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Bombay Sapphire Visitor Centre

Bombay Sapphire Visitor Centre - Laverstoke Mill

A project in the making for over two years, this month saw the culmination of hours of painstaking work of sourcing, growing and acclimatising a spectacular selection of plants for this wonderful attraction in the heart of rural Hampshire.

With numerous stumbling blocks to overcome from the sheer difficulty in sourcing some very scarce and unusual plants, to housing them through the winter and for longer than previously envisaged (owing to a fire destroying the glass factory in Barcelona), Laverstoke Mill, finally opened its doors to the public on 1st October 2014.

Dave Root, managing director of Kelways, has always had a keen interest in the exotic and more unusual plants of the world, and to be offered the opportunity to tender for the job of sourcing and growing the plants for this awe-inspiring project was right-up-his-street! Many of the plants you may recognise such as the Olive trees, lemons and herbs. Others are altogether more unusual and rarely seen in the UK, such as Licorice and Bottle Palms.

Unique bespoke structure

Dave has endured numerous trips around Europe sourcing and buying the plants for this project including rare Bottle Palms (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis) and the true culinary cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), so rare, not even Kew have one. In fact, there were only two in the whole of Europe and we bought both!

The basis for the planting is the horticultural association within gin production of these unusual plants but also to see them in a wider scheme, with other plants that would be found occurring in their natural environment.

The structure itself is completely unique, having been constructed bespoke for the project with no two pieces of glass the same. The bell-jar shaped glasshouses appear to float on the water and are incredibly high-tech with the air sucked out through huge ducts to maintain the right temperature and humidity balances required for the plants to thrive.

There are two distinct zones to the structure, a temperate one featuring the less tender plants such as the olives and a tropical section housing the more tender specimens.

Of all the plants we had to source for this project, the hardest by far had to be the Grains of Paradise (Afromomum melegueta). The plant is grown extensively in South Africa for Bacardi but it proved impossible to import living plants into the UK. After two years of hunting, including the Gorilla House at Chessington Zoo where they have been known to grow it as a delecacy for the gorillas, we eventually tracked some down to the University of Reading, just 25 miles away from Laverstoke!

Dave's epic journey has been charted as part of a documentary series on the conversion of Laverstoke Mill, commissioned by National Geographic, which will be aired sometime during the winter.

For more information on the vistor centre and to book tickets, please see Bacardi's own site here:

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