Friday, 9 November 2012

Gardd Fotaneg Genedlaethol Cymru is Welsh for Europe's youngest botanic garden



This is the Norman Foster designed (think Beijing Airport) glasshouse in Europe's youngest botanic garden, Gardd Fotaneg Genedlaethol Cymru, as it is known in the oldest, continually spoken, written language in Europe.

I should have added 'arguably' to that sentence because there may be botanic gardens newer than this 12-year old National Botanic Gardens of Wales and Lynda says the Basque community might have something to say about old languages in Europe.


Whatever, the garden is new and full of promise, and the Welsh language and culture is an important part of everything they do - for example, all visitor and teaching information is in both Welsh and that Jonny-come-lately language English.

The garden has had a tumultuous start, being close to bankruptcy a few years ago and spitting out five directors before Rosie Plummer took up the reigns with extreme and welcome enthusiasm a few years ago. Things are still tough but if anyone can make this work, it will be Rosie and the team I met last week.


The glasshouse is a great place to look at plants - all light and airy. The plants themselves are from Mediterranean landscapes around the world, including Western Australia, South Africa, Chile and that very Mediterranean area nearer to home. The Canary Islands flora sneaks in there too because...well, because it's interesting, you can tell cool things about co-evolution (cacti v succulent euphorbs) and you can display Dragon Trees!


Outside there is traditional botanic garden display of plant families, all in the very latest system, APG III. (In this they lead Kew - we are ready to switch to this system in our formal order beds ready for next spring!).


The medicinal plant garden is also fairly traditional but not the interpretive display in the building next to it. You can visit a fully reconstructed Apothecary, with all the jars of potions and drawers of plant products to explore.


Fungi are popular - the wild part of the 560 acre site is home to lots of wax caps and other fungal favourites. This display highlights a few of them, and why fungi are important for us and the environment.

And there is Art, including Ghost Forest by Angela Palmer.A dozen or so tree stumps from West Africa provide a conversation starter about how after the loss of 90% of Ghana's virgin rainforest to logging over the past 50 years that country is now numbering trees and managing forests sustainably.

Up on the hill in the science laboratories, Natasha de Vere has finished 'barcoding' all 1143 native plant species in Wales (this excludes the 'archeophytes' I mentioned in my last post...), and is well on the way to doing the additional few hundred to cover the whole of the UK. This means any fragment of native plant from Wales, and soon the UK, can be identified. Not bad.

Like all new things in the UK, it has a history of hundreds (if not thousands) of years and this is being revealed through lots of soil sieving and archive scanning (below is the outline of the seventeenth century Middleton Hall).


It may be that it has a history older than its language. But that, I suspect, is arguable.

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