If an attraction has the word ‘botanic’ in it, there will usually be squees of delight from me, interest with a modicum of indifference from Mr VP and a whole day devoted to said attraction. The National Botanic Garden of Wales is no different and was a much-anticipated day out for both of us. Having heard about it on various TV programmes and had it recommended to us by lots of people, we knew it was somewhere we had to go. My last botanic garden was, I think, Benmore Botanic Garden (back in May 2007!) a majestic place nestled in a deep-sided valley in the far West of Scotland. Obviously, given my excitement about visiting this garden, I was well overdue a visit!
The National Botanic Garden of Wales is different to Benmore in many ways. Whilst Benmore was concerned very much with trees, shrubs and particularly old and interesting samples of flora, its Welsh counterpart is a real show-garden in the truest sense. Of course there are large open areas to explore, with plenty of trees, but it is not as dense or as rich as Benmore, which feels more like a garden than a museum. The Welsh garden is a sprawling estate, with a giant biome-like greenhouse and various themed areas to explore. It seemed to me to be a cross between the hugely popular outdoor museum The Eden Project and Benmore, but missing a little bit of the personality and thrill-inducing awe of either.
That’s not to say that it isn’t a splendid place to visit. Far from it. Once into the garden, one winds their way from the gatehouse up an enchanting, lightly-sloped path upon which a cobbled-bottom rill runs down, flowing in curliqueues from a pond up at the top to a water feature at the bottom. I love water features that are cleverly implemented and this one was undoubtedly a statement about water’s importance to the whole garden. Almost everywhere you go in the garden you will find ponds or water features, reinforcing the message that water is vital to life.
The first stop for most is, of course, the Great Glasshouse. It has entered the record books as the world’s largest single-span glasshouse and approaching it you do begin to notice how epically proportioned it is. From the moment you step inside, your senses are assaulted by the varietyof plants, the twittering of some of the birds who have made the glasshouse their home and the sheer size of it.
The glasshouse is divided up into six main sections, which each represent an area of the world; such as Australia, California, Chile and South Africa etc. Despite thinking it would be much warmer, like the biomes at the Eden Project, the great glasshouse maintains a fairly constant ambient temperature, with heating in winter to prevent it getting colder than 9ºC and computerised windows, which open and close as necessary.
Knowing what I do about plants, I already knew that most of our much-beloved garden favourites are naturalised from South Africa. But whilst this glasshouse enlightens those about just how much has been brought over, it does a stellar job of displaying plants that simply can’t be brought over or introduced. Such as this amazing King Protea. Each of these flowers is the size of a dinner plate and we were incredibly lucky to be around at the right time to see it open. Gosh, how wonderful would it be to have one of these growing in your garden?!
I want to call this plant below a sempervivum, but I’m not sure that it is. My mother had one this colour, I seem to recall, but hers wasn’t quite the size of this one! My only niggle with the gardens was that their signage wasn’t as rigorous as it could’ve been. Signs were either hidden by growing foliage or missing entirely and weren’t always directly next to the plants that they were supposedly naming. The addition of common names, even sporadically, rather than the purely Latinate names used, would have given people a better connection to the plants that they were seeing. Regardless of its name though, isn’t it spectacular? When a plant’s leaflets are tightly formed like this, you can see the Golden Ratio perfectly at work.
Speaking of golden ratios in action…
Ahhh, one of my favourite cut flowers: a gerbera! On anything else, I wouldn’t like this pink. But on a gerbera? I’m in love.
Bottle-brush plants! How can anyone walk past this and not smile at its largesse in size, colour and joy that it offers to anyone willing to look?
These unidentified pink flowers, below, had the most wonderful blue pollen, which when I put some on my finger, could have been used as eyeshadow, so pretty was the hue. Not only does it have pretty pollen, its size was immense. I think that’s what is most alien about these plants – it’s as if everyone who walks into the great glasshouse has shrunken in size. This plant was over ten feet tall and was so wide that I would struggle to get my arms around it. Yet it still retains its grace and delicacy.
Apparently, the strawberry below was one of the original wild cultivars which was hybridised to create the modern garden strawberry plant! I would love to see what its fruits look like once ripe.
Despite being out of the worst that the Welsh weather can throw at us, (on the day we went, driving rain…), a swift look out of the window reminds you that you are not in Chile or Australia or South Africa but are in the depths of rural Wales.
This is my kind of travelling! No need to be frisked at airport security, or spend days packing and unpacking and re-packing. Continents can be hopped in mere moments. Who needs an aeroplane?
A clever little signposting system was in place to remind people which area they were browsing. This lizard is based on the art of Indigenous Australians, whilst each area had stylised rocks and carvings depicting their nation’s own art.
It was nice to be able to say that I had grown some of these flowers in my own garden. The plant below, a Helichrysum bracteatum – or everlasting flower – is just what the name implies: a straw-textured flowerhead which, when cut, will last indefinitely. I grew white and pink variations and kept the flowerheads in a jar.
Whilst there were lots of plants that were easily recognisable, there were some that certainly were more alien than native! Isn’t the colouring on this plant odd? The pink is where the green should be or vice versa. Very odd.
Golden ratio in action again. Both Mr VP and I loved this bush, in the Californian section, for its perfectly fractal, geometric shape.
I do love aquilegias. This one is a particularly pretty salmon colour with such dainty yellow heads!
Another iris from another part of the glasshouse. This one is, if memory serves, from the South African section, whilst the one above was from the Californian. The Californian is much less showy than the South African. Both absolutely stunning though.
There is something very unnerving about calla lillies. I don’t know why, but plants with hoods are a little spooky. Some people believe that they are the plants of death and other hooded plants are also associated with death. Perhaps it’s to do with the grim reaper’s hooded figure? Who knows. I do think this lily is a bit spooky.
Outside the great glasshouse, it was hard to take a good photo as rains pelted us and winds were blowing gales around us. I did, however, manage to get a picture of this glorious tulip.
Escaping from the rain, Mr VP and I ran into the hot house. This place is a joy if you like orchids (particularly dendrobiums, of which they have many, rather than the usual phalenopsis!), calatheas and all things tropical. It’s not a huge hot house, by any means, but it was interesting. I saw a camphor tree and a banana tree with lots of proto-bananas first-hand. Not something usually seen in rural Wales!
This water sculpture marked both the beginning and the end of our tour through the gardens. I managed to come away from the place with only one plant (their shop is lovely and very tempting); a gift for my mother of a miniature azalea.
I did, of course, take photos using my trusty 35mm camera. I think these were on a cheapy Agfa, though they might’ve been on a Lomo 100.
One of my favourite places to be is around pelargoniums and geraniums. They are some of my favourite plants in the world and this not-so-little beauty was no exception. It is an epically-proportioned cedar-scented geranium. It smelled amazing. If it was up to me, I’d have a garden filled with these and I would make wonderful scented pouches to line drawers and scent wardrobes.
And a bit more colour to finish off with. All in all, we had a marvellous day and would highly recommend visiting if you’re ever in Carmarthenshire!