CMG Visit to the Waun Las reserve at the NBGW

The first meadow visit of the year last Saturday was a huge success and enjoyed by the group of CMG members who were guided around some of the meadows at the National Botanic Gardens by Bruce, Richard and Rebecca. The weather was benign and after meeting at the entrance at 10.30,  we walked beyond the lakes, where our first pause was to discuss the very early “meadow” plantings on the sloping ground to the South of the Great Glasshouse, Soil was scraped off, seed sown and later on plants were added to create areas now very diverse in their plant make up. Julian had by chance discovered that this project was one of the very first guided by James Hitchmough who has recently published a fabulous book on how to produce large or small scale meadows using species from across the globe. It draws on James’ experiences of looking at natural meadow ecosystems from high altitude alpine meadows through European type hay meadows, as well as steppes and prairie type vegetation. “Sowing Beauty” is well worth looking at for many ideas and inspiration – and not just for gardeners!. Click here for more.

There was discussion here about the risks of Hemlock Water Dropwort, Oenanthe crocata, which was growing nearby, above one of the lakes.. It can prove fatal to cattle which eat any roots, and a CMG member gave personal details about such events locally. Over the years there have been many recorded cases of human poisoning including one involving Napoleonic prisoners of war near Pembroke which involved several fatalities. More can be found on the excellent “The Poison Garden website”, or by clicking here. This is what the plant looks like close up with flowers about to open …

Walking beyond the lakes took us to the entrance to the Waun Las reserve, and for me this was a particular delight since I have to own up to never making it this far before in all our years of being NBGW members. We’ve always just looked around the fabulous gardens. Bruce discussed the history of the Middleton family (no, not the one that’s been in the news recently!), but those who made their fortune and built a mansion in the Elizabethan era with monies made from their involvement with the East Indies Company. This property was removed by Paxton in Regency times, when he reworked the entire estate and built his main home close to site of the current Principality house. The 1600’s house was located at the top of the sheep grazed field shown below. Bruce explained that the NBGW have details of where NPK fertilizer was spread in this field 40 years ago – those areas that received it have no Waxcap mushrooms in the autumn, whereas areas spared its application do have Waxcaps, confirming just how badly affected by artificial fertilisers many fungi are.

On up the hill past another field currently dominated by Soft rush and opportunities for the group to consider management options for this area …… before climbing higher and looking at a meadow without great floral diversity, but containing at the top a significant amount of white flowering Pignut in the higher sections of it.. Onwards to the ridge line along the South of the Towey valley and a walk through a grazed field took us into the highlight of the trip – a meadow full of flowers which has become more and more diverse over the last 17 years.

Early on Yellow Rattle was introduced to reduce grass vigour in this meadow, and there was a stage when the previous farm manager became worried that it was too dominant. But with time it has reached a sort of equilibrium and the meadow now contains many species of flowers and grasses. Richard Pryce, the County’s botanical recorder, was able to point out how to differentiate meadow buttercup from bulbous buttercup by looking at the different arrangement of sepals on the flowers.

The NBGW is exploring an arrangement with a commercial wild flower seed merchant who might begin to harvest seed from this field this year. Lots of opportunities again to ask questions about management of the site and just take in the fabulous flowers and fantastic views.

Then we gradually made our way back towards the Great glasshouse, through another soft rush dominated pasture with a significant population of Whorled Caraway, with obvious foliage, but too early for the umbels of white flowers – Carmarthenshire’s county flower.

Then downhill between some friendly Welsh Black cattle, before emerging on the edge of the Woods Of The World part of the garden – fields planted up with thousands of trees from climates similar to South West Wales. Clearly a very long term project, and part of the issue here is maintaining open access, so this was a perfect place for Carl and Ivy Denham to have brought their new piece of kit – a Grillo 4 wheel drive cutter, which had only been delivered to them the day before – to demonstrate its impressive capabilities. Again lots of chances to ask Carl questions about aspects of meadow management, ( I was clearly so taken with the machine I forgot to take a photo! If anyone reading this has a usable image, do please send me one, and I can add it in later!). Very many thanks for Ivy for supplying this photo of the Grillo so quickly! You can see what a neat , low and un-mulched cut it’s capable of – even through very tall and damp vegetation, and with a 4 foot width per pass. See the links page for Ivy and Carl’s contact details.

The time had flown by and the meeting ended around 2 pm and several of us headed for a bite to eat at the cafe. Everyone found the day’s event really interesting and enjoyable so another big thank you to Bruce, Richard and Rebecca for setting it up, and hosting it, and to all who attended and made the day the success it was.

Julian Wormald


Thanks for reading, and remember I’m always happy to receive any suitable articles or photos to include as blog posts. Please send them to me…

Julian Wormald…

There are still a few places for the next CMG meadow walk, guided by Richard and Kath Pryce at Cwmdu on Wednesday June 21 st. You do need to book for this one, because numbers are limited, so do email me if you’d like to join us, and see the EVENTS page for more details.

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