Monday, 27 February 2012

Garden Visit: Botanic Garden of Wales

Looking for a holiday destination with a nice property and places of interest nearby this gardener had the boxes well ticked back in 2010! We have visited Wales a few times but this time my garden visiting eyes were on the relatively new National Botanic Garden of Wales.

Nice property found, we could be just five minutes away from the garden by car. That was a record! Now, to tempt teenage daughters with my chosen destination a little research was required.

An online booking for two to a Gavin & Stacey Tour (tv show) in Barry had us sorted. Little did we know that this was the very first tour we had booked and the press would be there to cover it and the character Nessa would be seen walking down the street and joined them for photos and chat! It was a scorcher of a day to be interviewed for radio etc on a vintage bus going round the properties - a trip they won't forget that's for sure.

An equally scorching day for our garden visit (like Scotland, Wales isn’t always wet) saw my husband heading back to the car for a hat! Seeing as my garden visit video below is 4½ minutes long we’ll skip straight to the tour and I’ll chat about it after if you’ve time to hear more.

My favourite areas of the garden are highlighted with text… are you ready? I took many photos. Hold on to your sun hat…

It was the Great Glasshouse that caught my eye when I heard about this garden. I loved the way it nestled in to its hillside surroundings. On our visit, I found it almost spacecraft like from the outside becoming quite Tardis like on the inside.

The Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales (at the moment) is the World’s largest single span Glasshouse. It measures a staggering 110m (374`) long by 60m (204`). Divided into 5 regions it includes the Mediterranean Basin (& Canary Islands), Costal California, Chile, Cape province of South Africa and South Western Australia.

When walking along the bottom paths the true scale of the depth/height of the Glasshouse isn’t quite appreciated until you look down to the path you have just walked. Wow… it looks like an exploration of a forgotten land doesn’t it?

A variety of flowers caught my eye in the Glasshouse including the giant flower spikes of the Tree echium and the impressive plate sized blooms of the architectural Protea flowers.

However, I was equally taken with the planting drift of small delicate blooms of the everlasting flowers (Helichrysum) growing with mixed planting along a path edge. I took many more photos of them.

Bees were a buzzing in the Glasshouse and wonderfully young chicks could in heard, excitedly chattering, in the tall ivy clad wall in the bottom section of the Glasshouse. My guess was that there were House sparrows nesting there as adults were spotted in the area looking very focused.

Attractions for children on garden visits were always a consideration for me when my daughters were young. The National Botanic Garden of Wales would certainly have passed the test for me. It has a variety of garden layouts (ideal for exploring) with inventive paths like the winding pebble rill on the main broadwalk which was inspired by the meandering River Tywi, which flows through the nearby valley.

On our older family visit, my teenage daughters were still attracted to the low spurting water fountains at the circle of Decision on the main Broadwalk – where I found myself temporaily distracted from the group by the bog garden on a path to the right! A quick few photos and I was back.

I’ll not go through our whole visit in detail as it is the feel of this garden I want to share today. It is a relaxed open space with lots of interest. Its setting is like non other I have visited having a nature reserve to the north and east side of the formal garden area! I didn’t get round the reserve on our visit but found a tranquil moment opposite one of the lakes (below the Great Glasshouse) where I spotted dragonflies.

I could add so much more here about the stories behind this and that part of this garden (set on historic parkland, dating back around 400 years) but probably best if you explore their website where you’ll also find out about future events like the Thursday’s St David’s Day (patron saint of Wales for those outside the UK) celebrations and the exhibition running in March celebrating Inspirational Botanists – Women in Wales.

It is no surprise to me that this new garden (opened in May 2000 & the first national botanic garden to be created in the new millennium) has recently taken 5th place by Visit Britain in their Top 10 Great Britain Gardens. Nice to see three Scottish Gardens in the Top 10 too :-)

As a gardener, my favourite areas of this garden were the Bog Garden, the Great Glasshouse and the Double Walled garden. “The Double Walled Garden is thought to be of Scottish design. It is a very unusual feature of Welsh and English gardens but is more commonly found in Scotland.” I didn't quite appreciate that before.

