Sunday, February 1, 2009

Thriving? The National Botanic Garden of Wales

A trip to the Welsh Botanic Gardens ( First time I have been for years, and good to see how the whole place is settling down, trees are growing, shrubs spreading, the blocks of rock in the vaguely arty geological display on the central walk up are growing lichen – the whole place is slowly acquiring a respectable patina of age. More crucially after a series of crises (7 directors on 10 years), mostly caused by financial problems, the place seems on a more even keel. People are coming in greater numbers, making repeat visits, and generally the feeling is that this is a place worth coming to. Unlike almost any other bot garden in Europe that I know, this one is surrounded by countryside, much of which it owns – in fact the garden is in the middle of a 600 acre farmed nature reserve, so it is impossible to tell where the gardens end and the countryside begins.  This makes the place really special.

What was particularly wonderful was walking into the great glasshouse (the largest single span glasshouse in the world), and realising that I had supplied the very first accessions. Back in the late 1990s, when the garden was not even a building site, I sold Ivor Stokes, the garden’s first Director of Horticulture a vanfull of South African and Australian plants which I had been growing in the nursery I ran at the time. It was wonderful to see my ericas, banksias, dryandras, melaleuca and calothamnus all thriving, some of them enormous, and clearly having flowered in the last year. Its funny how quickly  it is possible to recognise something you grew yourself. These were plants I was making (a somewhat vain) attempt to market as perfect plants for the rash of conservatories which were then sprouting on houses across the land. West Australian flora in particular is incredibly rewarding to grow, and much easier than is often made out. Some ‘zonaldenial’ folks have even tried growing them outside in Cornwall.

This is a place well worth visiting, on its way to finally becoming an established part of Welsh life and, for outsiders, a part of a holiday in Wales. It deserves it.

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