Tempest to tropics: 2016 at Bodnant Garden

A garden is full of surprises; one minute you’re in waders, the next it’s flip-flops and a sarong.

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Our New Year 2016 at Bodnant Garden didn’t exactly get off to a great start. Floods hit over the Christmas period, bringing rain and river water surging through from the Pavilion tearoom at the top of the garden all the way down to the Far End, and leaving a trail of debris in its wake. But with true Bodnant Garden grit, staff and volunteers put their holiday breaks on hold to come in and clear up the mess.

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Things soon began to look brighter In January when we launched an appeal for special volunteers – Laburnum Archers – to help us look after the crowds of visitors who flock to see our famous floral pergola walkway in late spring. We were amazed by the response; in no time we were welcoming a new crack team of helpers into the fold and kitting them out with distinctive, not-to-be missed, eye-wateringly yellow jackets:

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Our Laburnum Archers with Bodnant Garden events officer Charlie Stretton (who may have been responsible for those yellow jackets…)

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In February we launched our #BodnantFountainAppeal to raise money to replace the crumbling 18th century water feature on the Croquet Terrace. Gardener Dave (seen below) kicked off the effort by collecting coins thrown into ponds around the garden. By the end of this year our volunteers had raised a whopping £5,000 from raffle ticket sales towards the conservation cause.

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A mild March arrived bringing blue skies, sunshine and the early appearance of flowers like this century-old magnolia on the Terraces. There was also a welcome sighting of daffodils in the Old Park:

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As well as providing wonderful garden displays this lovely spring weather, which continued into April, gave us a memorable Easter holiday, with families making the most of outdoor activities like kite flying, nature trails, crafts and wild art.

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In May some of our gardeners joined volunteers from Happy Valley in Llandudno (seen below) to share their experience of laburnum pruning with the team there, who look after their park’s own miniature arch. It’s not as long as our 55-metre version but with more TLC in years to come it should blossom into a beautiful feature.

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In May we opened the garden gates again to dogs, including the team from Guide Dogs Cymru who brought some of their VIP pooches along to launch our summer season:

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13332972_1138412542872953_289533962182889784_nThis month saw the first flowering of our Poppy Beds flanking the Terraces. Sown in 2015, these contain Himalayan poppies (like the blue Meconopsis seen here) and primulas. Our garden team also celebrated winning a national horticulture award for Best Garden Restoration (for the Far End, opened in 2015) – Maxine, Steve and Nathan (seen below) put on their best bibs and tuckers to attend a prize-giving at Chelsea Physic Garden, London.1431756014024-far-end.jpg

June is traditionally Laburnum Arch time but this year we also unveiled a floral wow of the future – The Penjerrick Walk. This is a newly planted avenue of historic rhododendrons on Furnace Hill, a garden area under renovation which opens to the public in spring 2017. We hope the 100m long Penjerrick Walk will be a feature to rival the Laburnum Arch in generations to come. Head gardener John Rippin (seen below) welcomed the press for a sneak preview of Furnace, unveiling an artists’s impression of how the Penjerrick Walk could look in future.

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The arch itself was featured on Gardener’s World (seen filming, below) and attracted a record-breaking crowds – 20,000 visitors in the first week of June – which kept our Laburnum Archers, along with other volunteers and staff, on their toes!

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In June we also had a day by the seaside in Llandudno where we set up a patio garden on the prom. Staff and volunteers, bearing home-made lemonade and shortbread, were able to chat with passers-by about the #WorldOfGardens around @NationalTrustWales.

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July sunshine brought out the wildflowers (and wildlife) on our temporary Canal Terrace borders. The collection was chosen by the public in response to our #PinMillFlowerPoll held earlier in the year. Thanks everyone who voted, the results were outstanding! These borders are now being permanently re-designed – watch this space.

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In August the garden was brought to life with a host of #50Things events like Pooh-Sticking, den building, pond dipping and bug hunting. We also hosted a textile exhibition staged by the members of North Wales Embroiderers’ Guild, whose beautiful, colourful, skilful work decorated the garden for two weeks through the summer (some of it modelled, below, by our volunteers.) The young musicians of Denbighshire Music Co-operative brought a summer party to the garden with a performance in front of the Pin Mill and the holidays closed with a bank holiday tree climbing weekend.

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In the summer we also opened a new riverside walkway in the Dell. The Mill Pond Path (below) has been renovated by gardeners and offers visitors a new view of the Waterfall Bridge – plus some surprising greenery along the way including tree ferns and carnivorous plants.

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September opened with a bang – and a hot-coloured tropical one at that – in the shape of a party to launch the opening of the Bath, our renovated poolside garden. Visitors who came to admire the exotic new planting scheme were greeted by staff and volunteers dressed in Hawaiian shirts and flower garlands, offering exotic fruit cocktails. We all cheered on gardeners as they introduced goldfish back into the ornamental pond:

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October brought a spectacular, long autumn display, with the leaf colour of trees and shrubs mingling with late flowering plants, as seen here in this magical image sent to us by visitor Nerys Haynes:

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Autumn was the perfect time to celebrate our Champion Trees. These are the biggest or best of their kind in the UK and a new survey by the Tree Register revealed that our collection has doubled to more than 40 in the last decade! We held a tree festival week with guided walks and a new Tree Trail and Map; children from Eglwysbach School came in to help us plant new oaks (seen below), and there followed a half term week full of woodland-inspired events.

