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Bodnant Garden – a magical place in North Wales

For my last post of 2016 I thought I would share a visit we made to one of our favourite gardens, Bodnant Gardens in North Wales. A great way to celebrate our garden visiting exploits in 2016 and to look forward to visiting many more wonderful UK gardens in 2017.

Bodnant Gardens, a National Trust Property in North Wales, is described as a “glorious garden nestling in the Snowdonia foothills of North Wales and one of the world’s most magical gardens. With its dramatic scenery, historic plant collections, Champion Trees and myriad horticultural styles, it will capture your heart and live in your memory.”

It is just possible for us to get there, enjoy a day wandering and then return on the same day. So this is a day trip we have made many times over the years in different months but never before in November. We were not sure exactly what to expect but our expectations were definitely high. We were not to be in for the slightest disappointment!

After a two hour drive we arrived as mist and drizzle did its best to hide the garden but after our usual half hour sit for a coffee and cake we were  pleased to see the beauty of the garden revealed as the autumn sunlight brought the garden to life before our eyes setting the scene for an afternoon of pure magic, which we will share with you in a couple of posts.

Firstly this post will be all about the special nature of the light and how it added extra magic to the scenes unfolding before us.

After showing our membership cards we left the reception and upon entering the garden itself we only managed a few steps before the special light stopped us in our tracks. A long border running alongside a tall stone wall was on fire with the rich colours of late perennial flowers and the red and orange leaves of shrubs. The overnight dew was still hanging on the grass and every droplet became a jewel.

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From the path running along the centre of the hot fiery bed we could look across towards the main garden where the light caught Acer foliage and wispy perennials.

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Individual flowers among this beauty, shone like jewels in a jeweller’s shop window display. Water droplets sat on the red blooms of this Fuschia and Salvia.

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We had plenty of choices of pathways to follow but the choice was an easy one – go where the colours shone the brightest – off in to the newly created Winter Garden beneath a halo or red glowing foliage.

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With so much colour and texture surrounding us it was hard to home in to see the special beauty only to be found by looking closely and deeply searching for the detail.

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Bodnant proved itself a most worthy contender for garden visiting late in the year and could well join the little group of special places we visit annually. In part two of my Bodnant posts we will share other parts of the garden with you, the places further afield than the Winter Garden.

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The one that nearly got away! – My Garden Journal in November

Imagine my surprise when checking back through my list of posts to find my Garden Journal for November still waiting to be posted. It nearly got away but here it is. Better late than never! Imagine we are back in the autumn!

This will be the penultimate visit to my 2016 Garden Journal as we look at what November has in store for our Avocet patch.

Colour launches my November pages with a double page spread of rich colours with the words, “Autumn has crept in further as November arrives and the garden is starting a new chapter where foliage colours dominate and individual plants become the focus of our attention rather than whole borders of blooms.”

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I move on to share our purchase of three new trees for our patch, an oak and two birches, all trees that we have been seeking out for several years. The oak is good for a small garden like ours because it has a columnar habit of growth growing tall but very slim. It is Quercus palustris “Green Pillar” which hides the fact that its main reason for growing it is for its bright red autumn leaves. I wrote, “Three new trees have been planted at Avocet. Tree planting is such a satisfying experience as is choosing and collecting your selection. So a journey down to the best tree nursery near us, The Dingle at Welshpool, saw us returning home with 3 specimen trees neatly tied up and fitted, threaded in fact, into our car. We sat with three of our favourite trees surrounding us, embracing us with the scents of Autumn. We chatted excitedly of the emotions of tree planting, the positive messages and the future joy these trees will give us. 

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Quercus palustris “Green Pillar”is an upright growing, narrow oak and is a relatively new introduction. The deepest red leaves imaginable hold on through the Autumn and odd batches of foliage remain on the columnar tree into the Winter. To add further magic, the foliage is highly glossed almost like Japanese lacquer.”

I chose three leaves to paint in watercolours and fibre tipped pens trying to capture the texture and colour variations.

