Bodnant Gardens: one of Wales' little gems

by frankbeswick

Bodnant Gardens in the delightful Conwy Valley is well worth visiting in any season of the year.

Bodnant is one of the many estates run by the National Trust, The United Kingdom's premier conservation association, and so it is free of access to National Trust members,. It is also free to members of the Royal Horticultural Society, of whom I am one. The estate is situated on the slopes of Glan [valley] Conwy [Conway] and is centred on a small stately home. The gardens are rich in shrubs, trees and flowers and make a pleasant walk. There are visitor facilities.

The picture above shows daffodils blooming at Bodnant, taken by Frank Beswick.

Bodnant in Spring

I have visited Bodnant in Summer when the flowers were rich in bloom, but this time we visited in that vague borderland when Winter is seguing into Spring and the land slowly awakens with life, when the crocuses and snowdrops make their triumphant announcement of the renewal of the ongoing cycle of existence. The purple crocuses were the first plants that called on our attention, followed by Galanthus,the white snowdrops, which in the British Isles are the ubiquitous, early signs of the first awakenings of Spring.  There were also pulmonaria, small, lavender coloured  tongues with a deep yellow zone in the centre of the leaf.

But the shrubs seem to be coming to life. Daphne filled the air with its scent, and the three ladies with us, Maureen, my daughter Helen and Ester, Helen's mother-in-law, soon picked out the scents and stopped to sniff the blooms. Daphne odora  margineata has a gentle, enticing scent that lingered on the air before we reached the plant. The baby slept on, wrapped warm inside a baby sling and showed no interest in the scents. 

There is a well designed network of paths that take visitors around the gardens between flower beds, shrubs and trees. I could not  resist stopping to talk to a gardener to ask what they were doing. She replied that they were mulching the flower beds. Still curious I had to ask what the mulch was and was told leaves and compost that the gardeners make themselves. Maureen smiled and said nothing, she has known me  long enough to know my curiosity about gardens. 

There is a rich variety of trees, both deciduous and conifer, including some giant redwood, which seem to be popular in nineteenth century estate gardens. One stood towering over the garden. I tried to get a photo but I was too close to get anything other than part of the trunk.

Early on in the walk we were met by a robin, this time a male that landed on one of the beds.Was this a harbinger of Spring? By no means, for the annunciation of Spring can only come from migratory birds,  while the robin is a hardy year round resident, a sign of not the cycle of nature but its enduring presence in times of cold and dark. 

Snowdrops at Bodnant

Snowdrops
Snowdrops
Frank Beswick

Daphne

Daphne
Daphne
Hans

The Water Feature.

While the estate is centred on the stately home, the heart of the garden a water feature that runs through the bottom of what is a steeply sloping valley. At the heart of this feature is a man-made lake which fed the estate's mill. You can see the lake  pictured below.

The lake was created by the damning of the Afon Hiraethllyn [afon means river in Welsh.] The area immediately around the river is known as The Dell and contains what is known as the wild garden, but the word wild should not  suggest untended,for managing it takes just as much effort as  managing the formal gardens does. You note that the abundant shrubs are not strangled by weeds, as they might be in a fully wild garden and that the infallible sign of a garden gone to the wild, briar [blackberry] is not present. Also note that while there is rhododendron in the garden, this aggressive intruder is not allowed to dominate, as it does in parts of the Snowdonia region. nor is the even more dangerous intruder, Japanese knotweed, allowed any presence at all. This is a well-managed garden that gives visitors a gentle taste of the wild, but does not allow the wild to overrule human horticultural wisdom and artifice. 

The path takes you down the slope and enables visitors to walk around the lake. In one of the pictures you see a well-constructed stone edifice that has withstood the ravages of time, built as it is from strong and enduring Welsh stone. This is the estate mill. It is now an unused building, but that is a temporary condition, for the National Trust knows that an edifice of that quality has a long life ahead of it and can be put to some use for visitors. Whether it will become a saw mill again, drawing its power from the mill pond as it once did, I know not, but hydro-power is the way of the future and I would love to see an old building working again. Ruins might be seen as legacy or heritage, but there is more joy in a working building than there is in a mournful ruin. 

An annex to the mill building is a small cafe that opens in summertime, probably about Easter. 

