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Nestled away behind steel, concrete and roaring traffic in the busy heart of Birmingham, there's a lush oasis of calm that you might well have never noticed. Featuring four large glasshouses with an air of Victorian grandeur, lively animal inhabitants and interactive children's areas set in 15 acres of landscaped greenery, Birmingham Botanical Gardens is the perfect place to escape the noise and bustle of the city without the need to trek out to the countryside.
Going straight into the glasshouses, you'll instantly find yourself in the hot, humid climate of plants from the South American and Indonesian rainforests - perfect for warming up from Britain's chilly winter weather. In this Tropical habitat, you'll discover a dazzlingly diverse array of species, ranging from the tasty to the toxic, from the Giant Reed and the big-based Elephant's Foot to the small but mighty Dwarf Cavendish banana. Moving on through the equally rich Sub-Tropical house will lead you into the temperate Mediterranean area, a real feast for the senses. Upon entering, you'll be immediately hit by a heady floral fragrance in a room awash with the vivid colours of bright, beautiful blooms. Finally, in the Arid section, you'll encounter huge, prickly cacti and sturdy succulents, tough enough to withstand the harsh conditions of the Central American desert.
Along the way, there are opportunities to learn about how plants are used in our day-to-day lives. Ever wondered where the ingredients for your snacks, soaps or even stationery come from? Information signs and tables chart plants' journeys from tropics to tabletops, forests to fridges and far-off soils to spice racks and supermarket shelves. Elsewhere, you can follow the evolutionary timeline of plants, from early single-celled bacteria through algae, moss and lichen to curling ferns and finally the complex species that we see today.
Look out for special Easter-themed events coming up over the school holidays, when kids will not only have the chance to take part in craft activities and an Easter bonnet parade, but also to find out all about the cocoa plants used to make the tasty chocolate for their Easter eggs.
As you leave the glasshouses, you can stop off at the café for a refreshing drink or a bite to eat, but if the weather's good outside, why not pack a picnic and enjoy it on the rolling lawns, surrounded by proud pines, leafy shrubs and spectacular giant redwoods.
Over the summer, you'll also be able to step back in time with classic Austen and Brönte stories, brought to life through open-air performances in the Garden's natural amphitheatre. And on fine days, you might even get to catch an outdoor film screening.
Don't forget to stop and say hello to Casper the friendly cockatoo, and to look in on his lovebird neighbours near the glasshouses and café. But these can't quite claim the title of the Garden's most spectacular birds. Over at the Lawn Aviary, you'll see brilliant flashes of blue in the fabulous feathers of azure-winged magpies, spreo starlings and tragopan, be amazed by the rainbow colours of the Himalayan monal and magnificent macaw, and follow the quick, darting movements of chattering finches. Near the educational Growing Schools Garden, meanwhile, you can get up close and personal with strutting peacocks and noisy chickens. Keep an eye out and you might even be lucky enough to spot some amazing native wildlife, ranging from beautiful butterflies to woodpeckers.
Kids need to burn off some steam? The Children's Playground's got you covered. You'll find it right near the picturesque Teulon Cottage gardens and a trio of historical gardens, laid out in Roman, Medieval and Tudor styles.
On the other hand, if you're looking for some chill-out time for yourself, you can take a moment to relax to the soothing sounds of running waterfalls at the Memory Pool, or disappear down sheltered paths to find secluded, tranquil seating at the heart of the Bamboo Maze.
Whether you're looking for a breath of fresh air, a quick getaway from the daily grind, or a fun family day out with activities for the kids, Birmingham Botanical Gardens has plenty for everyone to discover.
The Gardens are open every day (excluding Christmas Day and Boxing Day) from 10am to 5pm, extending to 6pm or 7pm in the summer.
Tickets cost £7.50 for adults, £5.25 for children and concessions, and £22 for a family of two adults and up to three concessions.
Coming soon! Birmingham Botanical Gardens is to host Jurassic Kingdom: Where Dinosaurs Come To Life from 20 May to 4 June. This event will feature more than 30 animatronic life-sized dinosaurs - including an 18 metre-long Tryannosaurus Rex - lurking across the gardens.
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