The Garden in Rainy Valley is speeding towards Autumn now. The air is full of mist and woodsmoke and the trees are definitely beginning to change colour.
We have begun to cut down the wild flower patch - its hard work, we managed about a third
of it today, finding that we don't really have the ideal tools to get
to grips with it despite having a scythe, a slasher and a pair of
love idea of botanic gardens and am unavoidably drawn to them. This
may be down to much of my childhood being spent at Kew picnicking with
my parents, or it may be that the geek in me desperately wants my
interest in gardens and all things botanical to blossom into
something oh so much more intellectual and academic, whatever the
root cause, the outcome is that I can rarely pass a botanic garden
I was happy to go off to revisit the National Botanic Garden of Wales
(NBG) earlier this summer, as I hadn’t been there for a number of
years and was keen to explore.
their paper Environmental
awareness, interests and motives of botanic gardens visitors:
Implications for interpretive practice1,
Packer and Karen
Hughes describe the purposes of botanic gardens as conservation
and education, but also acknowledge the huge role they play in
tourism. I wasn’t aware until I started reading around the subject
that “visiting gardens” is the 4th
most popular reason for tourists to visit the UK!
implication is that botanic gardens are as much a tourist attraction
as an educational resource, and NBG certainly felt as if tourism was
top of it’s list of purposes during my visit.
an undeniably beautiful place with a stunning setting deep in the
Carmarthanshire countryside. Carefully thought out with lovingly
restored old stone buildings, incredible views and surprises around
every corner NBG delivers pleasure in well, spade loads. As you
enter the garden through the gate house you are immediately swept
into a sea of options – what to do, where to go, what to see. I think you
have to see the garden as a range of different rooms one
after the other – it doesn't really quite run together as a whole,
and I don't think that matters as such and its a lovely wander as
you take in giant wicker sculptures, a pool full of shimmering metal
fish, restored walled gardens, pebble lined rills designed to echo
the nearby river Tywi, swathes of wildflowers, dry gardens, wet
gardens, Japanese inspired gardens, lakes and behind all that,
wonderful rolling meadows
where you could play all day. There are
all sorts of side exhibitions that would fascinate and inform
children, particularly the very young such as the bee garden where
you can watch honey bees at work, and the fungi exhibition in the
Great Glasshouse, a huge “of the hill, not on the hill” Frank
Lloyd Wright inspired glass structure that gives a space age feel to
for a day out, lovely, especially on a warm bright sunny day, and for
youngsters, yes it's educational, no doubt about it.
for people like me, who know a little and want to learn more, what
does NBG deliver beyond the “lovely day out”? My answer really
is not enough. I came home with planting ideas and lists of plants
to investigate, and wonderful images, but throughout the garden I
felt short changed on information. There just wasn't enough for me
to get my teeth into. Their wild flower display was wonderful and
filled me with awe when compared to my grassy awful year one attempt
here at home, but did they tell me what they had done to get to that
point? How long it had taken? Even what the individual plants were?
The Great Glasshouse showcases micro climates from round the
world showing plant diversity in threatened habitats. When this
exhibition was originally set up it was fascinating, but over the
years the facts around such rare threatened climates have become more
widely understood, and I would now enjoy more focus on our own
threatened landscapes and eco-systems, the importance of native
species, an exhibit about sustainability and food production in the
UK, and more, far more on the history of gardens and gardening and
the native flora and fauna of Wales.
acknowledge that lots more goes on beyond the day to day opening of
the garden, but most visitors will never be able to get there to
experience the range of specialist classes and courses on offer –
they need to access what they can on their occasional visits.
slight feeling of being unfulfilled by the visit is exacerbated by
the garden centre that doubles as an exit. It appears (forgive me
NBG if I am wrong) to be just a commercial garden centre. It doesn't
sell plants from the garden and the proceeds of anything you spend in
there doesn't seem to go to NBG.....what a missed opportunity!
I go back – of course, often. Should you go? absolutely. But it's
more a day out than a learning experience.