diners can enjoy supper followed by six delicious sweets.

Assistant catering manager Pete Thomas (below), who has cooked up the idea, says: “This is an evening of pure indulgence for anyone with a sweet tooth – and a little taster of our new seasonal programme of food events to follow.”

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Around 250,000 people visit the garden each year and for many of them the cooked breakfasts, morning coffees, hot lunches and afternoon teas served at our tearooms are as big a part of their day out as the beautiful floral displays.

As well as welcoming visitors into the Pavilion and Magnolia tearooms 362 days a year, catering staff serve al-fresco refreshments at kiosks in the outer reaches of the site. This year staff have even been pedalling an ice cream bicycle around the formal lawns, in their mission to keep visitors fed and watered.

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Our catering team, tireless in their efforts to bring refreshment to visitors…

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bodnant-garden-april-16-222.jpgSpecial evening dining at the Pavilion tearoom will be yet another new venture for the garden’s dynamic catering team. Catering manager Ailsa Morris (right) says: “It’s been a great year for my team. Our next exciting challenge is the launch of seasonal dining evenings – and hopefully the pudding tasting is the perfect way to whet people’s appetites.”

A light supper will be served from 7.30pm (a choice of Roast Pepper, Tomato and Cheese Quiche with a Sweet Potato Crust or Warm Chicken Salad with a Honey & Mustard Dressing) followed by six surprise desserts. There will be a vote for the favourite pud, which will then get pride of place on the garden’s autumn menu, and as the icing on the cake diners will also get the chance to win Christmas dinner for four people at The Pavilion.

The cost will be: £24.95 per head and booking is essential as places are limited. Contact Ailsa Morris or Pete Thomas on 01492 651924 to reserve your place.

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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

 

Bodnant’s Bath cleans up at horticulture awards

We did it again! Bodnant Garden has won another industry award for horticultural excellence. The garden team’s transformation of The Bath has been named Best Garden Restoration and Development Project 2017, by Horticulture Week magazine.

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An award-winning tropical garden from Bill Warrell, Graeme Jones, Harvey Baker, Roger Chesters and Lynne Clifton

Our Visitors Services team also made the final five for a volunteering award, giving Bodnant Garden two moments in the spotlight among a host of renowned UK organisations. (Another award should have gone to gardener Lynne Clifton for fastest sprint to the podium to collect the certificate – despite some pre-event nerves, there was just no holding her back!)

19429680_1482825888431615_6517026061134862382_nLynne travelled to the awards at Woburn Abbey Sculpture Gallery on June 28th to represent the Glades garden team, along with events officer Charlie Stretton representing the Laburnum Archers and myself (Fran, garden media officer). It was a long day on many trains, but rewarded by great company and the pleasure of seeing Bodnant Garden showcased among the horticultural cream of the nation.

Horticulture Week is a leading industry magazine found in garden mess rooms up and down the land. Their Custodian Awards 2017 received entries from wide-ranging organisations from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Thiepval, to bodies such as the National Trust, English Heritage, Woodland Trust, as well as council parks and private gardens.

Nominations were judged by independent panel of judges including Tony Arnold, chair of the Professional Gardeners Guild, Sally Drury, technical editor of Horticulture Week, Sue Ireland former open spaces director of the City of London, gardens consultant Alan Sargent and arboriculture expert Dave Lofthouse. Presenting the awards, Lord Michael Heseltine spoke about the importance of gardens and green space and how they could transform disadvantaged communities.

joe2-bodnant-garden-the-bath-in-october-10.jpgBodnant Garden won the category Best Garden Restoration and Development Project, for The Bath (seen above, last September) The tropical redesign by former supervisor Bill Warrell and the team beat off competition from projects at Quarry Bank National Trust and Compton Verney House Trust.

