I have just worked my way through Bodnant Garden’s 64-page guidebook, which gives you an idea of how much there was to see. Located on hillsides sloping down (sometimes fairly sharply) to the River Hiraethlyn, it has a huge variety of botanical sights, from formal gardens, lawns and terraces to the wilder Dell with its giant sequoias, trickling water and pretty bridges. There is also open parkland with a carpet of daffodils (sadly over), swathes of woodland and both natural and manmade lakes and ponds. The garden is particularly known for its laburnum arch, which is a sight that thousands of people travel to see in late-May/early-June, but although we missed out on that I wasn’t at all disappointed as we timed things exactly right for the azaleas and rhododendrons. The words ‘stunning’ or ‘spectacular’ spring to mind but even these don’t really do justice to how Bodnant looked today, with the rhododendron family delivering bursts of colour everywhere you turned. I must have taken about 20-30 pictures of those alone so it was a real challenge picking which ones to include here.
Bodnant is actually world famous for its rhododendrons, with its red Rhododendron forrestii and the 300 hybrid rhodies raised and registered by the garden both qualifying as National Collections. It also has three other recognised National Collections: magnolia, embothrium and eucrypha. There are reported to be 115 different known rhododendron species in the gardens today, although it is believed that there are others that have lost labels and are growing incognito.
The Bodnant estate (previously known as Bodnod) dates back to the 17th century, and some of the landscaping from the Georgian period still exists, but the garden really came to life after 1874 when the property was acquired by industrialist Henry Pochin, who as well as his work on the garden also remodelled the house to create the Victorian stone building that exists today. The house is still occupied by Pochin’s descendants and the future generations – first his daughter Laura and her husband Charles McLaren (the first baron, Lord Aberconway), then their son Henry, his son Charles and his son Michael – have also made their own significant contributions to the gardens. Such is the family’s importance in the gardening world that both Henry (the second baron) and Charles (the third) also served time as Presidents of the Royal Horticultural Society.
It was Henry that gave Bodnant Garden to the National Trust in 1949, with a deed allowing him and his heirs to continue involvement with the garden and to maintain ownership of the house and wider estate. Henry was also a particularly important member of the family in terms of the garden’s development, overseeing the creation of the five terrace gardens between 1904 and 1914 and working closely with plant hunters to bring a vast collection of international plants to Wales, including specimens from China, India, South America and the Himalayas.
The many Head Gardeners who have served at Bodnant over the years have also been important to the garden’s development, including three generations of Puddles – Frederick, Charles and Martin – who managed affairs for 85 years between 1920 and 2005 and are worth a particular mention, not only for their efforts, but because they are called Puddle and are being added to the list of novel names I have come across on my travels!
The more recent Head Gardeners should also be given some accolades as they continue to work on improving the visitor experience, with new sections of the garden regularly being opened. For example, the Winter Garden opened in 2012, the Old Park in 2013, the Yew Dell in 2014, the Far End in 2015 and Furnace Hill and Meadow in 2017.
Other things I would recommend you seek out at Bodnant include Britain’s tallest tree (yes, it’s a sequoia) and the Old Mill, which is a nice resting spot on a tour of the garden, with a small refreshment kiosk and toilets. We took a break on a bench overlooking the Mill and met a robin who beat the Plas yn Rhiw chap for bravery. This one actually came and sat on my knee before hopping over to the arm of the seat where he posed happily for a photo. Sorry if you’d prefer another shot of the dazzling rhododendrons here but I couldn’t resist putting my new friend in the blog.
Refreshments: Hot chocolate and toasted teacake
Purchase(s): Guidebook; silver necklace from one of the on-site craft shops