A brief history of Cambridge University Botanic Garden

One of the largest university-owned Botanic Gardens in the world, with a collection of over 8000 species of plant grown to support teaching and research and to inspire over 300 000 visitors annually

By Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Westall and Stadler garden illustration (1815) by Westall and Stadler Cambridge University Botanic Garden


The original Botanic Garden of Cambridge University was founded in 1762 in the centre of the city, now known as the New Museums Site. It was the former garden of the Austin Friars,  purchased by Dr Richard Walker, Vice-Master of Trinity College, in 1760 for £1600.

Botanic Garden lecture rooms (1800) by Richard Harraden and J Harraden Cambridge University Botanic Garden


The original botanic garden was a Physic Garden laid out in four quadrants. A lecture room was provided to teach medical students about the 'plant virtues for the benefit of mankind', but was also used by the Professor of Chemistry.

John Stevens Henslow (2013-02-12) Cambridge University Botanic Garden


John Stevens Henslow, Professor of Mineralogy in the University, was appointed Regius Professor and Walker Lecturer in Botany at the age of 29. Henslow thought the Botanic Garden at the time was ‘utterly unsuitable for the demands of modern science’.

Henslows botanical diagrams Cambridge University Botanic Garden


Henslow believed a Botanic Garden should facilitate teaching and research about plants as organisms worthy of study in their own right and persuaded the University of the necessity for a much enlarged botanic garden away from the unsuitable growing conditions in the town centre.

No longer would a botanic garden be regarded as little more than a drug plant nursery for teaching medical students – Henslow’s view was that this Garden should be for the study of the plants themselves.

Map of the Garden by Andrew Murray (2016-09-19) by Andrew Murray Cambridge University Botanic Garden


A suitable parcel of 38 acres of cornfields located one mile south of the town centre was identified for the new Botanic Garden. The Garden could now be planned along modern lines for teaching and research.


Andrew Murray, from the Liverpool Botanic Gardens was appointed Curator and  in consultation with Henslow, drew up a plan of the ‘New Botanic Garden’. This plan incorporated a lake, the systematic beds and the glasshouses all surrounded by groves and belts of trees. 

Since his appointment in 1825 Henslow had focussed his research on understanding the nature of species requiring a detailed assessment of variation in plants, which he had already documented in an extensive herbarium of British plants. The Botanic Garden would now illuminate this with living specimens.

Lime trees by Old Main Gate (2019-07-16) by Howard Rice Cambridge University Botanic Garden


The official opening of the New Botanic Garden took place on 2 Nov 1846 when the Vice-Chancellor, the Rev. Ralph Tatham planted a specimen of Tilia europaea adjacent to the main entrance on Trumpington Road. The original Botanic garden gates were installed here in 1909. 

RI Lynch Cambridge University Botanic Garden


Richard Lynch, an influential curator of the Garden, planted the groves of bamboo adjacent to the lake, the first bamboo garden in the UK. During his tenure, many new plants were developed in the Garden and were described as ‘Cantab’ plants (an abbreviation of cantabrigiensis).

Murray catalogue by Hamish Symington Cambridge University Botanic Garden


Andrew Murray published a catalogue of nearly 5,500 hardy plants in the Botanic Garden. About 2000 of these had been removed from the old Garden. Sadly Murray died in 1850 after falling into Hobson’s Conduit and contracting pneumonia.

Edith Saunders (1920) by J Palmer Clarke Cambridge University Botanic Garden


William Bateson, the father of genetics, and Edith Saunders undertook experiments in the Botanic Garden allotments and under glass. Over the next 12 years the science of genetics flourished at the Botanic Garden.

Until 1951, the Botanic Garden remained mainly as originally designed, occupying only 20 acres of the original 1831 purchase, with the eastern half being used as allotments. The glasshouses were rebuilt during this time, but by 1931 were suffering from fungal rot. By 1933 much of the glasshouse had been replaced with Burmese Teak.

