Highlights – and high winds – reflections on 2017 at Bodnant Garden

As a new year approaches, we take a little look back…

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It has been a turbulent year – and not just in politics. Here at Bodnant Garden we’ve had our share of weather dramas but we’ve managed to rise above a series of stormy setbacks to enjoy some real highs – achieving major work in the garden, welcoming more visitors than ever and even picking up a couple of awards along the way.

We opened the year by launching our new guidebook (modelled above by our volunteer Den) updated with recent historical discoveries that we’ve been making from the archives. In February we welcomed lots of families for half term with our ever-popular snowdrop planting; this year we also set up a Plant Hunters expedition camp at the Old Mill for young explorers (like our volunteer Gethin here) which proved really popular.


But February also brought an unwelcome visitor – Storm Doris. Gales wreaked havoc in the garden, ripping up trees and leaving debris.


Especially badly affected was Furnace Hill, a new area we were readying to open to the public. With just a month to go until the grand opening the team (Nathan, Maxine, Alex, Fiona, Steve and Christina, seen below) had to grit their teeth and begin a massive clear-up operation throughout March.

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Iolo and Fans

They did it. After an amazing effort by gardeners and volunteers, on April 11 the ropes came down, a ceremonial log was chain-sawed, and hundreds of visitors entered Furnace Wood and Meadow for the first time. TV naturalist Iolo Williams joined us and lead a mass, celebratory daffodil planting in the meadow.

There followed a period of calm after the storm, bringing a beautiful spring. Many plants flowered a little earlier than usual, from the daffodils in March to the famous Laburnum Arch in late May, which was in bloom a good week before expected. Visitors flocked to enjoy the fabulous old rhododendrons in Furnace Wood, and picnic in the meadow for the first time.


IMG_5984Elsewhere in the garden work continued  planting up the new North Garden woodland beds and the Himalayan poppies and primulas were flowering in recently redesigned beds alongside the Pin Mill. Fantastic flower displays weren’t the only things catching visitors’ eyes – the family of Canada Geese at the Far End were the focus of much admiration and many photographs too.


19429680_1482825888431615_6517026061134862382_nAfter the heady highlight of the arch, Bodnant Garden won Best Garden Renovation (for The Bath), as well as runner up for Best Volunteer Project (Laburnum Archers) in the prestigious industry Horticulture Week Awards – Charlie, Lynne and Fran enjoying a trip to the ceremony at Woburn Abbey in June to represent the team.

In July we bid a fond farewell to our Visitor Services Manager Ann Smith, who retired after more than 30 years with Bodnant Garden. In a fitting tribute, as a leaving gift we named a unique rhododendron after her, which means she’ll always have a place here at the garden. We also welcomed our new Visitor Experience Manager (below right).



The children of Eglwysbach School helped us celebrate National Meadows Day with a visit to Furnace in sunny July. We also took a little bit of Bodnant Garden’s meadows to the National Eisteddfodd on Anglesey in August, as part of a National Trust Wales exhibition. It was a combined effort from staff and volunteers across North West Wales, (like our Andy, below) who ran the week-long event, meeting and greeting visitors… in the face of torrential downpours which opened the school holiday season!


And so began a fun-packed, if slightly damp summer of family events at Bodnant Garden, highlights including a workshop with North Wales Embroiderers Guild, and an unforgettable afternoon with Denbighshire Music Co-Operative who gave us a garden party on the Canal Terrace.


September brought better weather and a lovely display of late summer flowers (plus an unusual number of late butterflies too). We launched our first Silent Space at the Arboretum in September, encouraging visitors to enjoy perfect peace and quiet. Elsewhere, lively chatter was most definitely allowed, with our volunteers leading a new series of guided tours in the Welsh language.


DSC_2174As schools returned we welcomed our own new horticultural student at Bodnant Garden – Julie (seen right) swapped her catering uniform for garden gear as she moved across from working at the Pavilion tearoom to being part of the garden team. Autumn also brought two more additions to the garden team with the appointment of supervisors Merlin and Ann (seen below).

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4In the autumn Bodnant Garden’s 51-metre Coast Redwood in the Dell was runner up for the title Tree of the Year in a competition by the Woodland Trust (the eventual worthy winner was the Hollow Oak at Gnoll Estate Country Park). Thankfully our veteran tree, a Welsh Champion, was not damaged in Storms Ophelia and Brian which followed in October, but in their wake they left another clean-up operation for our garden team. In spite of the damage and debris, the team managed to make the garden safe and tidy for half term, so that we were able to go ahead with our autumn and half term Treefest celebrations.

