In February 1905 the Parks Committee received an offer of a gift of cactus plants from a Mrs Watson of Whitchurch, the widow of Mr James Watson. The gift consisted of 500 plants of different varieties, thought to be worth between £250 and £400. It was necessary to provide a special "show house" to accommodate the collection. The Cactus House was built at the southern end of the Botanic Garden, at a cost of £121-10s. It was opened to visitors in May 1905.
A large glasshouse was placed next to the Cactus House in 1907. It measured 100ft by 20ft by 11ft and cost £400. In November and December 1907 a chrysanthemum display was held there and attracted some 12,000 visitors. This became a popular annual event, and the new glasshouse became known as the Chrysanthemum House. The Parks Superintendent reported that during November and December 1908 it received 14,931 visitors. The annual display was still a feature of the park in 1940. The photograph below is of the 1941 Chrysanthemum Show, which was advertised in the Western Mail as "commencing Sunday, November 9th, until further notice". William Nelmes senior, the Parks Superintendent of the day, is seen in the centre of the picture.
Ordnance Survey maps up to the 1940s showed a large and a small glasshouse in the position of the modern Conservatory. The 1954 map indicated that the larger one had been widened, and on the1965 map only the larger was shown. Although no postcards have been located showing the historic glass houses, a photograph of the Chrysanthemum House appeared in Cardiff Yesterday Number 12, along with a photograph of the “present Tropical House” said to have replaced it in the early 1970s.
In the 1960s there was no public access to the Cactus House but there was a good path around it and people used to look in. There was a single narrow path through the Chrysanthemum House which was one way, in at the south end and out at the Cactus House end. When Chrysanthemums were not in season other floral displays would take place. Terry Davies recalls that in the 1960s "The Displays were changed regularly and though the Chrysanthemums were a spectacular show of forms and colours, for sheer flower-power the late summer Schizanthus display took the biscuit. All the display collections were flowering plants, occasionally decorator's foliage plants (e.g. Ficus benjamina, Crotons, Codaiums, Coleus) were brought from the Castle Nursery to fill gaps. Genera used for display were: Primula, Cineraria, Calceolaria, Gloxinia, Gloriosa, Begonia, Streptocarpus, Lachenalia, Cyclamen, Poinsettia and also summer bedding left-overs as available and required, things like Pelargoniums, New Guinea Impatiens and Humea in 5" pots. It was a DISPLAY and you can see why it needed its own Nursery."
The Roath Park nursery, at the extreme south end of the Botanic Garden, maintained the Chrysanthemum collection and also supplied plants for alternative floral displays. The last Chrysanthemum display was circa 1968. The nursery had to close after this because approximately half its space was lost to the building of Eastern Avenue, and the Chrysanthemum collection was discontinued. To a small extent the function of the Chrysanthemum House was continued in the conservatory when it was opened c.1975.
Sources of Information