The Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses can be found on Westbourne Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, England. It's an educational charity, and contains various exotic and foreign birds (peafowl, macaws, etc) as well as plants. It runs adult education classes (mainly various arts and crafts), houses the National Bonsai Collection, and is often hired for events such as weddings, conventions and reunions. There's a cafe if you're hungry, an art gallery, and a gift shop, which is surprisingly fabulous (it sells candy canes!). It covers around 15 acres.

It is open between about 10am and 5pm, although it keeps shorter hours during winter, and admission charges are £5.50 for adults (£6.00 on Sundays and Bank Holidays) and £3.00 for concessions (children, students, OAPs and disabled people). Admission is free to members but, obviously, you have to pay to join. The gardens can be reached from Birmingham city centre or Harbourne by catching the 10, 21, 22, 23, 29 or 103 buses (make sure you get it in the right direction). If going by car, there's a fairly nasty one-way system, but it's quite well signposted with those brown 'tourist attraction' signs.

Disabled access is pretty good; there are two sets of disabled toilets, and anywhere accessible by stairs (with the exception of the top floor, but that's staff only anyway) is also accessible by a ramp. Mind the slope by the lawn aviary; when they say it's not suitable for wheelchairs, they mean it; it's extremely steep. The doors are a bit narrow for a wheelchair, though; you will probably need someone to hold them open. There are audio tours (on tape) to borrow from reception, if I recall correctly, and there is also a perfumed garden for the blind, with signs in braille. Motorised scooters (like a cross between a motorbike and a wheelchair) can be borrowed for a deposit.

The staff can be recognised by green sweatshirts with the gardens' logo (a blue fountain) on them. It's also staffed by a lot of volunteers, who I don't think wear the uniform.

In terms of layout, you first come to an indoor part, which has reception and the gift shop. There's also an aviary housing foreign finches and other small birds. You then go either straight on, through the hothouses, or left, through the gallery. If you go through the gallery, you end up in the Japanese garden, which also has the National Bonsai Collection. If you go through the glasshouses, you initially end up in the tropical house, which is extremely hot and humid. It houses tropical plants, including a sensitive plant (extremely cool - the leaves shrink away when you touch them), and also a pond with some huge carp. The floor's always wet, as are the benches, so try not to sit down or fall over. It's like a mini-rainforest. Next up is the sub-tropical house, which is still very hot, but less humid, and feels like a relief after the tropical. As well as the plants, it has a little fountain (one of the ones kids throw pennies into and make wishes), and a cage containing two mynah birds, Frankus and Humpty Dumpty. It used to have some stick insects, but not anymore. The next house is the orangery, which is a mediterranean kind of mini-climate, and has palm and citrus fruit trees. Last is the cactus and succulent house, which has all kinds of desert plants, from tiny flowering stones to huge century plants and a prickly pear tree.

Coming out of the Japanese garden or the glasshouses, you end up on the concourse. To your left is the Pavillion cafe, run by Redcliffe catering, and to your right are the parrot cages. These house three macaws, two Amazon parrots, a sulphur-crested cockatoo and two African greys. Just down from the parrots is the alpine yard, which has plants which grow perfectly happily at high altitudes and with very little soil.

From the concourse, you can see the huge lawn, which is full of people when it's sunny. On the lawn is the lawn aviary, four linked cages housing various foreign birds. There's also the bandstand, which has regular jazz and brass bands playing on summer afternoons. Actually, forget summer. The lawn is absolutely breathtaking when it has snowed overnight and you are looking at it early morning, when the snow is completely untouched. It's this carpet of brilliant white, with bare cherry trees dotted around it.

Below the lawn, there are a series of flower beds, wooded bits and gardens with paths - some suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs, some not - threading through them. These make really nice walks. There's also the bog garden, which has these flamingo sculptures dotted around it. Somewhere in all this is a parish boundary stone, marking where the territory of one parish church ends and another begins. There are also two deep ponds; one has a little waterfall, a bridge, and a rockery garden all around it. This bit really isn't safe for small children, and there is a sign saying so. It's also physically impossible to get a wheelchair or pushchair around it.

At the bottom of the gardens are the tennis courts of the Edgbaston Archery and Lawn Tennis Association and a children's adventure playground. This was, of course, the best bit when I was little. It's a good playground; kids tend to make it into an obstacle course. Around the playground are lovebird and budgerigar aviaries. There's also a children's discovery garden, which is a kind of play-and-learn deal for kids aged 3-6. It has things like trees' life cycles, a solar-powered windmill, a maze shaped like a bumblebee and a giant spider's web. Between this and the main playground is the waterfowl enclosure, with various native British wetland plants around a duckpond. To the right of this are the historic gardens; gardens laid out in Medieval, Tudor and Roman styles, and the new study centre. Behind the playground, through gaps in the hedge, are the Cottage Garden Museum and the herb garden.

Dotted around the gardens you will find many, many memorial benches, a trail of sculptures and five roaming peafowl.

I really like the gardens, I must admit. The clientele seem to be mainly senior citizens and small children, but they don't need to be. It's a very nice place to go and relax, particularly in summer, and obviously if you're interested in plants it's a good place to go. Most people seem to know it from school trips, and it's one of those places tourists go (oh, and Basement_Johnny) but actual brummies don't. This is a pity, to say the least.

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