Northern Ireland

Botanic Gardens: Precious plants of Victorian ravine kept warm

The Tropical Ravine at Botanic Gardens is undergoing a major reconstruction
Image caption The Tropical Ravine at Botanic Gardens is undergoing a major reconstruction

It may be the heart of winter, but deep inside a major construction project in Belfast's Botanic Gardens, tender tropical plants are being kept cosy.

Work on the Victorian Tropical Ravine began in late 2014.

Now it has been stripped back to its bones, without its glass roof and extensive heating system.

Most plants have been removed, but some, which have been there for more than a century, were left in situ.

Image caption The building has been stripped back to its bones, without its glass roof and extensive heating system

As concrete is poured and beams are sandblasted, the plants have been protected by specially constructed plastic tents.

Inside are the sort of heaters you might use in a particularly cold room in your house.

The budget for the work is £4m, most of which is coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

That money will pay for the restoration of Victorian features like the waterfall, as well as new glazing and the more modern addition of a lift to bring visitors to the ground floor.

Image caption The tropical plants are being kept warm with radiators and specially designed tents

For many years, it has not been safe for visitors to walk among the plants. Instead, they have been restricted to an upper gallery walkway.

That will no longer be the case once the work is completed.

Rose Crozier from Belfast City Council says the redevelopment work is about both tourism and education.

Image caption For years, visitors have been restricted to an upper gallery walkway - that will no longer be the case once the work is completed

"From and educational perspective, we are already engaging with schools to try and shape what that experience will be," she says.

"From a tourism perspective, it is unique in its offer, going back to that Victorian era when plant collections were treasured and people went out to see what tropical and sub-tropical plants there were in the world and actually brought them back to Belfast."

Image caption An archive picture of the ravine

About £20,000 has also been contributed by Friends of Botanic Gardens.

Most of this money will go towards educational displays according to the group's chairman, Frank Caddy.

"It's turned out as a much, much bigger project than we first envisaged," said Mr Caddy.

"It's not just a roof that is going on. One of things we're very pleased about is the educational side of the ravine.

Image caption The ravine has been in the gardens since Victorian times

"The ravine has always been the poor relation to the Palm House, but it has a lot more opportunity to show the public what the plants and the horticulture of the world is all about."

The work on the Tropical Ravine was to be completed by early next year, but the estimated completion date is now late 2017.

When it re-opens, it will be the perfect place to experience more tropical climes on even the coldest or stormiest winter day.

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