I met Jo yesterday for lunch and a walk in Bodnant Garden. I drove like a mad thing down the A55, thinking I would be late and parked the car and found I still had five minutes to spare. So I nipped into the Ladies before meeting Jo outside the cafe and met her in there already, having the same thought. That rather set the tone for the afternoon. Looking at and loving and commenting on the same things, the words falling over each other to get out. Each of us noticing a fantastically shaped trunk, a sudden rush of scent on the air, a vivid fountain of azalea blossom and turning to the other at the same moment: "Did you see? Oh, look. What's that? does that grow for you? I really love acers, poppies, that colour of red, everthing. I love everything. I want everything. Can we find any purple?"
The cafe was heaving with old age pensioners and coach trippers. We found a table and were joined by two elderly ladies. When my daughter was about thirteen she was said to me angrily "Why do some old ladies think it's ok to be rude to me because they're old and I'm not?" Jo was next to just such an old lady, pushing her chair and huffing and sucking her teeth, intent on taking up twice her allotted room so that Jo was squashed up against a pillar and could go no further, all the time determinedly not meeting our eyes. We looked at each other and hoped the gardens were not going to full of jostling elbows and people walking too slowly.
But the great thing about Bodnant is that it absorbs people. Around the terraces and the laburnum walk there were numbers of elderly visitors (and patience, patience, I know my time will come) but the paths that move away from the formal gardens and down to the river are steep and many. Eventually you lose the crowd and simply wander down and down through the rhododendrons and azaleas, fizzing and exploding with colour among the deep green of the trees and the depths of ferns and the little streams, carving their green away through moss covered rocks, new sounds of water around every corner and birds calling.
Mostly you are in a green world finding your way down the hill to the river in the bottom, but here and there a view opens up between the huge trees and you look across and away to the mountains of Snowdonia, reminding you that this cultivated wildness is a creation of man and all around is true wild, rising in ranges of hills away from you as far as the eye can see.
Climbing back up the hill you come back into the formal gardens with terracing and long pools surrounded by stone paths, floating with water lilies. Wisteria is fountaining down the pergolas and roses are glossy and ranked in a formal bed below the house. I love the wisteria but the roses are just not my style. I love the old fashioned bush roses mixed in with other things, their scent stopping you in your tracks but that is not the way they do things here. The house is lovely though, you can't go in but it is a good size, not so huge as to make it beyond imagining that you could live there, walk these terraces, have your own hideouts in the depths of the rhododendrons, your own pet cemetery and secret places.
The laburnum walk was in full flower and is the only photo which survived a day of failing batteries in my camera. Jo and her husband thought how lovely it would be to be married there, years ago when it was church or registry office or nothing, and it would, a living nave in an outside church.
We wandered into the nursery, quite impossible to walk through without buying something. I bought a romneya coulterii (may have got this wrong) with silver foliage and white poppy-like flowers and a blackleaved elder with dark pink flowers, sambucus nigra. Jo bought a beautiful white cistus with purple blotches in the centre of the flowers.
And then, well if you are going to do this sort of thing properly you have to have a cup of tea and a piece of cake, don't you, to finish with, but not in the overstuffed cafe but at another nursery back down the valley where a pot of lovage jumped into my hand and Jo bought a couple of courgettes to make up for the seeds eaten by mice. We parted planning to meet at an open garden in a week or so and I zoomed my way through food shopping and making uncooked chocolate cake for younger daughter and younger son and his girlfriend who are staying for the weekend.
They all arrived, travel frazzled and tired but soon the place and the view and the glass of wine and spicy lamb with couscous had done what they should. Ian lit a fire and we sat and talked. Friends and gardens and plants and cake, family and food and wine and a fire. A good day.