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.

Bring on 2016…and a little calm after the storm

Well…surveying the damage to the garden caused by flooding and gales, what can we say? It’s been a storm-battered end to 2015. But nature has a way of bouncing back – with help from us mortals – and we still have 200,000 reasons to be cheerful, because that’s the record number of visitors who came through the gates this year.

JanLast New Year brought a truly fresh start here with the arrival of new head gardener John Rippin, formerly of the National Trust’s Castle Drogo in Devon. The hunt for a head took almost two years following the departure of Troy Smith who took over at Sissinghurst in Kent. During that time our deputy head gardener Adam Salvin took the helm (seen here welcoming John Rippin on a frosty January morning).

It was sleeves up and straight to work for John in the following weeks as we all raced to open the new Far End garden. Gardeners, office staff (like property adminstrator Rose James here) and volunteers all mucked in on team work days, mulching beds, gravelling paths and getting the 10 acres ready for the grand opening.

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Thankfully we enjoyed a bright February of cold but clear days which made the work easier. The weather was also perfect for snowdrop planting and lots of families joined us in our annual effort towards planting 1 million bulbs in the Old Park. Work also began on the renovation of the Gentian Bed near the Pin Mill being redesigned by gardener Katie Croft (seen below) as an ericaceous bed suitable for moisture loving woodland plants, including some rare specimens.

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In March everyone downed tools and took up gadgets and gizmos (some professional, some DIY) in order to view the solar eclipse.

Also in March came our big event of the year with the opening of the Far End. Horticultural broadcaster Christine Walkden did the honours by cutting the ribbon and garden director Michael McLaren gave a speech on behalf of Bodnant’s donor family. We even had Morris Dancers and a harpist providing music for the occasion.

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AprilIn April we welcomed another new member of the team. Charlie Stretton, our new events and engagement officer (seen right) brought with her a wealth of experience with the RSPB in Conwy and has been developing a full programme of events for visitors, especially pop guided bird watching walks with local experts which are becoming increasingly popular, and a range of wildlife events for families.

In spring gardeners were busy on a number of new projects. Ros Puma and Tracy Jones began planting up a ‘experimental’ wildflower border on the Canal Terrace, to fill a gap while the long herbaceous beds are being replanned. Students Jess Mehers and Jette Nielsen (seen below) also started planting up their new design for the Vanessa Beds on the Top Lawn (named after the hybrid Rhododendron Vanessa there), which were damaged when an oak tree came down the previous winter.

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May was Laburnum Arch time of course, with tens of thousands of visitors pouring through the gates to see the annual spectacle. This year marked a new phenomenon – the Laburnum Selfie was huge on our Facebook and Twitter pages! This month the National Trust also acquired Parc Farm on the Great Orme in Llandudno, which will be managed by the Bodnant Garden team. The 145 acres is a site of botanical importance and home to species such as wild cotoneaster, which does not exist anywhere else.

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Also in May, a team from Bodnant Garden had star billing at the Malvern Show to showcase the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme. Katie and Jess found themselves sharing the limelight with Carol Klein (seen below) and Christine Walkden doing demonstrations of seed collecting and sowing.

Jess and student mentor Katie Croft with Carol Klein at the Malvern Show

In June head gardener John and former-student gardener David Green attended the grand unveiling of a new sensory garden at the Blind Veterans Llandudno Centre. David worked with volunteers there to help develop the garden in a previously overgrown, wooded area of their grounds. Soon afterwards David secured a permanent position at Bodnant Garden, having trained with the team for three years.

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Two of our other former students, Harvey Baker and Nathan Lewis, also gained positions as full-time gardeners here and their colleague Huw Edwards (all seen right) bagged a position with Bodnant Garden Nursery. Well done lads – a testament to the quality of our training scheme!

In July the results of the wildflower ‘experiment’ came to fruition, in a spectacular display which exceeded all expectations. It was such a huge hit with visitors that Tracy and Ros (seen below) are repeating it again in 2016, this time on both sides of the Canal Pond.

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In the summer we learned that the conservation body Plant Heritage had granted Bodnant Garden a fifth National Plant Collection – for Bodnant Garden Hybrid Rhododendrons. It recognises the unique plants bred here at the garden, begun by the Second Lord Aberconway and head gardener Frederick Puddle from the 1920s. Today Bodnant Garden has around 300 hybrid rhododendrons, marked by green tags. The award now brings our collections to five, along with Rhododendron forrestii, Magnolia, Embothrium and Eucryphia.

