The McLaren Family of Bodnant Garden

Bodnant Garden in the early 1800s

Laura Pochin shared her father’s passion for the garden as did her son, Henry Duncan McLaren. Together they built on the foundations Pochin had laid.

Laura was a lover of herbaceous plants, roses and paeonies, as well as native flora. She developed the wild garden of the Far End after her father’s death and plans for the Italianate terraces with her son.

In 1877 she married Scottish barrister Charles McLaren, MP for Stafford and Bosworth and nephew of John Bright the famed Liberal politician. Charles took over the running of Pochin’s many companies including the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company, English China Clays, the Metropolitan Railway Company and shipbuilding firm John Brown & Company. He was made a peer in 1911 and chose the title Lord Aberconway (meaning ‘mouth of the Conwy River’).

While the McLarens’ business and political life kept them in London, Laura handed the care of the garden to her son Henry on his leaving Oxford University in 1901, aged 21. Following in his father’s footsteps Henry was liberal MP for West Staffordshire and Bosworth. He left politics in 1922 but continued to lead his father and grandfather’s many companies, also inheriting the title of Second Lord Aberconway.

The McLarens at Bodnant Hall, circa 1905: Anges Pochin (seated) with daughter Laura and Charles McLaren, Lord and Lady Aberconway, surrounded by family.
The McLarens at Bodnant Hall.
The McLarens at Bodnant Hall, circa 1905: Anges Pochin (seated) with daughter Laura and Charles McLaren, Lord and Lady Aberconway, surrounded by family.

However Henry’s great love was Bodnant Garden. His crowning achievement was the construction of the five terraces, from 1904-1914, but he also had a passion for the more exotic new trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants being discovered in Asia and the Americas. He sponsored many plant hunting expeditions and was also keenly interested in propagating and hybridising plants.

Henry was president of the Royal Horticultural Society from 1931 until his death. In 1948 he also persuaded the National Trust to accept gardens. When Henry died in 1953 his son Charles inherited the title of Third Lord Aberconway and the care of Bodnant estate and garden. 

Over the course of another half century Charles continued to develop Bodnant Garden with the National Trust, making improvements, opening new vistas and adding new plants. Like his father, he served as president of the RHS from 1961 until 1984. Michael McLaren inherited the estate in 2003 on his father’s death and maintains an active role in the garden to this day.