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Last Updated: Monday, 27 September, 2004, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
Seeds of hope at botanic garden
Alan Hayward and Sir Peter Crane
Alan Hayward (left) showed Sir Peter Crane around the garden
Six months after a rescue package saved the National Botanic Garden of Wales, managers say the shoots of recovery are beginning to bloom.

Visitor numbers have met targets throughout the summer, new attractions added and staff and volunteers report a new sense of optimism.

But trustees' chairman Alan Hayward said there was still a lot to do.

A recruitment drive is about to begin to bring new faces and ideas to the board of the Carmarthenshire garden.

We are competing for visitors with the government-sponsored attractions where people can go in for free
Alan Hayward

On Monday the garden played host to Professor Sir Peter Crane, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Yong Hong Hu, deputy director of the Shanghai Botanic Garden, China.

They were the latest in a series of visitors from gardens as far afield as the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan keen to learn from the experience of creating the first botanic garden in Britain for 200 years.

Mr Hayward admitted with hindsight some things could have been done differently, but pointed out that there was limited experience to draw on.

This time last year the future looked bleak with receivers on the verge of being called in.

It was not until mid-March a rescue package was finally put forward by the Welsh assembly and Carmarthenshire Council, ending uncertainty surrounding the 43m attraction.

'Realistic targets'

The garden has set itself a target of attracting 130,000 people through the gates this year - and with more than 50,000 paying customers in July and August it is on course to achieve that.

The maize maze
The maize maze is one of the attractions that has been added

Mr Hayward said the plan was to increase numbers by about 5- 7 % a year.

"The people are there and the they are interested," he said. "We have got to be realistic and set the targets at a level that can be achieved.

"We are competing for visitors with the government sponsored attractions like the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans where people can go in for free."

New attractions have been added, including a mini-farm, maize maze and children's play area to broaden its appeal as a family day out.

Mr Hayward said the focus of the garden was still on the botanic, but added: "If people come to see the goats and pigs then that's fine, as they will also see a hell of a lot of interesting plants.

It's amazing what has been achieved with a very small staff and budget
Professor Sir Peter Crane

"Hopefully children will remember the experience they have had and return in the future when they are older and have more of an interest in the plants."

To further broaden the appeal of the garden Mr Hayward said an advertising campaign was just about to start to try to double the board's six trustees.

He said they were looking for people across Wales from a variety of backgrounds who could bring experience and ideas, and hoped a few candidates would emerge from the army of over 200 volunteers who kept the garden running during the past year.

"Without them we simply would not have survived," he said.

"We are looking for people with experience who can add something to the operation of the gardens. We will read and consider every application so we can find a new group of people to take the garden on."

Prof Crane, who was making his first visit to the 500-acre site at Llanarthne, said he was sure the garden had a rosy future.

"It's amazing what has been achieved with a very small staff and budget," he said.

"It's very impressive and also has huge potential for the future.

"The true value will only come to be recognised in time."


SEE ALSO:
Botanic garden staff re-employed
13 May 04  |  South West Wales
Timeline: National Botanic Garden
10 Dec 03  |  South West Wales


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