However, for me, the area that surpassed all of that and the image that I will always remember from my visit to the National Botanic Garden of Wales will be of the hillside wildflower and perennial plantings and meandering grass paths on the slopes sweeping up to the Great Glasshouse which were looking great during July.

Standing with a lake below on the other side of me in the photo above, I almost forgot I was in a Botanical Garden - the Great Glasshouse dome almost looked part of the sky from this view - quite stunning to my eyes :-)

As a tourist in the UK with only a few stops to make, I would definitely recommend a visit along to this garden. Location wise, it is West of the Welsh capital city Cardiff at just 55 mins away by car – postcode for Satnav is SA32 8HG.

For those living in Wales... come on down... you just have to see what a special place this is on your own doorstep :-)

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2012. The images above were taken on July 12th 2010.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

On safari - Redpoll first

After snowy/icy roads & car trouble, our third recent attempt to visit SWT Loch of the Lowes was a successful one in more ways than one. Our Sunday Safari took us to the benches inside the Visitor Centre, at the observation window, where we joined others in watching the very busy feeders outside.

Redpolls were definitely not on my list of expected birds to see on our visit. Their presence was like a gold star for finally making the trip! There was a little snow around the area so perhaps that’s what brought in the Redpolls this bright afternoon.

I had never seen a Redpoll before. Not being a birder I was guessing what bird this was that was sharing a niger seed feeder with a male Chaffinch. Just look a the head size difference below...

My ID guess had been a Linnet (not seen one of them before either). I asked a member of staff and she told me she could see why I guessed that (it was really the red markings I was going with not knowing where they should be).

We were told we were looking at a male Redpoll. We were also told what the female might look like and shown it in a book. Yep... as per usual it would be duller than the male. I didn't expect we would see a female too but as you can see above... some time later we did :-)

Coffee in one hand and video camera on tripod at the ready I always look to catch something different on my visit to this Centre. I was delighted, I’ve also had a bit of fun with my short 2 minute film. Note there is background music as I need to cut the sound of people’s voices. Enjoy…

I’ve looked out this observation window many times but perhaps not during February as winter weather is usually a problem my car journey to the centre. Gosh there were more Chaffinches on Sunday than I think I have ever seen there.

Mallards and pheasants joined the Chaffinches on the ground below the niger seed feeders. Frantic feeding was seen there as well as considerable acrobatic flying from blue, great & coal tits above as my video shows.

Not caught on camera, one amusing moment saw a male Mallard and male Pheasant have a bit of head on squabble. On this visit I was hoping to get some photos & video of the Red Squirrel. Unusually for our visits we never saw a single squirrel.

My next lookout was going to be for the tiny well camouflaged Treecreeper. After capturing images of the Redpoll my eyes turned to one particular tree I have seen them feed on before. I just adore watching this charming little bird but don’t see it on every visit. You need a sharp eye to spot it. However, spot it I did despite the distractions from so many birds at the feeders.

Switching back and forth with still and video camera for the Redpoll, when it came to the Treecreeper it was video footage with better light I was looking for. As Treecreeper viewing time would be short I gave the still camera to my daughter and the girl did good! I caught some video which you can see below too.

The conditions were good for filming despite the usual reflections on the observation window from movement inside the centre. The Treecreeper swooped over to the bottom of a tree trunk from a cut down tree just in front of me and started making its way spirally up it.

I lined up my camera, caught the Treecreeper in the frame and it spent quite a while feeding in the one area. This was brilliant – a good, clear close-up view. I was thrilled.

You can imagine my disappointment then, when I got home and realised that I was too busy enjoying watching the Treecreeper and I hadn’t hit the record button on my video camera… doh! I doubt I’ll ever get quite a view like that again :-(

However, shortly after, the video was recording for view of a Jay feeding at a bird table right in front me. I had never seen that before. Window reflections were more of a problem here, but even so the view of the Jay’s head with eyes and beak were quite a scoop for me. I’ve never seen the Jay so close – what a pretty face it has.

