Having a field day at Bodnant Garden

July is meadows month when, up and down the land, we celebrate this precious native habitat.

Plas newydd-3Here at Bodnant Garden we’re inviting visitors to enjoy our own meadows at their swaying, summer peak, swishing with the sound of Yellow Rattle seed-heads and buzzing with insects. We recently welcomed local school children – our events and engagement officer Charlie led the pupils of Ysgol Eglwysbach on a perfect, sunny nature trail around Furnace Meadow, newly opened to the public this year.

Our gardeners have been out exploring too, recently joining colleagues on a meadow study day looking at the conservation work done by National Trust Wales at Moss Farm near Ysbyty Ifan – and coming back buzzing with inspiration for our own grassy acres.

The traditional native meadow is an endangered species in Britain today so this restored plot at Moss Farm (seen below, on a somewhat damper day) is a precious example of what we’ve lost in the landscape… and what can yet be put back.

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The meadow has been restored in partnership with conservation group Plantlife, which has spearheaded the Coronation Meadows project. This initiative aims to create a ‘model’ meadow in every county in the UK, harvesting seed from these wildflower-rich donor meadows which is distributed to other local meadows-in-the-making.

Moss Farm is one such Coronation Meadow and wildflower seed from here has been donated to other local sites in Gwynedd and the Conwy Valley – including a field belonging to Plantlife’s own botanist Trevor Dines, near Bodnant Garden.

IMG_6532Bodnant gardeners Hollie, Christina, Harvey with Trevor Dines of Plantlife on their field trip to Trevor’s meadow, spotting Eye Bright, Bird’s Foot Trefoil and Betany – indicators of a propsering meadow.

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Our garden team visited Trevor’s Farm after viewing the donor site at Moss Farm. It was a great day learning about the diversity of meadow habitats, discovering wild flowers…and impressively-horned cattle!

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It’s inspiration for our own conservation work at Bodnant Garden, where we manage three wildflower meadows – the Old Park (opened to the public in 2012), Furnace Meadow (newly opened in 2017) and Cae Poeth Meadow (opening 2019.)  Since 2012 we’ve been working to a grassland management plan to enrich the wildlife found there with traditional, low level maintenance – a regime of mowing and removing hay in August, grazing with sheep in autumn, avoiding fertilisers and herbicides, along with sowing seed of Yellow Rattle to keep down grasses and encourage the growth of flowers. Already we’ve seen an increase in wildflowers flowers in The Old Park (seen below), including orchids.

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Why do it? Today in the UK there remains only 3% of the meadows which existed in the 1930s – that’s a staggering loss of 7.5 million acres of wild flower grassland.  In conservation terms the knock on effect is a massive decline in butterflies and bees, which has big implications for the pollination of our crops and gardens. There is an effect on water quality too; low use of chemicals and low intensity grassland management reduces the level of pollutants entering water sources and nutrients being washed out of the soil. In the larger scheme of things, there’s evidence the decline in grasslands may be affecting climate change too, as they store and use carbon at a higher rate than forests.

That’s why, alongside Plantlife, National Trust Wales is a leading partner in the campaign Save Our Magnificent Meadows, a Lottery funded effort to restore wildflower meadows and other grasslands.

We’re also working with Plantlife at Parc Farm, the National Trust site on the Great Orme. This limestone headland provides a very different grassland habitat to the damp meadow at Moss Farm but here, careful management can again make a world of difference to wildlife. Grazing with sheep is helping to keep grasses down and allow quite unique wildflowers to thrive (seen below, images courtesy of Plantlife.)

Join us celebrating our precious grassland heritage at Bodnant Garden, Great Orme and other National Trust Wales sites this month. You can find out more here :

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Taking a walk on the wilder side

To many people summer at Bodnant Garden means roses, water lilies and perfect beds, borders and lawns, which are at their formal finest right now. But this year we went, well, a little bit wild and planted an artistic ‘mini-meadow’ on our sophisticated Italianate terraces.

You might not immediately think of the Canal Terrace with its grand, iconic Pin Mill as the obvious place for a wildflower border, but it’s been a real success – not just with visitors but with butterflies, bees and even dragonflies finding their way to its billowing display from the Canal Pond.

The 77 metre long border was previously a formal display of herbaceous perennials which was tired and in need of renovation.

Gardeners Tracy and Ros (seen below) came up with the idea of sowing a wildflower mix to create a summer display while the bed was empty, awaiting a new design. Ros said: “We thought, why not sow annuals? If we’d left the bed bare this year the weeds would have kept growing anyway and we’d be working hard just to keep it tidy.”

