When you think of rare plants at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, where do you think you will find them? Maybe they’re steamy, exotic orchids blooming in Plas Pilipala. Perhaps they’ll be the enormous, alien-looking Proteas in the Great Glasshouse?
I’m almost certain you aren’t thinking of the Welsh Cotoneaster, which is only found on the Great Orme in North Wales and has less than six wild plants left in the world. Or Ley’s Whitebeam, of which there are only 20 trees left, found solely in the Brecon Beacons a mere hour away. I won’t even get started on the Welsh population of Irish saxifrage, which was grown from a sprig found on a rock in Snowdonia National Park in 1962 but has never been seen since.
All of these can be found in the Conserving Welsh Plants area, past the children’s playground and tucked between the nursery glasshouses. It’s definitely off the beaten track and, until recently, was one of those areas that inevitably gets a little forgotten in an institution of this size.
For the past year, the rabbit-proof compound has been undergoing a bit of a facelift and I think an update is well overdue for you all!
Two new displays
The first big change was to remove the two long beds that we used to stand plants from the nursery in. The space left was to be the site for a brand new raised bed, as part of one of our national conservation projects in partnership with Hanson Aggregates.
To match the four other raised beds in the compound, each replicating a National Nature Reserve in Wales, the new display was built from 21 untreated oak sleepers and filled with nearly seven tonnes of rock! The bed recreates the SSSI habitat found on Breidden Hill near Welshpool – a famous botanical site due to its mix of soil types.
On the left side of the bed you can see brown, acidic rock that supports heathers, grasses and woodland flowers. The right hand side is a grey, alkaline scree slope planted with purple scabious, tiny succulents and wild marjoram. You can even see the beautiful calcite crystals in the boulders!
We also carved out a new flower bed opposite the Rhos pasture display. I wanted to showcase the very rarest plants we can grow, many of which are almost extinct in the wild. This bed will be planted up next year using plants from our collection or donated from institutions such as the Millennium Seed Bank and Aberystwyth University.
Somewhere to relax and learn
The next thing that the compound needed was a seating area. Help came from the Regency Restoration Project team who had recently felled two large trees, the perfect size for a pair of hardwood benches. These were carefully lifted into the compound by way of farmer Huw’s tractor. With the addition of three bespoke tables made by our tree team and ornamental pots to showcase more beautiful wild flowers, the empty space in front of the hedgerow display was filled with a new, inviting atmosphere.
My hope is that people can use it not just for resting and eating their lunch but also for groups to come and learn about native plants.
Speaking of the hedgerow, I had noticed that visitors to the compound had often not realised that there was more to find behind it. One Friday morning, after much umming-and-aahing, I finally decided to tear a path through the hedge to open out the space and invite you all to explore further! I planted it with classic species such as foxgloves, cow parsley and violets so that, in spring, you can see a concentrated version of my favourite Welsh habitat.
The Conserving Welsh Plants area is looking better than ever, thanks to help from nearly every corner of the Garden. However, this is only the beginning! 2019 looks set to be an exciting year for the Welsh Natives Project. Here’s what you can expect next year if you head over to this hidden gem at the National Botanic Garden of Wales:
- Our collection of endemic Whitebeams is being completely re-vamped to help the trees thrive. Opposite the compound, we will be creating the Whitebeam Grove, where you can walk among some of the rarest trees in Britain.
- Using seed collected in October 2018, we will be re-sowing the Great Orme display bed to help it more closely match the limestone pavement habitat found on that beautiful headland in North Wales.
- The Rhos Pasture display bed is being re-turfed using material collected from our own Waun Las National Nature Reserve. Keep coming back throughout the year to see what new wildflowers pop up!
- Finally, the new semicircle bed is going to be planted up with species that owe their survival to the work of seed banks, botanic gardens and dedicated British botanists to create the Last Plants Standing display. Many of the plants you will see in there are now extinct, or almost extinct, in the wild.