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By Andy Ross

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The Botanic Gardens of Wales

This year we are in Wales for the festive season and paid a visit to the Botanic Gardens of Wales, just outside Swansea.

The gardens were opened in 2000 but their history is fascinating. The whole story can be read on the gardens' website, a tale which spans the globe and includes some famous names, and now the gardens are open to the public to enjoy. On a slightly wet and windy day we took the car on a short drive and went walking to see the Great Glasshouse, designed by Lord Foster, in which are plants from Chile, South Africa, California and Australia. 

On the way to the Glasshouse we passed a series of rocks, placed to explain and explore the geological history of Wales. Cambrian, Devonian, Ordivician... the display encompasses the last 615 million years! But it is the lichens that captured our interest, firstly because of their use in dyeing linen and wool but then, after our interest was piqued, by their fascinating lifestyles. Did you know that there is one lichen, Lecanora muralis, which has earned its nickname, the chewing-gum lichen, from its appearance and ability to grow in polluted environments and on man-made substrates such as concrete pavements?! Or that there is a lichen which cannot grow on the surface of the rocks but lives just below. The rocks may just be more alive than we realise!

The gardens are full of interesting plants and trees, (Did you know that Tormentil root produces a red juice which was used in Lapland and Scotland to dye leather?) but there are also some creative textiles scattered around the Great Glasshouse. A map of the gardens made out of applique, felt and embroidery is rather fun and in each of the different areas of the glasshouse planting, animals and birds have been used to help younger visitors to relate the plants to the place they come from. We loved the felted bandicoots in particular, and there are lizards, birds, and even a baboon!

If you are in South Wales, do go to the gardens. You won't regret it.