35. The Great Glasshouse
This spectacular dome is the largest single span glasshouse in the world, and was designed by Norman Foster and Partners. Poised on the Welsh landscape like a giant raindrop, it protects and conserves some of the most endangered plants on the planet.
These plants come from six areas of the world: California, Australia, the Canary Islands, Chile, South Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, and the Great Glasshouse is zoned to reflect this. Each of these geographical areas has regions that enjoy a Mediterranean climate. Hot dry summers, cool moist winters, dazzling sunlight, strong breezes and the occasional ground-clearing fire create perfect conditions for many plants to thrive on the scrubby, rock-strewn landscapes. In fact, it’s so perfect that most of these plants grow nowhere else on Earth. Although these regions cover less than 2% of the Earth’s surface, they contain more than 20% of all known flowering plant species, and their richness and plant diversity are considered second only in importance to tropical habitats. Largely due to human activity, these precious habitats are now as threatened as the rainforests, and our Great Glasshouse is dedicated to conserving their endangered plants.
At first glance, it is not obvious that the plants come from six different places in the world. This is because they often share many qualities, such as small leathery evergreen leaves and dense shrubby forms, having adapted in similar ways to the similar environmental pressures they face. As you explore, however, you will find yourself travelling across continents and countries within a few steps. Kathryn Gustaffson, the architect of the Diana Memorial in Kensington Park, designed the imaginative flowing landscape on which these plants thrive. Covering 3,500 square metres, its rocky terraces, sandstone cliffs and gravelled scree slopes are contoured to reflect the natural environment and to create a wide range of habitats, balancing light and shade and varying moisture levels to suit the needs of different plants.
Want to know more?
May 2012 – our regualr blogger Pam Murden is amazed by the colours in the Great Glasshouse. Have a look at what she says here.