A major new gardens festival has been launched to attract green fingered tourists to North Wales and tap into a £5 billion market.

The gardens, which are the jewels in the crowns of Anglesey, Conwy, Gwynedd, Powys and Wrexham have thrown open their gates to thousands of visitors during the first ever Festival of Gardens North Wales.

A packed programme of events, ranging from behind the scenes guided tours and gardening workshops to a visit by a vintage steam train is being staged at various gardens as the festival unfolds.

With more than 20 million gardeners in Britain, the drive to bring the growing garden army to the region is being mounted by North Wales Tourism who believe the festival has huge potential.

The horticultural market is worth £5 billion annually – more than UK people spend on chocolate.

The festival was officially opened at the beautiful Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens in Anglesey by celebrity gardener and broadcaster Roy Lancaster CBE VNH.

North Wales Tourism managing director Jim Jones said: “North Wales has some of the most stunning gardens in the UK and this event is all about bringing them together and showing them off to as many people as possible.”

More than 100 unique events are planned over the festival at gardens taking part include musical concerts, historical re-enactments, gardening lectures, photographic workshops, art and sculpture exhibitions, children’s trails, garden inspired poetry and prose, plant sales and prize competitions.

The festival dates have been arranged to coincide with late-spring flowering displays, which will include rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, tulips and flowering cherries, making this one of the best times of the year to visit the great gardens of North Wales.

Mr Jones added: “North Wales has some of the most stunning gardens in the whole of the UK, run by a diverse range of organisations including the National Trust and a variety of private owners, with whom we have been collaborating closely to organise this very special event.

“Our aim with the festival, which is the largest and a most ambitious of its kind ever seen in the region, is to bring them all together under the banner of North Wales.

“The festival has been extensively marketed and we expect to attract thousands of visitors not just from around the gardens but also from a much wider area including other parts of Wales as well as the North West and Midlands of England.

“We have an exciting, fascinating and entertaining programme of events and activities lined up, which means that every morning, afternoon and evening there will be at least one special event happening in one or more of the gardens.”

Co-ordinating the festival is North Wales based gardens expert Tony Russell, renowned as one of Britain’s leading experts on trees and shrubs who also makes regular appearances on the BBC’s Gardener’s Question Time and famously put the Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire on the international tourism map.

He said: “I do lots of work encouraging people to visit gardens across the UK and find that although lots of people are familiar with those in places like Cornwall or Kent, they don’t know too much about the ones in North Wales.

“They know about the region’s other attractions such as castles, steam railways, mountains and coastlines but not our gardens, which are some of the finest in the UK.

“With the festival our aim is to wave the flag for North Wales’s fantastic gardens.

“The thing about the gardens we are featuring is that they are all set in such a great landscape and because of the conditions we enjoy they contain varieties plants that can’t be found in lots of other areas of the UK.

“We’re blessed with the three things that make the difference – plenty of moisture due to the closeness of the coast, mild winters and acid soil.

“That means plants such as agapanthus, magnolias and camellias, which usually grow up in more exotic parts of the world like South Africa, flourish in North Wales.

“Gardens are also big business now, with 30 million day visits being made to gardens across the UK every year. And of the 30 million overseas visitors coming to Britain annually 11 million visit a garden.”

Delighted to be taking part in the festival is Anthony Tavernor, owner of Plas Cadnant in Menai Bridge, Angeley.

His famous walled garden took a severe battering from floods which hit the area last December, washing away a 200-year-old wall and rare plants.

Mr Tavernor, who has been restoring the gardens for 20 years, said: “The aim is to establish North Wales are a place to visit a range of beautiful gardens and to show people that we have some of the best in the UK because of our good growing conditions.”

Gardening legend Roy Lancaster, who opened the festival, said: “I’ve been visiting the gardens of North Wales for the past 60 years and they are definitely some of the most attractive in Britain.

“The festival is unique in North Wales and should therefore do very well, especially as it features so many wonderful gardens and will be offering a very wide range of attractions.

“Garden festivals generally are becoming extremely popular these days and I’m sure this one will help put North Wales even more firmly on the UK’s tourist map.”

Gardens taking part in the festival from the county of Gwynedd include Plas Brondanw at Penrhyndeudraeth, Crug Farm Plants near Caernarfon, Plas yn Rhiw in Pwllheli, Plan Tan y Blwch in Blaenau Ffestiniog, Caerau Uchaf Gardens in Bala, Portmeirion in Penrhyndeudraeth, Aber Arto Hall in Llanbedr, Penrhyn Castle in Llandegai and, via its website only, Nanharon in Pwllheli.

In the county of Anglesey are Plas Newydd in Llanfairpwll and Plas Cadnant in Menai Bridge.

Gardens from the county of Conwy involved are Bodnant at Tal y Cafn, Gwydir Castle at Llanrwst, the Welsh Mountain Zoo’s gardens in Colwyn Bay and the Conwy Valley Maze at Dolgarog.

In the county of Powys there’s Gregynog at Newtown, the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth, Powis Castle and The Dingle Garden near Welshpool.

Taking part from the county of Wrexham are Chirk Castle and National Trust Erddig.

For more information go to www.gardensnorthwales.co.uk/events