The National Botanic Garden of Wales

The National Botanic Garden of Wales is the first national botanic garden to be created in the new millennium. It was opened on May 24, 2000.

In such a short time, we have developed into one of the most fascinating gardens in the UK. Already we have the most visited garden in Wales, we were voted number 1 wonder of Wales by the Western Mail and are helping to conserve some of the rarest plants in the world.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales exists to develop a viable world-class national botanic garden dedicated to the research and conservation of biodiversity and its sustainable utilisation, to lifelong learning and to the enjoyment of the visitor.

The NationalBotanic Garden of Wales is currently involved in 3 plant conservation projects.

Working with the National Museum of Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales, the Garden is collecting the seeds of, and propagating, some of Wales’s rarest plants. These include Britain’s rarest and most critically-endangered trees, the Ley’s Whitebeam (Sorbus leyana) and a hawkweed that only grows naturally on rocks around a single waterfall in the Brecon Beacons.

The Garden’s estate is managed as a low intensity organic farm. Its flocks of sheep and herds of Black Welsh cattle are controlled to conserve and increase the range of many rare and nationally declining native wild plants and fungi. These include the greater butterfly orchid, whorled caraway and waxcap fungi

The Great Glasshouse, the Garden’s iconic visitor attraction which houses plants from the Earth’s Mediterranean climatic regions, doubles up as a refuge for some of the world’s rarest plants. An example of this is McCutcheon’s Grevillea (Grevillea maccutcheonii). Five years ago, there were only 10 of these small Western Australian shrubs left in the wild, all growing together in one small patch.
One of these plants was micropropagated at King’s park Botanic Garden in Perth, Western Australia and sent to the National Botanic Garden of Wales in 1999. Visitors to the Great Glasshouse saw its lovely red and yellow flowers for the first time in 2003.

The NationalBotanic Garden of Wales is situated on land whose history as an estate stretches back over 400 years.

The estate derives its name from the Middleton family, from ChirkCastle near Oswestry, who built a mansion here in the early 1600s. Three generations later the estate passed, via marriage, to the Gwyn family of Gwempa who were eventually forced to sell Middleton Hall in 1776 to pay off debts.

Thirteen years later William Paxton bought the Middleton estate for £40,000 and began its great transformation into a water park. Although born in Scotland to a modest family in 1744, Paxton had made a fortune by the age of forty-two while working as Master of the Mint in Bengal and acting as an Agent. He used his great wealth to employ some of the finest creative minds of his day, including the eminent architect Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who he commissioned to design and build a new Middleton Hall after turning the original one into a farm. This new Middleton Hall became ‘one of the most splendid mansions in South Wales’ which ‘far eclipsed the proudest of the Cambrian mansions in Asiatic pomp and splendour’. The original DoubleWalledGarden, its glass Peach House, and the Ice House and Stable Block were also built during Paxton’s time.

With the help of surveyor Samuel Lapidge and engineer James Grier, Paxton created an ingenious water park. Water flowed around the estate via an elaborate ‘necklace’ system of interconnecting lakes, ponds and streams linked by a network of dams, sluices, bridges and cascades. Paxton was delighted to discover mineral-rich chalybeate springs on his land, and immediately built bathhouses, complete with furnace rooms to heat water for hot baths. Spring water was stored in uphill reservoirs that fed into a lead cistern on the mansion’s roof, allowing Paxton’s residence to enjoy piped running water and the very latest luxury, water closets.

Paxton also left his mark beyond his estate. He established public baths in Tenby, a water supply for Carmarthen and built Paxton’s Tower, the tall folly overlooking the TywiValley, in tribute to his friend Admiral Lord Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Knighted in 1803, Paxton died in 1824, aged eighty.

Middleton Estate, which was described in a 19th century sale catalogue as ‘richly ornamented by nature, and greatly improved by art’ was maintained for decades after Paxton’s death, largely by the Adams family, but it fell into severe decline in the early 20th century. The mansion, empty and silent, burnt down in 1931. The untended grounds melted back into the natural landscape and water drained from the lakes. Carmarthen County Council bought the land and divided it into seven farming plots. In 1978, a scheme was set up to restore parts of the park for public access, and in the 1980s, parts of the ornamental watercourses in the woods of Pont Felin Gat were repaired.

The idea for a National Botanic Garden of Wales originated from the Welsh artist, William Wilkins, whose aunt had described to him the ruins of an elaborate water features she had discovered while walking in the woods of Pont Felin Gat.

The Royal Botanic Garden of Kew, Dyfed County Council, the Welsh Development Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales and Welsh Tourist Board all gave their support. Under the guidance of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust, an application was made to the Millennium Commission to fund Britain’s first national botanic garden for 200 years. The Garden opened its doors to the public for the first time on 24 May 2000, and on 21 July celebrated its ‘official’ opening when HRH The Prince of Wales unveiled a slate plaque.

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