In the spring they put the idea to our new head gardener John Rippin who was up for trying out the ‘experiment’ on the formal terrace. The old plants were removed from the border, it was cleared of weeds (no mean feat as it was full of ground elder) and the soil dug over and prepared for sowing.

Then came the fiddly task of sowing the seed, which is a pastel mix of cream coloured Bishop’s Flower (Ammi majus), pink Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), blue Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus),  mauve Rose Angel (Viscaria oculata) and red and pink Shirley Poppy  (Papaver rhoeas). As the seed company Pictorial Meadows points out this is not a traditional native wildflower meadow mix – you would not find this mix together naturally, or in such density – but a blend of annuals to give an ‘impressionistic’ meadow effect.

 

Ros said: “You only have to sow a tiny amount of seed per square metre and it’s quite hard to get an even spread. I was on tenterhooks waiting to see if they would take but the display has been amazing and exceeded all our expectations. The bed has been absolutely full of flowers and is teeming with wildlife.

“You can see the display changing as the time goes on and different flowers come out. Visitors have loved it. It would be great to do the same again next year elsewhere in the garden where there is empty space. We could make it an annual event.”

The formal Canal Terrace – a surprise setting for an informal display

Judging from the comment cards, emails and posts to social media, visitors have been delighted with the display. One Facebook follower sums up the feedback: “It’s a beautiful part of the garden anyway with the water lilies and the Pin Mill but the wild flowers just soften it somehow and when you look down from the terrace it’s just stunning.”

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The floral display changing from pinks to blues over the summer

Elsewhere at Bodnant Garden we’re doing our best to promote native wildflowers through our grassland management project. We have three meadows which we are managing for wildlife – one, the Old Park, is open to the public and the others will open in the next few years. When last surveyed the Old Park contained 26 species of wildflowers and we’re hoping that by old-style management methods (like cutting and removing the hay in late summer and grazing the land in autumn) the floral display will get better each year.

Our Canal Terrace wildflowers haven’t had to compete with meadow grasses and weeds and have provided an intense floral display which has surprised and delighted all of us. So as we plan a permanent new design for the Canal Terrace, we’re also thinking about where to sow next year’s ‘pop-up’ mini-meadow. Pay us a visit next year to discover where…

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.

Jewels of July at Bodnant Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASummer at Bodnant Garden means roses, water lilies and formal beds and borders …and now, for the first time, wildflowers. We’ve created a mini-meadow next to the Pin Mill and it’s been a real success, with visitors and with butterflies, bees and dragonflies. The long border is being renovated and the idea was to sow a wildflower mix to create a summer display while we plan a new design. By popular request, we may be doing it again at other places around the garden in future.

Elsewhere, the garden is looking splendid is all its summer glory, from the rose-tinted formality of the Terraces to the drama of The Dell with it’s swathes of blue hydrangeas and the lakeside tranquiltiy of the Far End. Here’s a little tour in pictures:

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Hot colours in The Range border

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Calceolaria integrifolia (left) alliums and campanula on the Top Lawn

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Dierama pulcherrimum (Angel’s Fishing Rod) on the Terraces

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Water lilies and roses, roses, roses…

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Also causing a stir on the rose terraces, Lilium regale

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Shrubs and perennials mingle in the shade of the Shrub Borders

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Lilium martagon and Hemerocalis lilioasphodelus  

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Sprawling Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (left) and Desmodium elegans

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Lovely all in white, the Poem beds

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Blue hydrangeas and Cardiocrum giganteum in The Dell

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Astilbe and campanula light up the shade

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You’ll even find a late flowering Rhododendron ‘Argosy’

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Lush lakeside in the Far End...you may spot an otter

Back to the upper the garden, and the subject of meadows…as well as out little ‘experiment’ at the Pin Mill we’re developing three wildflower meadows. The Old Park is already open to the public and we’re hoping to open Cae Poeth and Furnace meadows in the next few years. When last surveyed we identified 26 species of wildflowers in The Old Park. Come along and have a look for yourself; sit and enjoy the birds, butterflies and bees, even have a picnic. After your grand your of the garden, what nicer way to relax on a summer’s day?

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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 fascinating world of grass…really!

Do you know your smooth from your rough meadow grass? Bodnant gardener Katie and others took part in a training day recently to learn just that… 

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Can you tell what it is yet? Barbara and Katie

Last week I had a great day out with gardeners Bill, Laura, Alex and volunteer gardener Barbara at a meadows training day at Plas Newydd, our National Trust neighbours. The training was organised by the Coronation Meadows scheme, which aims to promote, protect and increase species-rich grassland throughout the UK.

As you may know, 98% of species-rich meadows have been destroyed since 1945, mostly through intensive agricultural management for dairy and beef cattle grazing, or development. This has had a devastating effect on wildlife that is dependent on this habitat, including butterflies, moths, beetles and birds.

