Bodnant Gardens and The National Eisteddfod

On Wednesday I went to Bodnant Garden for a guided walk with the Head Gardener. Fifteen or so of us wandered round while he showed us what they were doing, talked about particular problems, such as sudden oak death, and their potential solutions and showed us both the public and some of the private areas of the garden.

It is one of my absolute favourite places. The house is still lived in by the family who developed the garden and gave it to the National Trust. They are still deeply involved in its development and care. The house sits above a series of wide terraces. Huge trees frame views across to the mountains. The terraces are formal: a rose garden, full of sweet smelling David Austin roses first.

Hmm, where is the blackspot which has taken over all of mine except the tough Rugosas? I have a love hate relationship with roses. In winter and spring when they are all sticks and thorns I think they are ugly and boring. Then they overwhelm me with blossom and scent and I fall in love again. Up here on the hill is not a good home for roses other than those which are truly tough and hardy so I have restricted myself in buying new ones to rugosas, pink Roseraie de L'Hay and white Blanc Double de Coubert. Being at Bodnant is making me want to try with some David Austin roses. I wonder if that would just be cruel?

The terraces continue down, past beds planted simply this year with Cosmos Purity. So simple, so easy it even grows for me but it is lovely.

You walk on past formal ponds, the first filled with water lillies and flanked by ancient cypress trees, older than the garden, the second a long narrow pool which was apparently used as a practice place by the first man to swim the English Channel.

And after the terraces, the garden springs its second self on you: it becomes wilder, full of trees and winding paths and rushing water.

It has a huge collection of champion trees. I love that term and can hear my Lancastrian grandfather every time someone uses it. "Ee luv, that's champion" was the stock response on being shown a drawing from school (never good, not one of my talents) or a painstakingly written story. I know, I know, champion trees are not champion in the Lancashire sense, but they could be. Astonishingly this massive and beautiful tree is not one. To earn the title as horticulturalists use it a tree must be the biggest in the country but this one is champion in my grandfather's sense so that will do for me.

I have lost count of the times I have been to Bodnant now and every time I go I see things I have not seen before and marvel at how it balances its two selves. In my no doubt biased view it is one of the great gardens of the world.

And the next day a friend from Welsh class and I went to the National Eisteddfod, held this year at Bala. The sun shone, we wandered about occasionally being able to pick up a single Welsh word in a rush of the incomprehensible. I have got to a very frustrating stage with Welsh where one or two words in a sentence jump out and mean something in a sea of noise. So I know that the woman on the podium is talking about a competition but haven't the faintest idea what she is saying about it. It involves a mountain and an area and somewhere in there is a duck. Will I ever get there with this beautiful, difficult language? Dw i ddim yn gwybod: I do not know.

There is competition in the learners' tent as well as the heavy stuff in the Maes, the huge purple tent where real singers and poets and bards compete for fame and glory. We are a choir of 48 learners, all from Clwyd, sadly unrehearsed and cheerfully hopeless, but somehow Eirean, our Welsh language organiser, all smiles and patience and inexhaustible energy, conjures up a harp and a harpist and someone to drum and we rehearse outside while the other choirs are competing. We go on last. "Sing, smile!" Eirean urges and we are away, belting out our song in Welsh to the tune of "Down by the river side". The judges are smiling and tapping their feet in time with the music and it is great, we are all borne along on a tide of sound and rhythm. We come out breathless and laughing.

There is adjudication. Even learners' competitions are taken seriously at the Eisteddfod. We wait, adrenalin subsiding, hot and tired and ready for home. To everyone's amazement, including I suspect Eirean's, we are third out of the ten competing choirs.

Fabulous time, fabulous day.


  1. That is somewhere I've always wanted to go. One day maybe.
    I've put DA roses in my garden here, and they have done wonderfully well, but maybe we dont have the winds that you have on the hill.
    Needless to say , after all the rian, my roses now have rust as well as blackspot.

  2. Beautiful photos; different from where I live in Idaho, USA, even though I don't live in the desert part. Yet there is a feeling of home about them.
    I like roses, but I only grow rugosas. I especially enjoy the wild ones that take care of themselves!

  3. I enjoyed this post thanks; especially interested in the champion trees! Lovely photos :o)

  4. I love Bodnant, sadly it is too far away for me to go often. Are the Hydrangeas out?
    Lake Bala too is an old friend.We have decided not to cross over this year for a holiday because we have never yet had a good week, whatever time of year we've tried beautiful Wales.

    Congrats on your respectable third place.

  5. Ooooh you make me want to be there!
    Over the past week I've watched Wives and Daughters as well as North and South - have eaten up the scenery. Your photos are lovely - no wonder you are so happy to visit this garden so many times.

  6. I think Wales is wonderful even in bad weather. I was fortunate to be able to visit once. When we walked into Bodnant I soon recognized a Cedrus atlantica glauca; I knew that individual tree! It was the one I had seen in more than one plant catalog. Photos of it were shown as illustration of the type. I had never forgotten the photos, because it was so beautiful and huge. And, there it was in real life!

