Bodnant Garden: One of Britain’s Best Rose Gardens

Rosa 'Grace'

Bodnant is a hillside garden with five grand terraces overlooking the Conway valley in Wales. Like so many of our best-loved gardens, it was created over several generations by a succession of enthusiasts.

I first visited as a child and mainly remember the grassy hillside above the ‘main’ gardens. Children are such funny creatures. I wonder if I was encouraged to run off a little energy there or taken on a lengthy hike? More recently my sweetheart and I have visited at various times of the year, though never in autumn. Gathering the pictures for this post has given me a longing to go and see the fall colours, so another visit may be imminent!

Interesting at any time of the year, Bodnant is spread over 80 acres, so most visitors will only manage to explore a fraction on a single visit. During the summer I’m sure many people make a beeline for the rose gardens on the upper and lower terraces.

White roses at Bodnant Gardens

The upper rose terrace is so long that it has room for several colour themes. I’m sharing the white roses for the moon garden lovers among us – just look at all those buds!  

When I’m in an art gallery, I’m not keen to hear what other visitors have to say – I’ve been known to wander alone in a noisy London exhibition wearing earplugs so I can experience the artwork directly without everyone else’s filter. I dare say that’s weird. But in a rose garden, I love overhearing what people have to say. At first it was a professional interest, but now I just enjoy the cooing and other gentle sounds of rapture great rose gardens spontaneously draw out from susceptible people. Bodnant is one of those places.

On both terraces there were clear signs that we’d missed some of the early climbing roses. A tantalisingly large amount of faded flowers scattered all over the walls paid eloquent testimony to how pretty it must have been just a couple of weeks earlier.

'Gertrude Jekyll' climbing rose

But I had no grounds for complaint. Any garden with thirty thousand or so buds and fully open blooms is not to be sniffed at (I take that back, you probably would want to sniff them – especially this one, an old favourite, Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ captured a few years earlier, at its peak).

The upper rose terrace has views over towards the mountains of the Snowdonia National Park.

'Queen of Sweden' roses in a garden

We had chosen a sunny evening in June for our visit, hoping for beautiful light. It was glorious to the eye, if a little contrasty for the camera.

Cluster of Adelaide d'Orleans roses

Ramblers are such generous plants that I don’t care that so many of them are once-flowering. It’s a pity to dilute their worth by asking for more than they can give us. I’ve never heard of anyone complaining that bluebells only flower once.

Though I didn’t find the label for this variety, I think it is Rosa ‘Adélaïde d’Orléans’. Those beautiful, pure pink buds offer a clue.

A bright yellow rose called Buttercup

While I might well have mixed ‘Adélaïde d’Orléans’ up with something else, the elegant, semi-double ‘Buttercup’ is unmistakeable.

Lower Rose Terrace at Bodnant

There’s a real art to designing, planting and maintaining a rose garden. Merely deadheading so many flowers is no mean feat. Head Gardeners of most major gardens keep a close eye on how individual varieties of roses perform in their climate and conditions and will gradually replace ones that don’t deliver the goods. I was intrigued to see this elderly English Rose that is not often seen, but had survived the cut – Rosa ‘Pretty Lady’, living up to its name.

Floribunda rose | Pretty Lady

It’s not the variety you’ll find these days if you search for Pretty Lady online, so consider this a beautiful blast from the past.

I wish Bodnant Garden was just down the road instead of 100 miles away so I could watch it changing with the seasons. Looking again at the garden plan, there are so many parts of the garden I’ve still to explore.

It’s quite possible for nature-lovers to feel something like love at first sight when we first experience a garden, but relatively rare for us to know any garden deeply. (Should I confess at this point that I’ve fallen head over heels for many a garden I’ve only ever seen here on WordPress? Probably not.)

Rose with tapestry effect background

Intimacy with a garden takes our appreciation to another level. We don’t even have to get our hands dirty to feel it, but we do need to be able to visit often and linger long. That’s one of the reasons our own gardens become special to us and why leaving a garden can be such a terrible wrench.

Address and links

Bodnant Garden, Tal-y-Cafn, near Colwyn Bay, Conwy, LL28 5RE

The garden is managed by the National Trust, so free to enter for members. (America’s Royal Oak Foundation is a partner of the National Trust – don’t forget to bring proof of membership if you visit the UK.) There seems to be more than one website for the garden, but it’s wise to consult the official national trust one if you’re planning a visit.

I often think visits to gardens should be prescribed to everyone by the National Health Service. An early evening stroll around Bodnant during the summer months would transform almost anybody’s weekly routine. The garden usually opens late on Wednesdays from May to August  – as times could vary year to year, please check online.

Last but not least, I’m linking to Jude of The Earth Laughs In Flowers who is inviting us to share our favourite gardens this month. You might like to take a look at her post on Scotland’s Drummond Gardens if you have a moment.

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