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The species rich meadow at Plas Newydd

Plas Newydd has an amazing example of a species-rich meadow, which includes evocative sounding species such as the Greater Butterfly Orchid, Eye-bright, Lesser Stichwort, Yellow Rattle and Shamrock. It is a designated Coronation Meadow and is also a donor site for creating new meadows.

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Our day at Plas Newydd was a training session on grass identification for meadow monitoring. Don’t yawn now – it was brilliant! Well, OK, I do realise that spending a long time crouched in a field, comparing the size and hairiness of ligules through a hand lens, in order to tell the difference between smooth meadow grass and rough meadow grass might not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, a really important part of managing meadows is that you monitor what species are in it, year on year, that way you can tell if your management regime is having the desired effect, and identify any problems. And, of course, to be able to record your species, you do have to be able to tell the difference between the grasses!

So a group of us from Bodnant Garden came along to the training so that we could improve our monitoring skills, as well as support our colleagues at Plas Newydd.

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Learning the survey method…

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We spent a few hours in the morning looking at key identification characteristics in the classroom, and learning about the importance of grasses on a global scale. The rest of the day was spent in the field (literally) looking at common and important species before having a go at the surveying method that the Coronation Meadows scheme use.

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…and putting it into action in the field

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This was great fun, laying out ‘quadrats,’ scrabbling through to find all the species in there, and how often they appear, in order to capture a series of samples of the vegetation. It was a great experience and I am now much more confident in identifying grasses. You might not think it at first but the world of grasses is fascinating, and pretty addictive! Earlier this week I found myself crouched in the Old Park back at Bodnant Garden, getting very excited that I’d found a clump of Crested Dog’s Tail! Might be time for a holiday…

If you’d like to help with the management of the meadow at Plas Newydd, they are looking for volunteers to help with monitoring. Contact Helen Buckingham, wildlife and countryside advisor, at helen.buckingham@nationaltrust.org.uk

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The Old Park meadow at Bodnant Garden, one of three which we are managing for wildlife

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.

Plant a snowdrop for posterity

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Our Old Park meadow is carpeted with snowdrops right now and with a little help from visitors there will soon be 15,000 more. From February 14 to 22 we’re inviting people to join gardeners and volunteers in a mass planting for posterity.

The Old Park is a rolling open meadow landscaped with native oak and beech trees, thought to be the oldest part of the original garden dating back to the Georgian era. Only opened to the public in 2013, it is now being managed as a wildlife meadow – the display of snowdrops are followed by swathes of daffodils in the spring and wildflowers in the summer.

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Gardeners and volunteers have been planting snowdrops in the meadow for the last five years to ensure a bigger and better display in future.

This time of year it is traditional to plant snowdrops ‘in the green’ (at the end of flowering but when the leaves are still green). Visitors can drop by through the week and lend a hand at any time from 11am to 1pm. All plants and tools are provided, just bring are sturdy clothes and footwear.

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All are welcome to drop by and join in with the planting, whether for five minutes or an hour – the more the merrier! It’s also a chance to have a look around our Winter Garden, now in its third year and positively blooming. In fact the whole garden is showing signs of spring and it’s a wonderful time to visit.

There are also events for families in the garden during half term, with a craft workshop in The Old Mill on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, February 16-18, 11am to 1pm. Don’t forget you can bring dogs too on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until the end of February.

No booking is required and there is no extra charge for the snowdrop planting or craft workshop (normal garden admission prices apply), but for information contact Bodnant Garden on 01492 650460.

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

When is a field not just a field?

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  The grass cutting season is coming to an end, to the delight of many! But grass is not all about creating the perfect turf – at Bodnant Garden we’ve been doing a bit more than striping the lawns this year.

  We are developing a Grassland Management Plan to take care of all of our 80 acres, from the formal areas of the Italianate Terraces to the meadows of the Shrub Borders and even areas of rough grass in the car park. It’s part of our long term aim to protect the wildlife so dependent on grasslands and so under threat from their decline in recent years…and also to enable more visitors to enjoy them.

  Environmental consultant Mike Howe has produced as report for us, looking at the garden’s grasslands and at ways to look after them.

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The Old Park in spring.

 Put simply, there are two types of grass at Bodnant Garden; the formal lawns, managed for visitors, and meadow grassland, managed for wildlife. Our three flower meadows, The Old Park, Cae Poeth and Furness Field, are all different in character but of great wildlife value and recent surveys show them to be thriving and species-rich.

