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By Nigel Bunyan
12:01AM BST 17 Sep 2005
The head gardener of one of the National Trust’s most popular gardens was found drowned in a mill pond after wandering away from his home in a “bemused and confused” state.
Martin Puddle, 54, had followed his father and grand-father into the role at Bodnant Garden, Conwy, north Wales, where he worked for 23 years. Five years ago readers of The Daily Telegraph voted Bodnant Britain’s favourite garden.
Yesterday an inquest in Llandudno heard that discontent among some of Mr Puddle’s staff – he had 18 full-time and up to 60 temporary workers – had left him depressed. He had been prescribed anti-depressants and was due to see a specialist.
His widow, Sandra, a mother of three, told the hearing that, despite his depression, he had enjoyed “a particularly happy day” on the eve of his death. They had spent much of it relaxing in their private garden on the Bodnant estate and Mr Puddle was looking forward to one of his sons, an actor, staging a play in the grounds.
Mrs Puddle said that when she awoke next day, June 2, her husband was not in bed. She thought he had gone for one of his walks around the 135 acres of gardens but he failed to return for breakfast.
She feared he had wandered off in “a confused state” and contacted his assistant. Shortly afterwards she was told that her husband, a non-swimmer, had been found face down at the bottom of a 7ft-deep pond.
Mrs Puddle said that her husband had encountered a problem “with some members” of his staff.
“Martin, a caring, thoughtful man, wanted to make sure that everything was done to help and to rectify any problems his staff might have. He had had letters that were trying to make out that he had done something wrong as the manager.”
John Evans, the coroner, recorded an open verdict.
After Mr Puddle’s death the National Trust suspended three employees over undisclosed “staffing issues”.