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Oxford Botanic Garden

Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

4 June 2017 | Laura Garmeson

Oxford is home to the oldest botanic garden in Britain, established in 1621 with the aim ‘to promote the furtherance of learning and to glorify nature.’ With a huge array of plant species, this beautiful walled garden in the heart of the university town allows visitors to explore the wonders of the botanical world in a little corner of tranquillity away from the bustle of city life.

The Oxford Botanic Garden is a seventeenth-century walled garden housing over 5,000 species of plant on just under five acres of land, making it one of the most compact yet diverse plant collections in the world. With shimmering lily ponds, sleek lawns, orchards in miniature, tropical glasshouses and lush herbaceous borders, the sensation of walking through the garden is like finding all your favourite green spaces have been combined on one plot of land. Now an English Heritage site, the garden remains a cornerstone of the scientific history of Oxford.


Image Credit: Oxford Botanic Garden
 
Originally founded as a physics garden, the Botanic Garden was first planted by Jacob Bobart and his son, who together nurtured the garden while it was in its first incarnation. They could never have imagined the scientific significance the garden would later have; such a broad spread of species all in one place makes it a magnet for research. The site grew incrementally, but it was not until the nineteenth century that the garden gained its glasshouses and ponds, and only in 1945 did it acquire a section of Christ Church meadow, once used in the wartime ‘dig for victory’ campaign. However, much of the original layout still remains – and the oldest tree in the garden is an English yew, planted in 1645.


Image Credit: Tejvan Pettinger, Oxford Botanic Garden
 
Plants have shaped our world in ways we often fail to appreciate, a fact that the Botanic Garden seeks to emphasize. With the advent of the Agricultural Revolution around ten thousand years ago, humans first began to domesticate and cultivate plants. The genetics of these newly domesticated species were gradually changed by the unconscious selection of certain features, bringing about a symbiotic relationship between crops and human beings. The Botanic Garden has various examples of these world-changing plants, with potted histories of each examining their impact (cannabis, maize, tobacco and sunflower all feature).


Image Credit: Harcourt Arboretum
 
Only a ten-minute drive from the Botanic Garden, you can find a sister site of sorts in the Harcourt Arboretum. This 130-acre area at Nuneham Courtenay was acquired by the Botanic Garden in 1963 and remains a tree-lined oasis, with swaths of woodland boasting numerous tree species. Large areas of oak and lime woodland were planted here in the nineteenth century, and the forest floor is now adorned with a carpet of bluebells. There is also an area of wildflower meadow with 55 different species, and recently acquired land has allowed the planting of over 13,000 new native trees in the Arboretum.


Image Credit: Harcourt Arboretum
 
The Botanic Garden and Arboretum maintain strong links with the University of Oxford – up until the 1950s the Garden and the Plant Sciences course were merged. Now they still act as places of learning, running children’s workshops and garden tours, promoting education on the properties of plants, and encouraging public engagement with nature. True to the words of their seventeenth-century founders, the Botanic Garden and the Arboretum remain – nearly four hundred years later – places to promote learning and to ‘glorify nature’.
 
For more information including opening times and ticket prices see the Oxford Botanic Garden website.

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