Cambridge University Botanic Garden – June 2019

by Emma Bumpus on June 24, 2019

Summer takes Careertraveller on a scenic train ride to Cambridge, where just a 5 minute walk awaits a verdant 40-acre paradise at Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

Walking into one of the largest University-owned botanic gardens in the world begins with a kaleidoscopic show of meadow flowers in the Garden Research Plots used to grow plants for research at the university. Hues of sapphire coloured cornflowers and blazing red poppies lead us past the garden’s Garden Café whose renowned patisserie and beautiful surroundings make this a perfect day out.

Attracted by the sound of rippling water is a journey to the heart of the garden where visitors gather irresistibly by a cast iron Fountain whose giant waterlily leaf-like pads bubble with joy. Situated beautifully between the Gilbert Carter Woodland and Main Lawn tributes the work of designer David Mellor (1930-2009), whose 1970 completion offers a dash of twentieth-century to this landscape dating back to 1846.

Spoilt for choice in an oasis of 8000 plant species from 141 countries across the world we uncover a plethora of plants and trees in dedicated spaces honouring John Stevens Henlow, Professor of Botany at Cambridge University from 1825-1861. Dedicated to the study of plants and origin, his vision of extending a botanical garden into a zone of beauty for public pleasure comes alive with meandering gravel paths set against a backdrop of mature trees, patchwork gardens and variegated colour. It is of no surprise we learn that Charles Darwin was his most famous student!

In a heady haze of flora we aim for the Dry Garden whose plot of drought plants and paved area reveal an experiment into water wise gardening with imposed hose pipe ban! Designed to inspire and educate we discover drought plants and gardening techniques for conserving water in a dry climate and learn that Cambridge is one of the driest parts of Great Britain.

From water to fens we land in the neighbouring Fen Display where rocks, waterlogged soil and streams house plants and wildlife in a wet and wild landscape. Water from the Midlands and East Anglia filters through rocks, whose chalk-based calcium provides a living habitat for grass and reeds, including water loving Yellow Flag Iris, whose large sunshine flowers illuminate a pretty woodland reed bed.

Sweeping through the Rose Garden is a burst of summer in raised beds of bee attracting mauve and violet geranium and lavender. Yew enclosed benches provide a heavenly scent infused pit stop and celebrate the success of geneticist Charles Chamberlain Hurst who between 1922-1947 unravelled the modern rose genealogy in the garden.

Keen to learn more we head for the Understanding Plants display, a new addition to the garden that exhibits research from the Department of Plant Sciences investigating how plants tell the time. Greeted by two curved fences in the shape of a clock are beds of thought provoking plants that reveal how flowers in the morning and evening are controlled by a 24-hour plant clock.

Learning how plants recognise night and day brings us close to nature and encompasses us in an outdoor laboratory and classroom, which often accommodates university students and volunteers amongst schools and colleges.

Hunger for learning is a grass stretch towards the beautifully manicured Cory Lawn whose blossoming borders radiate year round colour and variety; the perfect setting for a break at the Garden Café whose adjoining terrace smacks of flavoursome views.

A free afternoon tour is a trip to the the renowned Glasshouse Range where we meet our guide, whose plant knowledge and enthusiasm takes us on a horticultural journey around the garden. Inside the Range we encounter different glasshouses with global plants from alpine Mountain House and cacti filled Arid Lands to Tropical Rainforests and Careertraveller favourite Tropical Wetlands. Exotic eye candy appears in the form of lush plantations surrounding a rice paddy with giant Santa Cruz waterlily, Victoria cruziana from North Argentina and Paraguay, whose leaves grow up to 2 metres in diameter!

Rainforest treasure from the Philippines appears in the form of evergreen climber Jade Vine, Strongylodon macrobotrys, whose luminous blue and pendulous flowers attract pollinating bats at twilight in their natural habitat.

From the hot and steamy glasshouse we step outside for a tour of seasonal highlights that take us through a majestic woodland tree collection arranged systemically in families. From Persion Ironwood to Giant Redwood, trees form an intrinsic part of the garden with policies in place to maintain their arboretum status.

The adjacent Systemic Beds delivers an abundance of colour and texture with plants grouped in species for scientific purposes. An introduction to the Squirting Cucumber aka Ecballium elaterium and Mexican yucca leaf Beschorneria yuccoide (Asparagus family) are the tip of the iceberg as we walk the 3 metre high Rising Path that offers stunning aerial views of dicotyledon plants.

As we exit past the Bee Borders, a honeypot of bee friendly flowers designed to provide food all season long, we discover the bee population is in decline. Sprays of cottage flowers especially the Common Foxglove are a display of food with tubular petals that act as runways for bees. Beautiful!

Cambridge University Botanic Garden is a great day out for everyone and within easy access of Cambridge city centre. Details of events; Science on Sundays talks, tours and range of adult courses and workshops can be found on their website below.

Further Information

Cambridge University Botanic Garden

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