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Press release

The McLaren Cup returns to Bodnant Garden for the first time in over 70 years

Ned Lomax, Bodnant Garden's Head Gardener, with Graeme Jones and Laura Jones from the garden team with the three winning cups at RHS Rosemoor.
Ned Lomax, Bodnant Garden's Head Gardener, with Graeme Jones and Laura Jones from the garden team with the three winning cups at RHS Rosemoor. | © National Trust Bodnant Garden

It’s not every weekend that you come back with an armful of trophies and prizes from a nationally recognised Rhododendron flower show, but on Saturday 22 April the team from Bodnant Garden did just that – bringing home with them the McLaren Cup, originally donated by the McLaren family in 1946.

Head Gardener Ned Lomax and some of the team from Bodnant Garden, Tal y Cafn, Conwy, returned from the RHS Rosemoor Main Rhododendron Show in Devon with 3 trophies and a total of 42 other awards. The trophies included the McLaren Cup, Loder Challenge Cup and the Crosfield Challenge Cup.

The McLaren Cup is awarded for the best single truss of a species Rhododendron, the Loder Challenge Cup is awarded for the best single truss of a hybrid Rhododendron and the Crosfield Challenge Cup is awarded for the best group of three hybrid rhododendrons raised in the garden of the exhibitor. The winning flower that took the McLaren cup was the beautiful Rhododendron niveum, a beautiful deep pink-purple flower, which is still in bloom for the next couple of weeks in the Furnace Hill area of the garden.

The winner of the McLaren Cup 2023, Rhododendron niveum, from Bodnant Garden
The winner of the McLaren Cup 2023, Rhododendron niveum, from Bodnant Garden | © National Trust/Bodnant Garden

Henry McLaren, the 2nd Lord Aberconway is credited with creating and collecting rhododendrons at Bodnant Garden, followed by three generations of Head Gardeners from one family, Frederick, Charles and Martin Puddle. Henry and his descendants were responsible for the hybridisation and raising of over 300 Bodnant hybrid rhododendrons.

Henry was also instrumental in the creation of the rhododendron shows, which have continued annually for nearly 100 years. He was a member of the Rhododendron Society during the 1920s. It was expanded into the Rhododendron Association in the 1930s before it eventually became the Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia Group of the Royal Horticultural Society, or RHS.

With such an impressive history, it’s perhaps surprising that Bodnant Garden has not entered the show at RHS Rosemoor for over 30 years. That changed during spring 2022 when newly appointed Head Gardener, Ned Lomax - who had himself joined the team from Glendurgan in Cornwall - and some of the garden team from Bodnant made the journey down to Devon.

Last year, the team did the garden proud and received three firsts, seven seconds, and nine third-place awards – but did not succeed in bringing the McLaren Cup home to Bodnant. However, discussions amongst the team quickly focused on planning for 2023, and the proof is in the pudding with the total tally this year of 15 firsts, 16 seconds and 14 thirds – including the McLaren Cup.

Ned Lomax, Head Gardener at Bodnant Garden, National Trust Cymru said;

“It was fantastic to represent the garden again this year, and there was real excitement to see the iconic name of Bodnant Garden back in the show tent at RHS Rosemoor. I would also like to say a huge thank you to everyone who grew, picked and packed the flowers that were taken to exhibit – this success is truly a team effort.”

Preparations began a couple of days in advance of the show to select, cut and package blooms, with the workshop at Bodnant filled with a vast array of flowers and scent. After careful packing, the precious cargo was driven down to the south-west.

Work began at 6am the next morning, as each bloom was displayed in the right vase, in the correct category and carefully presented for judging. Surrounded by competing garden teams, there was much bustle and excitement in the show marquee as the team patiently waited for the results.

After this year’s successes, the team are already looking forward to next year’s event and hope to continue building on the successes of the past two years and all the hard work of many generations that have helped lead to this point in the garden’s prestigious history.

To enjoy a wide variety of rhododendrons at Bodnant Garden, including some of the prize-winning varieties, the garden is open to visitors every day from 9.30am to 5pm with last entry at 4pm. Dogs are welcome every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday on short leads. All admission prices and details are available on the webpage;

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