Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Hallowed Ground

Oxford Botanic Garden is the oldest such in Great Britain, founded in 1621.  Following a bequest of £5000 by Sir Henry Danvers the garden was set out on land between Magdalen Bridge and the River Cherwell that had in part been the Jewish Cemetery until 1290 when Jews were banished from England. The grand gates and walls were established by 1633, and cost so much that there was very little spare to spend on plants to stock the garden.  Danvers, the Earl of Danby,  is commemorated in the magnificent pedimented gateway at the entrance to the garden off High Street.  The original mission of the garden, as a teaching and research resource, continues to this day, with the role of the Keeper also occupying a central role in the teaching of Botany at the University.
With the existing built framework more or less unchanged, there have been periodic changes to the layout of the garden within this structure, reflecting the scientific understanding of the plant world at the time.  The walled garden currently combines areas of taxonomic order with more aesthetic plantings beyond in which ideas for the creative use of garden plants are explored.
The garden has been a quietly ordered space at the heart of the city for 380 years, and continues as a source of inspiration - the ending of Philip Pullman's recent His Dark Materials trilogy is set here, with Pantalaimon scampering in the branches of the great Pinus nigra in the old walled garden, Lyra and Will agreeing to sit on the bench in their respective worlds on Midsummer's Day.  This same tree was a favourite of JRR Tolkien, and stands by the ivied walls that Evelyn Waugh's Sebastian Flyte so admired in Brideshead Revisited.
I am fortunate to live a short walk from the garden and visit frequently, to check on the progress of favourite plants, enjoy the changing seasons and capture the atmosphere at different times of year.  The image above was taken on the coldest day of 2009, when the garden was empty of all other visitors and I had this magical place to myself for an hour.


  1. Nice blog. Just gone through the picture of Oxford Botanic Garden and it looks great. I have never visited the place but I wish to.

  2. Sorry to report that the huge Black Pine I refer to has lost a large branch in the recent January snows, the heaviest I have seen in 25 years in the city.