In November it was ‘glad rags’ on as we celebrated more award successes – a first for our work at Parc Farm at the PR Week Awards in London (attended by manager William and farmer Dan), Best Attraction at the Welsh Hospitality Awards in Cardiff (attended by catering manager Ailsa) and runner-up for Best Attraction and Green Award at the Go North Wales awards in Llandudno (attended by Visitor Welcome staff Rachel and Pip).

Fresh from storm clearance, gardeners progressed with other work in November, completing the new planting of the Canal Terrace borders and taking down a row of Lawson Cypress on the East Garden. Both areas have been newly designed and should be flowering in 2018, so watch this space.

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The team managed to get their work done just in time before the heavens opened and snow descended in December. The garden was closed for a day while gardeners set to, once again, clearing paths to welcome pre-Christmas visitors but thankfully no major damage was done…and the dusting of white made for some magical photographs.


And so to 2018…we’re working towards opening the third of our meadows, Cae Poeth, next year and seeing all the new design work around the garden developing. We’ll also be marking the national centenary of Women’s Suffrage – celebrating Bodnant’s donor family who played a pivotal role in the fight to secure votes for women. We’ll be sharing more about the history behind the garden over the course of next year here on the blog, on our website and social media, and around the garden itself.

Thank you everyone for visiting the garden and following us in 2017 – your support helps the National Trust look after this very special place. We wish you all a Happy New Year!

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram



Revealing an old vista at Bodnant Garden

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If you’re a regular visitor to Bodnant you’ll have spotted something missing in the upper garden – five towering Lawson Cypress which lined the East Terrace close to Bodnant Hall are no more. Gardeners have removed them in readiness for a new planting design in 2018.

IMG_4373_zpssxagkx2aIt’s always sad to lose old faces in the garden landscape but the trees, thought to be 30-40 years old, were not in the best health and had grown so large that they were putting a strain on nearby walls – as well as shading out everything in surrounding beds. Now they are gone, already a new vista has opened up from the Top Lawn across the Front Lawn towards the Carneddau Mountains.

The East Terrace has undergone several transformations over the years, from a sloping lawn in late Victorian times, to an avenue of Hollyhocks and a formal bedding scheme in the Edwardian period, later replaced by shrubs and conifers.

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ABOVE East Terrace circa 1880s and BELOW early 1900s


A new design for the East Terrace is part of our ongoing work to refresh the formal East Garden; this has included the creation of the Puddle Garden in 2011 and the Winter Garden in 2012, a revamp of the Range borders in 2014 and an ambitious redesign of the Bath in 2015. We’ll also be renovating the nearby Round Garden in 2018.

We hope you’ll come back and see the new design progressing next year and in the meantime, enjoy the new view!

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

A warm Christmas welcome at Bodnant Garden

However you like to celebrate Christmas there’s something for all at Bodnant Garden; whether you’re after peace and tranquility, or food, fun and festivity, you’ll find it in our 80 acres. It all starts with a warm welcome from our Visitor Centre staff, who’re putting on their best Christmas pullies just for you…

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Enjoy peaceful walks in a frost-sparkling landscape, bring the children to meet Santa and the elves, discover unique gifts at the shops and craft units and warm up with seasonal food – be that marshmallows over a brazier or a full Christmas lunch.

Bodnant Garden - Winter Garden in FebruaryThe star on our tree is the Winter Garden. This feature was opened five years ago after a major garden renovation and is now bursting with colour, texture and scent. As other gardens are going to sleep the Winter Garden springs into life; flowers, foliage and bark creating a real winter pick-me-up for the senses. A cold weather forecast is an added bonus – it looks even more beautiful with a dusting of frost and snow.

See our website for the Winter Garden Trail, which guides you around highlights of the this area and formal East Garden. It’s a short, level, accessible trail, which will suit all the family – perfect for a quick escape from the high street hurly-burly.

Take your ease over our Christmas menu in the tearooms, or combine lunch and a gardener guided walk on one of our special events. If you drop in at the Pavilion you can leave a memento of your hopes and dreams for for 2018 on our special Wish Tree…and pause to read some of the moving, and funny, wishes left by others.


Kids will love the popular Elves’ Workshop. Drop in at the Old Mill in the Dell and make Christmas crafts with our band of Bodnant elves, followed by toasted marshmallows by the roaring brazier outside. There’s hot food in our special marquee in The Dell at weekends too, where children can have a go at decorating Christmas cookies.

