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Bodnant Garden – Book Review

A beautifully illustrated guide to the much-loved National Trust garden and the fascinating history of the remarkable family who created it. Reviewer Juliet Giles is production editor for Gardens Illustrated.

by Iona McLaren
Pitkin Publishing, £16.99
ISBN 978- 1841658919

Bodnant near Colwyn Bay in North Wales is one of the National Trust’s best-loved gardens. Thousands visit each year to explore its elegant terraces with their stunning views of the Carneddau mountains and lose themselves in its beautiful woodland walks. Sometimes quite literally as the paths that stretch across the 80 acres are, according to author Iona McLaren, more numerous ‘than strands of pasta in a dish of spaghetti’.

McLaren is better placed than most to guide us round Bodnant’s winding paths and unravel the many strands of its history. She grew up here and her family have lived at Bodnant since her three-times great grandfather Henry Davis Pochin bought the property in 1874.

This then is the story not just of a garden but of its creators, from Pochin, the self-made businessman who laid out much of the garden, planting its famous Laburnum Arch, via the exploits of the early 20th-century plant hunters to McLaren’s father and the garden’s more recent revamping under the seven-year stint as head gardener of Troy Scott Smith from 2006.

But the bulk of Bodnant’s story, and of this book, belongs to Pochin’s grandson, Henry McLaren, 2nd Lord Aberconway, whose mother gave him ‘free rein to do what he wanted with the garden’ when he was barely out of his teens. It was Harry, as he was known, who crafted the garden’s Italianate terraces, planted its Gravetye-inspired rose garden, introduced many of its rare plants and obsessively collected the rhododendrons for which Bodnant is famed – many hybridised by his talented head gardener Frederick Puddle. It was Harry too who as president of the RHS helped to bring Bodnant and other great gardens under the guardianship of the National Trust.

All is entertainingly told and brought to life with black-and- white family snapshots and beautiful photography of the gardens that are sure to whet the appetite of anyone yet to discover the gardens themselves.