Friday 28 February 2020

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A WORD WITH: The Head Gardener

Robert Owen, Head Gardener at Bodysgallen Hall, answers our questions

How long have you been here?
I have worked here at Bodysgallen continuously for 29 years - at first, helping out in the vegetable and house garden. Before that I worked on a farm,where I helped out in the kitchen garden when my work-load permitted. I have a team of two full-time gardeners and one part-time, and together we look after the estate of over 200 acres.

What are the biggest changes you’ve made at Bodysgallen?
We’ve brought colour to the framework of the gardens by planting good quality shrubs and trees which suit the environment here. We’ve also planted specimen trees.

Mountains mean rain, which holidaymakers see as bad news - as a gardener, do you?
Rain helps the grass stay green in the summer – and the grass is a perfect foil for the colourful shrubs, trees and flowers.

What’s the hardest plant to grow here – and how do you succeed?
The hardest are acid-loving plants, because we’re on a lime bedrock here - so we have to grow them plants in containers, with soil to suit.

What’s the easiest?
Centranthus (Valerian) – it loves our walls. From May to June they give a wonderful show of flowers, in shades of pink and white.

Your roses are famous – can you give us a few good tips?
Grow them in beds with plenty of manure. And watch out for greenfly - they can ruin the flowers in a couple of days, putting all your hard work to waste.

Are the herbs in Bodysgallen’s famous parterre used for the restaurant? And do you grow vegetables for the hotel in the gardens?
The herbs in the parterre are not used for the restaurant: the chefs have their own herb garden. We do grow lots of fruit and vegetables for the hotel in the gardens - including leeks, as we're in Wales! We have plenty of apples, pears, figs, plums, mulberry and soft fruit. We also grow artichokes, and cut flowers for the bedrooms and restaurants.

The grounds overall look wonderfully well-maintained and presented; and that must be very hard work – what’s the biggest challenge?
An early start in Spring helps us keep on top of the weeds, but we’re always in the lap of the gods with the weather here – so this is probably our biggest challenge. Our box hedges, which line the paths and bring structure to the parterre and the rose garden, are all cut by hand. The walled gardens create a micro-climate at Bodysgallen, sheltering the gardens from wind and retaining the heat of the sun, and thus protecting tender shoots. We’re about three weeks ahead of gardens in somewhere like Llangollen.

Wouldn’t you rather stay somewhere really special?

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The oldest part of this hotel dates from the 13th Century and was originally a watchtower for nearby Conwy Castle.