The Middleton Legacy: revitalised for the 21st century
Plants at the National Botanic Gardens, Llanarthne, are vital sources of foods, medicines and materials in our resource-challenged future, explained Simon Goodenough, curator of horticulture at the gardens, to members of Transition Town Llandeilo at their annual meeting on March 12th.
Plans for the 560-acre Middleton estate include recreating a lake of one and a quarter square miles and using it for fish farming. First, 360,000 cubic metres of silt would have to be removed, and kept on the estate as taking it away would be prohibited.
Planting ‘woodlands of the world’, with tree species from around the world including Wales, is another venture, adding to the over 8,000 plant varieties already in the gardens. The woodlands, currently extending to nearly 55 acres, would be coppiced, and a farmhouse on the estate could become a centre for woodland management courses. The woodland planting programme is funded until 2018-19, and has the potential to create jobs in woodland management. A charcoal burning project using hornbeam is planned, and funds permitting, a water mill will be rebuilt for generation of electricity using water power, and also to power a sawmill.
A trial planting of long-strawed wheat for thatching is involving the gardens in agriculture, and several ventures relevant to horticulture include bee-keeping, planting for pollination, and a new orchard to comprise local varieties of apple, pear and plum. “There are 43 Welsh varieties of apple tree that we know of,” said Mr Goodenough, “many of them growing cider apples”. So far 38 of these varieties are in the gardens.
“Economic botany” is how Mr Goodenough describes the many enterprises taking shape on the estate, which is its heyday in the 18th and early 19th centuries was an important local employer. In the 21st century, the expertise gained from the trials has the potential to spread internationally and certainly all over Wales.
The one-year-old ‘Growing the Future / Tyfu’r Dyfodol’ project, led by Andrea Powell, is part of the ‘Economic Botany’ stream of activities. “The idea is to help people grow their own food,” Ms Powell told Transition Town Llandeilo members. “We have plans to build two classrooms, and have use of a one-acre field, where we have planted a forest garden and a fruit hedge. We are developing links with groups all over Wales, and hopefully will be training more people able to visit groups and give food-growing advice.”
Transition Town Llandeilo are now the guardians of an apple tree native to Wales, kindly given by Ms Powell and Mr Goodenough –perhaps the start of a cider apple orchard!
by Pat Dodd Racher