Sunday, 12 September 2010

A visit to Bodnant Garden

Bodnant garden is about thirty five minutes from here.  Membership of the RHS (or the National Trust) means I don't have to pay each time I go in so I go quite often, maybe three or four times a year.  I am most inclined to go in spring when the camellias and magnolias are out and crowds of daffodils wash up against the paths.  I have of course gone when the famous laburnum walk is in flower although that is not my favourite time: too many people and not enough time to meander and muse.  We went last week because Ian has never seen it and I wanted him to visit.  It is fascinating to find that the changing season changes your view of the garden and your assessment of it.


Every year it is spring that really excites me and I have only slowly come to love an autumn garden but the main border at Bodnant was an absolute cracker, glowing with yellows, russets and oranges and making me smile at its glorious exuberance.


On this narrow path you can walk along the back of the border and while the front is the showpiece, the back is pretty good too, backed by a high stone wall which holds the sun and makes the whole border a place for bees and butterflies on a warm September afternoon.


For the first time ever this was my favourite part of the garden.  It wasn't pretty as it is in spring, it wasn't romantic as it is in summer; it was exciting, an uprush of colour and warmth that made me want to hold onto the moment quite as strongly as I normally do in May, standing on the edge of summer.


In front of the house, still occupied by the family which created the garden,  three wide terraces look out onto the mountains of Snowdonia.  At the top is a formal rose garden, looking a bit tired by this time of year.  Below that this huge pool is flanked by cedars.  One of these is a steely blue grey, huge and spreading, underplanted with epimedium and crowded with sturdy pinecones.


The border which ends this terrace is a soft rush of purples and grasses.  I give up my anti-grass prejudice.  First of all I was challenged by Karen of An Artist's Garden and then by Zoe, both of them with a formidable eye for form and shape.  These are the kind of gardeners you don't ignore.  Chastened, I started really looking at grasses in other people's gardens and gradually I began to feel that I  might be able to use them.  I am still not a fan of prairie planting, stunning only when done by a total master and often, to my eye, an unstructured blur and a mess.  But a fountaining grass stopping the eye momentarily yet letting you see beyond is both arresting and an invitation.

And they do hold the light.

There is a lot of maintenance work going on at Bodnant at the moment.  New beds are being created and whole areas of yew have been replanted.  There are still some marvellous older yew hedges, newly trimmed and smart as a soldier's haircut.


Part of the magic of Bodnant, aside from its stupendous setting, is the way the formal gardens give way to heavily planted trees and shrubs which fall down the hill towards the water in the bottom of the Dell.  Whenever I have been before, and we are talking twelve times or more, this has been my favourite part of the garden, where the crowds thin out and the shade takes over.  There are some massive trees in here as well as the glossy leaved camellias.  Even the magnolias are huge, great trees where your eyes get lost in the canopy.  But this time I came away with very few pictures and with the formal gardens singing to me.  Why? I am not quite sure.  Clearly the woodland is a spring show and will never be spectacular in September when so much of it is based on evergreens.  Clearly also I had caught that main border at the height of its powers.  And on a sun drenched September day perhaps you want to stay in the sun, looking out at those green and purple mountains behind the planting.  The dark and the shade will come soon enough.   For now let's stay out in the sun.

32 comments:

  1. Gosh - did I challenge you, I am sure I only "wondered if you would consider"

    I am happy that you are looking at grasses with new eyes - and I believe that you may just find one, that will suite you down to the ground.
    K
    xx

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  2. No, no, you definitely challenged me! I seriously remember sitting up and taking notice which I would not have done if you had been only "wondering if I would consider"!

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  3. Actually maybe I would, as it was you.

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  4. Oh!

    Looking forward to seeing you on Friday - then you can challenge some of my (messy) planting
    :)
    K

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  5. What a gorgeous spot to walk and dream and visit.

    Lovely.


    yvonne

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  6. Oh Elizabeth, how fortunate you are to have such a lovely garden virtually at your door step.
    Love the Autumnal colours of the border, just brilliant.
    Each season brings it's own beauty sometimes we just have to look a little harder.
    My tastes towards plants have changed over the years.
    I never used to like natives but have found some beautiful plants recently and have incorporated them into my garden. So don't be surprised if you find yourself planting out grasees before long!

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  7. Great photos of Bodnant. I've only been once, in Spring, and you've made me want to go back right now. The main borders look wonderful.

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  8. What a fabulous post; it flowed and it was as if I was with you viewing that garden. I do so agree that one can have favourite areas in gardens one visits often - I too love Spring borders or finding areas less frequented, but those Autumn colours are stunning, as are your photos.