  7. Oh a wonderful day. I have done pretty good with my knock-out roses, but I guess they can't really be called roses. Some beautiful pictures there. I went on a picture taking adventure today at Abby of Gethsemani and I will have a post next week. Blessings
    QMM ♥♥

  8. The photos are really lovely. Looks a champion place to visit. Just the kind of place that I would like too!

    Black spot is the worst thing about roses. Some species seem more ready to succumb to this complaint than others and I believe they do better in cities for some reason or other. Must be to do with the pollution in the air.
    There's nothing more pleasing than a good sturdy tree trunk, that has been there for longer than we have. If only they could tell their life story!

  9. You've brought back a sudden sharp memory. Weekend family outings to Bodnant in the summer (1979-1986). A long flowering grass stalk found in the car park. Azalea and rhododendron flowers just dropped from their bushes, strung onto the stalk to make garlands.

  10. I'd say, yes, definitely to the David Austen roses. They're expensive because so much has gone into perfecting the strain and breeding in disease and pest-resistence - and I understand they come with a guarantee so you can take them back if you accidentally manage to kill them. My neighbour, who's the village rose queen, recommends buying them in the autumn as dry root plants, when they're a bit cheaper.

    Fab photos (esp the tree). Must go to Bodnant - it looks amazing. Easy to combine with a trip to you?

    And finally, well done with the singing. No mean achievement to come third at an Eisteddfod.

  11. I hope you gave the Champion tree a great big hug. I suspect don't get many of these in their lives.(smile)

  12. Bodnant AND an Eisteddfodd - that is too much. Love both of these. Might I suggest, if you really want to try some of the David Austin roses, that you do what I did - I wrote to them with situation, soil condition etc. and they recommended which ones would do well. They are in their second year now and really thriving. David Austin's staff are so very helpful.

  13. Very well done on keeping up the Welsh... and singing too, I'm impressed. I can remember that 'champion' in Welsh is 'campus'... I remember because it caused a little confusion in class once.

  14. Yes the hydrangeas are out and are stunning. I hadn't realised quite how lovely they could be until seeing a variety massed instead of a single suburban specimen - lovely. Bodnant is an easy half hour journey from here LBD! thanks for the congratulations and the thoughts about roses. I will get in touch with David Austin and see what they say.

  15. Never been to the Eisteddfod though I have been to the Urdd where I bought an ice cream all in Welsh which I learnt (a little) in night school 20 years ago and have since forgotten except for being able to sing Hi Ho, Hi Ho in Welsh - (where it's Hi Ho Hi He!) So all you have written in this lovely blog is quite familiar. Sadly Roses are like Welsh. Some are pretty, some smell nice but as for different types! Red, Yellow, Pink - will that do? I was asked the name of the climbing rose on our front wall.
    I haven't a clue. Nor whether it's hardy or not. It is growing well though.

  16. That's fantastic, well done! I'm a member of a multi-lingual choir here and the total magic felt when we all manage to sing a song in a language that's not out mother tongue is truly wonderful. I'd love to encourage them to sing a song in Welsh but I don't think my pronounciation is up to it, sadly!

  17. I love Bodnant - eswpecially when the Rhododendrons and Aazaleas are at their peak. A wonderdful place, literally - a place of wonder!

  18. I remember my father telling me that in the 'old'days, black spot was not a problem on town and suburban roses due of the amount of sulphur in the air because of coal fires before the Clean Air Act. Perhaps somebody will tell me if that is true or not.

    I have Blanc Double de Coubert too - beautiful and a good doo-er - as are the other Rugosas. I think our soils and situations are similar. DA is about an hour up the road from here if you fancy a visit. Their mail order is very good too - bar rooted roses arrived in v.g condition. Would recommend.

  19. Champion trees and glorious singing, it's always a great day at your Welsh blog.

  20. Never been to Bodnant - it looks lovely!

  21. The Eisteddfod sounds fun! and I love that cosmos - think I might try growing it next year. I don't have many roses, though I love them, and I want to plant lots of rugosas. I've never been to Bodnant - would love to go - so I did enjoy this vicarious visit.

  22. I remember going to Bodnant with my mother when I was very young, and it must have been pretty special for me to remember it, since enforced outings were my very least favourite thing.

  23. Lovely post - so much joy.

    Very well done at the Eisteddfod, and to think I was cursing it because I had to drive through Bala ... if I had known you were there!

  24. Ee, lass, this post is champion. I felt like I was there. Wonderful.

  25. I seem to be forever catching my tail this summer. But now I'm catching up on my favourite bloggers...each and every one of your posts are, as always, a great read - from rain, self descriptive words to glorious gardens and dreaded blackspot.

    We've given up on our roses...three strange summers have been hard on them, if it isn't blackspot, aphids or some awful mildew it's waterlogged hell. But they do pull through. The problem with living in a place of pure air!

  26. Oh a wonderful day. I have done pretty good with my knock-out roses, but I guess they can't really be called roses. Some beautiful pictures there. I went on a picture taking adventure today at Abby of Gethsemani and I will have a post next week. Blessings

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