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The National Trust Gift shop and our neighbours at Bodnant Garden Centre offer a huge range of Christmas ideas, from cards, decorations and gifts to plants, as well as Christmas trees and wreaths (you might even bump into Santa.) 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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And of course there’s a big beautiful garden to explore; you can bring your dogs every day from November until the end of March too.

We’re open all year-round (apart from Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day). We hope you’ll join us – every visit helps us look after Bodnant Garden #ForeverForEveryone, so your support will certainly make our Christmas!

  • Elves’ Workshops: November 25/26, December 2/3, December 8/9 and December 16/17 from 11am – 2.30pm (£3 drop-in event, booking not required)
  • Santa’s Grotto: Pop along to our neighbours at Bodnant Garden Centre and see Father Christmas, on December 2/3, December 9/10, December 16/17 and 23rd from 11am – 2pm (£3 donation per child, proceeds to charity)
  • Winter walk and tea: Wednesday, December 6 from 11am, a guided walk with a gardener followed by afternoon tea in the Pavilion (£19.95 per person, call to book)
  • Birds of Bodnant Walk: Friday, December 8, 11am (free, please book)
  • Winter walk and lunch: Wednesday, December 13, a guided walk with the head gardener at 11am followed by a two course Christmas lunch in the Pavilion (£25.95pp, call to book)
  • Festive dessert tasting evening: Friday, December 15, sample puddings created by our chef in the Pavilion (£24.95 pp, call to book)

All details on our website www.nationaltrust.orh.uk/bodnant-garden


Floral colour to beat the January blues

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and you never have to look very far for it at Bodnant Garden, even in the depths of winter. Here’s just some of the colourful and scented blooms you can enjoy right now:

…and of course, spot the first snowdrops!


Galanthus ‘Ophelia’

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.

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.


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.


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…)


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:



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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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:


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.


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.


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!


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.

Never a dull moment for our volunteers


Yes, the festive season is fast approaching…and our volunteers are gearing up, toasted marshmallows at the ready, to lay on a fun-filled Christmas for visitors.

Volunteers are part of the family here at Bodnant Garden. They provide invaluable help in every aspect of what we do – from gardening to giving visitors guided tours to helping with events – but this year they have gone above and beyond, putting our family events on the map.

As part of the National Trust’s 50 Things campaign to get kids closer to nature, last year we launched Grow Wild at Bodnant Garden, a full programme of events and activities giving families something to do every day of the school holidays.


Pond dipping on the Lily Terrace this easter

All based around simple pleasures, some of these were self-guided activities like mud pie making, some were activities with gardeners like seed sowing and some were led by volunteers like craft making. Well this year our volunteers have taken the Grow Wild programme and flown with it! They’ve built on the activities that families really seem to enjoy – like pond dipping and crafts – and put a huge amount of time and effort into honing them and making them a big success.


The Easter pond dipping team and summer crafts in The Dell

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At the heart of our family programme has been a transformation of the Old Mill. This Grade 11 listed building next to the river in The Dell is a beautiful focal point, but has been boarded up and closed to visitors for many years. In the long term we are looking into full renovation of the 18th century building.


The new kiosk next to the Old Mill

However, this last year our volunteers have turned a derelict old store room in the mill into a family events area which has been just buzzing with activity during the holidays. Completing the transformation of the area has been a new refreshment kiosk and outdoor seating area nearby, with a roaring brazier in the winter, which has turned the area into a real hub for visitors.

Visitor Services volunteers Richard Berry, Dave Horsley and Den Reeve masterminded the workshop transformation last autumn, clearing it out, cleaning it up and turning into an Elves’ Workshop in time for Christmas – our first winter opening at the garden. This year they’ve continued with the alterations and used the space for half term crafts. They’re now gearing up for a second, bigger and better Elves’ Workshop every weekend in December in the run up to Christmas.


Dave Horsley, Richard Berry and Santa (aka Den Reeve) at the Elves’ Workshop

Supporting the workshop events are a host of VS volunteers who plan, set up and run the craft activities. Like the awards ceremony…there are too many to mention! But as a example of the contribution that volunteers make to the garden, there are those such as garden volunteer Stuart Sandham who has given his carpentry skills to help build the refreshment kiosk in the Dell – and garden volunteer Arfon Williams who gives extra time help us translating all our signage, posters and leaflets into Welsh!


