Ten things you didn't know about Oxford Botanic Garden

With nearly 5,000 different types of plant, Oxford Botanic Garden is a year-round oasis of biodiversity, right in the heart of the historic Oxford

By Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

Danby Gate (1853)Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

1 | Britain's oldest botanic garden

Oxford Botanic Garden is the oldest surviving botanic garden in Britain, with a foundation date of exactly two o’clock on Sunday the 25 July 1621. 

Hollyhocks herbarium specimen (1600)Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

2 | Physick

Until 1834, Oxford Botanic Garden was known as the Physick or Physic Garden and was a collection of medicinal plants (such as these hollyhocks). Today the south-west corner of the Botanic Garden is home to a modern medicinal plant collection.

Britain's oldest botanic gardenOxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

3 | Bought for £250

The founder of Oxford Botanic Garden was Henry Danvers (1573-1644), the first Earl of Danby. In April 1621 Danvers gave the University £250 (c £33,000 in today’s money) to buy approximately 5 acres of poorly drained, low-lying pasture on the banks of the River Cherwell.      

Medieval cemetery (1190)Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

4 | Ancient burial ground

The land where the Oxford Botanic Garden now sits was used as a burial ground for centuries, first by Oxford’s Jewish community prior to their expulsion from England and then by the Hospital of St John the Baptist, which stood on the site of Magdalen College until 1458. 

Glasshouses in the Autumn (2018)Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

5 | Built on 'mucke and dunge’

Between 1621 and 1636 the University’s official scavenger, Mr Windiat, provided ‘4000 loads of mucke and dunge’ in order to raise the Garden above the level of the River Cherwell in an attempt to prevent flooding. 

RosesOxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

5 | Building the Walled Garden

The Walled Garden was completed in 1633. It is made from local limestone extracted from quarries in Headington and its foundations are almost as deep as the wall is high. 

Jacob Bobart the Elder (c1599-1680) (1642)Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

7 | Planting started during the English Civil War

In 1642 as the first keeper of the Botanic Garden, Jacob Bobart the Elder (c.1599-1680) began work on the planting of the Garden the English Civil War broke out. Despite this the Garden continued with business as usual. 

Stripped bittersweet herbarium specimen (1680)Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

8 | Birthplace of Oxford University Herbaria

Bobart the Elder, along with his son Bobart the Younger, established a herbarium (collection of dried plants) which was the foundation of the Oxford University Herbaria. Today the collection contains over one million specimens and is one of the world’s greatest collections of plants. It was the personal property of the Bobarts until the 1720s when Bobart the Younger and William Sherard bequeathed it to the University. It now resides in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford and has over one million specimens.

Lily House, Botanic Garden, Oxford (1859) by Roger FentonThe J. Paul Getty Museum

9 | An outbreak of malaria

The giant water lily, Victoria amazonica, flowered in the Garden for the first time in 1853 in the special built Water Lily House tank, which still stands today. An unfortunately and unexpected side effect of this new lily tank was a localised increase in malaria which led to the Garden staff needing to be dosed with quinine. 

Dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides (2019)Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

10 | As tall as Magdalen College Tower?

In 1949, the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), raised from one of the original seed collections following the tree’s discovery in 1941, was planted in the Walled Garden. It is possible that this tree may one day equal the height of Magdalen College Tower.

Credits: Story

Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum; A brief History. 
By Professor Stephen A. Harris
Available to purchase from the Welcome Centre at Oxford Botanic Garden.  

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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