Bodnant pool renovation completed

Gardeners have completed a renovation project, transforming a historic Victorian poolside at Bodnant Garden into an "exotic paradise".

The Bath, at the National Trust Wales site near Conwy, has been given a new lease of life as a home for tropical plants.

The garden team introduced goldfish back into the ornamental pond this week.

Bodnant Garden general manager William Greenwood said: "There used to be fish in the pool many years ago and it will be the finishing touch to see them back, darting and glinting in the water, completing this wonderful garden transformation. We hope visitors young and old will come along and help us celebrate the unveiling of this new area which looks absolutely stunning right now in all its late summer glory."

The oval, terracotta-tiled pool lies just below the Front Lawn of Bodnant Hall, tucked away behind high sheltering walls and hedges. Gardeners have replaced ageing, shrubby planting with a tropical scheme of lush foliage and brightly coloured flowers which can take advantage of this sheltered microclimate. It's the finale of two years of renovation in this area of the garden, which was damaged in winter storms of recent years.

The Bath was created by Henry Pochin, who founded Bodnant Garden when he bought the hillside estate in 1874. Pochin laid out his upper East Garden in formal, Victorian style, with lawns intersected by paths, stone steps and balustrades and a terrace linking the house to the garden. As part of his grand design, water was channelled from the top of the garden into the Bath and via a stream leading down through The Rockery to The Dell in the valley garden.

Pochin’s grandson Henry McLaren added the encircling walls of the Bath in the early 1900s when he built the nearby Italianate terraces. Archive photographs recently discovered at the garden show the poolside beds at that time included exotic plants such as yucca and cacti.

At one time called the Bathing Pool, it’s thought that the donor family used to take dips here. Over the years the area has also been known as the Goldfish Pond and was home to Koi Carp, but today the only bathers there are water lilies.

In recent years there have been ideas to refresh the poolside planting, which was predominantly mature shrubs, including rhododendrons. Storms of Christmas 2013 gave the revamp a new impetus when a large 200-year-old oak tree came down, damaging walls and ripping up beds. In New Year 2014 arborists began removing the felled oak so that gardeners could start repairing beds. 

Horticulture students working and studying at Bodnant Garden were given the opportunity to develop a new planting scheme for the nearby Vanessa Beds (named after many special Bodnant-bred hybrid Rhododendron ‘Vanessa’ once planted there). In 2015 the beds were replanted and a new section of lawn laid where the oak once stood.

This spring work began on the Bath area itself. Walls have been repaired, old plants have been removed, soil improved and a new scheme was planted. Most dramatically, a tall Osmanthus hedge which hid the Bath from the upper lawns has been removed, giving visitors a new vista down into the garden. Following frequent requests from visitors goldfish will be returned to the pool, completing the renovation.

Garden supervisor Bill Warrell who led the project, said: "We came up with the idea of turning the Bath into a miniature exotic paradise, filled with lush foliage and brightly coloured flowers. We wanted to create something fun and colourful that was a little different to the rest of the garden, also reflecting the Bath’s history. I love bright colours and bold foliage and the Bath’s sheltered microclimate offered us an ideal opportunity for a little experimentation.

"Tree ferns, bamboo, bananas, dahlias and cannas are just some of the many plants we’ve used, with the scheme planned to be at its best from July until the first frosts, peaking in September. We’re really pleased with the results – and hope visitors will be too."

William Greenwood said: "This summer families have loved pond dipping events at our lakeside, hunting for water bugs and beasties. This final Wednesday of the holidays will be a special pond day when visitors can join the garden team putting goldfish back into the Bath after many decades. It’s a historic moment – also an exotic new start for this area. Gardeners will be wearing Hawaiian shirts in the spirit of the occasion so why not join them?"

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