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  9. It is a few years since I have been to Bodnant (summer holidays in N Wales) & so have only seen it at that time of year. It has stayed in my mind as one of my favourite gardens & I remember my son aged about 9 or 10 entering a NT competition descibing it as his favourite.

    I must re-visit.

    Grasses are delectable, many adding a certain froth & delicate movement to the garden however you use them.

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  10. I once had a gorgeous 1,000 piece jigsaw of these gardens; the border with the wall behind and the house in the background. I must visit in person one day.

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  11. Dear Elizabeth M, I have delighted in this shared visit to Bodnant as it is now some years since I have been and never in the late summer/autumn. It is indeed a wonderful garden with so much of interest but, like you, I have always preferred the gardens leading down to the Dell - most likely because they attract fewer visitors.

    However, it was in one of the formal borders, close to the entrance, that I first came across a massed planting of Gentians. Absolutely beautiful and such an intense blue.

    I share your views entirely on prairie planting - it has to be carried out exceptionally well to be satisfactory, at least in my view.

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  12. Never been to Bodnant. It sounds and looks fabulous. What a lovely tour. Far rather be conducted around by you than by a guidebook!

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  13. Ah, my favourite garden...I do so love Bodnant. Funny, was only yesterday thinking how my prejudice is against autumn gardens - I just find everything so brassy and BIG and yellow somehow. Why is it I love yellow in a spring garden but not in autumn? I only ever seem to see Bodnant at Easter but must try to widen my horizon.
    I'm also with you with grasses but can see what you mean...
    A lovely post, as always! xx

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  14. Lovely garden. But grasses...well, maybe it's because of a certain shame-inducing allotment, but grasses in the garden bring to my mind equally-shocking thoughts of strimmers.

    There now, I've said it. I may be burned as a heretic.....

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  15. Lovely makes me want to come to Bodnant nest September even more. I love grasses and think they can lift a border by adding movement and light.

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  16. It is years since I went to Bodnant so I really enjoyed this Autumn tour. Hope you will do another tour in Spring.
    I love those oranges and browns.

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  17. Oh that looks a really special place. Thanks.

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  18. Oh that looks a really special place. Thanks.

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  19. Hi, thanks for visiting my blog and leaving your kind comment. Your post is very interesting, certainly I would like to visit this garden one day!

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  20. It is still beautiful. actually, I think Bodnant is worth a visit at any time of year.

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  21. Yvonne - as you say, it is a perfect place to dream!
    SBL - I think natives do grow on you! The delicacy of them needs close attention.
    HM - definitely a good scheme to get to Bodnant in the next couple of weeks.
    WSC - I think this is the only large garden I have had the opportunity to get to know. It's an interesting sensation, not like one's own garden at all but very different from passing through an iconic place like Sissinghurst.
    Ms B - you should come to North Wales again then! I am on something of a mission to persuade people to come to Flintshire and Denbighshire, turning south from the coast and coming into our less visited hills. I have lost count of the people who have said "I never even knew this was here" when they come to our cottage.

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  22. Again one of those places that is almost on the doorstep but I have to confess that I have never visited Bodnant. Your post has made me more determined to get there one of these days.

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  23. Again one of those places that is almost on the doorstep but I have to confess that I have never visited Bodnant. Your post has made me more determined to get there one of these days.

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  24. What a timely post. I was thinking of going next week but having only ever been in Spring I wasn't sure how good it would be. Your post has answered that question.

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  25. Wow, fabulous garden. You would love the Jura house walled gardens, I must take my camera over and blog about it for you next time I am there, or better still you must come up and visit! Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog....gardening here is a huge challenge and I know so little about it but love flowers so I keep persevering in the windswept climate, it is a constant battle with the weeds too, but the flowers make it worth it. Posie

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  26. Wow, fabulous garden. You would love the Jura house walled gardens, I must take my camera over and blog about it for you next time I am there, or better still you must come up and visit! Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog....gardening here is a huge challenge and I know so little about it but love flowers so I keep persevering in the windswept climate, it is a constant battle with the weeds too, but the flowers make it worth it. Posie

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  27. beautiful write up with so refreshing pictures

    regards

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  28. I'm an autumn person. I am not a visiting-gardens-person. You've drawn me to this Bodnant one. I know I wouldn't like it in summer though.

    Esther

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  29. Top web site, I had not come across welshhillsagain.blogspot.com earlier in my searches!
    Carry on the good work!

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  30. How beautiful! It really is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

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  31. I have never been to Bodnant; probably the best / biggest garden in Wales that I havent visited. Your post reminded em of it; must go this year

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