Planting a floral treasure for posterity

Head gardener John Rippin standing in Bodnant Garden's Laburnum Arch

As the world-famous Laburnum Arch at Bodnant Garden bursts into June flower, comes news of an exciting conservation project to safeguard some rare plants – and create a floral spectacle for future generations.

Bodnant gardeners are restoring the Penjerrick Walk, a historic avenue of rhododendrons, back to its former glory. In years to come they hope it will be a floral showstopper to rival the Conwy garden's Victorian Laburnum Arch, which attracts around 50,000 visitors for the three weeks it is in bloom.

Penjerrick Walk forms part of Furnace Hill, to the west of the 80 acre garden overlooking the River Hiraethlyn, Bodnant Hall and the spectacular Italianate terraces. It will open to the public for the first time next spring, creating an extra 20 acres for visitors to explore. 

The walkway of creamy-white hybrid Rhododendron ‘Penjerrick’, bred at the Penjerrick Garden in Cornwall, was originally planted by Bodnant’s owner Henry McLaren in the 1920s. 

Plant hunting legacy

The McLaren family, who donated Bodnant Garden to the National Trust in 1949, sponsored botanical expeditions to Asia in the early 1900s and amassed an important collection of rhododendrons and other 'exotic' plants. They also bred 350 unique Bodnant hybrid rhododendrons at the garden and collaborated with other leading UK horticulturalists and plant breeders such as Penjerrick Garden.

Furnace Hill was never opened to the public. Sadly, many of the original Penjerricks died out over the years and were never replaced, being difficult to propagate, the avenue disappearing as nature reclaimed the hillside.

Former head gardener at Bodnant, Troy Smith, was inspired to reinstate the Penjerrick Walk after discovering a speech by Henry McLaren, the 2nd Lord Aberconway, in which he said: “If I could switch the clock to any season of the year to enjoy a two minute walk at Bodnant, my choice would be the Penjerrick Walk in the first week of May”
 
An artist's impression of the future Penjerrick Walk at Bodnant Garden by Clive McWilliam
An artist's impression of the future Penjerrick Walk at Bodnant Garden
An artist's impression of the future Penjerrick Walk at Bodnant Garden by Clive McWilliam

With help from the Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group of the RHS, plant material from surviving Rhododendron 'Penjerrick' at Bodnant Garden was micro-propagated at a specialist laboratory in Duchy College, Cornwall.

Under Troy’s successor John Rippin, the garden team has nursed on and replanted some of the young plants in a 100 metre avenue on Furnace Hill and it is hoped they will bloom within ten years.  

Passion for plants

Justin Albert, director of National Trust Wales said: “Collected by intrepid plant hunters from as far back as 300 years ago, our precious plant life stands as testament to the vision and passion for plants shared by generations of owners and their gardeners.

“Our ultimate goal is to look to return rare species we have conserved back to their places of origin, such as the Chinese Acer griseum found in Dyffryn, brought from China by the famous plant hunter Ernest Wilson. We really do offer a world of gardens within Wales and June is one of the best times to see our gardens in all their glory, so we hope by sharing the stories of our rare plants we will inspire people to visit.”

Download your National Trust Wales World Guide and see how many exotic, rare and endangered plants you can find at sites across Wales this summer - and share your discoveries with us at #NTWorldGarden

National Trust Wales World of Gardens leaflet (English) (PDF / 3.3MB) download

National Trust Wales World of Gardens leaflet (Welsh) (PDF / 3.3MB) download

" This fantastic project at Bodnant Garden is just one of conservation projects that our team of gardeners and volunteers are undertaking at our gardens across Wales to restore and preserve plants from across the world for visitors to enjoy."
- Justin Albert, Director National Trust Wales