The Far End – it’s getting closer!

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On March 28, after years of renovation work, we’re opening up a new area to the public and it’s all hands to the pump right now as we make the final push before opening day.

The Far End is ten acres of tranquil riverside. Some of you might have seen it in our Secret Bodnant walks last year exploring private areas of the garden, but until now most visitors have not been able to walk further than the famous Waterfall Bridge in The Dell. Soon everyone can explore what lies beyond…waterside walks, a Skating Pond, boathouse and arboretum.

Horticulturalist and broadcaster Christine Walkden will perform the official opening at a special day of celebration on Saturday, March 28. That day we’ll also have harp music in the boat house, demonstrations of coracle making on the lakeside, country dancing, guided walks, a nature trail for children and refreshments.

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 Then and now, the Skating Pond in the Far End

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The Far End is quite different in character to other parts of the garden – unlike the formal Italianate Terraces or the dramatic Dell with its rushing river and waterfall – here the paths lead visitors to a small lake which is quiet, peaceful and full of wildlife.

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 The smaller Otter Pond

It is one of the oldest parts of the garden, originally laid out by Bodnant’s creator Henry Pochin from the 1870s who envisaged it as The Wild Garden in the style of Victorian garden designer William Robinson. Pochin began by creating paths along the riverside and planting conifers, some of which are now Champion Trees. Pochin’s daughter Laura and grandson Henry McLaren laid out the large Skating Pond and Boat House and continued planting trees and shrubs from all around the world.

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The original thatched Boat House, which has now been restored

The area was never opened to the public but over the last few years gardeners have been renovating banks, beds and paths, creating a new circular walkway and bridge which will give visitors an easy access, level route around this beautiful part of the garden. The work hasn’t been without setbacks. In November 2011 flooding devastated the area, washing away new plantings, damaging paths and leaving a trail of debris…but the next day garden supervisor Maxine Singleton and her team were clearing up and starting again.

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Supervisor Maxine with gardeners Steve and Fiona

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Steve and Alex doing some aquatic gardening

Now, three years on, the Far End has been rejuvinated and is ready to open, though renovation and replanting work will be ongoing. Christine Walkden, a horticulturalist well known for her TV and radio work – and friend and fan of Bodnant Garden – will cut a ribbon officially opening the area at 12 noon. It’s a historic event for Bodnant so be among the first to see this secret garden unveiled!

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Christine Walkden with staff and volunteers at the garden last year

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

Historic renovation for Waterfall Bridge

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  The cascading waterfall in The Dell is one of the most iconic images of Bodnant Garden. Do a search on the internet and there it is, along with The Pin Mill and the Laburnum Arch – one of the most photographed parts of our beautiful garden.

  However, you may spot a small difference to the Waterfall Bridge just at the moment; no, it’s not a post modern design feature, it is indeed…scaffolding. The bridge is undergoing a major renovation, the first in its almost 100-year history, which is part of a £150,000 scheme to make the riverside area of the garden more accessible for visitors.

Bodnant Garden, Colwyn Bay, Conwy

The dramatic scenery of The Dell

  The garden’s visionary founder Henry Pochin bought the Bodnant estate in the 1870s and planted the giant American and Oriental conifers in The Dell in the decade which followed. He also supervised the construction of rockwork along the banks of the river and streams. A dam was constructed in the early 1900s to harness the River Hiraethlyn and further enhance the dramatic scenery of The Dell, by creating a waterfall and pond behind…and a bridge from which to view them.

  Pochin’s foresight paid off, as the spectacle has been delighting visitors for generations. However the time has come for a facelift.

  The dam is stone clad with a concrete infill and over the years water has seeped in, eroding the infill and loosening the cladding. Over the next 12 weeks the voids will be pressure grouted with an infill (which is environmentally safe for the watercourse) and the stone frontage repointed – leaving moss where possible so that elvers can scramble their way upwards and onwards along the river. 

  Bridge timber will be removed and renovated. There will also be improvements to the valve mechanism at the dam which will give more control of the flow of water to the leat which runs alongside the river.

  Following on from this, the next part of the project is the construction of a new bridge further upstream and a 2m wide, all weather walkway with landscaping around this south west area of the garden, which is currently closed to the public. The new route will link up the areas along the valley bottom including the Skating Pond, Boathouse and Alder Wood, and it will be opened to the public in 2015.

Bridge and waterfall in Spring at Bodnant Garden

Azaleas galore…The Dell in spring

  All this is the result of long consultation with planners, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service CADW and Natural Resources Wales to make sure all work is done in a way which is sympathetic to the garden’s heritage and to the environment.

