If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Friday 4 February 2011


Monday was Anna's birthday, and for once I did something right. (Something wrong was the year I forgot both our wedding anniversary and her birthday. It took a long time to live that one down.)

As a complete surprise, I took her for a trip to the National Botanic Gardens of Wales at Llanarthney. She's able to walk better these days, so I planned a modest trip round the gardens, followed by lunch in their restaurant. This was apparently a majorly good decision, combining as it does gardeny stuff, a trip out, and food. I arranged for a wheelchair to be available, but it wasn't needed.

View from the entrance, January colours, dome in background.

We last visited the Gardens in 2000, not long after it opened. Back then, it was plain that the project had huge potential, but there was little to see other than some magnificent structural designs and an ambitious plan. It had a hard time getting established, and has been notably less successful than, for example, the Eden Project. I wonder if the rather clumsy name has had something to do with this - it certainly doesn't have the zip of 'Eden'. However, it has made steady progress and is now the most visited garden in Wales.

Inside the dome.

This is a plant, I think. Very pretty.

If you have zero interest in gardening, as I do, then visiting gardens like this can be a bit of a struggle, an exercise in feigning interest until the bar opens. But I can recommend the NBGW to anyone. There's plenty of architectural interest, from an unusual double-walled garden to the magnificent dome that arches over the main exhibits. The staff are unfailingly friendly, keen and involved, food in the restaurant was excellent, and they served me a very good pint of Reverend James. Always a way to my heart.

The most memorable feature for me (remember, zero interest) is the drainage of the main path. The water collects in a large pond at the top of the slope and runs in a sinuous, winding culvert a few inches deep down the path. It crosses and recrosses the pathway, occasionally vanishing underneath, and you are always aware of its presence. The culvert is shallow and lined with white stones, so it is easy to see. It ends in a spiral trench which curls in on itself in the form of an ammonite shell before disappearing into the ground. It's a spectacular idea and well-executed. It was dry when we were there this week, but in a storm I imagine it would be endlessly fascinating.

It was designed by Kathryn Gustafson, who designed the Princess Di memorial fountain in Hyde Park, but this one has not had to be closed to the public for 'safety reasons'. It's simply stunning.

Everywhere you go in the gardens, there are little surpises awaiting you.

Close by is the house and garden of Aberglasney. This is a house which had fallen into complete disrepair, damp and vandalised, and the garden had become a jungle. Restoration began in 1995, and the restoration of the garden has been closer to archaeology than horticulture. There is an Elizabethan/Jacobean garden in there, on the way to being fully returned to its original form and planting. I'm not a gardener, but history and archaeology light my fire, and I'm looking forward to returning there. When we were last up this way, we did both in a day, but that would have been too much now. However, it does leave something in the shot locker for when I next need to be in Anna's good books.


  1. "This is a plant, I think. Very pretty."

    Very! Some sort of protea, I think.

    Yes, I adore botanical gardens! This looks like a good one.

  2. Nah, that's a car, innit?

    Seriously, if you like this kind of thing, it's well worth a visit if you are within reach.

  3. Aberglasney is an truly incredible place.
    A couple of years back my wife and I were on holiday with the kids two boys aged 15 and 11 and we visited Aberglasney early in the week.
    At the end of the week we had a choice of new places to go to but THEY wanted to go back to Aberglasney because... they couldn't explain why they just did.
    Neither of them are into gardening, old places or architecture. Gladdened the heart to be honest that they just wanted to go back to a place for the sheer enjoyment of it.

    Isn't that what human life is supposed to be about?

  4. I think the whole project captures the imagination of anyone with a bit of soul - old house, overgrown garden, brought back from the dead - and the more they cleared the garden, the more interesting it got. Posting this has made me realise how much I want to go back there.

  5. You've whetted my appetite – both for the garden and the restaurant.

  6. Go there - you won't be disappointed, although it might be a good idea to wait until Spring, as there's very little action outside the dome. Not so important to me, but it might be to you, if you like flowers and that.


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