Wild West Wales Snowdrops, National Botanic Garden Solitude, Perspectives and Inspirational Gardens

I decided to slot in a quick post to record a trip out after cabin fever was descending following the rigours of the recent cold. A planned all day electricity outage for another cold, but as it turned out slightly sunny Tuesday, made us jump in the car and set off for the National Botanic Garden of Wales. This quite recently established garden (2000) regularly makes it into the top 10 winter gardens to visit in Britain in various UK National publications (often along with its fellow Carmarthenshire garden Aberglasney).

Although we’ve been Life Members of the NBGW more or less since inception, we’d never been before at the peak of the snowdrop season. So we headed down there (normally about 50 minutes drive for us), but opting to take a longer and scenic route through some of the lanes on the upward South facing slopes of the Tywi valley, above Llandeilo. A friend had mentioned that these were particularly well stocked with wild snowdrops.

Some Wild West Wales Snowdrops. Many of the clumps, like this one grow right amongst the roots and stems of native hawthorn/hazel/blackthorn hedgerows – perhaps a good guide as to where in the garden we should plant them? 7/02/12

We weren’t disappointed with some of the best displays of wild snowdrops along roadside verges that we’ve ever seen, and the sunny interludes meant that many of the flowers were fully open. What intrigued us was that a lot of the flowers were loosely clustered around a particular village, and we even passed a completely derelict and almost disappeared, tumbled down property (and a recent ‘SOLD’ by the agent’s board at the entrance) where the bulbs were spread extensively throughout the plot, implying some considerable history to these plantings. Not to mention the plants’ ability to survive the inevitable neglect from the lack of garden maintenance for decades! Had they all been passed around originally from a single source, to friends and neighbours? Also what Galanthus are they? They look too big and early to be ordinary G. nivalis.

More Tywi valley snowdrops, here growing right down into a water filled ditch, to the left of this image.  7/02/12

Finally, in places, they were growing in very damp conditions within a couple of inches of the base of a sodden ditch, and also thick between the stems of mature hedges. Undoubtedly a lot of natural seeding must have taken place, and what a delight to see.

Many farms in rural Carmarthenshire have buildings either side of the lanes, so the itinerant galanthophile may need to be patient if  work on the buildings is in progress….7/02/12

Then down to the NBGW, which itself boasts over a mile of snowdrops. I don’t know how this was measured, but there were certainly hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions, throughout the extensive plantings.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales – the first of the many plantings of snowdrops throughout the garden. 7/02/12

Snowdrops and winter aconites thriving in the leaf mould at the base of a mature beech tree 7/02/12

Snowdrops, Cornus and Miscanthus towards the double-walled garden. NBGW 7/02/12

Besides this there is the spectacular Great Glasshouse which, housing as it does Mediterranean plants from the areas of the world with their need for this particular climate, is just now exploding into its spring flower flush.

The new outdoor performance stage built by apprentices under a Prince of Wales Trust initiative, and the world’s largest single span glasshouse, designed by Lord Foster, to the rear right. NBGW 7/02/12

Lush Mediterranean plantings inside the great glasshouse 7/02/12

Other worldly shades of green in this South African Protea like plant in the Great glasshouse. 7/02/12

This tree Erica in the Great glasshouse has been in bloom now for over 6 weeks 7/02/12

For Rinka and Kevin….. A South African Protea in bloom in the glasshouse 7/02/12

Finally, along the lakesides, more snowdrops and some stunning groups of Hamamelis.

This wonderful life size wrought iron and Jacob’s sheep’s wool filled sculpture of a Welsh Black bull, surveys the meadows below the Great glasshouse 7/02/12

Drifts of grasses and perennials in slate mulched beds beside the lakes 7/02/12

You’ve perhaps noticed there are no other visible visitors in these views – they haven’t been airbrushed out. Do try to visit this beautiful Garden at this quiet time of the year. The long view down the Broad walk to the entrance gate. 7/02/12

The fountain at the bottom of the Broad Walk – just one of many fine pieces of hard landscaping at the Gardens. 7/02/12

We haven’t seen such spectacular Hamamelis anywhere before. This cultivar ‘Orange Beauty’ planted as a pair, were a mass of flowers 7/02/12

The whole visit was spectacular, and fully justifies the position of the NBGW as a beautiful winter garden to visit, and do plan to go at this time of the year if you can. There were very few other visitors when we went, which made for a very peaceful afternoon, and an inspirational boost as gardening spirits and effort are a bit limited by the weather to more pruning  – roses, Hydrangeas and willows.

