Bristol Botanic gardens.

A few weeks ago we had the great pleasure to visit Bristol botanic garden!

Bristol B G is very new to its current site having only been there for 6 years and has developed a very interesting take on its own collection.

There is an Angiosperm phylogeny garden where the beds are laid out in the same order as the evolution of the flowering plants. There is a garden where the plants are ordered as to their ailment in Chinese herbal medicine. Another that is for western medicine and a large South African area.  Most importantly for us though they have a garden very similar to our own, the evolutionary dell.The Evolutionary dell at Bristol Botanic gardens

A stroll through this sunken garden was a bit like being at home! There were so many plants familiar to us, and the odd one or two that were not. One that is missing from our garden was the pillwort, a small aquatic member of the fern family that is replaced in our garden by Marsilea quadrifolia the four leaved clover fern. Both of these plants hale from the lower cretaceous and are members of the fern order Salviniales. They have been lucky enough to have been able to plant a large stand of the tree ferns Dicksonia Antarctica and fibrosa (we only have two Antarctica and one fibrosa) although like us the lack of protection over the dell from trees has meant that many of these are starting quite slowly this year. Many of their tree species are in the ground (ours are in pots due to lack of space). Another obvious gap in our collection were some of the trees in the family Podocarpaceae, having only one small creeping Podocarpus lawrencei, we went some way to rectifying this by the end of our trip!

Bristol B G also have the luxury of being able to plant some of the more invasive species of Equisetum as the Evolutionary dell is in quite a confined area (unfortunately many of these where just labelled Equisetum sp).

But the main plant we wanted to see at Bristol botanic garden is their most unique and we were lucky enough to be taken to see it! They have the only plants in the UK of Amborella trichopoda (the most basal of the extant basal Angiosperms). Off show to the public and cared for lovingly by a lady called Penny they sit in a structure made of bread crates that attempts to mimic their natural environment as an understory plant in the New Caledonian rainforest.

Amborella surrounded by bread crates!

For me at least it was like visiting the Holy Grail, these scruffy, insignificant plants surrounded by their bread crates, so simple and plain yet so pivotally important to botany as a science!  Its Amborella that is helping phylogenists to solve Darwin’s ‘Abominable mystery’ where did flowering plants evolve from?

Penny spent some time talking to us about the complexities of growing this plant we talked about its need for shade and humidity at the same time as having good air flow and high temperatures. It is the unique set of requirements that it gets in the understory of its New Caledonian rainforest home that has led to the bread crate structure that surrounds these plants now!

Of course I asked if I could have one and of course they said ‘NO!’ (It was worth a try!) And just as an aside I have to let you in on the fact that whenever Ben and I discuss Amborella we inevitably end up singing the song by Rihanna ‘Amborella ella ella ay ay ay……….’

Also, amongst the cycads and orchids of the botanic garden’s glass houses we found whisk ferns (Psilotaceae) growing out of many of the pots. These amazing plants are also an evolutionary anomaly being closely allied to Ophioglossoid ferns they very much resemble a group of extinct plants (the rhyniophytes) that where around during the Devonian period (about 400mya) and have probably been around since the very first ferns evolved.

We are so impressed by the work that we saw going on at Bristol that we joined the Friends of Bristol Botanic Gardens and certainly intend to be back there at the earliest given opportunity.

As an aside from the awesome evolutionary plants at Bristol there were two other groups of plants that interested me. The first being the plants that had been supplied by Crug Farm plants and it was interesting to see how they were getting on at botanic garden.  Certainly they are thriving!

The second group where the members of Proteaceae (in particular Proteas and Banksias) that they are growing outside. At the previous home of the garden this group did very well outside yet at the current site I am afraid that they are not doing so well. A few, Banksia marginata being one, are doing well but most of the others are not. The garden has suffered many losses over the winter.

Not fazed by these losses the garden is going to be developing an area in its walled garden to grow some of the plants from the Mediterranean climate of the south east and west of Australia and are helping educate local children about the evolution of the flora of South Africa.

On our way home from Bristol we stopped by the great rare plants nursery Pan Global Plants. The owner, Nick Macer, was there to greet us and happily tell us that he had all but one of the plants on our list!

So after 3 hours of hard shopping and chatting we left with a car stacked full of plants including Liriodendron chinense, Lagrostrobos franklinii (a podocarp), Cunninghamia lanceolata (an evolutionary step between the Araucariaceae and Cupressaceae) and Illicium henryi. Although the plant we came away with that we are most impressed with is a fern, Woodwardia unigemmata, a fern whose fronds grow to impressive proportions and are flushed scarlet when new! Thank you Nick for that one!!!!

We drove home slowly with our boot full of plants making time to stop on the way at another hardy tropical garden centre. Akamba, just outside Birmingham, is an immersion event. You step out of your car into a little piece of Africa in the midlands.

Met by Giraffes!

