Botanical Gardens to Visit in the UK

What makes a botanical garden?

The cultivation of plants has been around for thousands of years with the first examples dating back to 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Romans were also keen horticulturists and they were also aware of the medicinal properties. Following on from the Romans in identifying the medicinal properties of plants were the monks. They also used the beauty of plants and flowers as a celebration of their gods. The first of these monastic gardens was created in the 8th century. These gardens were the precursor to the physic gardens that appeared in the 16 century.

None of the gardens mentioned so far can be regarded as botanical. A botanical garden is not an easy thing to classify though an underlying scientific basis is a necessity. Therefore the world’s first botanic gardens were the physic gardens of Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries during the renaissance period french for ‘rebirth’. The first of these physic gardens was the garden of the University of Pisa which was created by Luca Ghini in 1543. Following this other Italian universities followed suit and gardens were created in Padova (1545), Firenze (1545) and Bologna (1547). These gardens were purely for the academic study of medicinal plants. By the 16th Century these medicinal gardens had spread to universities and apothecaries throughout central Europe such as Cologne and Prague. The University of Oxford botanical garden was the first garden established in the United Kingdom in 1621 with a mission to promote learning and the glory of god as you will see.

Botanical gardens then experienced a change in usage during the 16th and 17th century. This was the age of exploration and the beginnings of international trade. Gardens such as the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew was setup to try and cultivate new species that were being brought back from expeditions to the tropics. Not only did these gardens promote and encourage botanical exploration in the tropics they also helped found new gardens in the tropical regions to help cultivate these newly discovered plant species. The British established Calcutta Botanic Gardens in 1787 while the French set up Pamplemousse Botanical Gardens in Mauritius in 1735 and the Real Jardín Botanico de Madrid established the botanical gardens of La Orotava on Tenerife. These tropical gardens were created almost solely to receive and cultivate commercial crops such as: tea, coffee, breadfruit, cinchona, palm oil as well as chocolate. It was during these times that Para rubber was introduced to Singapore, teak and tea to India and breadfruit, pepper and star fruit to the Caribbean.

During the 19th and 20th century municipal and public gardens were created throughout Europe and the British Commonwealth. Nearly all of these gardens were mainly pleasure g The following gardens are the most five influential and important establishments in botany past and present. Follow the links to the websites of each garden to find about more.

Three elements to make a botanical garden

  1. Education

  2. Conservation

  3. Research

Banner of Kew Gardens

Kew Garden

    • 121 hectares large

    • 700 staff employed

    • $56 million per annum

    • 2 million visitors per annum

    • The gardens are non-departmental public boy sponsored by DEFRA

    • Formed in 1759, it has the world’s largest collection of living plants. 650scienists employed. Over 30,000 different species of plants. The herbarium has 7 million persevered plant species. The library contains over 750,000 volumes of books, 175,000 prints and paper.

    • It became a new world heritage site in 2005, and in 2006 a new alpine house was constructed which replaced the 1887 version.

    • They are responsible for 90,000 botanists’ world wide.

    • The Chollushi – is a Japanese exhibition built in 1910.

    • It has the world’s largest compost heap

    • Main features include: kew palace, minka house following the 2001 Japanese festival, maranne north gallery, a museum, the north conservatorium, nash conservatory originally designed for Buckingham palace and was moved to kew in 1836, pagada tower, the princess of Wales conservatory (1987) – the third largest, queens charlottes cottage, rhizotron, shanikay sharwood gallery, tree top walkway, vechular tower and water lily house.

    • Collections include: aquatic plants, arboretum, carnivorous plants, herbaceous/other border plants, orchids, ferns, alpines, roses, bonsai, Lilac, Azalea and Rosedendron, bamboo, juniper, Berberis and Magnolia.

The Millennium Seed Bank is owned by Kew and was constructed in 2000. It is housed in the welcome trust millennium building. The millennium seed bank is an insurance policy against the extinction of plants. It is contained underground network of frozen volts. The project is run by Royer Smit OBE. In 2007 it banked its one billionth seed, an Oxytenthera abyssinica – an African bamboo. In 2009 it collected and contained 10% of the world’s plant species. Aims include: to collect all seed from Britian’s native flora, and to act as a focal point for research and development in this area and to encourage public interest. It has pattern ships in: Australia, Mexico, Chile, China, US, Jordan, Mali, Mowdawi, Madagascar, Burkina, Faso, Botswana, Tanzania, Lebanon and finally South Africa. Australia constitutes for 15% of the worlds total flora and 22% of them are under threat of extinction. It is the largest ex-situ conservation project in the world, with now over 24,000 plant species available.