We recently received and have watched the DVD of the gardens at Les Quatre Vents near Quebec, made by the late Frank Cabot, which I mentioned in an earlier blog. This is hugely enjoyable for any keen gardener. In particular the message of being prepared to plant, stand back, wait and assess over time, and then being prepared to edit one’s gardening plans, repeatedly. Until you’re happy with the effect even if this process takes years, or decades before you’re completely satisfied. The antithesis of the rapid TV garden makeover concept, and although much of the gardening was feasible only with the considerable resources available to Mr. Cabot, the sharing of his ideas, passion and patience to bring it off, was tremendously inspiring.

Spurred on by watching this I dug out my saved seeds of the 3 Meconopsis varieties we grow and which I hadn’t yet sown this year (Meconopsis grandis is the plant which features on the cover of ‘The Greater Perfection’  – the book by Frank Cabot of the creation of the gardens at Les Quatre Vents). Since they’re all native to Himalayan conditions, I scattered them on the surface of prepared pots of compost and then packed the pots to the top with the recently fallen snow. Maintaining adequate humidity is vital to their fairy slow germination, but experts often recommend a cold chill as well. We’ll soon see if this snow treatment helps with successful germination.

The pots of Meconopsis seed after the thaw had started. Surface sown onto soil/leaf mould/vermiculite (45 /45/10), then top dressed with snow. Germination will probably take 6 to 8 weeks, and if we get a dry spell, I’ll cover the pots with cling film to maintain humidity levels. But no need for now. And keep them out of direct sunshine.5/02/12

Not much has moved in the garden with this very cold weather, but at least the northerly march of sunrise continues. With a couple of clear, frosty mornings on the two critical days of the year (at least in its springtime journey), the copse topping Banc cwm-coed-ifor opposite us to the south, was almost on fire as the sun edged above this horizon between the larch trees. We are indeed fortunate to get this unique perspective from just outside the front door. Move a short distance from here, and the images below would never be visible. After writing this I thought I should research how quickly the sunrise moves northwards, and discovered that firstly it doesn’t progress at a linear rate, more a complex progression, but that secondly, the sun doesn’t do any moving at all. The apparent change in sunrise locations through the seasons is the consequence of the earth spinning on an axis, and in addition that axis being on a tilting alignment to the sun.

Without these 2 factors, and the earth’s elliptical orbit, we would have the worrying scenario of a day lasting 6 months followed by a 6 month long night. So as with the images, perspective is critical. This from a fascinating (for me with little knowledge of astrophysics) NASA site which you can link to here

Sunrise on 7/02/12

Sunrise on 08/02/12


2 thoughts on “Wild West Wales Snowdrops, National Botanic Garden Solitude, Perspectives and Inspirational Gardens

  1. Julian, stunning as always. I am always impressed by the quality of the the photos. I would have thought it was so cold that a rather more slapdash approach to photography would be justified. The shot of the the Hamamelis is just extraordinary! But I do have an issue which needs explanation with respect to your geophysical explanations. As you correctly assert, we have the spinning of the Earth on its tilted axis to thank for our night and day and our seasons. But why is it that one side of the moon always faces us whereas one side of our Earth does not always face the Sun? Regards and pleasant vibes from a sun-drenched and teashirted deep South!

    • Kevin,
      Your reply and question about the moon completely defeats me, but I shall have to look into this….There’s no need to rub in the sundrenched/tea shirt bit…..we’ll have to return to the Great glasshouse I think for a bit of warmth. Still without the cold, no Hamamelis flowers, I guess. And they were spectacular, BW Julian

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