Bodnant Garden – National Trust

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Described as one of the most spectacular and admired gardens in Britain with the laburnum walk, these have a reputation to live up to. They have been on our list of places to visit for many years, so we were a bit concerned that they might not live up to all the hype…

Not only did they live up to the hype, they were even better than the pictures we’d seen on the web. The spectacular Laburnum walk was at its peak in early June (it had been a late spring in North Wales) and that alone would have been worth the visit.

Set on the hillside above the River Conwy with the River Hiraethlyn flowing through their grounds, they are just a few minutes drive from the holiday centres of Conwy, Llandudno and Colwyn Bay. We arrived early and were waiting for the doors to open. We hot footed it to the Laburnum Walk with long hanging yellow flowers forming a dense canopy over our heads with the hum of bumble bees around the flowers. One of the most popular seats in the garden must be that at the start of the archway looking down the length of the walk.

Bodnant Hall built in 1792 is the residence of Lord Aberconway and not open. It is surrounded by the formal flower and water gardens. Around these is grassland with specimen trees and shrubs, especially azaleas and rhododendrons which were just past their best. These had been carefully planted to provide colour and shape to the garden. They lead into the wild areas with longer grass with wild flowers. Beyond are the wilder gardens along the River Hiraethlyn with the Dell across the river.

We spent most of our time in the formal gardens and the herbaceous borders along the front of the house. The rose garden was only just beginning to come into flower but we enjoyed the clumps of purple campanulas growing out of the stone terrace wall above it. Steps drop down to the lily terrace with two splendid cedar trees at either end of the ornamental pond. The white water lilies were just coming into bloom.

More steps lead down to the white pergola planted with climbing roses and herbaceous plants along the Canal, a large rectangle of water with the Pin Mill at one end. After the Laburnum Walk this must be the second most popular photo taken of the gardens. The wind was ruffling the surface of the water causing the reflections to break up and the light was wrong for a photograph. The Pin Mill was built at Woodchester about 1770 as a garden house. Later it was used as a factory for many years before being re-erected here in 1937 by Lord Aberconway and his wife.

Below this is the Magnolia border with some trees up to 30-40’ high.

Informal gardens with trees and shrubs, particularly azaleas and rhododendrons drop down to the river. The area looked inviting with small paths to explore but unfortunately a tight time schedule didn’t allow this. Across the river is the Dell which in April/May is covered with bluebells.

We followed a path mown through the long grass to the Poem, which was built as a mausoleum for the family of the hall, before heading back up towards the house with the round garden with its small statue and purple irises and a final look at the laburnum walk which by now was busy with visitors.

We spent 90 minutes here and it would be very easy to spend several hours wandering round the gardens, particularly with the guide book. We were handed a leaflet with a plan of the gardens showing paths but there were many more on the ground than was marked on the plan. The map marks wheelchair accessible routes and there are wheelchairs available for use in the gardens. Do bear in mind though that the gardens are built on the side of the hill and wheelchair users may have problems visiting some of the wilder parts of the garden and the Dell.

Paths are well made and well maintained. The gardens are beautifully kept and well looked after with few weeds growing. Many of the plants are labelled. It was a very well worth while visit, but do visit on a dry day as there is little shelter.

The Magnolia Tea Room in the gardens is run by the National Trust and serves a selection of hot and cold drinks with sandwiches and cakes. I succumbed to the lemon cake. Although I enjoyed it, I think it may have looked better than it tasted and may have done better with the chocolate or walnut and coffee cake. Portions sizes were generous and at £2.70 good value.

There is a small farm shop and also large plant centre. This sells a wide range of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants all grown on the estate. Prices were very reasonable with herbaceous plants at £2.99 and shrubs at £5.99. Plants looked in good condition and well looked after. I treated myself to a bright crimson ornamental poppy. I’ve been looking for one for a couple of years but had only found pink ones.

There is a large car park which does get busy and fills up quickly. The gardens are also popular with coaches. It is quite a walk from the car park to the garden entrance and we did uncharitably wonder how many of the coach parties got that far by the time they had visited the toilets and the Pavilion Tea Room by the car park….

It is worth arriving at the gardens early, if only to enjoy the Laburnum Walk without too many other people in the way.

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