Banner of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

    • Location – Hollyroad Place

    • Founded in 1670 as a physic garden growing medicinal plants, today it occupies sites across Scotland: Dawyck, Logan, Benmore each with specialist collections.

    • Edinburgh Botanics houses over 15,000 plant species and 4,100 accessions. The herbarium houses over three million preserved species. It is the second oldest botanical garden is world and has the tallest palm house built in 1858.

    • Benmore was built in 1929.

    • Logan was built in 1969.

    • Dawyck was built in 1978.

    • A world leader of keeping biodiversity, it also co-ordinates in-situ and ex-situ conservation.

    • Living collections include: alpines, Chinese hillside, cryptogrammic (lower plant collection e.g. ferns) garden, the greenhouses, palm house, temperate garden/palms, tropical palms, orchids and cycodes, ferns and fossils, plants and people exhibit which homes giant water lily pond, temperate lands, rainforest riches, arid land, wet tropical plants, peat walks, the queen mother’s memorial garden, rock garden, Scottish health garden and finally woodland gardens.

    • The herbarium is a world leading botanical collection.

    • Benmore – a wet coast tree and shrub collections, conifer garden and Rosedendron collection.

    • Dawyck – south coast fungi and cryptogrammic collection.

    • Logan – exotic collection, sub tropical garden.

    • The library contains over 70,000 books and 150,000 research papers.

Banner of the Eden Project

The Eden Project

    • The world’s largest greenhouse.

    • Located in the reclaimed Kaolinite pit, two kilometres away from St. Balsey in Cornwall.

    • Hundreds of hexagonal inflated plastic cells are used instead of glass.

    • Design by Nicholas Grimshaw and project was conceived by Tim Smit.

    • The Eden Project took 2.5 year to build and opened on 17th March 2001.

    • Features include: Dina clay pit, planted landscapes, vegetable garden and several sculptures including a giant robot called RSA WEEE man.

    • The tropical biome is 1.56 hectares and 55 metres high with fruiting bananas, coffee, rubber plants and giant bamboos. The mediterranean biome covers 1.6 acres and measures 35 metres high, it houses warm temperate plants such as olives, grapes and other arid plants.

    • The outer biome (not covered) houses tea, lavender, hops, hemps and sunflowers.

    • Hex-tri-hex construction was used.

    • The core opened in 2005 and houses classrooms and exhibitions to help relationships between people and plants.

    • It provided plants for the African garden at the British museum.

    • Time of gifts project – ice ricks, café and a Christmas market.

    • There was press criticism that the Eden project received too much public funding, well over £130 million.

Banner of Oxford Botanic Garden

Oxford Botanic Garden

    • Oxford Botanical Garden is located ten kilometres south of Oxford itself.

    • Oldest botanical garden in Britian and the world as a scientific garden.

    • Founded in 1621 as a physic garden growing plants for medicinal research. It houses over 8,000 plant species over 1.8 hectares in land. It is the compact a diverse plant collection in the world. It contains approximately 90% of the higher plant families. In 1621 Henry Danvers or the 1st Earl of Darby contributed over £5,000 for “the glorification of god and the furtherance of learning”.

    • The walled garden houses a Taxus collection, hardy and herbaceous plants grouped in long, narrow rectangular beds. In 1983 The NCCPT chose Oxford Botanical Garden to cultivate a national collection of Euphorbia’s, the most rare/valuable being Euphorbia stygains.

    • The greenhouses contain – alpines, fernery, tropical lily house, orchids, palm house and succulents.

    • The Harcount Arboretum – is located next to the river Cherwood.

    • The Darby gateway was designed by Nicholas Stone between 1632 – 1633, the earliest structures to be built in Oxford.

    • Economic beds produce food, clothing, shelter materials and medicinal for example Utica dioica or the common nettle.

Banner of Chelsea Physic Garden

Chelsea Physic Garden

Apothecaries garden back in 1673

    • The word “physic” refers to the science of healing.

    • It is the second oldest botanical garden in Britian after Oxford Botanics. Its rock garden is the oldest English garden devoted to alpines. It holds the largest fruiting olive trees. It has the northern most grapefruit growing outdoors. In 1983 the garden became a charity and opened to the general public. It is a member of The London Museum of Health and Medicine. Sir John Danvers founded the original garden. The manor also referred to as The Dancers House. The house was pulled down in 1696, to make way for Danvers Street. It houses over 2,000 plant species. It also covered four acres of land.

    • Parts of the classic garden have been at the cost of the development of the 1874 construction of Chelsea embankment. The bank of the river Thames and a strip of the garden was widened for The Royal Hospital Road which reaches 1.4 hectares patch in the heart of London.