AugustAugust was the month of love, with two couples popping the question in the garden which they shared with us on social media. It was also the month for children, who lapped up the pond dipping, wildlife crafts, nature trails and other family activities arranged by Charlie with the help of our trusty band of volunteers and helpers. Among them was local lad Gethin Mullock-Jones, doing his Duke of Edinburgh Award, and Italian horticulture students Jacopo Pedol and Stefania Moro (all seen below).

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SeptemberIn September a new student joined us. Christina Smart (seen right) is with us for 14 months as part of the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme. Sadly we also said goodbye to Jette and Jess in the autumn, who finished their placement and bade a temporary farewell to gardener Katie, who jetted off on a year-long study trip to Japan and America.

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We also welcomed new catering manager Ailsa Morris (seen above) and the Pavilion tearoom was awarded the Quality Café Accolade for 2016 by Visit Wales.

October marked a special milestone, as we welcomed those 200,000th visitors through the gates. Staff and volunteers greeted the VIP guests with cake, bubbly and rousing cheers.  Samantha and Simon Hardman, and their baby daughter Emily from Sheffield, were also presented with a picture of the garden by Visitor Services Manager Ann Smith…and after getting over the surprise they said they would definitely be back again!

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It was a long, mild autumn of spectacular colour too, with plants flowering later than usual and the trees hanging onto their leaves for longer. This took us into a busy and successful Half Term Week when families flocked to the crafts and Halloween events…and some volunteers (you know who you are Sally and Phyllis) really got into the spirit of witches’ hovel making.

Children playing in the autumn leaves at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales, in October.

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In November we had more all-team work days to tidy the upper garden ready for winter (seen below). Then in the blink of an eye it was December – off with the witches hats an on with the pixie uniforms as Voles started organising our popular Christmas Elves’ Workshop. The event is in its third year now and getting bigger and better each time – despite pretty poor weather.

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Things turned from mild and mellow to windy and relentlessly wet in November and December and two mature trees were lost in gales. Sadly record amounts of rainfall have brought the year to a dramatic end – in recent days water has rushed down through the garden ripping up gravel paths and coursed through the valley flooding much of the Far End and Dell. It’s been all hands to the pump for staff and volunteers repairing the damage to open parts of the garden.

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On a more hopeful note, the warm spell has coaxed out flowering plants ahead of schedule – some daffodils have made an appearance before the snowdrops! So we end 2015 wishing well to those out there whose lives and livelyhoods have been so affected by the storms, with a heartfelt ‘Hang in there, spring is around the corner.’

There’s plenty to look forward to at Bodnant Garden – a new Poppy Bed, more wildflower borders, early morning openings to view the Laburnum Arch, extended dog walking, a play area for the Far End, and opening the upstairs of the Pin Mill to give you but a tantalising taster. Happy New Year everyone, we hope to see you in 2016.

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.

 

 

Take a walk in our Winter Wonderland

Bodnant Garden January 2015 Web Size - Joe Wainwright-40We hope you’ve all had a great Christmas Day…maybe you’re getting ready for round two today?! By tomorrow many of us will be in need of a good walk and some fresh air. Well it so happens we have the perfect solution for you…get yourselves down to our Winter Garden.

Bodnant’s Winter Garden is now three years old. Four years in the planning and two years in the making, it opened in New Year 2013 and is coming on in leaps and bounds. Plants have bulked up and filled out, now putting on a wonderfully colourful display of leaves, flowers, bark – and scent too. And for those of you who don’t want to walk too far after the festivities, it’s all in the upper garden!

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The site of our Winter Garden was a former Edwardian rockery which for many years had been a densely overgrown forest of azaleas and rhododendrons, closed to the public. The renovation cost £35,000 and the garden attracted 10,000 visitors in its opening three months. It was so popular that, instead of closing it to the public in March as originally planned, we kept the ropes down all year.

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

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Existing Lawson Cypress were retained to give structure to the planting scheme, as were many of the old shrubs such as rhododendrons, garrya, camellia and the stunningly gnarled old Acer palmatum. Other taller structural plants were added such as the white birches Betula utlis and the silky red cherry Prunus serrula.

