Bodnant, home for generations of the Aberconway family, has a famous garden in an absolutely ideal setting. Its site is a leafy valley, falling gently to the south, with Britain’s grandest mountain, Snowdon, beyond. The Lords Aberconway have been great gardeners for nearly a century, and they were quick to realize that their Welsh domain, well watered, splendidly timbered and sheltered from the north, could soon become the home of a thousand rare and tender plants.
From the house, the garden falls in five great terraces, each with its own character and planting, towards the Conway valley. Genii loci of the first terrace are a pair of sphinxes, whose heads, turned sharply to one side in a most unusual way, meet the visitor with a stare, perhaps of surprise that their solitude should be disturbed. But all else is welcoming indeed, and two splendid arbutus, with glistening, dark greenand reddish bark, fairly glow in the clear Welsh sunlight. Steps, overhung in early summer with the tassels of a white Wistaria venusta, lead downward to a second terrace, used for a croquet lawn. In the surrounding borders, sheltered by the terrace walls, grow fine specimens of Eucryphia nymansensis, the miniature microphylla and the low-growing, sweet-smelling tangutica.
On the third terrace there is a lily– vast in extent and in part shaded by two cedars, one the frosty blue Cedrus Atlantica glauca and the other a cedar of Lebanon – Cedrus Libani. Again, in the shelter of the terrace walls, the plant connoisseur recognizes such rarities as the pink Colvilei and the seldom met with Photinia glomerata.
Next comes the fourth terrace, reached by shallow, well designed steps, which seem to fit the foot instead of wilfully deceiving it as do so many badly designed garden steps. Here are more rare shrubs, or if not rare, the very best garden varieties of popular plants – the Glasnevin variety of the Potato Vine (Solanum crispum), for instance. Nearby, is the rose garden ‘neatly bedded and pathed, and decorated with sturdy pergolas of trellis-work, capped with wooden urns. The design for these was taken, unexpectedly enough, from the garden of the Ritz Hotel in London.’
The fifth and lowest terrace provides the visitor with the most spectacular view in the garden at Bodnant: the Pin Mill, an enchanting little eighteenth-century building, rescued by the Lord and Lady Aberconway of the day from imminent demolition in distant Gloucestershire. Before it, and to mirror its architectural perfection, lies a glassy canal, studded but not overgrown with lilies, which are kept well to one end so as not to mar reflections.
These, then, are the five terraces of Bodnant, one of the really great gardens of Britain. Lists of Latin plant names can be tedious, but the garden abounds in rarities. Magnolias kobus, salicifolia robusta, and the later-flowering sieboldii, offer in turn their scented chalices of flower. By the stream, primulas show their many-coloured spires of flower, and the Himalayan blue poppy rivals the colour of the sky. But Bodnant is a garden for all visitors: there is much to delight and fascinate the plantsman; there are garden-pictures on every hand to seduce the artist.
One last feature of the garden must not be omitted. On the lowest terrace, and at the far end of the canal to the Pin Mill is a ‘green theatre’ with raised stage of turf, and wings and back-drop of closely clipped yew. If ever there was the perfect setting for A Midsummer Night’s Dream it must surely be here.
OPEN April-October: daily, except Friday and some Sundays. 1.30 p.m. – 5 p.m. (Visitors should check before going.)
LOCATION 8 miles south of Llandudno and Colwyn Bay off A470 (A496). Entrance 1 mile along Eglwysbach road.