Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Garden Visit: National Botanic Garden of Wales

If you were watching The One Show last Thursday, you may have spotted Gyles Brandreth and Cerys Matthews reporting from the National Botanic Garden of Wales, near Carmarthen. As we were also there a couple of weeks ago, I thought today is a good time to show it off some more :)

After walking through a tree-lined path from the garden's entrance, you'll find the above fountain and a wonderful winding rill inviting you to take the walk up the hill towards the world's largest single-span glasshouse aka The Great Glasshouse. We arrived just before 11am and found there was a guided tour about to start, so naturally that's where we headed first.

Stepping into the glasshouse is a jaw dropping moment. Even NAH was impressed! As it was a hot, sunny day there was lots of sound as the glasshouse windows were opening automatically to control the temperature. This glasshouse specialises in Mediterranean climate plants and as you can see from the various coloured kangaroo paws to the left of this picture, I've taken it from the Australian area.

Everywhere there was masses of colour, but the thing which impressed us most was the smell. One sniff and I was instantly back in Mallorca. NAH also remarked on how the smell changed as we roamed from Australia, into Chile, over to South Africa and then on to the Mediterranean region itself. Each region's flora was distinctive in both character and aroma.

After our tour, we lunched at the glasshouse cafe. This is the place to choose for a decent cup of coffee and a light bite to eat. Other cafes in the garden offer a wider range of meals, but not such good coffee (tea drinkers can safely partake anywhere). We received this charming visitor, who proceeded to pick up our crumbs (and NAH's sly offerings!). The sparrows living in the glasshouse are being researched by the University of Aberystwyth to see if the change in their usual diet, results in them adapting genetically to the different environment. As they can also fly outside when the vents are open, I'm wondering how much this will affect their results.

As well as our touch of the Mediterranean,  the glasshouse was also home to an interesting temporary exhibition on fungi (From Another Kingdom - available until the end of February 2014), courtesy of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. The time lapse photography of rotting bread and vegetation was an eye-opener! There were other good temporary exhibitions elsewhere: a selection of prints from the International Garden Photographer of the Year and a look at garden makers based in Wales, both contemporary and historical.

After the glasshouse, I was concerned we may have seen the garden's major highlight first. I needn't have worried, as there are a number of other innovative and interesting sections to the garden. This is a view of the Wallace Garden, which looks at the role of genetics in the plant world. The beds are arranged in a double helix; the wigwams you can see in the picture are for the peas illustrating Mendel's original work and hostas are used to illustrate how genetic mutation gives rise to different varieties.

There is a massive double walled garden, a quarter of which is used for its original purpose as a kitchen garden. The rest is used to show the 'family' history and development of flowering plants, with each bed illustrating a 'branch' of the family tree. It also houses the tropical greenhouse towards the back of the photo, which gives you an idea of how vast this particular walled garden is.

Here's a view from (and including) The Apothecaries Garden. This garden looks at medicinal plants and includes a section on those of particular value to Wales. The line of trees you can see leads to the inner wall of the walled garden to the right (out of shot) and you can see the outer wall behind them. You can also see that the roof of the glasshouse sits above quite a substantial mound.

Tracing the rill back down the hill, there's a vast border on one side which is next to the walled garden. On the other is one of my favourite sections of the garden: the Rock of Ages exhibit. This traces the geological succession of rocks in Wales and so millions of years of time can be travelled in just a few yards. The interpretation board by each rock  type also tells the story of the pioneer lichens and mosses which colonise these rocks first to kick-start the vegetation succession. Many of the rocks also have some of the lichens and mosses mentioned growing on them.

On our way out we took a slight detour to walk by the ponds towards the bottom of the site (there are hundreds of acres to explore, so we couldn't see everything of this area!). On our way down, I was admiring the meadows, contrasting them with the little pictorial meadow which was in the middle of the Wallace Garden. On closer inspection, I realised that at least part of the area wasn't a wild meadow at all, but a 'wild garden' instead, where cultivated plants had been blended in with native vegetation. The pink flower on the right is a peony!

Both NAH and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the National Botanic Garden of Wales. I think it's a fine place for learning, with some truly innovative exhibits. It's surprisingly mature for such a 'young' garden and well worth a visit. NB It's included in the Gardeners' World 2 for 1 entry scheme this year and if you visit before the end of September, your ticket allows you to return as often as you want for the next seven days. That's a great offer - we didn't manage to see everything in one day!


  1. You've whet our appetite, we really must visit this place soon!

    1. It's been great to report this garden is in good health and thriving. It was under threat of potential closure a while ago, so I hope this post will encourage more people to visit.

      I think you'd love it there guys!

  2. Great blog on this garden, VP. I missed the TV prog but this garden visit isn't one that I missed ;-)

    We visited back in July 2010 and I was well impressed, but at the same time a tad disappointed it was so quiet of visitors. I hope numbers have increased since and I have absolutely no doubt in recommending it as one of the top garden visits in the UK. They are working their socks of there in making it a great place to visit to suit plant enthusiasts, new gardeners, tourists, children and wildlife enthusiasts and set in such a historic setting is a huge bonus too. Lol... it took me until the dreary February days back in 2012 before I sorted my many photos into a video for a blog post.

    Wishing you many more enjoyable garden visits in 2013 - I'll enjoy yours from afar until I can get out myself :-)

    1. Hi Shirl - it was a quiet day when we were there too, but it was a week day and outside the school holidays. Mind you, it's such a big place there could be more people there than you think!

  3. It is a wonderful garden, we have been there a few times and found something different to enjoy each time, as you say, you can't see everything in one visit, so glad you enjoyed it.

    1. I've been wanting to visit for a very long time and I'm so pleased that at last, a holiday took right past its 'front door' :)

  4. Great to read such a positive review VP. From your photos the garden looks as if it is knitting together well. Must get there one of these days.

    1. Anna, it's well worth taking your campervan to the area. There's Aberglasney nearby and a wonderful looking garden near Swansea too. Ceredigion was a fab area for beaches and coastal walking too and quite uncrowded when we were there :)

  5. It looks wonderful VP, makes me itch to visit, though given my current obsession with the patio in our back garden I kept being drawn in by the different hard landscaping! I love that winding rill.

    1. There's lots there to inspire your new garden Janet :)


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