Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Catch a spring blaze of colour at Bodnant - and savour the views over Snowdonia

The Pin Mill at Bodnant - recreated stone by stone when moved from Gloucestershire in 1938
Bodnant, near Colwyn Bay in North Wales, is one of Britain's most visited gardens. It is famous for its outstanding spring colour displays and its legendary laburnum tunnel underplanted with pink azaleas (below) which, at 55 metres is one of the longest in the country. I made my pilgrimage here in 2012 and even though I arrived at opening time, the crowded coach park gave a fair indication of what to expect in terms of crowds. Fortunately the size of the garden - 80 acres - means that you can get away from them.
Partial view of the laburnum arch at Bodnant - there were too many visitors to photograph the whole
Part of the charm of this property is the fact that the garden is so well established. But change may well be on the way because head gardener, Troy Scott Smith, who has been at the helm here for seven years, has now moved to Sissinghurst - another National Trust property that attracts huge numbers of visitors annually. At the time of writing, it has not yet been announced who will be the new head gardener in Wales, but there is a whole team of horticulturists there, so visitors need not worry about the upkeep of these gardens.
The 2nd Lord Aberconway commissioned the stepped terraces around the house at Bodnant
Bodnant has been home to the Aberconway family since 1874, although the original purchaser knew nothing about gardening. Spring heralds the arrival of colour displays found only in well-established woodland gardens and the extensive collections of azaleas, magnolias and rhododendrons - many of which were brought home from plant-hunting expeditions to the East - provide real eye candy for those visiting at this time of year. Autumn is equally impressive when the leaves change colour. Visitors need to explore the Dell (below) to truly appreciate the extent of the woodland garden here - a deep ravine filled with camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons, which descends into the Hiraethlyn valley.
Visitors should not miss The Dell at Bodnant - a steep ravine filled with woodland plants 
There was no garden here when the first Aberconway arrived. He was a man called Henry Pochin - a wealthy chemical manufacturer from Salford - who clearly appreciated the outstanding views that the property commands over Snowdonia. But with no horticultural knowledge at all, he had the foresight to commission landscape architect, Edward Milner, to bring structure to the garden. His grandson, the 2nd Lord Aberconway, was responsible for commissioning the series of Italianate terraces below the house.
View of the Pin Mill from the Lily Terrace
When the spring colour disappears, it is these five terraces that visitors enjoy. They descend a west-facing slope and command wonderful views of Snowdonia and include a Lily Terrace which is spectacular later in the season and the Canal terrace, with the much-photographed Pin Mill (top) at the southern end. This building originally graced an estate in Gloucestershire, but was moved brick by brick to Bodnant and work was completed just before the Second World War. To the side of the Canal Terrace is the pergola and lower rose terrace, presided over by the sphinx (below).

The Sphinx presides over the lower rose garden adjacent to the canal garden
In the summer, it is the terrace areas that are planted to appeal to visitors, particularly the upper and lower rose and lily terrace, and the large lawned areas close to the garden entrance, with their shrub borders and the round garden. To the south of the house there is a large parkland area. Bodnant prides itself of offering interest throughout the seasons and on its extensive rhododendron collection, as well as many specimen trees. 
There's enough space at Bodnant to get away from the madding crowd
Bodnant is open daily from 10.00-17.00 throughout the summer. Admission is £9.30 for adults and £4.65 for children. Parts of the garden are available to wheelchair users, but not all, because of the large number of steps and terraces and steep gradients. If you are in the area and want to see a very different property, head for Plas Brandanw, the amazing garden created by Clough Williams-Ellis, who also designed the holiday village of Portmeirion.


  1. I really must get to Bobnant. I have been near but never quite got there. I have a hankering of going to see rhododendrons this year any suggestions - have you seen them at Hergest Croft or Dorothy Clive gardens?

  2. What a beautiful place to wander in. Thank you for sharing this little corner of the world.

  3. A wonderful garden, I will see him in the next month!


  4. We could tie in a visit to Bodnant when we go to North Wales hopefully next month...