The lake

The lake
The lake
Frank Beswick

Crossing the Stream

Crossing the Stream
Crossing the Stream
Frank Beswick

The Formal Garden

As befits a garden of the nineteenth century, there is alongside the woodland area a more formal zone. One of the joys of viewing a garden in the Winter or early Spring is that the foliage does not obscure the bones of the garden, and they are what you see here. The formal garden ascends in small terraces to the house, which was shut for maintenance when we visited. This is known as putting the house to bed, and in stately homes this is the time of year when the staff work free of visitors to maintain the property, polishing,painting and doing whatever repairs are needed, which are many in old houses that creak with the burdens of time.

Below in the picture you see an Italianate structure, at the head of a small still pool surrounded by lawns. The replication of Italian styles was popular in the nineteenth century. You will note some pyramidical structures in the expansive beds of the formal, Italianate  gardens These gardens are dedicated to roses, and the beds combine climbers with other roses. The technique is that while most of the bed contains non-climbing varieties, the climbers are planted around the pyramidical trellises to allow them to climb and flourish.

Another picture below shows the steps that take you upwards to the terraced gardens immediately surrounding the house. They contain mainly lawns with some  flower beds. these lawns are a testament to the triumph of human endeavour, as the area in which they are situated is one that is naturally prone to deteriorate into scrub and ultimately woodland, as is most of Britain. They provide a pleasant place for a stroll. 

The formal gardens

The Formal Garden
The Formal Garden
Frank Beswick

The Formal Garden

Steps in the formal gardens
Steps in the formal gardens
Frank Beswick

Access

The map shows  you the general area, but does not mark the precise location of Bodnant. But when you look you see that there is only one main road down Glan Conwy. You take the A55 and  then south of Llandudno turn down the valley heading for Llanrwst [pronounced Clanroost.] The gardens are along the road and are well signposted. You reach the gardens well before you come to Llanrwst. If you are driving south down the valley from the A55 the gardens are on the left.There is a reasonably sized car park.

Facilities at the gardens include a small tea shop where you can obtain non-alcoholic drinks and cakes. There is also a show that at certain times of the year sells plants, and another shop near to the cafe sells  souvenirs and a small selection of books. 

Updated: 02/17/2017, frankbeswick
 
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frankbeswick 5 hours ago

Thanks for this Veronica. Over here it is an early flowering shrub, but it is beaten in the race to be first by certain perennials, snowdrops and crocus.

frankbeswick 5 hours ago

Yes, Bodnant Gardens actually sells Forsythia plants.

As British plant collectors have ranged the globe Forsythia is found in many plant collections, including the Mansion Garden in Sussex, one of England's southernmost counties.

Veronica 1 day ago

Derdriu

Frank is in Portugal at the moment so I am sure he will answer fully when he gets back.

I have a Forsythia in my back garden. I love it but here it is not the first sign of spring. The snow drops and daffodils are the fist sign of spring here . The Forsythia comes later. We are of course in NW England and it is rather cold here for most of the year. I am unsure as to how soon Forsythia blooms in other parts of UK.

DerdriuMarriner 1 day ago

frankbeswick, Is forsythia at Bodnant or anywhere else in the United Kingdom? It's considered the first sign of spring in many parts of the United States.

frankbeswick on 02/21/2017

The gardens have plants for as much of the year as possible. I could only show Spring in this article, but I have visited in Summer and it is beautiful.

blackspanielgallery on 02/21/2017

Nice images. Do they also have flowering plants in other seasons? I have visited gardens a week too late, and spring is the only great season in many.

frankbeswick on 02/17/2017

The robin is in Britain a year round resident, so it might turn up at any time. One follows me on the allotment when I am digging, seeking for worms and grubs.

frankbeswick on 02/17/2017

Yes, I think that you would love Bodnant. It is not so large that you cannot get round it easily, and the walks have variety , as they ascend and descend the hill side and roam past the water feature. The cafe in the main buildings is open when the estate is open, but the little cafe down by the mill is closed out of the main season. But you would love to eat there, sitting by the lake in the shelter of the trees besides the old mill.

jptanabe on 02/17/2017

Looks like my kind of place. I love the snowdrops, but I'd also want the cafe to be open, and the robin (which in the part of the world I live right now is a harbinger of spring).

frankbeswick on 02/17/2017

No, I took them myself. My deficiency in visual skill is confined to drawing, though I have with great effort made some progress in that field over the years.


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