Humphrey Gilbert Carter Cambridge University Botanic Garden


Humphrey Gilbert Carter was appointed as the first academic Director of the Botanic Garden. The University created an academic post within the Botany Department for a Director of the Garden. Gilbert-Carter was a taxonomist and noted teacher.

Cory Lodge staff party Cambridge University Botanic Garden


Gilbert-Carter collaborated with Reginald Cory to build Cory Lodge. The house was designed by the influential arts and crafts architect M.H. Baillie-Scott.

1 Brookside Cambridge University Botanic Garden


Reginald Cory, the most important benefactor of the Botanic Garden and a keen plantsman and gardener, left the bulk of his estate to the Botanic Garden in 1934. In 1943, the Cory Fund was established. 1 Brookside was purchased in 1947, initially used for teaching, later offices.

In 1951, John Gilmour was appointed Director of the Garden. The Cory fund was used for incorporation of the unused 18 acres of the original 1831 purchase of land.

Terrace Garden and glasshouse Cambridge University Botanic Garden


The large rock garden was developed by Bob Younger under the direction of John Gilmour. The plants were arranged in geographical order. Most of the rocks were Lancashire Carboniferous limestone pavement and about 900 tons of limestone was used in its creation.

Max Walters Cambridge University Botanic Garden


Under Max Walter’s guidance as director of the Garden, it became a regional centre for the conservation of threatened plants. He was also key in setting up the National Council for Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG). As a result there are 9 national collections at CUBG.

The Fountain at Cambridge University Botanic Garden (2016-06-08) Cambridge University Botanic Garden


David Mellor, silversmith of Sheffield was appointed to design a lily pond with fountain for the focal position at the end of the Main walk. The fountain has seven ‘water lily leaves’ in bronze rising to different heights above a circular pond.

Walters and Piggot Cambridge University Botanic Garden


Donald Pigott was appointed Director. In the same year Cory Lodge was converted from the Director’s residence to Garden offices and became home to the Cory Library.

John Parker became Director of the Garden in 1996 and Tim Upson was appointed Curator (previously called Superintendent) in 1997. The development of the eastern side of the Garden accelerated over the next decade.

Grass maze Cambridge University Botanic Garden


A grass maze in the style of the labyrinth at Knossos was designed using the New Zealand grass, Oryzopsis lessoniana (Stipa lessoniana)

Fen Display (2019-07-16) by Howard Rice Cambridge University Botanic Garden


A new Fen Display was developed. A large pool and reed-bed combination with boardwalk access through the centre was built to replace an earlier display of Fenland plants and succession.

Glasshouse Range Cambridge University Botanic Garden


A major refurbishment of the Glasshouse Range began, restoring the Temperate house using 95% of the original 70 year old teak. A major redesign of the Glasshouse displays followed under the banner of ‘The Drama of Diversity’.

Brookside entrance gate by Sir Cam Cambridge University Botanic Garden


A new entrance kiosk and gate were constructed at the corner of Bateman St and Trumpington Road to provide a clear message to the public that the Botanic Garden is to be enjoyed as an amenity by all. A concentration of Cantab plants were planted near the entrance. 

Sainsbury Laboratory (2019-06-27) by Howard Rice Cambridge University Botanic Garden


The Sainsbury Laboratory, a world class institute funded by the Gatsby Foundation to study plant development, evolution and the significance of biological diversity was opened by HRH Queen Elizabeth 11 in April 2011

Mediterranean Beds (2018-05-31) by Howard Rice Cambridge University Botanic Garden


Mediterranean beds planted out in front of the western end of the glasshouses

Beverley Glover Cambridge University Botanic Garden


Professor Beverley Glover was appointed Director of the garden. Her research focusses on the evolution and development of floral features in order to attract animal pollinators.

The Rising Path (2018-09-21) by Richard Chivers Cambridge University Botanic Garden


The Rising Path opens to the public as a culmination of three years of work to redesign and interpret the Systematic Beds, funded by the Monument Trust.

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