The National Botanic Garden of Wales

Now that the lockdown restrictions have eased here in Wales, I’ve tentatively begun venturing a little further afield and the bank holiday weekend a couple of weeks ago seemed the perfect time to go on my first big day trip of 2021. My destination? The National Botanic Garden of Wales (Gardd Fotaneg Genedlaethol Cymru in Welsh).

The 560-acre botanic garden, which was opened in May 2000 to mark the millennium, is nestled in the heart of the picturesque Carmarthenshire countryside. It’s home to more than 8,000 types of plants, the largest greenhouse of its kind in the world, a variety of gardens and landscapes, a bird of prey centre and a series of walking trails.

Boulder garden beside Principality House

The garden is run as a charity and is situated on the site of the old Middleton Estate, a late 18th century estate famed for its water park that had since fallen into ruin – its Regency mansion, Middleton Hall, having burned to the ground in 1931.

Slate beds at the National Botanic Garden of Wales

We began our visit with a stroll along the garden’s boardwalk, which sits alongside one of the garden’s many lakes, and from there, we headed to the garden’s attractive slate beds (above).

The slate beds are a colourful mix of green plants and shrubs set amid a sea of blues and purples formed by the slate waste that’s used to mulch this part of the garden (apparently the slate not only looks good, but is great for keeping out slugs and snails).

Almost dried lake bed of Llyn Uchaf

From there, we strolled down to one of the nearby lakes, Llyn Uchaf, which was almost dry (above). While April was very dry here in south Wales, I hadn’t realised there had been so little rain that some of our lakes were almost empty.

We followed the path along the side of the lake and found ourselves watching a determined goose and her four goslings attempt to navigate what little water was left in the lake.

Bridge near the waterfall, The National Botanic Garden of Wales

At the end of the lake, we followed the signs to the waterfall, along a trail that took us through the Waun Las National Nature Reserve, a 150 hectare-site that’s accessible from the garden.

We ambled along the path across a huge meadow, admiring the views over the garden and the nearby countryside, until we came to some woods and a small river (above).

Waterfall at the National Botanic Garden of Wales

We carried on until we reached the waterfall, stopping first at a small bridge above it, where we caught a glimpse of the water trickling over it, and then continuing down the hill, where we turned off along a small path to get a better look at the waterfall from below.

While there wasn’t much water cascading over the bridge, the waterfall was a beautiful sight and I was glad we’d taken the detour to see it.

Lake near the old mill, National Botanic Garden of Wales

We continued to meander through the woods, admiring the bluebells that carpeted the hillsides and another of the garden’s lakes (above) near the old mill. Crossing the small bridge that spanned the far end of the lake, we continued our stroll through the woods and soon found ourselves in the garden’s fairy wood.

Toadstools and a wooden den in the fairy wood

The fairy wood is home to lots of brightly painted toadstools and the odd fairy postbox (above). It was entertaining looking out for the many toadstools and postboxes dotted around the woods and they captivated the small children ahead of us who got very excited each time they found a new set.

By now it was early afternoon and feeling peckish, we made our way to the café near the garden’s Principality House. The restaurant, which sold sandwiches, cakes and hot meals such as burgers, had an outdoor seating area (as the indoor dining area was closed due to the Covid-19 restrictions). The café was a pleasant affair, although their sandwich fillings were a little odd.

After our late lunch, we strolled through the nearby boulder garden up towards the site’s famed Great Glasshouse (above and below). The enormous greenhouse was designed by Norman Foster – its roof is made up of 785 panes of glass, making it the largest single-span greenhouse in the world.

The Great Glasshouse, The National Botanic Garden of Wales

The greenhouse is home to a host of plants from Mediterraenean climate zones, such as those from Chile, California, western Australia, South Africa and the Mediterranean. Sadly, the glasshouse was closed the day of our visit because of the Covid-19 restrictions so we had to make do with admiring it from outside.

Apothecary's garden at the National Botanic Garden of Wales

From the greenhouse, we made our way to the apothecary’s garden (above), a small garden set on a slope featuring a number of herbs used for medicinal purposes, such as sage, rosemary and oregano. The herbs were surrounded by shards of slate and there were signs telling you which herbs were used for which ailments.

Some of the plants didn’t look too healthy or impressive (the rosemary bushes, in particular, looked almost dead), while all the labels were in Latin, which made it difficult to work out what some of the plants were. I could recognise the common herbs such as sage and thyme, but was baffled by some of the lesser known plants.

Apiary at the National Botanic Garden of Wales

After spending a little while looking around the apothecary’s garden, we strolled through the springtime woods to the apiary (above). Visitors can’t enter the apiary, which is the preserve of the half a million honey bees that call it home, but instead can take a look at the pretty garden through a large glass window.

Japanese garden at the National Botanic Garden of Wales

From the apiary, we headed to the small Japanese garden nearby (above) that’s a mix of three different Japanese garden styles – tea garden, dry garden and a pond and hill garden. The garden was originally created for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and it became part of the botanic garden in November 2001 when the then-Japanese ambassador suggested it be rehoused there.

The delightfully serene garden is called Sui ou tei in a nod to the national flowers of Japan and Wales, the cherry blossom and the daffodil.

Double walled garden at the National Botanic Garden of Wales

We ended our day with a visit to the double walled garden just beyond the Japanese garden. The double walled garden dates back some 200 years and is so named because it, unsurprisingly, sits within two sets of walls. The garden, which today is divided into four quadrants, used to be the home of the estate’s kitchen garden.

I loved our visit to the National Botanic Garden of Wales. The garden was much more extensive that I had anticipated and while it was a shame the indoor parts, such as the Great Glasshouse, were closed, there were lots of new features that weren’t there when I first visited some eight or nine years ago.

It was a wonderful day out and I very much enjoyed having an opportunity to do something a little different after so many months cooped up in my, admittedly lovely, local area.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales, Middleton Hall, Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire SA32 8HN
Open daily, 10am to 6pm (30 March to 31 October)
Adults: £12.50, children aged five to 16: £6, children under five and carers: free

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