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Below: Volunteer Gwen with our new Champion Tree Trail, and Great Orme ranger Doug doing wood turning demonstrations

And talking of trees, in November our old Sweet Chestnut on the Top Lawn (seen below) was also a finalist in the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year competition, making it onto the shortlist of six top specimens.

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15675864_1299018636812342_6620073918418315799_oDecember is all about the little people. Our Elves’ Workshop in the Old Mill in the Dell has become a popular event for families in the run-up to Christmas. The workshop was started by volunteers four years ago who renovated a redundant room in the mill building. It’s now a big part part of our Christmas calendar and this year the elves were happily run off their teeny-tiny feet.

As we say goodbye to 2016 were’re also waving a fond farewell to Jenny from the catering team, who’s retiring, and to garden supervisor Bill Warrell, who leaves us to become head gardener at our National Trust Wales neighbours, Plas Newydd and Penrhyn Castle. So we’ll leave you with an image of Bill (far left) as we’d like to remember him…in a Hawaiian shirt and sarong.

Happy New Year everyone!

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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.

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Fire up the imagination in our Winter Garden

  Santolina chamaecyparissusWinter can be a challenging time for the garden, and gardeners. Trees shed their leaves, herbaceous plants die back and we lose the vibrant colours which so effortlessly lift our hearts from spring to autumn – and then there’s the weather! There’s much to inspire and enjoy at this time of year though – it may take a little more imagination to see and hard work to achieve, but a winter garden under crisp, blue, sunlit skies is a joy to behold; add a bit of sparkling frost and it can be pure magic.

  Bodnant’s Winter Garden is now one year old. It opened last New Year to great public interest and lots of press attention. Twelve months on our new baby is showing every sign of living up to this early promise; plants are bulking up and beds filling out (despite the best efforts of rabbits and mice.)  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  Our winter garden was four years in the planning and two years in the making. It is the jewel in the crown of our new winter season – this year we have remained open throughout the year for the first time so that visitors can enjoy the garden as never seen before, along with refreshments in the Pavilion tearoom and The Dell plus a programme of seasonal events such as talks, workshops and snowdrop planting.

  The area chosen for the Winter Garden lies at the south-east fringes of The Terraces. It is believed to have been an Edwardian rockery but in recent memory it had become a densely overgrown forest of azaleas and rhododendrons which remained closed to the public. In the course of renovation work, shrubs were cut hard back and some removed, revealing the remains of alpine plants and stone beds.

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Viburnum bodnantense, Iris reticulata and Callicarpa bodinieri

  In redesigning the area former head gardener Troy Smith made the most of the light, which at midday shines from the south across the Old Park backlighting many of the plants to dramatic effect.  The design of the garden followed the former layout of stone beds, but paths have been slightly altered to give a more sinuous sweep around the area and give a better view of some plantings.

  Tall Lawson Cypress were retained to give structure and height to the planting scheme. Many of the old shrubs such as rhododendrons were retained, and some such as the garrya and camellia and many struggling and overgrown were azaleas cut back – allowing them to rejuvenate and at the same time revealing other plants, such as the stunningly gnarled old Acer palmatum, in their full glory. Other taller structural plants were added such as the white birches Betula utlis and the silky red cherry Prunus serrula, whose bark are stunning when lit by the sun in winter.

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Hamamelis x intermedia and Helleborus orientalis

  Forming the middle level of the planting scheme are shrubs such as hamamelis, daphne and sarcococca for scent, viburnum and camellia for flower, cornus and rubus for glowing stems and skimmia for berries. A lower layer of small shrubs and herbaceous plants include red leaved bergenia and pittosporum, arching grasses and ferns, heathers and a particularly lovely collection of hellebores. A colourful understory to all this are bulbs such as snowdrops, iris, cyclamen and crocus.

  Where possible we used propagated plants from our own nursery but many were also bought in – in all there are around 350 varieties of plants in the winter garden, and 10,000 new plants in total. As far as possible we also used our own mulch on the beds – 120 cubic metres were dug into the beds last year and 80 cubic metres to mulch them. All the stone in the beds and paths was reused in situ and sourced from the rest of the garden and surrounding estate.

  At a cost of £35,000, the Winter Garden has been a major investment in the future. It attracted 10,000 visitors in its opening three months and was so polular that, instead of closing it to the public in March as originally planned, we kept the ropes down all year. Come and see for yourselves…we hope it will give you ideas and inspiration and maybe, instead of  ‘putting the garden to bed’ next December, you can create a winter wonderland of your own.

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Sarcococca confusa and Skimmia japonica

 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