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.