National Botanic Garden of Wales – Part 2

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.


14 thoughts on “National Botanic Garden of Wales – Part 2

  1. I like the look of the glass house a lot. (The outside of the roof especially.) I too have horrid memories of the hot houses at Kew – liking the drama of the plants but being completely overwhelmed by the humidity and having to go out. (And I always get grumpy if I get too hot so it wasn’t good!) Indeed everything looks lovely here . . . except the concrete gash of an entrance. I’m also surprised by the unimaginative regularity of the stones in the water fall. Maybe in real life they are ok.

    Tha’ts a splendid metal bull.

    You’ve certainly described all this in a way that entices one to visit.


    • Hi Esther, Thanks for your kind words. The dome is rather splendid – and tilted rather cleverly to maximise its exposure to sunlight – although indeed the entrances did somewhat resemble those of a bunker!
      I don’t actively dislike the hothouses at Kew, they are rather fantastic, lush and exotic, and the heat I find bearable for the duration of a visit… but I don’t feel any real connection with the plants there, whereas walking around the Great Glasshouse at NBGW was very pleasurable and somehow more relevant to me. It is heated (when required) by a biomass furnace, which prevents the temperature from falling below a mild 9 degrees C – I could live in there quite comfortably!


  2. Reading this review makes me realise how lucky I am as I’m a volunenteer at the Gardens where I drive a visitors buggy and show the film every thursday.I go in early whenever I can to see all the wonderful sights throughout the year (and nobody around !) This should make you feel quite envious!!!!!

    • Wow – I am hugely envious! What an amazing place to work in. We commented while we were there how fantastic it would be to live in the immediate area and have that as part of your local environment and view. If we lived a little closer and could give up the day jobs then it would be a wonderful place to volunteer/work…

  3. Wonderful! I can’t wait to get our van back and visit, though realistically this will probably not happen until next Spring. The glasshouse looks amazing, and I love the idea of the “Woods of the World” project, so that you can see the diversity of trees that love in similar habitats across the globe. I also really love the windswept grasses – and the bull, of course! Thank you for sharing your trip with us, it’s one of the best of its kind I’ve come across, they should give you free entry to see the snowdrops!

    (Maybe you cold put a load of your other photos from the trip in a gallery of some kind and post a link to it?!)

    • Thanks Janet. I want to be back there now! I really enjoyed writing up my visit, it made me feel as though I was walking around again. I’m actually rather speechless that they’ve just put a link to my post on the front page of the website for the gardens. Suddenly my traffic has leapt up somewhat – that’s rather a vote of confidence, I feel quite proud!
      I have put up a bigger collection of photos on my flickr account: and I may pop a few more in there over the weekend when I have a chance to sort out some more of them.
      Sara x

  4. You obviously had a wonderful photo opportunity — and made the most of it! The glasshouse dome thing reminds me of the Eden Project in Cornwall. Have you been there too? The Cow sculpture is amazing — it looks like a giant Airfix kit!

    • Hi, Yes the dome immediately reminded me of the Eden Project one, although I’ve never yet seen it in the flesh – but it’s on my “hitlist” next time we go to Cornwall… perhaps next year? The cow sculpture was very well done…

  5. Thanks for sharing. I am staying in the Gower over Christmas and am determined to visit the gardens to go to the dome as I didnt think there would be much else to see in December. But your post makes me think that there might be so much more than the dome to see

    • Oh that sounds lovely – there are the beautiful beaches out that way of course, which should be wonderfully dramatic in winter, and I imagine that there will indeed be more to see at the gardens than just the dome – the landscape is so varied there, even if the more formal gardens are mostly “resting”, just walking around the lake and the woods should be very peaceful… I look forward to reading about your visit in the New Year! Sara

  6. Pingback: National Botanic Garden of Wales – Part 1 « Hillwards

  7. Reading these blogs I feel I must add my thoughts. I have worked in the gardens for a number of years now and it was quite emotional to return after a years absence although in that time I did a little volunteering there. There is another garden nearby which I have always loved but after visiting it last week and then coming into work a day or so later I realised that NBGW is so very special, I know where I would rather work. I am very lucky to contribute in my own small way to the visitor experience and know that the garden is appreciated by all ages. Children especially love the space and the unexpected pleasure they find around every corner. They are the gardeners of the future and I feel that they get the ‘grounding’ (pun intended!! for further exploration into the fascinating world of nature. Of course there is also the National Nature Reserve. I could go on about the pleasures that await but I think the first blog does it so much justice there is no need other than to say come and see for yourself and look our conservation and research information up – it’s fascinating.

    • Hi, Thank you for adding your thoughts, it must be amazing to be part of such a lovely place. Having discovered the gardens and been so moved, we certainly intend to visit again, and to learn more about all the work being undertaken there. Lovely to hear from somebody who’s involved in the garden (and I hope I didn’t misrepresent any part, or leave too much out – besides for others to discover for themselves). I’m sure there’s much more for us to find there on future visits too, especially as the seasons change and the garden continues to mature.

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