The Great Glasshouse

It looks like some sort of alien spacecraft lurking on the horizon but it is actually the Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales.  I have been trying to visit this garden for about 5 years but being a 2.5 hour drive from home whenever I have thought of visiting the drive has put me off.  However, this week we have a family holiday to the Gower only about 30 minutes away from the gardens so there was no way I wasn’t going.  In fact we went on the first day just so I would stop going on about it.

Whilst the gardens cover 500 acres of grounds the greenhouse is the real focus point.  It is the largest single span glasshouse in the world and was designed Norman Foster.  What immediately grabs you is the vastness of the glasshouse and the airiness of it.  The planting is in the centre area and is divided into different climatic regions: California, Western & South Australia, Central Chile, Western Cape of South Africa and the Mediterranean.  The guide books says that whilst these regions together cover less than 1% of the Earth’s surface they contain more than 20% of the world’s flowering plant species – food for thought.

Whilst there are some rather exotic looking plants, this glasshouse is not like the Eden Project and full of lush tropical plantings.  Obviously as they are being grown in greenhouses the plants are those that grow in hot climates.  Whilst the Eden Project focusses on how plants are used by man and their inter-relationship the Botanic Garden looks at how the plants have adapted to cope with their conditions.  Being from hot and often arid conditions there were few large leaved plants but many with needle like foliage since the greater number of tiny leaves increases the surface area and helps cope. For someone who has recently been learning about plant adaptations for her RHS 2 Certificate I wish I had visited the garden before my exam.  There were examples of leaves covered in hairs (as below), succulents, grey coloured leaves – all the various ways plants have adapted.

Senecio candidans
Senecio candidans

For me the highlight were the Proteas from South Africa, the Kangaroo Paws from Australia and the Bottle Brush bushes.  We had all been to the Eden Project and I think it is fair to say that we all preferred this greenhouse to the one at the Eden Project.  The atmosphere was more conducive than the humid atmosphere of the Eden Project.  Personally, I have dabbled in the exotic plants and have come to the conclusion that they aren’t really for me and having seen the plants in this greenhouse they are more to my taste.

I would really recommend the glasshouse to anyone visiting the South of Wales.  It is a great day out for all the family – even my none gardening family enjoyed themselves.  I will post again soon about other parts of the garden.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Gwen says:

    So envious – I’ve been longing to visit the Biotanical Gardens of Wales and the Glasshouse there for a couple or so years now. Look forward to reading more of your visit.
    Great photo of Geranium Maderense.

  2. What an unusual concept and what weirdly different plants. Thanks for taking us there.

  3. They are some unusual blooms. The structure is sited beautifully in your image.

  4. We went to the Eden Project mid-July. High summer. And it was bitterly cold and poured with rain all day. We dashed outside, marched briskly round, and crept back to the Tropical House to defrost. And I have Eden’s mediterranean biome to thank, for teaching me that lemon verbena comes from South America (your central Chile?)
    Perhaps one day I will see this glasshouse too??
    BTW lovely pale pink King protea. Cynaroides.

  5. Christina says:

    I’m never sure how much I enjoy large glass houses. I did enjoy the Eden project, but almost as much for the clever planting outside and the interesting use of natural materials inside as for the biomes themselves. I was very dissapointed with the new glass house at RHS Wisely, there seemd to so little of real interest inside, again I enjoyed the plantings around the glasshouse much more than the house itself. However I do enjoy reading others opinions so thanks for sharing your impressions. Christina

  6. Anna says:

    Sounds a most interesting and educational visit Helen. It sounds as if it more than lived up to your expectations. I have never been to that part of the world so will have to remedy the situation and visit. I remember coming out of the Eden Project feeling inspired but rather drained by the atmosphere in the warmer dome.

  7. hillwards says:

    I’ve only just found your post on the glasshouse – not sure how that slipped past me! So you did get to the botanic gardens, glad that you loved the glasshouse as much as I did. Look forward to hearing what you thought of the rest of the gardens (and how they looked in spring). I’m hoping to visit again this summer …

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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