  The Old Park is one of the oldest parts of the garden, parkland dating back to the late 1700s. In spring it is a mass of snowdrops then daffodils and in summer it sways with grasses and flowers, and buzzes with butterflies and bees. The meadow has been cut for hay occasionally in the past and grazed by sheep. It was opened to the public for the first time this summer and was a big hit with visitors.

  Cae Poeth is a private area to the north of the garden which is particularly rich in wildflowers, as well as bluebells beneath the oak trees in spring. It has been cut for hay in the last two years though not grazed. 

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Cae Poeth field

  Furnace Field is another private area at the west of the garden, although we are planning to open this to the public from 2017. It is another flower-rich meadow which is cut for hay every year by a local farmer, but not grazed. The grassland is dominated by Hay Rattle, which keeps the grasses down so that other species have flourished. When surveyed it was found that there were a high number of bumble bees.

  The garden’s other informal grassland, in public areas of the Shrub Borders, are left to grow, mown in August and grass cuttings collected for compost. In the car park too, grass is allowed to grow until summer when it is mown and strimmed.

meadow5  As Mike points out, there are many benefits to maintaining our meadows; on a purely heritage basis, we have lost 99% of our flower-rich hay meadows in Wales in the last 60 years. In conservation terms the knock on effect is a massive decline in butterflies and bees, which has big implications for the pollination of our crops and gardens. There is an effect on water quality too; low intensity grassland management is good for soil structure and does not result in nutrients being washed out of the soil into water courses, and in the larger scheme of things, there’s evidence the decline in grasslands may be affecting climate change, as they store and use carbon at a higher rate than forests.

  And then there’s people…visitors enjoy meadows, and meadow wildlife, and there’s a huge benefit to education, recreation and tourism in nurturing them.

  So we’re looking at implementing Mike’s ideas for annual, low level maintenance –  cutting grass and removing the hay in August, steering clear of feeds and herbicides, grazing in the autumn where possible (though perhaps not in the Shrub Borders and car park!), monitoring the wildlife species present, mechanically removing invasive species such as bracken, thistles, docks and nettles – and just as importantly, extending access so people can enjoy these areas.

  Mike says: “On a summer’s day in the Old Park…bees and butterflies flit among the flower heads searching for nectar and when you sit in the grass in the warm sunshine many species of insect can be found crawling, jumping and flying amongst the foliage. Swallows and swifts fly after insects overhead and in the evening bats and owls emerge.”

  When you put it like that, what more reason do we need to look after our grasslands?

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Furnace Field in summer. All of these great pictures were kindly provided by Mike Alexander – thanks Mike!

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

Welcome to pastures new

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Bodnant Garden is slowly giving up its secrets as the gates open to areas which have, until now, been closed to the public.

From Monday (July 1) the gates to the Old Park will open to visitors who can, for the first time, enjoy a stroll through this picturesque meadow brimming with wildflowers and mature native trees. Work is underway to open other parts of the garden in the near future too.

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The Old Park is the oldest area of Bodnant Garden. It is thought to have been landscaped when the original house was built in the 1700s in the naturalistic style of the day, with native trees, rolling fields and a ha-ha (a type of ditch) to keep sheep and cows away from the house. The estate was bought by Victorian industialist Henry Davis Pochin in the 187os who remodelled the original Georgian style mansion and set about shaping the rest of the garden, but the Old Park has remained unchanged over the years.

The area has always been visible from the public garden, offering visitors open views of swathes of snowdrops in winter, daffodils in the spring, wildflowers in summer and, in autumn, a tantalising vista across to the acers in Chapel Park. However, from next week the gates to the Old Park will be finally open and people will be able to amble through to the Shrub Borders beyond enjoying the sights up close.

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Visitors will also be able to see the work being done to preserve the area’s wildlife. When surveyed in 2010, the meadow contained 23 species of grasses and wildflowers. It will be cut in August, the hay removed to keep soil fertility low, which encourages wildflowers to grow, and then grazed by sheep in the autumn.

Bill Warrell, area supervisor at Bodnant Garden, says: “We are delighted to be opening the Old Park for the first time. One of Bodnant’s three species-rich meadows, visitors will now have the chance to spot some of the 23 varieties of flowers and grasses present, as well as butterflies, day-flying moths and bees. We hope that the public will also enjoy the new views of the house, garden and Snowdonia, whilst strolling through gently swaying grassland.”

Next year we will be opening another part of the garden which has been closed to the public. The Yew Dell at the far south of the garden is a tranquil wooded area planted with rhododendrons, reminiscent of a Himalayan valley. Following this, in 2015, there are plans to open the area known as the Skating Pond at the far end of The Dell.

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The Old Park through the seasons

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For more information see our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT or website http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnantgarden

By gardener Fran Llewellyn