Greeted by guinea fowl and life size metal sculptures of African animals you step into a tropical jungle surrounded by palms and ferns. On this occasion the plants were not the reason for our visit. It was the delicious meal of Jerk chicken in their amazing African and Caribbean restaurant, a welcome stop on the journey.

The amazing African restaurant.

Akamba doesn’t just serve great food and sell incredible exotic plants it also ploughs money back into projects in Kenya where it sources much of its art, tea and coffee from. In particular, the Brainhouse academy, a school for the children of one of the most poverty stricken slums of Nairobi. So if you happen to be in south east Birmingham at any point pleas pop in and see Akamba it really is worth the visit!

So all in all it was a very successful trip to Bristol and certainly worth the effort of driving down there from North Wales.

Nope my blogs havnt become extinct!

Firstly I would like to apologise for the lack of blogs recently! As many of you will know it’s difficult to find the time to blog when life is so hectic and, believe me, my life is quite busy at the moment!

It all started back in February when Ben and I ordered a load of plants from Crug Farm (, the amazing nursery just down the road from us. We went to pick the order up and got chatting to Sue and Bleddyn Wynn-Jones the owners of Crug (you say it like Crig); during the conversation it became apparent that they needed an extra pair of hands on a Saturday and I jumped at the offer of the job!

So in March I started work for the first time in 9 months! I previously worked for the RSPB but had finished working for them after a period of time off sick. It was really nice to get back to work and it wasn’t very long before I was asked if I fancied doing a few more days. I am now working for them 4 days a week and between that and the rest of day to day life I am suddenly finding myself very short of time!

So, along-side working at Crug, Ben and I have been up to a whole load of exciting things and there has been a lot happening in the fossil garden.

So where do I begin?????

During March I received the first plant we intend to grow in the massive order of angiosperms called the Piperales. They are split between 5 families and there are over 4000 species and they are relevant to the fossil garden because they were probably some of the earliest flowering plants! Many of them are economically important to humans and a lot are very poisonous! There is only one that has true petals, some have super simple flowers and others have incredibly complex ones!

The first Piper that arrived is a plant of Piper auritum or Yerba santé, which is used to flavour tortilla in Mexico. It’s a tropical plant that won’t grow outside in the UK, that’s ok as it will grow nicely as a vine along the beams in our bathroom. (Yep we have lots of plants inside too)

It is fortuitous that I have ended up working for Crug as Bleddyn and Sue have collected together quite a large number of Piperales, and have many interesting species. (Guess where my wages have been going)

We have added Saruma henrii (the one with the petals), Aristolachia macrophylla and many of the Asarums to the garden now which is great as we are starting to fill the gaps between the ferns with some very beautiful foliage and some very weird flowers!

Saruma henrii in the rain!

We have also been doing some garden visiting with trips to Both Brondanw and Portmeirion ( (both designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis). Brondanw being CWE’s private garden and Portmeirion being his work! Both gardens are absolutely unique places to visit and the man was certainly a master of his art!

Porthmeirion village

Brondanw house and gardens






We also visited Bodnant ( again to see the Rhododendrons in all their glory! A visit to Bodnant is an absolute treat at any time of year but particularly through April, May and June. I have said it in a previous blog but I will say it again…..The changes in the garden since the new head gardener came on board have been truly remarkable and I am sure Troy Scott-Smith has many surprises in store for us in the future! We will know doubt be visiting again before the year is out!

I learned that all Rhododendrons and Azaleas are now classified as Rhododendron!









I also went on a bit of a Crug Farm work trip out.

Cloranthus fortune ‘Domino’


The aim of the day was to deliver some plants to the National Trust property, Charlecote (, for their new and delightful woodland garden. But a trip so close to the Vale of Evesham meant we really couldn’t miss out on a spot of retail therapy. A trip to Cotswold garden flowers ( saw me buying a fantastic Cloranthus fortune ‘Domino’ and a great little Grevillea lanigera ‘mount tamboritha’ but just around the corner was a company called Vale exotics ( which yielded plenty more!

On the way home a Cyathea australis, Todea barbera, Blechnum nudum and a Polystychum poliferum occupied the space in the van that had been occupied by Polygonatums and Tricyrtis on the way down and my pocket was considerably lighter!!!!

the haul from my trip with Bleddyn to the Vale of Evesham!

The protea bed is looking great with the addition of 2 new species of Ephedra (Ephedra nevadensis and E. distachia). Two Leucadendrons were bought for us, for our birthdays, from the fantastic Trewidden nurseries ( and have also gone in there (L.laureolum and L.’Safari sunset’) alongside a Telopea truncata plant (bought with hard earned wages at Crug).  We have also added a handful of acorus (remember them from the blog on Monocots?) around the bog garden and a Monstera (Swiss cheese plant) to grow next to the path opposite our main fern bed.

Can you understand why I have been too busy to blog now?