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National Botanic Garden of Wales

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The National Botanic Garden of Wales is at Llanarthne, a few miles to the east of Carmarthen in South Wales, UK. The site was formerly owned by the Middleton family - even though it passed into the hands of the Paxton family in the 1790s, the area is still known as the Middleton Hall Estate.

The project was inspired by the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 and although it is open to visitors, and depends on them for much of its income, the prime purpose is scientific and educational.

The site was once a large landscaped estate, with artificial lakes and wooded areas. Over the last couple of hundred years it had steadily declined to the point where little of the original landscaping was visible, and the lakes had all but silted up. The new botanic garden has not tried to recreate the original estate, but rather it has used the original as a framework on which to build. For instance, one of the few surviving buildings on the site, the stables, has become a visitors centre and display area rather than being restored or rebuilt in its original style. On the other hand, the lakes will be restored as far as possible to the original layout.

Generally, there was so little left of the original fabric of the buildings that reconstruction would have been almost impossible, even if it had been desirable. In fact, the position of the original Middleton Hall is not positively known, it burnt down in suspicious circumstances1 many years ago and the remaining stonework was apparently used by local farmers for building walls etc.

The centre-piece of the gardens is a large domed glasshouse, which at the time of writing this article is the largest single span glasshouse in the world. It is far from being a blot on the landscape, the shallow dome has been designed to fit in well with the surrounding countryside and is not intrusive.

The garden is committed to being environmentally friendly, to this end all water is recycled, the sewage is treated by natural means on site, and heating is by means of biomass converters using timber that would have been destined for landfill.

Examples of experiments and development for the future:

  • Wooded areas to represent different types of forest and woodland.

  • Prairie farming, where all topsoil is removed and plants are grown in the infertile subsoil.

  • Pharmaceutical plant area, where an effort is being made to grow all the plants referred to in a 13th Century medical book, and investigate the uses of these plants in modern medicine.

  • Organic farming, using varying techniques to improve output quality and quantity.

  • Development of a wetlands area at the lower part of the site.

1On the night of the fire, all the servants had been given the night off and valuables had been stored elsewhere.

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