In dark and wintry Belfast, a haven of fiery tropical colour lifts the gloom of a January day...
... and in the world outside, it’s been drier than you think
There may be doom on the high street and a forecast full of rain, but visitors to Botanic Gardens will find a colourful piece of paradise right on their doorsteps.
January is traditionally a gloomy month but the beautiful array of exotic plants at the palm house conservatory and tropical ravine house provide a welcome touch of warmth and colour.
And if, like most of us at this time of year, you need some good weather news to lift the spirits, the Met Office has revealed that Northern Ireland escaped the worst of last year’s downpours that made it the second wettest year on record for England and Wales.
We endured 1,153mm of rain in 2012, over 100mm less than fell from our skies in the previous year, and a full 180mm less than the average rainfall for the UK as a whole.
Those living in the west fared best of all, with Fermanagh averaging just 85% of its expected rain, while the wettest county in Northern Ireland was Down, which received 12% more than its average soaking.
But our damp weather is a drop in the ocean compared to the climates familiar to many of the tropical plants in Botanic Gardens. Some of them come from rainforests where 2,000mm of rain is not uncommon every year.
In the tropical ravine house, a sunken channel containing exotic flora from Africa, south east Asia and South America runs the length of the building, and the warm temperatures and humidity are a world away from cold, wet south Belfast.
The most popular attraction is the dombeya, which grows throughout Africa and Madagascar, and while it is not flowering yet, visitors in February will be treated to vivid pink blooms.
Also on show are the likes of the angel’s trumpet, large white horn-like flowers normally found in South America.
In the palm house, the cool wing glows with seasonal displays of schizanthus blooms, spring bulbs, flame nettles, cyclamens and chrysanthemums, while the hotter stove wing is alive with exotic plants like birds of paradise, frangipani and bromeliads.
It may be rainy old Northern Ireland outside, but in here it’s the steamy heart of the jungle.