Horticulture Week Custodian Award - Best gardens restoration/development project

Winner - The Bath, Bodnant Garden, National Trust

The Bath is an ornamental pool dating back to the Victorian period and it lies just below the formal front lawn of Bodnant Hall on the Bodnant Estate in North Wales. Tucked away behind high sheltering walls and hedges, it was created by Henry Pochin, who founded Bodnant Garden when he bought the estate in 1874 and laid out the upper garden in a formal Italianate style.

Archive photographs show that the poolside beds at that time included exotic plants such as yucca and cacti. It is thought that the donor family used to take dips here. In recent decades the area fell into disuse and the fish died out.

There were ideas to refresh the ageing planting, which was predominantly mature shrubs including rhododendrons. But the storms of Christmas 2013 gave the revamp a new impetus when an 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 the beds. Horticulture students working and studying at Bodnant Garden were given the opportunity to develop a new planting scheme for the nearby Vanessa beds and in 2015 these were replanted with a mixed scheme for year-round interest — and a new section of lawn was laid where the oak once stood.

In spring 2016, work began on the Bath area itself. Walls were repaired, old plants removed, soil improved and a new scheme planted — a tropical scheme to take advantage of the sheltered microclimate. Most dramatically, a tall Osmanthus hedge that hid the Bath from the upper lawns was removed, giving visitors a new vista down into the garden.

By 31 August, the Bath was ablaze with lush foliage and brightly coloured flowers — perfect for the grand unveiling. The garden team swapped their khaki uniform for Hawaiian shirts and visitors cheered them on as they released goldfish back into the pool. The event attracted crowds of onlookers and it was featured on the BBC, ITV and local news.

Garden supervisor Bill Warrell, who led the project, says: "We came up with the idea of turning the Bath into a miniature exotic paradise. Tree ferns, bamboo, bananas, dahlias and cannas are just some of the many plants that we’ve used, with the scheme planned to be at its best from July until the first frosts, peaking in September."

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