Roots of the listed garden at Bodnant

Bodnant Garden in the early 1800s

Bodnant Garden nestles in the Conwy Valley at the heart of an age-old farming community dotted with hafods - stockmens’ summer dwellings - and ancient drovers’ tracks.

Earliest records show that Bodnant (which in Welsh means 'dwelling by a stream') was home to the Lloyd family from the reign of James 1, passing by marriage to the Forbes family in the mid 1700s. In 1792 Colonel Forbes built an Italianate mansion to replace an earlier house and developed the parkland around the new Bodnant Hall, in English Landscape style. During the 1700s the River Hiraethlyn and a leat in the Dell (believed to be Tudor in origin) served a blast furnace nearby, and also a mill. 

On Colonel Forbes’ death in 1820 the estate passed by marriage again to William Hanmer, sixth son of the baronet of Bettisfield Park in Flintshire. Hanmer made his own improvements, building the present Old Mill between 1828 and 1837, and extending the upper garden around the mansion house.

A water wheel powered the Old Mill at Bodnant Garden in centuries past
Black and white drawing of Georgian Old Mill beside the river at Bodnant Garden, fuelling life on the working estate
A water wheel powered the Old Mill at Bodnant Garden in centuries past

When Victorian industrialist Henry Davis Pochin bought Bodnant at auction in 1874 it was an estate with walled garden, woods and plantations, but it was Pochin's grand vision which shaped the garden into the world renowned one which we know today.

Pochin enlisted the skills of landscape designer Edward Milner to develop the formal Victorian shrub garden around the house, including the famous Laburnum Arch. He also sculpted the sloping valley sides down to the river, planting North American conifers and creating pathways to form the romantic dells and water gardens.

Henry Pochin and friends tree planting at Bodnant Garden circa 1885. His daughter Laura is seen, right, and head gardener Joseph Saunderson, kneeling
Henry Pochin and friends tree planting in The Dell at Bodnant Garden circa 1885.
Henry Pochin and friends tree planting at Bodnant Garden circa 1885. His daughter Laura is seen, right, and head gardener Joseph Saunderson, kneeling

The transformation continued under Pochin's daughter Laura McLaren who developed the wild garden in the Far End at the turn of the century. Laura was also a lover of herbaceous plants and did more to develop the upper formal gardens in the newly emerging Edwardian style, with billowing flower borders.

Laura gifted the care of the garden to her son Henry McLaren on his 21st birthday, who embraced the Arts and Crafts style in his design of the stunning Italianate Terraces (built 1904-1914). Henry (1st Lord Aberconway) also sponsored the expeditions of plant hunters such as Ernest Wilson and George Forrest, who brought back to Bodnant Garden ‘exotic’ new Asian plants, notably magnolias and rhododendrons. With his head gardener Frederick Puddle, Henry also bred many unique hybrid rhododendrons.

Bodnant Garden's Lower Rose Terrace pictured around the 1920s
Black and white photograph of woman sitting in rose garden circa 1920
Bodnant Garden's Lower Rose Terrace pictured around the 1920s

It was Henry who gifted Bodnant Garden to the National Trust in 1949. After his death in 1952, his son Charles McLaren (2nd Lord Aberconway) continued to develop Bodnant Garden with the Trust, making improvements, opening new vistas and adding new plants.

Charles’ son Michael McLaren inherited the estate in 2003 and remains keenly involved to this day, as garden director. He maintains the family’s historic and creative links to the garden in a new era of 21st century developments, which have included the opening of private areas such as the Winter Garden, Old Park, Yew Dell, Far End and Furnace, as well as redesign projects for The Bath, The Canal Terrace borders and the East Garden.