Bodnant Gardens

Bodnant, for anyone who isn’t familiar with it, is a very large (80 acres) National Trust garden in North Wales, just south of Llandudno. It’s particularly renowned for its large collection of rhododendrons and camelias, which thrive in the acid soil there. The site is on a hillside, with some steep slopes, and picturesque dells. The entrance to the gardens, and the house (which is impressive, but privately owned, and not open to the public) is at the top of the hill. Winding gravel paths lead through dense planting, which at this time of year is very colourful…

I visited on the last day of April, and was surprised at just how many of the rhododendrons were already flowering…

Having always (until recently) gardened on neutral to alkaline soil, I’m still a little unsure of rhododendrons. Their colours are diverse and spectacular, intense, beautiful; but also a bit shocking and outrageous. Verging on the blousy, they can feel like something of a ‘guilty pleasure’.
Another indicator of low ph (as well as damp, humus-rich soil), I spied this Himalayan poppy (Meconopsis x sheldonii) in the understorey…

Still close to the entrance is this beautifully ordered, green and calming parterre with a central fountain…

Still in the Himalayas, this attractive stand of Himalayan birch (Betula utilis, possibly ‘Jacquemontii’) caught my eye. This kind of arrangement has been very popular in garden design for some years…

And I just had to take a photo of this gentian. I had one of these in a pot for many years, though that was a late flowering variety. They have the most intense blue, large flowers – very striking indeed…

Another blue-flowered plant I’ve recently heard a bit about it Omphaloides. I’ve been considering its use as ground cover in moist, shady areas. It was recommended by one of the famous garden designers (I can’t remember which one). I have seen it before, and was unimpressed, but at Bodnant it’s clearly thriving and looks good. As a ‘semi-evergreen’ it should provide some cover over winter, especially in milder winters…

Moving down the hill, the formal gardens give way to a more open, grassy landscape. This avenue appeared even more inviting due to being roped off (presumably because the daffodils have finished)…

Bluebells were just coming out beneath this incredible old, gnarly beech tree. The house, complete with Victorian conservatory, can be seen at the top of the hill…

There must be miles of paths to be walked, and it’s easy to get lost. With all of the bright colours at this time of year its like an enchanted land…

The Pin Mill, with the reflecting pond in front, is perhaps the most famous image from Bodnant gardens. The end of the reflecting pond is one of those magic spots where you just can’t help taking a photograph, even though you know millions got there before you (and many made a much better job of it). This view mirrors the famous view of the Taj Mahal (though on a slightly less grand scale)…

And finally, another choice plant. Another one for the woodland floor, in damp shade, this is a trillium – Trillium erectum…

Some of you may have seen a recent short series documentary about Bodnant, and the on-going efforts to improve the gardens. I found it a bit disappointing. The narrative was a little disjointed, and perhaps somewhat flippant – trying to sensationalise the problems the team encountered. And I don’t think it did the gardens justice. But having seen Bodnant once more for myself, I could see how much work has been put in. There’s more to do, but it’s looking very good indeed.

The documentary highlighted the problems Bodnant has had attracting enough visitors, most likely due to the location, which might be very beautiful, but is also a bit out of the way (which is probably why it’s still beautiful!) The plan was, I believe, to update the gardens to give them the best chance of attracting more visitors. I already knew Bodnant was an amazing place. It’s in an incredible setting, with views towards Snowdonia national park, and the gardens themselves have always been fabulous. From my latest visit, I would say they match any of the larger gardens in the United Kingdom for their beauty, for their plant collections, and for their facilities. For anyone who, like me, loves plants and gardens, Bodnant is unmissable.

text & images © Graham Wright 2021

Bodnant in the rain…

Bodnant is a National Trust garden in the foothills of Snowdonia, just a few miles south of Llandudno, on the North Wales coast. Its location lends it a very special character, with the heavily contoured landscape making for a very dynamic garden, with plenty of spectacular views both within the gardens, and beyond. Being in Snowdonia, it gets plenty of rainfall, which keeps it lush and verdant. And the soil is acidic, which means the gardens can support a range of plants that would struggle elsewhere – particularly Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Camellias.
It had been some years since I last saw Bodnant – far too long – so it was a particular pleasure to visit the gardens again, with family, over the bank holiday weekend. Continue reading