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Forming the middle level are shrubs such as hamamelis, daphne and sarcococca for scent, viburnum and camellia for flower, cornus and rubus for 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 hellebores, with a colourful underplanting of bulbs such as snowdrops, iris, cyclamen and crocus.

Here’s a little gallery of pictures to tempt you. If you can’t make it in person we hope you’ll curl up on the sofa and enjoy them (along with that other mince pie). If you’re feeling more energetic there’s the rest of Bodnant Garden to explore, including our new area The Far End which is open to the public for the first time in winter.

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The garden opens again on December 27. 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

What a difference two years have made to our Winter Garden

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Our Winter Garden is now two years old – it opened to the public in New Year 2013 and is already putting on an amazing show.

It’s come a long way in that short time. New plants have bulked up, bulbs have spread and while there are still tweaks to be made and gaps to be filled the riot of colours, shapes, textures and scents on display should inspire anyone looking out on their own back gardens right now.

Our winter garden was four years in the planning and two years in the making. At a cost of £35,000, it has been a major investment but is already paying off; it attracted 10,000 visitors in its opening three months and was so popular that, instead of closing the area to the public in March as originally planned, we have kept the ropes down all year.

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 The garden team launching the Winter Garden in January 2013 

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The area 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, as seen in this old photo below. 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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In redesigning the area former head gardener Troy Smith retained the tall Lawson Cypress to give structure and height to the planting scheme. Many of the old shrubs such as rhododendrons and camellia were retained while some others like struggling and overgrown were azaleas cut back.  Other taller plants were added such as the the white birches Betula utlis and the silky red cherry Prunus serrula, for their stunning coloured bark.

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. Below this was added a lower layer of small shrubs and herbaceous plants including red leaved bergenia and pittosporum, arching grasses and ferns, heathers and hellebores, interplanted with 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.

The result has been…well, you can see for yourself in these latest photos, taken for us by local photographer Joe Wainwright…a sight to delight on any winter day:

 

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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

 

 

 

 

A proud history of head gardeners

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The wait is over – we have a new head gardener. After an 18-month search the coveted horticultural role goes to John Rippin (right), who joins us here on January 19. John was previously head gardener at the National Trust’s Castle Drogo, in Devon.

Our quest began with the departure of Troy Smith a year-and-a-half ago, who left to take the lead at another of the National Trust’s most prestigious sites, Sissinghurst in Kent.

Why has the recruitment taken so long? William Greenwood, our property manager, says: “It has taken some time, but we were determined to find the right person for this very special job. We have met some outstanding candidates along the way but at last we have found our head gardener.”

Troy Scott Smith, Head Gardener at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, Wales

Bodnant Garden ranks among the finest in Britain and attracts around 180,000 visitors from all over the world, each year. Taking the helm of this national treasure is no mean feat. When Troy (seen left) arrived in 2006 he stepped into an illustrious role dominated by three generations of one family, The Puddles – head gardeners who famously helped shape the garden throughout much of the 20th century alongside the McLaren donor family.

But the story didn’t start there…the Puddles themselves built on the (literally) ground-breaking work of others.

3The garden as we know it today really began when Victorian entrepreneur Henry Davis Pochin (seen right) bought Bodnant Estate in 1874, which then included a Georgian mansion house and parkland of native trees laid out in the late 1700s. Pochin was a self made man – the son of a farmer who became a chemist, industialist, businessman, landowner, MP, JP – a man of enormous energy and vision. Not content with remodelling the house, he enlisted landscape designer Edward Milner, apprentice to Joseph Paxton, to resculpt the hillside around Bodnant Hall.

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Above, the Italianate house and parkland bought by Pochin and his remodelled version – with sloping lawn where now are terraces

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Putting Milner’s grand plans (seen left) into effect were George Ellis and his team of gardeners. A native of Suffolk, Ellis had risen in the ranks to become head gardener at Kirkby Mallory in Leicestershire, the home of Lady Byron, estranged wife of the notorious lord. Taking on the Bodnant job in the mid 1870s, he settled in the nearby village of Eglwysbach with his wife Ellen and young family. Sadly Ellen died in 1881 aged only 45 and it appears Mr Ellis moved on, or moved away from the area, but not before a decade or so of work which truly shaped the garden.