Bill, now head gardener at our NT neighbours Plas Newydd and Penrhyn Castle, was over the moon at the news when tweeted and sent congratulations to his old muckers. He added: “I am delighted for the team at Bodnant Garden that they have received this prestigious award. It is wonderful recognition for all the hard work that went in to making the renovation of the Bath a success.”

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Our Laburnum Archers (seen above) was shortlisted for the Best Community/Volunteer Project, alongside Hardwick Hall (National Trust), Audley End (English Heritage) and Woburn Abbey – the award going to Woodland Trust for Observatree, a project which created a tree health early warning system for tree pests and diseases using citizen science.

Stiff competition…in fact surveying the organisations present at the ceremony, Bodnant Garden has cause to be proud. Having won the Horticulture Week awards in 2016 for the renovation of the Far End we’re now on a roll and aiming for the hat-trick next time!

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

Big hug for our Bodnant volunteers

Keeping the 80 acres of Bodnant Garden pristine and welcoming for visitors takes a lot of people-power and volunteers are the lifeblood of the team. It’s national #VolunteersWeek from June 1 to 7, so we’re celebrating Bodnant’s brilliant band of helpers.

IMG_6270We’re blessed here with around 120 volunteers who give a dizzying array of skills – from gardening to teaching to carpentry and everything in between – across a range of roles.

IMG_6246We now have a new volunteer co-ordinator too, to help support our helpers. Becky Hitchens joined Bodnant Garden this month. Becky has worked with National Trust volunteers for six years, as Visitor Services Manager at Lanhydrock in Cornwall and Visitor and Volunteering Experience Manager at Dyrham Park. She’ll now be co-ordinating our own growing team.

And what a team. Bodnant Garden ‘vols’ support us in all aspects of our work as national conservation charity, giving back-up to the everyday work of our staff teams. They also enable us to take on large scale projects like opening new parts of the garden…and turn their hands to just about every unexpected eventuality that comes along on a daily basis, whether it’s providing First Aid to injured wildlife, or helping reunite lost children with parents.

Visitor Services volunteers meet and greet coach parties, help with guided tours, assist with garden events from weddings to falconry displays, do carpentry and maintenance, run storytelling and pond dipping for children – and much more:

Richard and Tabitha preparing conkers for autumn activities; student teacher Elizabeth helping with family events; Dave our Chief Christmas Elf; student Gethin, our events and social media assistant; guide Steve (who went above and beyond the call of duty recently, growing an explorer’s beard for our Planthunter’s Tent; and Carol manning our off-site Bodnant Garden display at Llandudno prom.

They have also been the driving force behind refurbishing the Old Mill in The Dell – transforming it into an indoor space which is now a hub for meetings, workshops and children’s events and a venue for the hugely popular Elves’ Workshop at Christmas time.

Our garden volunteers muck in with the team and help with all aspects of daily routine maintenance, whether that’s in the beds and borders, inside the nursery or even in the office engraving labels and cataloguing our plant collection:

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Joy and Karen and preparing the Far End for opening; Keith our plant label supremo; and garden volunteers being filmed for BBC Gardener’s World in 2016

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Garden volunteers have also played a big part in enabling us to renovate and open new areas of the garden to the public in the last few years, such as the Yew Dell, Far End and, most recently, Furnace Wood and Meadow in spring 2017.

As well as helping Bodnant Garden, volunteering offers great opportunities for you too. Whether you are retired and eager to put your skills to use in the community, or in work, looking for work or studying and looking for new experiences and to meet new people.

As well as the chance to work in the beautiful surroundings of one of Britain’s most famous gardens, as a volunteer you get free entry to National Trust properties in the UK and a discount card for National Trust outlets. You’ll have the opportunity to attend to regular meetings and play a full part in planning – and of course get to go to the ‘office’ Christmas party.

Whether you can help for a fixed time such as holiday periods, or for regular days each week, we’d love to hear from you. Training and support is provided, just contact Becky here at Bodnant Garden, on becky.hitchens@nationaltrust.org.uk for more details.

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

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