The short video compilation below also shows a capture of a female Great Spotted Woodpecker (my best so far). You can see the difference in size, shape and use of the beaks between the three birds. I always find that fun to watch.

Finally, our Safari quickly concludes with a photo of the female Great spotted Woodpecker that I managed to get, an arty shot of a male Pheasant by my daughter and her quick capture of the Jay on the tree branch just above the bird table.

We hope you enjoyed sharing this trip with us and will consider going on Safari with us again :-)

Quickly, before you go I have a question for you - I’ve asked around and been told it was a Lesser Redpoll we saw. Can others confirm this?

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2012. The images above were taken on February 19th 2012.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

GBBD: planting in lawn

Every year I look forward to seeing my lawn spring into life. Without a shadow of doubt one of my better gardening decisions was to plant a large number of mixed Spring bulbs before seeding an area of lawn a few years ago. Crocus are the first to say hello.

As of now we haven’t had the coldest of winters and very little snow. Postings on previous year’s 15th of February for GBBD tell me that crocus usually begins flowering at this time. The exception there was during the very long prolonged cold and snow spells of the previous two winters.

I adore the crocus growing in my lawn. Narcissi, Fritillaries will follow with the wildflower Lady’s Smock joining the lawn party now too. I plan to experiment more with planting in lawn over the next few years.

Another experimental planting of wild primroses on a small grass mound seems to be a success now too. This is early for the primrose to be in flower in my garden. Only one flower… and I nearly missed it when out with my camera today as I wasn’t expecting it. Last year I planted Lady's Smock down the gentle slope. I'm looking forward to seeing if this will be a success or not.

Planting in lawn works particularly well for my style of gardening where I am always lifting and relocating plants in my garden. Doing this disturbs the bulbs and the depth they need to flower and then I wonder where they went come the next Spring.

Bulbs in gravel work better than in soil borders for me but as I will move plants in gravel too then this results in losses there too. However, on the positive side to this they alliums seed themselves further around after I disturb them and I get a more natural planting. I do like that.

Today I’m joining Carol and other garden bloggers on posting on what’s in flower in my garden just now. Orientalis Hellebores have been giving a good show with many wonderful deep read buds just about to open.

As we’ve had a much warmer winter with fewer hard frosts my perennial wallflower Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve' still has nice grey/green foliage and a flower.

A border revamp at my back door after replacement paving after frost damage from last winter seems to have lost my snowdrops (unless I’ve put them safe in a pot somewhere) but my snowflakes are breaking through the ground just now.

Berries on the Skimmia japonica 'Olympic Flame' are adding a bit of colour to a border seen from my window. This suggests I have a female plant but in order to get berries next year I’ll need to get a male to plant nearby. There begs the question – how can you tell the difference when standing at a plants table?

Crocus planted in in areas of my garden that catch longer spells of sunshine at this time of year (making the ground warmer) are not surprisingly seen in flower earlier than in areas of grass or borders that see less sun. I quite like that as it spreads the flowering period especially in my partially shaded back garden.

Final image for today shows a brief preview of a revamped back door border where I’m hoping to try to successfully ‘not disturb’ the considerable number of crocus bulbs planted there. I’m hoping it will be a great show from my kitchen window this year.

Perhaps I should laminate a small image of this area in flower and peg it to a stick in the border as a permanent reminder to keep my gardening tools out!

A major attic sorting of my daughters’ school and childhood stuff has taken time away from blogging this last couple of weeks. This has been an overdue job. It has been a wonderful trip down memory lane. I am trying to keep my focus to finish this job so once the gardening year starts I can take on another overdue and equally big job – my wildlife pond build. This year – it is going to happen!

Wishing a Happy GBBD to everyone taking part today. Sending my thanks to everyone who has visited and left comments on my blog in the last few weeks. I’ll get to answering them and visiting you very soon.

Finally, to my gardening visitors I have a treat for you with an overdue garden visit posting to The National Botanical Garden of Wales coming up very soon. After much trouble in deciding which of the many photos to use I decided on a slideshow video. This is a garden visit I would recommend for all ages.

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2012.