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My next double page spread featured our other 2 new trees and I started by writing, “Anyone who knows us as gardeners will have guessed that the other two new trees are our favourite Betulas, B. nigra “Heritage” and B. “Hergest”. Both of these Birches should be the same dimensions reaching 16 feet tall by 6 feet wide after 10 years. We have planted them either side of a covered bench in the front garden. “Hergest” is a Birch we have been longing to plant in our patch because of its wonderful bark texture and colour. It is in the “albosinensis” family of Betulas described by tree

specialist Frank Matthews a rare and beautiful tree possibly a cross between B. albosinensis and B.ermanii. We look forward to the bark turning light copper-brown and glossy. Another reason we love it is because it orginates from a local, favourite garden, Hergest Croft. We chose B. nigra “Heritage”, a variety of River Birch, because of its peeling bark of cinnamon, pink, purple and gold. These Betulas will add so much to our garden.”

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“Betula albosinensis “Septentronalis” (first 3 pics top row) and Betula utilis jacquemontii “Snow Queen” (bottom row) with the odd photo of our immature B. albosinsensis “Chinese Ruby” awaiting a colourful future.”

Moments of delight come next in my journal for November, “Autumn in the garden is he time and place for special moments, seen once and never repeated. Cobwebs, droplets of dew and a beam of sunlight catching colours. November moments!” I would like to share seven photos of some of our special moments in our garden.

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“Often our moments of delight are light shows starring grasses, their movement, their filigree seed heads and their biscuit and ginger hues.”

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Turning over the page we encounter a page looking back at early tree planting and I checked out how one favourite is doing now 13 years on.

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I reported, “Looking back into the early November pages of my first Avocet Garden Journal, I notice that back then we were celebrating Autumn by planting trees. “Tree hunting at Harley Nursery, saw us ordering 16 trees. Should give us structure, a top plant storey and the colours of leaves, flowers and berries.” Later in the month I continued, “Three Betula utilis jacquemontii “Snow Queen” and a single Liquidamber styracifolia “Worplesdon” were planted along the road side border to begin the required woodland feel. In the Winter Garden we planted a snake barked maple, Acer rupestris.” We had intended to choose between the more usual snakebark maples, Acer greggii and A. davidii, but our friend Duncan who owned the nursery promised to find us a much better one, A. rupestris. This he did and it has proved to be the right choice. It is a true 12 month tree and a visitors’ favourite.”

My photos show some of its attributes including the bark which varies in colour and texture up the trunk.

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In my October journal I featured the tiny flowered Fuchsia minimiflora and promised to look at two other Fuchsias this month, so I began by stating, “Unlike F.minimiflora these two have long thin flowers and colourful foliage. They are so similar that we are not sure if they are identical but sold under different names. One we bought as F. thalia, the other was a thank you gift from friends and its label gives its name as Fuschia x hybrida “Koralle”.

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A strange creation makes an appearance next, a phenomena we have never seen before anywhere. A sculpture created in grass by the wind! “We grow the delicate grass, Stipa tenuissima , or Pony Tail Grass, on our green roof. The flowering stems grow to 15 to 18 inches long and move in the slightest breeze. Passing the roof and looking up I noticed this strange knot which the wind had created by spinning a few flowering stems together. It hung still attached to the plant presenting an amazing silhouette against the blue sky.” I captioned my photos of it “garden magic”.

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The colour red is the theme of the next section in my November journal. I noticed how powerful this colour looked in the garden at this time of year so took my trusty Nikon out for a walk.

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Red is such an important colour in the November garden. In life red relates to many different emotions from love and passion at the one pole to danger and anger at the other. Red in the garden simply draws me to it and makes me smile. David Bowie wrote, “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues”. The garden puts on its red shoes and chases away the winter blues. Red appears in flowers, berries, leaves, stems and bark, but also on the handles of Felco secateurs and the wattles of garden hens.”

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And there we have, the garden in November. My next look at my garden journal will be the final one of 2016. Where did the time go, simply flying as we enjoyed being in our special patch.