Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Oxford - city of spires ... and 8,000 flowers


The beginning of autumn is a perfect time to see England's glorious gardens, especially if the sun is shining (which it was today... oh what a miracle after all our rain!). And this week my travels took me to Oxford where I saw one of the most impressive botanical gardens I've seen anywhere in the world. It is also the oldest in Britain.

This is the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, set in the heart of the city near Magdalen Bridge, with the River Cherwell forming one of its boundaries. There are few vistas that don't include the wonderful old buildings, churches and spires that are synonymous with this great city of learning and the entrance is through a magnificent archway designed by Nicholas Stone (below).

This garden was founded in 1632 by Sir Henry Danvers, the Earl of Danby, but so much was spent on the walls and arches that make such a stunning backdrop to the huge plant collection that little was left for the running of the garden and the first curator - Jacob Bobart - was reputed to have worked for seven years without payment! He was forced to make ends meet by selling the fruit and vegetables he grew there.

This garden only covers 4.5 acres, but is packed with some 8,000 species representing 90 percent of families of flowering plants. It was originally established as a Physic Garden, so the main area is walled, and now divided into immaculately planted "Botanical Family Borders" which effectively display the vast range of species represented here. It is also home to the National euphorbia collection (well over 100 species) and you will see cultivars here that you didn't even know existed!

There is also a group of "economic" beds featuring plants used for medicinal and culinary purposes. And perhaps the most stunning and diverse plant displays are evident in the "Geographic" borders, which hug the walls of the garden, with plants grouped by country and including species from South Africa, South America, Australia and the Mediterranean.


Not to be missed are the glass houses, filled with more collections of exotic plants - cacti and succulents, a tropical palm house, fernery and fantastic collection of giant water lilies with their huge platter-like leaves and incredible patterns.

This is an amazing garden, hidden from the hustle and bustle of this academic centre of excellence, where you can spend hours marvelling at plants that you won't see elsewhere in England. It's open throughout the year and if you're in Oxford, make the effort to see some of the college gardens too - notably Trinity, Worcester, St John's and Wadham, which are all Grade II listed. And there is also the Harcourt Arboretum on the edge of the city, which is run by the Oxford University Botanic Garden.

But for me the most splendid display was the sunflowers - rising majestically from the ground to a huge height - with their huge heads swaying in the breeze - but also reds and oranges! The sight of them lifted my heart even further than all the other incredible plants that I had already seen.


20 comments:

  1. The garden is now on my "to see" list!

    Thanks for sharing.

    Ryan

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  2. Intersting Read....Its a pleasure to get to see the OXFORD Garden, from India and share your experince in your words.

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  3. Why is it that England has so many beautiful gardens, it drives me crazy with envy! Charlotte, thank you so much for sharing them with us.

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  4. oh wow. This is absolutely beautiful. I can't imagine 100 different types of euphorbia!! Mine spread like crazy-- auuggghh. Sunflowers are always so cheery.

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  5. Charlotte, I have been to Oxford twice, but have not been to the Botanical Gardens. Thanks to your brillant writing, I feel like I have visited. Can you imagine working somewhere for seven years and not getting paid, that is a true labour of love.

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  6. I haven't been to Oxford for years. Now you make me want to go! Great picture at the top! Val

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  7. I've only seen Oxford's beauty in the wintertime, and never the botanic gardens. Thanks for yet another eyeopener.

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  8. This garden is on my I want to see list. Some day I want to return to England and see all the places associated with my favorite author, C.S. Lewis.
    The pub where the Inklings met, The Kilns where he lived with his brother, etc.
    Since he was a professor at Oxford, this means Oxford is on my list, and now the gorgeous garden there too.

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  9. Thanks for the visit to the gardens. I'd love to see all the euphorbia, as I'm very fond of them. I've never been to England, but enjoy my armchair visits very much.

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  10. It's a great place isn't it?

    I went to a food bloggers get together there last year, it was the perfect venue :)

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  11. Oxford is at the top of must-see's when the day comes that we get to England for a visit. Thanks for providing a glimpse of the treasures that await us!

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  12. I can't believe all of the places you've been and the beauties you get to see. This is one of my favorite spots you've visited. The gorgeous cottage-like gardens are spectacular. I also love your sunflower!

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  13. Charlotte
    A lovely and interesting post I nearly went to Oxford yesterday but we went to Bath instead another wonderful town I must post some photos soon.

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  14. I would have loved to have seen the giant water lilies. They never cease to amaze me.

    Who can't resist loving sunflowers?

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  15. So beautiful! I am enjoying myself tremendously wandering around your blog.

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  16. Thank you for the beautiful photography! I enjoyed looking. :)

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  17. 100 species of euphorbia? well that is amazing. the garden looks great. thanks for sharing this beautiful garden with us. Of course a must visit place.

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  18. Great photos - the sunflower just shouts out "SUNSHINE!" ANother garden on my increasingly long 'to visit' list.

    Hope you don't mind, I've tagged you for a meme over on my blog - no pressure to take part!

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  19. Great photos especially the Sunflowers.

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