Positioned high above the River Conwy on ground that slopes to the west, there are few gardens in Britain that can rival the vistas found at Bodnant. On a fine day the views beyond Himalayan magnolias and American conifers to the hazy blue mountain ridges of Snowdoniana, are truly sublime.
The garden covers 80-acres (32-hectares) and owes its beginning to Henry David Pochin who bought the estate in 1874. It was Pochin who in 1882 planted one of Bodnant’s most famous features, the 180-feet-long (55-metre) Laburnum Arch.
After Pochin’s death in 1895 his daughter Laura inherited the estate. She was married to Charles Mclaren, a barrister and Member of Parliament, who became a peer in 1911 and took as his title Aberconway (mouth of the River Conwy). Charles was not a gardener, but their son Henry was and it was he, along with three generations of head gardeners from the same family, Frederick, Charles and Martin Puddle, who created and maintained much of the garden that can be seen today. Henry Mclaren died in 1953 having donated the garden to the National Trust in 1949. The family continue to live in the house, which is not open to the public.
There are several distinct areas within Bodnant. The upper garden consists of mixed borders of summer-flowering herbaceous perennials, lawns shaded by ancient sweet chestnuts and Monterey pines and island beds planted with spring-flowering shrubs. West of the house a series of five formal terraces descend steeply in the direction of the distant mountains. There are two rose terraces, a Baroque French fountain and croquet terrace, a lily pool terrace and a stunning Dutch-influenced Canal Terrace. At the southern end of the rectangular canal stands the Pin Mill, a white stuccoed building of unique beauty; originally built in 1730 in Woodchester, Gloucestershire, it was seen in 1938 by the 2nd Lord Aberconway in a rapid state of decay, he bought it, rescued it and rebuilt it at Bodnant.
Beyond the Pin Mill the garden descends into ‘The Dell’, a steep-sided valley containing the fast-running River Hiraethlyn. Here a collection of mature shrubs, particularly rhododendrons and azaleas, shelter beneath canopies of magnolias and maples, which are in turn shaded by tall gun-barrel-straight pine, spruce and fir. Planted in 1874, these trees now rise like arboreal giants above the valley floor, which is rather apt considering Bodnant’s status as one of the giants of the horticultural world.
Truly a garden for all seasons, Bodnant is particularly striking in autumn when its fine collection of Japanese maples, cherries and American oaks produce vibrant leaf colours set against a background of dark evergreens.