A Botanical Wonder in Wales
Being just a two-hour drive from Westonbirt we were surprised we hadn’t made the trip before, but better late than never!
Passing through the friendly visitor gatehouse, we spotted a shuttle buggy ferrying visitors to the main parts of the garden. The reason for this quickly became clear as we set off and realised that the site was predominantly laid out on a hill. Never ones to shy away from a good hike, we advanced on foot ready to explore.
Up the main path, the Broadwalk had a wonderful rill (small stream) winding its way alongside us, occasionally disappearing before reappearing on the other side of the path. We thought this was a brilliant way of diverting people's attention from walking up the incline!
At the head of the path was the real crowning glory of the gardens, the Great Glasshouse. This impressive domed-structure is the largest single span glasshouse in the world, housing the Northern Hemisphere's biggest collection of Mediterranean plants. Brilliantly laid out and featuring steep-sided ravines and cliffs we wandered through the various areas, each showcasing the plant life of a different country with a Mediterranean climate.
Being tree people, it was wonderful to learn more about flowering plant species, and we were astounded to learn that despite these Mediterranean regions covering less than 2 per cent of the earth, they host more than 20 per cent of all flowering plant species!
Although fantastic to experience the more exotic species, our favourite planting appeared in the native areas, with intricate slate beds playing host to numerous endemic Welsh species. This superb planting sat beautifully within the rolling Carmarthenshire countryside.
The gardens were first created in the early 1600s
The gardens help to conserve plants, fungi and habitats
You can visit the world's largest single-span glasshouse
Halfway through our visit the heavens opened, but we’d timed it perfectly and managed to escape the rain by ducking into the butterfly house. This was perhaps the favourite part of our visit and we could have stayed there for hours. With a beautiful array of amazing moths and butterflies, the more time we spent there the more we spotted! There were species from around the tropical world, including large vibrant blue butterflies and even some with delicate see-through wings.
Throughout the site, signage informed us about the garden’s heritage, with the original estate dating back to the 1600s where the Middleton family aptly gained their fortune trading in exotic plants. With various changes over the years, it became the National Botanic Garden of Wales in 2000, but you can still glimpse its regency past in the picturesque surrounding parkland.
There was so much more to see, but sadly we just didn’t have time to do it all justice! We’ll certainly be back to venture off the main paths and visit Pont Felin Gât where there’s a woodland valley and waterfall, after which I’m sure we’ll be back for a big slice of cake in one of the garden’s cafés.