Ellis would have been involved in the early development of the pinetum in The Dell and in planting the Asian and American conifers being newly discovered by plant hunters, in the laying out of paths throughout the valley, in the rockworks to re-enforce the banks of the River Hiraethlyn, in the establishment of new watercourses and sculpting of the pools and falls which define the lower garden.

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He would also have overseen the planting of the famous Laburnum Arch in 1880 (above, with yew hedges now replaced by azaleas) and the construction of The Poem mausoeum, in 1883 (below).

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In the early to mid 1800s a new head gardener appears in the Bodnant records. Joseph Saunderson previously worked at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, designed by Paxton and Milner…famous for it’s glasshouse (perhaps he is among the Victorian gardeners pictured here at Chatsworth?)

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Saunderson certainly knew his onions, in fact all manner of fruit and veg and plenty about greenhouse growing. He arrived when Pochin was constructing the fernery and glasshouses; the fernery remains, attached to the house, but sadly the glasshouses, sited on the south wall which is now the Range border, were demolished in the 1980s. It is believed there was also a kitchen garden within the walls where the garden centre now stands, as this picture gives a tantalising glimpse:

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Newspaper articles from the 1880s and 1890s record the success of Bodnant’s kitchen garden, with many awards for fruit, even grapes. The Manchester Courier reported in 1888 that “at the Chester Conference an account was given of the great success in the cultivation of pears and apples achieved by Mr Pochin of Bodnant Hall, Conway Valley…and opions were expressed that there was no reason such success could not be achieved on many a sunny slope in Cheshire.” That showed them.

58Saunderson would also have been involved in work on the Italianate Terraces under Pochin’s daughter Laura and grandson Henry McLaren (Lord Aberconway) which began in 1904, and also the introduction to the garden, and Britain, of the first Chinese magnolias, camellias and other exotic plants.

Left, a young magnolia planted against a terrace wall

He had married wife Florence in Derbyshire in 1881 before moving to Eglwysbach. On his retirement in 1911 Joseph was awarded a silver teapot by Lord and Lady Aberconway for thirty years service. He and his family remained living in the area and son Eric also became a gardener – sadly Eric died aged 23, killed in France during the First World War along with 24 other young men from the village, including fellow garden and estate workers.

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The mantle of head gardener was next taken on by George Gurney, originally from Hertfordshire, who held the role for almost a decade through these difficult years of World War One. It was a challenging time; in addition to those working men who left to fight and did not return, Bodnant mourned Francis McLaren, Henry’s younger brother, who was killed in 1917.

Gurney took over the massive building project of the Terraces (seen above), which was completed in 1914 with finishing touches in 1918. He died in 1920 at the age of 56…perhaps those sad times had taken their toll. An obituary in the Gardener’s Chronicle reported: “He was an enthusiastic and successful gardener, and passionately fond of flowers. Mr Gurney took an active part in War-Savings Associations, and the church and social events in the neighbourhood…a true patriot, loved and respected by all who knew him.”

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Mr Gurney’s successor was Frederick Puddle (left) – and so began the most famous period in the garden’s history. For the next eight and a half decades the development of the garden was very much a family affair, a partnership between three generations of the McLarens – Henry, Charles and Michael (the current garden manager) – and three generations of Puddles – Fredrick (1920-1947) Charles (1947-1982) and Martin (1982-2005).

Frederick Puddle worked closely with Henry McLaren during a dynamic phase of the garden’s development. Through the 1920s and 1930s Henry sponsored expeditions by plant hunters such as George Forrest, Harold Comber and Frank Kingdon-Ward who brought back new plants from Asia and America to Bodnant. Most significantly, Forest introduced great quantities of rhododendrons to the garden. Frederick famously doubted whether these would thrive in North Wales…and was happily proved wrong. Not only did they thrive but he and Henry went on to breed new specimens, forming a collection of Bodnant hybrids.

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 The Canal Terrace before the Pin Mill

On another occasion Mr Puddle’s judgement was clearly spot on. Frederick oversaw the erection of the now iconic Pin Mill on the Canal Terrace, an 18th century building brought from Gloucestershire brick by brick in 1938. Legend has it that he persuaded Lord Aberconway not to site it in the middle of the terrace where it would spoil the mountain view – for which we can be forever thankful!

