A lunchtime visit to Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Two weeks into my new job and so far things are going pretty well. My new work colleagues are all really nice, I’m enjoying the work and my long commute by train to the office is not as bad as I thought it might be. As an added perk, the office happens to be only 5 minutes walk from the Cambridge University Botanic Garden so, on a lovely sunny day last week, I went there for my lunch-break.


The garden, which opened in 1846, was a replacement for a smaller garden that was founded in 1762 on what is now known as the New Museums Site. The original garden was set up as a typical Renaissance physic garden to grow herbaceous plants for the teaching of medical students but John Henslow, Professor of Botany at Cambridge from 1825-1861 and the driving force behind the project, wanted the new garden to be for the study of the plants themselves. This is reflected in the layout of the older part of the garden, where closely-related plants are still grouped together today.

This was not my first visit to the garden, as I used to go there when I lived in Cambridge as an undergraduate student. Going back was like meeting up with an old friend you haven’t seen in several years – familiar, but also a bit different. Since my undergraduate days new buildings have been built to house a new research institute The Sainsbury Laboratory  and accompanying plant growth facilities. Even the public café has now moved into The Sainsbury Laboratory building.


Goldsturm (Rudbeckia fulgida) also known as black-eyed Susan

On this visit, I stayed at the end of the garden nearest my office, starting with the Autumn Garden. This end of the garden was developed in the 1950s, and the plants are arranged by theme instead of family, as in the older parts of the garden. The Autumn garden was full of displays of brightly-coloured flowers such as the goldsturm (Rudbeckia fulgida) — also known as black-eyed Susan — a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae) from North America.

Californian poppy (

Californian poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

Next I walked past the Chronological Bed, showing a timeline of some of the many plants introduced to the UK over the last few hundred years, including well-known plants like bamboo and the lesser-known giant ornamental onion (Allium giganteum). The most striking was the Californian poppy (Eschscholzia californica), a relative of the red poppy found in Europe (see this guest post).

The gardens hold several collections of plants that were developed for research and many are considered to be of national importance. Near the new Sainsbury Laboratory building were displays of some of these collections, including the lavender collection, established by the garden’s curator Dr Tim Upson, to investigate their classification and evolution.

With the clock ticking, it was time for me to leave the garden and get back to work. I am sure this is just the first of many lunchtime visits and I look forward to seeing the garden change over the seasons.

All images by S. Shailes. Licenced under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Reference: Cambridge University Botanic Garden website  http://www.botanic.cam.ac.uk/Botanic/Home.aspx (retrieved 24/09/14)


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