The Idyllic Bodnant Gardens in North Wales

In Search of One Thing while Finding Another...

Bodnant Gardens were a delightful surprise, exceeding any expectations I had in a riot of summer blooms,  riverside walks and green meadows. But it all started with disappointment... I was on my way to my uncle's birthday party and had planned to drive across north Wales with the sole intention of seeing the famous laburnum arch at Bodnant. If you're not familiar with laburnum think of a yellow pendulous explosion of wisteria, hanging  in  epic proportions on a tunneled walkway. Sounds good doesn't it? It's at its peak bloom for only three weeks a year and I was finally going to see it, very exciting stuff for a garden geek like myself!
Last summer was  the unicorn of British weather, last seen in the great heatwave of 1976; sun, sun, sun even in north Wales. I was ecstatic, the weather was cooperating and the countryside was glorious. The car park at Bodnant was packed, clearly lots of other garden geeks were on the prowl. However, the bad news came fast when I flashed my National Trust membership card at the desk and babbled that I was thrilled to finally be seeing the laburnum in full bloom. "Oh no!" she said with consternation,  "The arch is closed for filming. It's a new version of The Secret Garden. Have you heard about it?" Unfortunately the answer was no and I couldn't believe it. I'd come from California. Forget my uncle's birthday, the laburnum was the destination!
I'd like to say I was gracious, but I think that would be a lie. I was clearly disgruntled, I may have mentioned the blog! They went out of their way and were pleasant and placating, perhaps there was a chance I could see something later they suggested, maybe I could get some photos when the filming was over later that afternoon? What on earth was I going to do to fill all that time? I looked down at the map in my hand. In my focus on the "big feature" I had clearly underestimated this place. With eighty acres of gardens there was a lot more than laburnum to see, and I had nothing but time on my hands.
Here's what I learnt, a beautiful garden will soothe the strongest of sulks pretty fast and this place was magic. It just got better and better. Rose gardens, Italian terraces, sculptures, woodlands, herbaceous borders, no wonder this it is a protected garden with a Grade One heritage designation. 
Founded in 1874,  and gifted to the National Trust in 1949 the gardens at Bodnant were created by five generations of a single family who retain the rights to  live in the beautiful house on the grounds. Imagine having this place to yourselves when the crowds disperse and the gates close in the evening?
This is a garden for plant geeks far more serious than me, with species brought back from expeditions to Asia and the Americas in the Nineteenth Century. It's the sheer variety that captivates and there's something delightful around every corner, behind every gate and down every path. Its an extraordinary testament to beauty, cultivation and upkeep. 
This garden fork in a pristine border summed it up.
I was on my own and I walked and walked and walked, I took lots of photographs and it was only when my phone died I remembered I'd come here to see the laburnum arch!  

I didn't have an extra power source or a fancy camera with me - what kind of blogger am I? Well,  I'm the kind that can learn a lesson from  a beautiful garden. I thought I'd come to see the arch but I found something much more memorable, a beautiful mature garden with miles of pathways, history and style. And for free I was being hit over the head by an  age-old lesson; that while you may want one thing you could be just as happy with another!

I don't know if these photographs convey how extensive and charming Bodnant is? I've seen a lot of beautiful European gardens over the years but this may be my favorite. It has formal elements including the terraces and reflecting pool but at the same time it has a relaxed English country feel with hidden elements, beautiful seasonal color combinations in the herbaceous borders, and so many roses.
 The blue  Himalayan poppies on the right were spectacular!
Even the shady spots were a delight. There was a gorgeous river walk lined with sculptural hostas down to a spot poetically called "The Far End". But you'll  have to believe me about the delightful waterfall and small bridges as my phone had died by then!
The woodland gardens were particularly lovely. I love that they let the meadow grasses grow and I know that they have beautiful daffodils here in the spring.
It was such a quintessentially British pleasure to sit back and enjoy the view in these lovely deck chairs, so reminiscent of spending afternoons in my grandparent's garden admiring their country view.
After my phone died, and on my way out, they said that filming was wrapping up. They weren't opening the arch up to the public, but they'd be happy get one of the film assistants to take me in. 
It was magnificent and there was a heavy scent in the air. It was so yellow it almost looked fake and my eyes couldn't quite take it in, as if I wasn't used to seeing that much beauty in one glance. There was film equipment lying on the ground but apart from that and the young woman who had brought me in, it was empty. Because I didn't have my camera I could focus on the moment rather than worrying about how to get the best angle, or whether to ask the  assistant if she'd take my picture. This was the best visit I could have imagined, silent, beautiful and yellow, lots and lots of yellow.
When I met the Director and the Media Officer on the way out I confessed that I was captivated by the garden but that unfortunately I was the sort of incompetent blogger that takes so many pictures that their phone dies.  They smiled and indulgently offered to email a beautiful image of the  arch by a  professional photographer. 
So here is the glory of  laburnum in bloom with thanks to to photographer Joe Wainwright. Isn't it surreal?
But here's the thing, you should go to Bodnant regardless of whether it's laburnum season or not. It's a fabulous destination and I will definitely be going back. In the end it worked out better than I could have imagined, as it often does. It's a memory that reminds me things often resolve themselves when you go with the flow as you travel.
Tip: This is a lovely part of the world and there's a lot to see in rural Wales, why not take the scenic route!