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Frederick’s son Charles followed in his footsteps to become head gardener in 1947 and he was at the helm two years later when Henry McLaren, president of the Royal Horticultural Society, persuaded the National Trust to accept gardens on their own merit, handing over Bodnant to the care of the Trust – the second garden to be accepted after Hidcote.

So began another chapter of Bodnant Garden as a National Trust visitor attraction, but the continuity remained in the links between the Puddle family as head gardeners and the McLarens, as garden managers. Charles and Martin Puddle (seen above) steered Bodnant through this new era, during which time it became one of Wales’ and Britain’s most famous gardens. The family link was sadly broken when Martin died unexpectedly in 2005. This was a huge loss to the garden and to staff, many of whom are still at Bodnant today and remember him with pride and great fondness.

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 Troy and the team launching the new Winter Garden in 2012

On his arrival in 2007 Troy Smith drove forward a number of innovations at the garden; the renovation of the two rose terraces, the redesign and replanting of herbaceous beds and borders and the construction of our new winter garden. He also championed the introduction of volunteers to the team.

Primula Path

Since Troy left, the ship has been steered by acting head gardener Adam Salvin, who has been at Bodnant man and boy since coming here as a student for work experience. Adam has charted staff and volunteers through an incredibly busy 18 months which has seen the opening of new areas such as the Yew Dell and the Prim Path (above left) ongoing work to open The Far End this spring, the introduction of new picnic areas, family events, dog walking and winter garden openings.

John Rippin will be following in firm footsteps (no pressure there then) but brings a wide range of experience to Bodnant, from his career at Hilliers, Hidcote and laterlly Castle Drogo. He is relocating to North Wales along with his family and menagerie of animals…and there are some Bodnant parallels to make him feel at home. His former Devon domain is a National Trust property with a formal garden noted for its rhododendrons, magnolias, rose garden and even a croquet lawn. Here’s to another new era!

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

 

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Skimmia japonica (2)It’s going to be a cracker of a Christmas at Bodnant this year, with more than ever to see and do during the festive season. We’ve joined forces with our neighbours Bodnant Garden Centre to make Christmas 2014 a spectacular seasonal event.

Enjoy frosty garden walks in the garden, shopping at the garden centre (which now includes a new Edinburgh Woollen Mill) and craft units, bring the children to meet Santa and the elves and top the day off with Christmas fare – from a sit-down turkey lunch to al fresco chestnuts and mulled wine.

??????????????????????????????? Bodnant Garden is now open all year-round (apart from Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day with 80 acres of frosty winter landscape to enjoy, including a Winter Garden. Every weekend through December in the run up to Christmas visitors can enjoy guided winter walks with a gardener and, for the kids, an Elves’ Workshop in the Old Mill in The Dell. Visitors can also bring their dogs for a walk on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through the winter.

There will be hot lunches at the two garden tearooms plus al fresco refreshments in front of a roaring brazier in the Dell, a barbecue in the garden centre and a roasted chestnut stall. Visitors can also do some Christmas shopping in the new National Trust Gift shop.

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Bodnant Garden Centre (seen above) has a huge range of Christmas ideas for shoppers, from cards, decorations and gifts to plants, and of course Christmas trees and wreaths. There will be a chance to do some late night shopping on Friday, December 19, and Santa will also be popping in to the grotto every weekend in December up to Christmas. A big new addition to the site is the Edinburgh Woollen Mill – perfect for those winter woollies! What’s more there’s a unique collection of local arts and crafts products at Bodnant Craft Centre, from jewellery, paintings, ceramics and furniture.

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 Meet Santa and the elves…and stroll in the Winter Garden

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Events November 29-December 21, Saturdays and Sundays

Bodnant Garden:

Elves’ workshops 11am-2.50pm. Book on 01492 650460. Free event, normal garden admission.

Winter Garden walks, 12 noon and 2pm. Free event, normal garden admission.

Bodnant Garden Centre:

Santa’s Grotto 11am-4pm. Free entry, donation to charity.

Friday, December 19

Late night shopping until 8pm, Bodnant Garden NT shop, Bodnant Garden Centre, Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Bodnant Craft Units.

Magnolia Tearoom open until 8pm.

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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

Plant a snowdrop for posterity

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  There are snowdrops as far as the eye can see at Bodnant Garden and with a little help from visitors there will soon be 20,000 more.

