Sunday 30 January 2011


I first went to the National Botanic Garden of Wales shortly after it opened 10 years ago. We had been given free tickets by an American volunteer working there to whom we had given a lift during a summer rainstorm.

At that time there were more staff than plants and more plants than visitors. The whole project had begun disastrously built on hopelessly optimistic expectations that vast crowds would flock enthusiastically to see a limited display of quite boring plants - because instead of an exotic tropical extravaganza the organisers had decided to use the huge glasshouse to exhibit the flora of arid deserts like Australia where the plants are stunted, small-leaved and frankly dusty and uninteresting unless you are one of a dozen people in the world studying that sort of thing.

We visited again today (free entry again, this time for everybody throughout January) to find that the desert plants had struggled over the last decade to create a bit of scant foliage under the glass but otherwise there wasn't much change. They have put up a modest tropical house (perhaps having worked out that's what the punters actually want?) but we were told that a lot of the plants had died of cold last month when a pipe froze in the heating system. You would think somebody would have been checking and, on finding the problem, would have put a couple of 3 watt fan-heaters in until the repair was made?

The main glasshouse itself is quite fun, reminiscent of a Bond villain's lair, but I won't be going again until the next time it's free entry.

There is a good view of Paxton's Tower, erected by the builder of the house on the ruins of which the Garden is now placed. The official line is that he put up the Tower to commemorate Admiral Nelson but everybody locally knows that in fact the folly was erected (instead of a useful bridge across the Towy) to spite the people of Carmarthenshire who had happily accepted Paxton's bribes in the 1802 election (including over 25,000 gallons of beer) but didn't then elect him. Of course this story cannot be true as it is unthinkable that there could ever have been political corruption in West Wales.