In spring 2017 gardeners took down the ropes to reveal an area of Bodnant Garden never before see by the public. Hundreds of visitors joined staff and volunteers at a grand open day for Furnace Wood and Meadow, a 20-acre woodland of native and exotic trees and a wildflower-rich grassland.
The woodland began life as a hillside dotted with native trees. This was transformed from the 1870s under owner Henry Pochin and his daughter Laura McLaren after him, who planted Douglas and Corsican Firs, Larch and Californian pines. They also established a shelter belt of birch, wild cherries and the purple, spreading, woodland Rhododendron ponticum. Laura’s son Henry went on to add many Asian rhododendrons and magnolias from the early 1900s, new plants brought back by plant hunting explorers.
It had taken ten years of work to rescue this beautiful and historic area from decay. What began as a battle against the plant disease Phytophthora provided gardeners with an opportunity to rejuvenate Bodnant’s historic collection of Asian shrubs and restore forgotten vistas. The most ambitious project has been the restoration of Penjerrick Walk, an avenue of rhododendrons in Furnace Wood which died out decades ago but has now been replanted, after cloning surviving plant material.
Bodnant Garden has undertaken several garden renovation projects since 2012; Furnace has been the biggest project to date. It has opened up another 20 acres of this 140-year-old Grade I listed garden, not just as a haven of horticulture but as as a home for wildlife; its wildness offers something of interest for gardeners, walkers, artists, lovers of nature, and it’s also a welcoming place for families where children can enjoy nature trails in the woods and meadows. The opening of Furnace Wood and Meadow generated an extra 25,000 visitors to Bodnant Garden in 2017.
Welsh naturalist Iolo Williams was guest of honour at the opening day, which was marked with a ceremonial log chain-sawing. So began a day of walks and talks, woodcrafts and daffodil planting; a spring day of celebration to crown a decade of teamwork by gardeners and volunteers.