The Botanic Garden was planted with herbaceous and medicinal plants, the result of what A.A. Pettigrew called the "go-ahead policy" of the Parks Committee to arrange the Garden to reflect the scientific classification of plants. Other features included a pool with aquatic plants, a rock garden, a peat border and a fernery, as well as informally laid out trees and shrubs. A large quantity of plants was obtained free of charge from Kew Gardens through the influence of William Pettigrew. For example in January 1899 the Parks Committee recorded its appreciation to the Director of the Royal Gardens, Kew, for the gift of seeds of 106 new species of plants.
Originally the main collection of herbaceous plants was in large oblong beds on the western side, described by William Pettigrew as "grown in their natural orders, or, in other words … grouped together according to their tribes and families.” It became a botanical collection of national importance, known as the "Students' Garden" because of its special interest to horticulturists and students of botany.
There was a section devoted to American plants at the north western end bordering the lake embankment (as the Promenade was then called). On the eastern side at the top of the rising ground was the Rock Garden.There was a quarry opposite the eastern end of the the lake embankment which provided the 50 tons of stone used to form the Rock Garden. Below the Rock Garden was a small shallow pond fed by a natural spring, "which, even in the dryest season, never ceases to flow". This area was originally a swamp, and so was an excellent site for a aquatic plants to grow vigorously and create a natural appearance. The Borough Engineer reported to the Parks Committee in January 1894 that a bog garden in the form of an ellipse, and covering an area of about 200 square yards, had been laid out on the east side of the brook.
The peat border was on the west side of the brook near the Promenade and was planted with Rhododendrons, Azaleas and other ericaceous plants. Originally a fernery was temporarily created beside the peat border, although it was thought that a better permanent location would be on the east side, in a position sheltered from the full sun. By 1905 a fernery had been established in such a position between the Rock Garden and the lake.
Two bridges were originally placed in the Botanic Garden across the Nant Fawr. The northerly one of these is shown in the photograph above, to the right of the shelter. A third bridge was added later - this is the one closest to the Promenade in the present day park. It is not shown on the 1901 Ordnance survey map, but does appear on later maps, from the 1920s onwards.
In 1894 a nursery was established at the southern end of the Botanic Garden and was subsequently enlarged to grow summer plants for all the parks in Cardiff. In October 1905 the Superintendent received a request from a local school for a supply of flowers for drawing lessons and it was agreed that flowers would be supplied by 9.30 on any morning following a request the previous evening.
The Aquarium was built in 1899. In 1901 three artificial rearing ponds for young fish from the hatchery were created in the Botanic Garden and were fed originally from the Lake via a pipe, which was replaced the following year with mains water. There was a high mortality rate of young fish, so new ponds were created in the Wild Garden and fed with water directly from the brook to limit the risk of contamination.
In March 1904 a Guide to Roath Park was produced. This was issued to the public in 1905 and copies were sold at 2d each.
Two glasshouses were built on the site now occupied by the present day Conservatory: the Cactus House opened in May 1905 and the Chrysanthemum House in late 1907.
When the lake and promenade were built, a gravity fed water supply was included to provide water for the Botanic Garden. This water supply was used during a drought in 1955. In response to complaints that lawns and flowerbeds at Roath Park were being watered despite the drought, William Nelmes, the City Director of Parks, pointed out that the water being used was taken from the hydrants fed by Roath Park lake.
The Parks Department had a bayonet-fixing standpipe made to fit the old irrigation points in about 1990. There was a lever at the top of the standpipe, which when turned would push down on a ball within the pipe, and the water flow was controlled by the number of turns of the lever. The system was last used in a very hot summer around 1990, when the outlet near the conservatory was used to fill a large water tanker which was driven to various bowling greens in the northern part of the City. Owing to the head of water, the tanker filled very rapidly. A water extraction license was required in order to take water from the lake. At around the same time the watering system was also used to water beds in the Rose Garden.
A drinking fountain was placed in the Botanic Garden in 1908, one of several presented to the City by the Samuel family.
All the paths in the park were originally formed from pebbles, which became difficult to walk upon when wet. After the embankment (Promenade) was successfully resurfaced in 1904 with asphalt, it was agreed to do the same throughout the park. This began in April 1908 with the broad path leading from the main entrance on the west side of the Botanic Garden to the refreshment house. In the early 1900s there was a steep path leading from the west side of the Promenade down to the bandstand and this can be seen in some of the early postcards. In 1913 it was decided to remove this path in order to display the figurehead of the Terra Nova (see the Promenade section on this website), and to make a new pathway from the bandstand over the brook at the foot of the waterfall via a new bridge (the third bridge mentioned above). The Parks Committee accepted a tender in May 1914 for construction of a re-enforced concrete bridge over the bywash. In April 1915 the Parks Chief Officer (A.A.Pettigrew) reported that the path from the bandstand to the new bridge was under construction.
The 1938 Inventory of Parks Buildings and Equipment contained some later additions, including in 1941-2 for the Botanic Garden a shelter containing bee hive equipment, with the comment "2 hives complete". Parks Committee minutes in February 1941 recorded a request from the Glamorgan Bee Keepers' Association to place a hive in a park, preferably Roath Park, and the Committee decided that two hives would be purchased and placed in Roath Park. In October 1947 it was reported that the keeping of bees in the parks had been discontinued.
The 1938 Inventory also showed that the Boiler House & Nursery Store contained a rain gauge and thermometer. The 1954 Ordnance Survey map included a rain guage in the southerly, nursery section, of the Botanic Garden.
The Students' Garden natural order beds were taken over for food production during the 1939-45 war and were not restored after the war. Subsequently the Rose Garden was created in their place in the 1950s.
In the present day Botanical Garden there are two rest gardens. The Old Rest Garden is on the east side, in the space formerly occupied by the aquarium. The New Rest Garden is on the west side, immediately north of the middle entrance. Until the late 1970s there were staff offices and stores in this position, but these were reported in 1977 to be in a dilapidated condition. It was decided that they be demolished and the area landscaped and incorporated into the park. The offices and stores were moved to Wedal Road, where there was space recently vacated by the transfer of the Parks Department offices to Heath Park.
Sources of Information
In general, the information in this section is taken from A. A. Pettigrew, The Public Parks and Recreation Grounds of Cardiff, Volume 3.
Other sources are: