Monday, 6 August 2007

National Botanic Garden of Wales

Today we visited the National Botanic Garden of Wales which is one of our favourite days out. Just 40 minutes drive for us in the Preselis takes us to the garden which lies off the A48 between Carmarthen and Cross Hands.
The garden has been open since May 2000 and initially opened to great acclaim. I was fortunate to be taken for a birthday treat on a guided tour the year before the gardens opened. After that we fell into the habit of visiting at the end of August every year. But then something went wrong. One birthday - August Bank Holiday - we visited and it was a sad place. Lots of people were there, but they were trailing dispiritedly about. Around the Great Glasshouse people were sitting around as if miserably waiting for the last bus. It looked run down, neglected and depressed, like a supermarket with a closing down sale. Funds were short, our local newspaper reported, and it warned that the botanic garden could close unless a rescue package could be found. Monty Don mentioned the garden on Gardener's World and urged people to support it and help save it. So we did! Support it, that is, I can't claim to have saved it, that role belongs to some unknown genius or geniuses who worked out what needed to be done to save the place and did it.
The next time we visited the garden it had been rejuvenated. The plants were perky again, the rubbish had been cleared. The glasshouse was sparkling. The restaurant had an entirely different style of menu - lots of filling, healthy food. The shop had stopped selling tat, the amazing double walled garden had been designed and planted, and quite beautifully planted at that. That was two years ago and since then the place has - excuse the pun - blossomed and we love it.

There are rolling acres of mown grass to run about in, three huge lakes with ducks, glorious borders, wild flower meadows, dipping ponds, a rill leading from the Great Glasshouse to the circle of decision, the amazing double-walled garden, a new tropical house, woodland, farmland (all organic), a great children's play area... I could go on!

There is a very relaxed, laid back air to the garden. The welcome is warm. Today we were met as we walked from the entrance, up the hill following the rill to the glasshouse, by the land train and its jovial driver. His carriages were empty so he stopped and offered us a lift. In we got and were taken along past the lakes and on up to the Great Glasshouse. We love the glasshouse, especially now the plants have filled up all the gaps. It is divided into different zones, so one minute you might be in the Mediterranean, the next in Australia. The planting is imaginative. You sit down for coffee amongst the olive trees, then you cross bridges (there is a valley with a waterfall and pool in the middle of the glasshouse) and have to duck under deliciously fragrant blooms. Often we find ourselves following our noses, chasing the scent of one of the flowers. These pictures (above and below) show the Wallace Garden in front of Principality House. This garden's curving pathways reflect the shape of DNA and the planting shows the history of plant breeding and genetics. It has food crops and garden plants and this year the display of dahlias is breathtaking.

Across from the Wallace Garden is the Stable Block (above) which now houses the shop, ice cream booth (selling Mary's Farmhouse ice cream, made in the Preseli Hills), restaurant and gallery. When we first visited the garden in 1999 before it opened, this was being used as council flats. It was dilapidated and ugly. Not any more. The play park is off to the right, with willow tunnels and mazes, and a plethora of wooden play equipment - wobbly bridges, balancing poles, tunnels and a funky wooden xylophone.

The walled garden (above) has been divided into four quadrants. Three use plants to explain the evolution of flowering plants and the fourth is a kitchen garden. The brand new tropical glasshouse (seen in the background) has orchids, bromeliads, bananas and other varieties which will no doubt adore its warm, moist environment.

This tree pansy was looking fantastic with the sun shining through its leaves.

This little knot garden is tucked into a gap by the auricula theatre (below) between the two walls of the garden. The box hedges have matured now and I think it looks lovely. The theatre (below) currently houses a gorgeous display of streptocarpus.

The garden also offers activities for children, including pond dipping at just £1 per child. You get a tray, a net and go off to the dipping ponds to catch wildlife which you then take back to the Aqualab and peer at under the microscope. It is totally absorbing and fascinating. We caught a water beetle, water fleas, tiny water nymphs and a pond skater which made a bid for freedom before we got back to the lab. Other activities included using materials found in the garden to make a raft to float a grape down the rill. A genius activity for children, all of whom find the rill completely fascinating. It's great for a game of Pooh sticks too, but the rill does disappear into the ground and out again a couple of times which can be a little challenging for the average stick!
It takes all day to see the various components of the garden and I still haven't been to the Japanese garden. That's one for next time.


  1. That is a beautiful place. If I'm in that area it is somewhere I'd would most like visit. Your photos are excellent. It just made me think of a certain Garden in my area which has had approximately £14 million spent on it and it looks nothing compared to yours. Plus this Garden has a shop which is extortionate. I've only been once and will not be returning.

    Thanks for sharing your lovely day with us. Crystal xx

  2. Super pictures, and you have done your bit by blogging about it cos no doubt lots of people will visit now. I very much enjoy those kind of days out, and its very disappointing when you turn up and its all run down. Glad they've turned it around.

  3. looks fabulous. seems strange that it is easier to get to from parts of englnad than from our part of Wales! still must make it down there as it really does look beautiful and deserves support and your lovely blog.

  4. WOW Mags! That looks just beautiful - what stunning photos - just the sort of place I like to visit. I can't think of anywhere like that in the east of England, there may be somewhere, I just haven't found it yet. Sounds glorious for the children. How great that it all got turned around.

  5. Great pictures and thank yo for taking me there so well, and if and when I am in Wales I will visit.

  6. Oh how wonderful that it was saved. Beautiful garden, gorgeous pictures - especially liked the Pansy tree. Yes Faith is right you have now more than doen your bit by blogging about it and putting up the amazing pictures.

  7. Looks amazing - why oh why didn't I force Dear Charlie and the Boys to stop there last week! Probably because we'd just been to Aberglasney - that's pretty amazing. The Boy loved the indoor orchid house which you enter through a door in the Hall. He said it was just like Narnia!
    Well I'll just have to bumble along the next time I'm down. Perhaps could get Dear Charlie to take me back for the weekend....

  8. What a lovely day you must have had. The dahlias look gorgeous - I love a garden full of every kind of dahlia! You're lucky to have such a beautiful garden so close by.

  9. Just gorgeous, I love an auricula theatre!
    Could there be a hint in these comments about Alnwick Castle garden, which I'm sorry to say I feel the same about. Your national garden looks fabulous, when we visit Wales (dying to go to Powis Castle garden) we must put it on our list.

  10. Divine.....i've always wanted to see an auricula theatre - find the plants so fascinating. Shall definitely put this on the list for the next time we venture over the Severn... Hmm, think Iknow the garden CJ is talking about and have to say yours does look more scrumptious...
    Hope all the family are well now (reading your earlier blog)...loved that pic on the one before too. jxxx

  11. I still haven't been - always seem to be driving past - but your photos and brilliant description prove that it's time to visit. Glad the place is flourishing again.

  12. Hi again! It's a date... I'll look for the giant bag of popcorn and you listen for the rattling of a pick n mix bag!


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