The A to Z Challenge – B is for Botanic Gardens

If you have never set foot inside  a Botanic Garden I hope this short piece will encourage you to visit one;  not only are they fascinating places but one day they may play an important part in our survival.

I was lucky enough to grow up in Oxford where my father worked for the University;  visiting the Botanic Garden  ( was  a regular part of my childhood and, combined with my mother’s love of gardening,  led to my becoming a passionate gardener with a large greenhouse that competes for my time with preparing my book for publishing.

The Garden lies next to the River Cherwell and is a peaceful oasis in the centre of the city; it was founded by Sir Henry Danvers in 1621 for “the glorification of God and for the furtherance of learning”.  The walls and arches are on a very grand  scale and building them used up most of the money  Danvers had donated to set up the Garden so it took some time for the plant collection to increase;  however, the conditions created within the walls enable a wide range of plants from all parts of the world to grow there.

The oldest tree in the Garden is an English Yew;    in 1645 when it  was planted by the Botanic Garden’s first official curator, Jacob Bobart,  it would not have been considered a medicinal plant but many people now donate the clippings from their yew trees to be used in the production of cancer-fighting drugs.

When I was on the Italian Gardens Tour I mentioned in yesterday’s blog I felt privileged to visit the Pisa Botanical Garden  which is the oldest university Botanic Garden in Europe having been founded in 1543 by the physician and botanist Luca Ghini  who was given the post of  Chair of Botany by Grand Duke Cosimo I de” Medici.

  I hope that it has retained the same feeling of history nearly twenty years on.

In 1997,  when  visiting St. Louis, I  was given the most wonderful guided tour of the Missouri Botanical Garden;  my guide was a lady volunteer with a real love of, and enthusiasm for sharing, this wonderful place.  Founded in 1859, this is the youngest of the three Gardens mentioned in this article but is the USA’s oldest Botanical garden in continuous operation and within its 79 acres   holds one of the world’s largest collections of rare and endangered orchids.

Visit these places if you get the chance,  they are living history.