On our week in the Brecon Beacons we had the opportunity to visit the Garden of Wales – the National Botanic Garden of Wales, to be precise. And before you start switching off and saying “Oh, that’s not our sort of thing” read on. This is NOT the place your Aunt Lil enjoys a coach trip to with her friend Meryl. Well, actually, it probably is. But it’s so much MORE than that too. We LOVE it there. And when I say ‘we’, that’s not a mother’s prerogative – genuinely the whole family has a good time. Even if it’s raining. Which it was. A lot. We were reviewing, so we got a little extra tour to begin our day – a whistlestop trip round the dome, and an exciting view under it too.
The dome is an incredible place – you can’t ignore the engineering feat that is its construction (the temperature and humidity are all controlled by a gazillion and 34 sensors, those miles of cabling and a computer; opening and closing windows where and when necessary. It’s either a clever computer or dark magic, one or the other), nor can you ignore the madness of the plants within. It’s easy to stroll through quickly, but stopping and looking is always worthwhile – nothing is there by chance, and everything had a beauty, or a scent, or a texture, or a structure which made it worth a second glance.”
Once we’d left our amazing guide and braced ourselves with some hot chocolate, we decided to explore into the woods behind the dome first – and area we’d never been into on previous trips. The rain was still hammering down, and we thought the woods might provide some protection – which they did. It was magical in the trees, we had them to ourselves, and the remnants of the ancient pleasure gardens that appear every now and then are fabulous. And we found the waterfall too!
The circular walk brings you out a lot farther than we expected, so we took advantage of being close to the car to head back out for a ‘picnic’ lunch – it was still raining.
Once we were refuelled and ready to face the weather again we set off to explore the rest of the gardens. The rain simply wasn’t going to stop – or even lighten up for us – so we just shrugged our shoulders and decided to ignore it. The Apothecary Hall was amazing, and the children just love exploring it; laughing or wincing at the old medical equipment, sniffing all the drawers of ingredients to spot the familiar ones, and reading about the medicinal uses for the herbs and products they know from our own kitchen and bathroom. It was also dry in there… Back out into the gardens, and the rain did make for some lovely photography opportunities – though by the time we made it halfway round the double-walled garden the children decided they’d had enough and took refuge in the hothouse, leaving us to wander and admire in soggy peace.
Once we’d seen all the formal gardens we decided to head over to see the Ghost Forest – an art installation of 10 giant hardwood tree stumps – highlighting the alarming rate of deforestation. The trees were brought to Europe from a commercially logged forest by the artist Angela Palmer to highlight deforestation and the depletion of the world’s natural resources after learning that a tropical forest the size of a football pitch is destroyed every four seconds. The largest is 300 years old and weighs 19 tons. As we approached our noisy, soggy, waterproof-swishing brood fell silent. The half-trees were an awesome, and terrible, thing to see. They made us sad, and humble, and angry – they were so incomprehensibly BIG, and yet so out of place. An echo of what they used to be hung over them and affected us all. With the skies turning blacker once more we decided that we would finally give in, and head home for something dry to wear and hot to eat. We’d had a jam-packed wonderful day, and cannot wait to return again. Though next time I’ll put in an order for some sunshine…
Adult entry to the National Botanical Garden of Wales is £8.50, children are £4.50 and under 5’s are free. We strongly recommend you visit if you’re in the Beacons, take a picnic and stay all day. There’s so much to see and do.