  Included in the project has been the construction of an eel pass, which is being monitored by NRW. It is also hoped to install a fish pass in the future.

  Talks are also going on over the problem of continual silting, which impedes the flow of the water and has contributed to flooding in the garden and surrounding areas, as well as inhibiting river wildlife. Last year the garden spent £60,000 on major de-silting works. Thinking ahead, we are in talks with parties such as local landowners, farmers, and other authorities about work upstream as far as the nearby village of Eglwysbach to find a long term solution.

  In a few weeks time the Waterfall Bridge will be back to its full splendour – and in another 18 months you’ll be able to enjoy the new riverside walk around the lower garden – but in the meantime, have a once-in-a-lifetime look at the work going on down there, as it will be some time before it’s done again!

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The bridge covered in scaffolding, left, and as it normally looks

  See our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT for more about Bodnant Garden.

It’s Dell-ightful down in the shade

The team down in The Dell are a hardy and intrepid bunch who take on some challenges in the course of their daily work, as gardener Alex Cox can testify.

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The Dell’s trademark blue hydrangeas line the banks of the River Hiraethlyn

The area of the garden we call The Dell is in the lower part of the grounds. If you are at all unsure where that is, as a general rule if it is sloping or there is water running through it then that is where you will find our small band of gardeners. Headed up by Maxine our supervisor, we are Steve (our fire starter extraordinaire), Fiona (often found outside the garden, in village halls, giving talks on the history of Bodnant), and myself, Alexandra.

Another way you can tell if you have spotted a Dell gardener is that we are generally less tanned than anyone else. Being in a valley, and with the shade from our massive trees (40-45 metres tall), we only get glimpses of the sun filtering through the canopy. Many’s the time we have walked back up at the end of the day, still wearing our coats, to find everyone else in t-shirts! But what the Dell lacks in sunlight it more than makes up for in atmosphere and challenging gardening situations.

 Lush plantings in The Dell; Primulas, Hostas, Ferns, the blue Meconopsis and colourful Azaleas

Running through the heart of the Dell is the river Hiraethlyn. In the summer it is a sparkling, babbling brook. This is when we don our waders and set about weeding the river edges. In the winter however, it can turn into a crashing torrent of muddy, hot chocolate coloured water. It is often known to burst its banks and flood the lower edges of the lawns leaving tide lines of leaves for us to clear.

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A view down to The Old Mill

November 27th, 2012, was an extreme example of this. On walking down to the Dell that morning I was met with the sight of water where lawns and paths should be. Trees had turned into vertical islands for very confused squirrels. All our wooden bridges were under water, acting as strainers for the river debris. Only the stone bridge outside the Old Mill was crossable. Grabbing my radio, the only words that would come out were: “We have no lawns!” (Having spent the previous day blowing all the leaves off them it was a particularly sore point to me). All we could do was stand and stare, then head to higher ground.

The following day, when the flood had subsided, the extent of the devastation was impressive and disheartening at the same time: Large sections of path had been ripped out, the gravel deposited on the lawns; hydrangeas had been smashed; soil, stone and drainage pipes washed away; plants torn from the ground and a tide line consisting, not just of leaves, but logs and branches too. The strangest sight however, was the multitude of turnips that littered the ground and were wedged into shrubs and trees! There must be a farmer upstream with only half a field left and some very hungry animals.

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The devastation caused by November flooding

And so, with the dell motto “crack on” the clean up operation began. Removing all the detritus from where it had amassed, cutting down the broken shrubs, shovelling gravel off the lawns and bringing in a lot more to fill in the sunken paths. All of this has taken several weeks to achieve. Whilst we have repaired most of the damage done in the garden open to the public, there is still a massive amount to do in the private area upstream. This bore the brunt of the water damage and will take some time to fix. We are hoping to open this area of the garden in a couple of years, so we really could do without any more floods!

When we are not battling the elements we have a varied range of gardening tasks. From abseiling down the precipitous banks to weed and prune, to the more normal pursuits of leaf collecting and mulching. This winter we have extended our skills to include starting the fire in the brazier each morning (particularly challenging in the rain), and setting up the food stall in the Dell. Here we have been selling snacks and soup made by the Pavilion catering team. As you might imagine with all this running around we can be fairly elusive, but if you happen to meet a gardener in the dell, please feel free to ask us a question, or at least tell us if the sun is shining!

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A summer display of exotic plants near the Old Mill

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Looking up…The Dell’s famous giant conifers…and looking down…abseiling Alex takes the plunge!

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Left, Alex with Paul and Richard, our tree specialists, who do a lot of work in The Dell, and right, Maxine, Steve and Fiona