We resumed our exploration of these wonderful gardens after fortifying ourselves with a good lunch in the restaurant, which serves everything from cold baguettes and sandwiches to hot home cooked stews with fresh vegetables. From the courtyard, a series of arches frame a glimpse of the yellow-painted conference centre beyond, which is not open to the public.
Before turning in this direction, however, we had a quick look around the art gallery and then climbed up to the Apothecaries Garden and Welsh Rare Plants collection. These are located up behind the Theatre Botanica, which had scheduled showings of a twenty minute immersive film, “The Planet of Plants”, which we didn’t catch.
From here we had a wonderful view down onto the glass dome of the Great Glasshouse and the avenue of young white birches that we had walked along earlier. The young trees are still striking from this viewpoint.
We explored these collections which slope back down to the cobbled courtyard, where we made our way along past the Conference centre, the nursery glasshouses and biomass boiler, to follow the Welsh Country Walk which meanders across a managed meadow with stunning views of the surrounding Welsh hills, before looping back through a strip of woodland.
The floor was deep with rustling autumn leaves begging to be kicked into the crisp air, and a stream wound its way through the trees beside us.
We emerged back at the edge of some further gardens on the slopes beside the Great Glasshouse; one of which is the site of much of the innovative DNA research being undertaken here. We stopped briefly to admire a few windswept grasses and a cotinus whose remaining red leaves glowed in the sun – catching the eye from some distance away.
Then we finally made our way into this wonderful structure that had been dominating the skyline all day: the largest single span glasshouse in the world.
Within the glasshouse are zoned collections from six different regions that share similar climates: California, Australia, the Canary Islands, Chile, South Africa, the Mediterranean Basin.
The landscaping varies as you wander between these “regions”, with different levels and slopes carefully applied. In several places water cascades down a sheer rock face from one level, into a large pool below.
In the clear waters of the pool, dozens of fish swim along beside the lower footpath.
The plantings throughout this glasshouse are amazing: I would go so far as to say the best collection I have ever seen under glass.
I was particularly taken with the shapes of the ‘kangaroo paw’ plant in the Australia collection,
and the cheerful faces of acroclinium roseum that grew nearby.
Planted en masse they create a colourful vista.
Bottlebrush plants grow in all shapes and sizes, with their “brushes” bursting with different shades of red, alongside many other members of the Myrtaceae family. I have two small Callistemon plants in our greenhouse, taken as cuttings from my parents’ bush. I hope that they grow to have such beautiful flowers as this.
Eucalyptus trees span the height of the glasshouse from the lower pool to the upper paths and on up to the ceiling, the smooth pale bark peeling beautifully just out of reach.
In my opinion, this glasshouse far surpasses any other that I have visited, even those at Kew and Wisley. I think that it is because the plants seem more accessible to me somehow, all viable in our climate (with suitable protection ). While I greatly admire the collections in those hot humid displays, I am just not so moved by towering banana palms, and the fantastical forms of other exotics in their tropical environment than I am by the simple white and purple flowers of an unusual cytisus.
The planting intelligently mixes architectural plants with more freeflowing specimens; there are masses of mediterranean heathers and lavender and other flowers in bloom, gently spicing the air with their fragrance.
It is so hard not to bore you with all the hundreds of pictures that I took, but in the interests of everyone I shall leave the glasshouse here (after urging you to visit if you can).
We exited the glasshouse by its north entrance and made our way to the northernmost boundary of the plot, where a dead tree forms a natural sculpture against the backdrop of the Carmarthenshire hills beyond.
As we took the path to lead us along the Wild Garden, we were met by a rather more carefully crafted sculpture – reflecting the herd of Welsh Black cattle who graze in the outlying fields beyond.
These gardens must be stunning in spring and summer – I really look forward to coming back and seeing them in their glory. For now they form a sea of stems in tawny shades of brown, black and gold that shimmer in the wind. From here the path crosses over the lake amid several clumps of bright yellow and red salix stems. The still waters of the lake tumble down a weir to flow beneath the bridge, while the path continues down the eastern shore of the lakes.
From this side, there is a rather wonderful view of the slate beds on the opposite shore that slope down from the glasshouse – you can see this view in the top picture of my first post.
Along this shore of the garden lake a new project is in progress – Woods of The World. A young collection of trees is taking shape, as found across the world in places with similar climates to Wales, such as Tasmania and parts of China. There are also some rather wonderful older native trees at the shoreline.
The lower branch on this tree is just crying out for a rope swing across the water…
From here we finally followed the path along the water’s edge back to our starting point at the end of the Broadwalk.
These gardens are utterly amazing, and I cannot urge you strongly enough to visit them should the opportunity present itself. I cannot wait to go back in the spring and see the changes – the green tips of snowdrops were already peeking their noses up from the soil last weekend.
To read more about the gardens and the important work that they are doing for diversity, conservation and DNA research, you can follow this link.