Spring in the Great Glasshouse

Today was my last day of being a member of the inside team at NBGW, as of tomorrow I’ll be spending the following three months outside – just in time for spring!

Geranium maderense (Canary Islands)


Sparmannia (South Africa)


Zantedeschia odorata (South Africa)

Zantedeschia odorata

Phylica pubescens (South Africa)

Phylica pubescens

I’ve been spending the past six weeks in the Great Glasshouse, the iconic feature of the National Botanic Garden of Wales. It’s the largest single span glasshouse in the world and is home to plants from areas of the world with Mediterranean climates – Western Australia, South Africa, Chile, California and the Mediterranean Basin which includes the Canary Islands.



There have been continual flowering delights in every region for the past month. Now the weather is gradually becoming warmer more and more plants are beginning to bloom. In South Africa species of Protea tend to flower all year round, there was a spectacular display of King Proteas (Protea cynaroides) flowering in December which was a welcome sight in the middle of winter. With its sculptural beauty it’s easy to see why it’s the National Flower of South Africa.

Aloe arborescens

Aloe arborescens


Another aloe


You may know the common houseplant Aloe vera, check out its relative Aloe arborescens! The spikes of orange flowers are still going strong after being out for nearly two months, they remind me of Kniphofia (red hot poker) flowers with their architectural appearance.

An aeonium in flower


Another member of the succulent family I adore are aeoniums. Their distinctive rosette shaped leaves are enough for me so you can imagine my delight when I saw one flowering last week! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen an Aeonium flower in the flesh before.



Banksia candolleana

Banksia candolleana

Dried Banksia seed heads


Banksias are in the same family as proteas, Proteaceae. They are fantastic, unusual looking plants, which come from Australia. The flower heads are made up of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of tiny individual flowers grouped together in pairs. The fruits of banksias, called follicles, are hard and woody and are often grouped together to resemble cones (they aren’t true cones as these are only produced by conifers).
The fruits protect the seeds from foraging animals and from fire – in many species the fruits will not open until they have been burnt or completely dried out. I love the appearance of the dried Banksia heads, they are fascinating to look at – like something from another world.

Isopogon formosus

Isopogon formosus

Another genus in the Proteaceae family and also from Australia is Isopogon. Isopogon formosus, aka the Rose Coneflower, has clusters of striking pink flowers which are out in full force at the moment. It takes a lot of self-discipline not to get distracted from daily work by all the sensational, enticing plants – I do get work done in between taking photos! 😉

Melaleuca incana

Melaleuca incana

Melaleucas are related to myrtles and also come from Australia. They have gorgeous bristle-like flowers, like teeny tiny colourful brushes.

Grass tree (Xanthorrhoea)



Grass trees are another interesting plant from Australia, they grow just a centimetre or two each year. Xanthorrhoea trunks have borne witness to many bush fires, their dense leaf-bases protect them from flames and the potassium released after the dead leaves are burnt acts as a fertiliser. How cool is that?!
Every few years they flower in spectacular style with scented white flowers smothering spikes of one to three metres in height. If the leaves have not been burnt off for several years they appear to wear a Hawaiian-style grass skirt, like you can see in the photo. It never ceases to amaze me how many different ways plants have of surviving.

Moraea elegans

Moraea elegans

Narcissus henriquesii

Narcissus henriquesii

Various types of bulbs keep popping up with new flowers every day, Moraea elegans is especially striking but I’m still a sucker for the common Narcissus – I love daffodils! Most of the bulbs in the Great Glasshouse are plunged into the ground in their pots and remain there for as long as they flower, to give the place a splash of seasonal colour. There’s no point having all the wonderful, exotic looking plants blooming away in the nursery glasshouses where the public can’t see them!

Genista stenopetala


Genista stenopetala

For me the main show stopper in the Great Glasshouse at the moment is Genista stenopetala. I’ve been watching it for the past week in the Canary Islands region, slowly starting to blossom more and more. It’s like it’s wearing a golden crown, the yellow is so vivid you can’t help but notice it.

Dragon Tree (Dracaena draco)


Some of you may remember my Silent Sunday post from last week which was the Dragon Tree, Dracaena draco. The specimen at NBGW is 25 years old and is instantly noticeable once you enter the Canary Islands zone. Dragon trees were much sought after by magicians and apothecaries for its sap, which was thought to resemble the blood of a dragon and gives the plant its name. They are now very rare in the wild, their numbers are reduced to just a few hundred resulting in its conservation status being listed as vulnerable.



Bulbinella nutans

Bulbinella nutans

Dietes vegeta

Dietes vegeta

You may have twigged by now that the plants from South Africa and Western Australia tickle my fancy more than the plants from the other regions. However I have been researching species from the Mediterranean Basin in particular because I will be spending a fortnight in Portugal on a study tour at the end of March. I couldn’t be working in a more perfect place in order to familiarise myself with plants I will encounter while on my travels.

Lavandula stoechas subsp. stoechas f.rosea ‘Kew Red’

Lavandula stoechas subsp. stoechas f.rosea 'Kew Red'

Other bulbs



Cyclamen persicum

Cyclamen persicum

I’ve enjoyed my time in the Great Glasshouse immensely and hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about it too. It feels weird to think next time I’ll be under glass it will be my last few months at NBGW! Time flies when you’re having fun – as the saying goes “Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters. . .” 🙂

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