A busy Elves’ Workshop last year

No one who saw the many visitors pond dipping this summer, enjoying Halloween crafts in the Old Mill or taking their al fresco snacks by the river in The Dell could doubt the contribution volunteers have made to Bodnant Garden this year. If you would like to join the team, contact property administrator Rose James on 01492 650460. Whatever your skills, there’s a place and a welcome here for you!


Two happy half term customers already queuing up for this year’s Elves’ Workshop

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



Expert tips for planning a winter garden

Our Winter Colour Walk this week was a big hit with visitors, who got a special guided tour with Bodnant Garden’s propagator Alison Clarke. But don’t worry if you missed it – here are Alison’s top tips for winter gardening:

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Our propagator Alison

  When planning a winter garden picture it in layers – with trees and shrubs as the base, herbaceous plants as the middle layer and bulbs on the top of the canvas. Trees and shrubs will be permanent features so choose ones that look good all year or position them where they can be hidden later in the year by taller summer perennials. Herbaceous plants must be shade loving (if going under trees). Winter and spring bulbs will not need any light or much water during summer, so can go under or close to the base of trees and open shrubs. In the case of dense and spreading shrubs, do not plant so close that the shrub will ultimately engulf and smother the bulbs!


Contrasting shapes and heights of evergreens

  What can provide winter colour? It’s not all about the flowers, though you do get some in winter. In order of preference, think about evergreen plants, plants with interesting stems and bark, and also those with fruit. The first two things will give colour all winter so are more important than fruit and flowers, which may be short lived. The first two also can provide structure in the form of pleasing shapes – such as the clipped Buxus balls, tall conifers and the old gnarled acer in our Winter Garden.


Beautiful bark…Acer griseum, Cornus alba and Betula utilis

  Don’t forget the value of scent as well, which can carry a long way on a winter day. Many winter flowering shrubs are more highly scented than summer ones as they need to pull in the few pollinating insect that are around from far and wide. To make the most of scented plants place them where you can most enjoy them, at a path edge, behind a seat, by your front/back door or under a window that you open regularly.


Flower and scent…Rhododendron dauricum, Hamamelis and Daphne 

  Winter flowering (and scented) plants are not only appreciated by us – you will be doing a huge favour for any insects that venture out in winter. They area a wonderful early source of food for bees. Birds can also benefit from any berrying shrubs that you plant…and if you feed the birds in your garden, they won’t eat so many berries to spoil the display! The best plants for berries are Ilex (holly) Malus (crabapple) Cotoneaster and Pyracantha.


Skimmia japonica and Bergenia purpurescens ‘Helen Dillon’

  Create drama and emphasise colour by planting in big blocks, such as a group of shrubs if you have the space, or big drifts of bulbs. Planting contrasting colours (from the opposite end of the spectrum) next to each other, makes each colour appear stronger too, such as red next to blue, yellow next to violet.

 Don’t forget if you are short of space, bulbs will happily share spaces if they flower at different times – when planting daffodils you can also pop a few crocus in the same hole. You can also put early bulbs in amongst your summer flowering perennials. By the time that the perennials get going, the bulbs will have flowered and be dying back and the new growth of the perennials will help to hide their dying foliage.

Our star plants in the Bodnant Winter Garden:

  • Winter flowering rhododendrons ‘Nobleanum’ and dauricum ‘Midwinter’
  • Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ – choose plants in winter as stem colour can vary
  • Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’ – stunning golden willow
  • Bergenia ‘Helen Dillon’ – the best bergenia in my opinion, but not widely available
  • Cyclamen coum – Plant with cyclamen hederifolium to have colour from October to March.
  • Hamamelis cultivars
  • Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ – beautifully marked bulbs
  • Acer x conspicuum ‘Phoenix’ and Acer pensylvanicum ‘Erythrocladum’- snakebark maples
  • Sarcococca confusa and Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna – the strongest winter scent of all
  • Skimmias – these are generally either male or female. If you are planting for fruit you will need at least one male plant in your garden (or next door!)
  • Helleborus x hybridus – Used to be known as H. orientalis
  • Helleborus foetidus – native hellebore, self seeds very readily
  • Helleborus x ericsmithii – great hellebore, flowers before “orientalis” types
  • Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ – slow growing winter flowering cherry. Old plants are beautifully twisted and contorted almost like bonsai
  • Carex comans ‘Bronze’ – easy care evergreen grass
  • Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ – snowdrops on steriods! Generally best to buy and plant snowdrop “in the green” – when they have flowers and/or leaves. This is also the case for Eranthis (winter aconites)

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