Fascinating History of Beautiful Bodnant Garden

On Thursday 21st March the group were presented with an illustrated talk by Fiona Braithwaite, one of the Gardeners at Bodnant Gardens. Most of us have seen  the  excellent display of plants and trees during visits but Fiona gave us a brief insight into the people involved in the development of the gardens to what we see today.

Fiona Braithwaite (photo by John Lawson-Reay)

The estate of Bodnod was established in 1792, and taken over by William Hanmer in 1820 upon marriage into the Mostyn family.

Henry Pochin was born in 1824 into a 200-year-old family firm. He trained as an industrial chemist, and made a fortune by inventing a process which turned soap white and by inventing a dye for clothing which retained the colour in the fabric. He became an MP, the Mayor for Salford and the director of 22 companies.

He owned Haulfre Gardens between 1871 and 1876.

Henry Pochin bought Bodnod, also known as Bodnant, in 1874, for £62,500, and, being interested in plants and trees, began having the gardens created, planned mainly by Edward Milner, an apprentice of Joseph Paxton. He had apple trees taken from Haulfre Gardens to Bodnant Gardens. He had 48 laburnums planted in 1878 to create the ‘Bower Walk’. All the laburnums in the Laburnam Arch today are from different stock,however. He also had the rockery walk built. The ‘POEM Mausoleum’ (Place Of Eternal Memory) was built in 1883, and is the resting place of family members.

Pochin’s daughter, Laura, became a horticulturalist, eventually receiving the highest of horticultural awards, the Victoria Medal of Honour in 1931. Laura also formed the Liberal Women’s Suffrage Union, being an activist herself. By the time of Henry Pochin’s death in 1895, Laura had already designed many gardens. In 1895, Laura had conifers planted and in 1898 had wild cherries and rhododendrons planted. These have now all gone.

Marrying Charles McLaren, Laura handed over charge of the Gardens to their son, Henry McLaren (who became an industrialist and a barrister) in 1901, and together they had the Italianate Terraces built (1905 – 06 and 1912 – 14) by hand,using local labour. Using the highly popular book by Thomas Mawson, The Art and Craft of Garden Making, other work continued to be done, particularly the Lower Rose Terrace. The Lily Pool Terrace was influenced by the Earl of Crawford from Fife.

The Old Mill was built around 1837 to power the blast furnace for iron ore. It later became a flour mill, and then a sawmill. The Pin Mill was originally built in 1820 in Gloucestershire, and was bought in 1937 for an undisclosed price, dismantled and reconstructed in 1939 in Bodnant. Henry also invested in ‘plant hunters’, commissioning men to bring back plants from overseas. In the Second World War, extra coal was allocated to Bodnant to ensure certain indoor plants survived.

Bodnant Gardens were handed over to the National Trust in 1949 by Henry McLaren, who was President of the Royal Horticultural Society for 22 years. It was the second estate to be acquired by the NT, as McLaren did not wish to be accused of using his position to have it become the first. His son, Charles McLaren, became President of the RHS in 1961, and continued to manage Bodnant.

Today, it is a very popular NT attraction, despite having “the worst Car Park in the NT” (according to a consultant). There were 45,000 visitors for the fortnight of the Laburnam Arch this year, a number which continues to increase every year.

A point worth remembering is that if a plant has a green label, it is a Bodnant hybrid.

The current owner of Bodnant, Michael McLaren, a London barrister, will shortly be retiring to Bodnant. The current Head Gardener is John Rippin. In 2018, the film ‘The Secret Garden’ was filmed partly in Bodnant Garden.

Kevin Slattery

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