  Our Old Park meadow is carpeted with Galanthus nivalis right now and we’ll be planting more from February 22 to March 2, when visitors can drop by and lend a hand from 11am to 1pm.

  The Old Park is thought to be the oldest part of the original garden dating back to the Georgian era. It was landscaped in the naturalistic style of the day, planted with native trees and with a ha-ha ditch to keep livestock away from the main house. Today it’s a rolling meadow filled with snowdrops in winter, daffodils in spring, wild flowers and grasses in summer and in autumn sheep graze under the dazzling leaf colour of those now stately old oak and beech trees.

Copy of photo comp Marguerite Wilde

Picture by Marguerite Wilde

  We’ve been planting snowdrops in the Old Park  for the last five years to ensure a bigger and better display in the future and we’d love visitors to come and help – the more the merrier. It’s something all the family can enjoy doing, and come back and enjoy again next year, as one of our Twitter followers Tu Hwnt i’r Bont tearoom commented recently: “Lovely mooch around Bodnant Garden in the sunshine today. Admiring the snowdrops five-year-old old son helped to plant.”

  Galanthus nivalis is native to Europe. It’s name comes from the Greek gala (meaning milk) and anthos (flower). It was first described and named by the botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1735, who also added the word nivalis meaning ‘of the snow’. It naturalises and spreads readily and is now a common sight in woodlands and back gardens…a welcome first sign of coming spring. And the best time to plant them is now when they are in flower, or ‘in the green’.

   As well as common snowdrops in the Old Park we’ve got more unusual species for you to admire in our Winter Garden. It’s also a great opportunity to take part in our 2014 Photography Competition ‘I Love Bodnant Garden’. We’re asking people to tell us why the garden means so much to them, in pictures. The winning shots will be made into a 2015 Bodnant Garden calendar.

  No booking is required for the snowdrop planting and all plants and equipment are provided, but for information contact Bodnant Garden on 01492 650460. For details of our photography competition see our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or see the competition page here on our blog.

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Volunteers snowdrop planting in the Old Park

A little Christmas magic for the Old Mill

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  The doors are being thrown open for the first time at the historic Old Mill in Bodnant Garden – with the help of a little Christmas magic from Santa and the elves!

   The Old Mill must be one of the most photographed parts of our beautiful garden but it is normally closed to the public. Until now…because in the run-up to Christmas part of the 180-year-old listed building is being transformed by our volunteers into an Elves’ Workshop where families can enjoy weekends of traditional festive crafts.

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Santa dropping in on volunteers Dave and Richard who are sprucing up the Elves’ Workshop

   The mill, a Grade 2 listed building, is on the east bank of the River Hiraethlyn in garden’s famous Dell. It was built around 1837 and was first used to provide power for a blast furnace. It was later used to turn the wheels of the estate flourmill and then the estate sawmill. 

   It has been out of action for many years but some of the original old workings including wheels, mill stones and flour chutes are still in place. Visitors often ask about the building and we’ve had many suggestions about possible uses – as a working museum, conference space and even a tearoom. We opened the main door this year to allow visitors a peek of the great wheel but for safety sake a gate bars entry. Extensive renovation will be needed before the building can be fully opened to the public, but we hope to do it one day.

  However in the meantime one side room, previously used by gardeners to store tools, is being given a festive spruce-up to turn it into an Elves’ Workshop on Saturdays and Sundays, December 7/8, 14/15 and 21/ 22. Families can enjoy Christmas crafts and there will also be hot drinks and snacks in front of a brazier in the Dell.

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Using an alternative mode of transport to deliver toys to the Elves’ Workshop

  Santa himself will be around – at a Winter Wonderland at Bodnant Garden Centre on Saturdays and Sundays through December. There will be a present for every child who visits and donations raised will go to Ty Gobaith Children’s Hospice.

   We’re getting into the spirit of things in the Pavilion tearoom too, where special Christmas menu will be available from December 1 to 22.

  From this year the garden is open every day except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day so make it part of your festive calendar. Come and see how things are coming on in the new Winter Garden, which opened just last year, and enjoy a walk around the rest of the garden which is full of sparkling, frosty, seasonal colour.

  There is no extra charge for the Elves Workshop and all craft materials are supplied but book to ensure a place and time slot by calling the garden office. 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