THE SECRET GARDEN - Bodnant Garden, Tal-y-Cafn, Wales
Nestled in the north Welsh wilderness, in the foothills of Snowdonia we had expected to find a garden dwarfed in comparison to the vast natural surroundings, however Bodnant is a landscape of extraordinary size. The 80 acre garden was established in 1874 by the creative vision of Henry and Agnes Pochin, a Victorian entrepreneur and a pioneering women's rights activist. At that time the garden consisted of a walled garden and woodland, but Henry and Agnes along with the expertise of landscape designer Edward Milner set about sculpting the landscape into the famous grade one listed garden we see today. Each generation of their family has enthused over the garden adding their own creative vision to the space and their passion for horticulture resulted in sponsored plant hunting expeditions to gather new exotic species for the garden. In 1949 the garden was gifted to the National Trust, but Henry and Agnes’s ancestors are still closely connected. Working with the Trust in the recent redevelopments that have seen new areas open to the public and redesigns to rejuvenate the planting.
We visited Bodnant in September under an overcast sky. Summer had begun to crumple into Autumn. The lush greens of the herbaceous borders were transforming to golden burnished hues and the rain speckled grasses glinted in the breeze.
We descended into the garden through the series of Italianate terraces that ground the privately owned house to the hillside. Each terrace hidden from view below the next. We began in the fragrant rose terrace closest to the house down to the Pin Mill on the lower canal terrace with it’s newly planted borders. We passed by the Lilly pond, its inky black surface mirrored the branches of the two gigantic cedars overhead, a legacy of Henry Pochin.
The gardens size took us by surprise. It wasn’t until we had ventured deep into the garden, across the terraces, through the dells, along the hydrangeas lined river banks and climbed up into the woodlands, that we grasped the gardens full scale. When through the trees we glimpsed the granite Manor House framed in miniature high up on the other side of the valley. Back close to the house we discovered the Bath, an oval pond surrounded by tropical planting, a serene space filled with rich colour. The tiny flowers appeared to hang in the air like jewels. Finally we left the garden through the slumbering laburnum arch, one of the iconic sights in Spring when it’s draped in golden flowers.
We later found out the garden is to be used in the new film adaptation of the classic children’s book, the secret garden. So this is where I’ll leave you with a quote from the book that sums up the magic of Bodnant.
“Sometimes since I've been in the garden I've looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden - in all the places.”