River chuckling by Posted on May 18, 2017

Should I have got my camera out before the rain?

The garden has just been soaked, almost drowned, for the first time in many weeks. I was out before breakfast emptying saucers and discouraging snails. Relief was written on every flower’s face.

The picture last week when we arrived in Wales was very different: the hills were an unaccustomed shade of khaki, the silver streams switched off. The next day we were at Bodnant when the heavens finally opened. Somehow the scene changed from beautiful to magical in the rain. We had not been there for four years (all wrong, since our woods are only 50 miles away). How could we have stayed away from Britain’s/Europe’s/the world’s greatest gardening treat?

The National Trust has been shrewd enough to make Michael McLaren, son of the third Lord Aberconway, for many years President of the RHS, Director of the garden. How he keeps all 80 acres, so densely and intricately planted that it feels like 200, in his memory I can’t imagine – though he has, of course, known it all his life. It was a privilege to be shown round by someone who can tell you the past, present and probable future of every corner.

Large parts of Bodnant are seriously steep. I have never really fathomed how the area of a steep slope is measured: is it the surface as seen from the sky or from a point at right angles to the slope? As contour lines crowd together on a map I suppose it must be the latter. It makes a difference when you are planting – or indeed weeding. In any case it’s a big 80 acres.

Furthermore the area of tended garden, accessible, nurtured and with all its plants labelled, is rapidly increasing. The hillside opposite the house, across the little river Hieraethlyn, had seemed a garden too far for many years. Now it is very much part of the tour, with generations-old specimens on show again and lavish planting between.

The famous laburnum tunnel is apparently the feature than attracts most visitors. Its long yellow curve was just beginning to light up. What I had almost forgotten, though, was how grandly the wide terraces descend westwards from the house, embracing more and more of the sublime landscape, claiming and pulling in the Carneddy mountains across the Conwy valley as part of a stately, unbelievably ambitious plan.

There is a phase of momentous tranquillity when you reach the vast canal terrace with the prim and pretty grey-and-white Pin Mill to the left, almost too pretty and party-dressed for such an elemental prospect. Then you are precipitated among soaring trees and dazzling flowers deep into the quiet dell, to hear the river chuckling by and follow it for a good half mile, in awe of forest giants and enraptured by the glow of flowers.

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