Let's Go: Oxford Botanic Garden

We escaped the farm. We left the chickens and cats in the best care possible to embark on a delayed vacation to the U.K. for much needed time away. Apparently, however, being away from the garden for a few days sent me into withdrawals. When FM and I spotted the Oxford Botanic Garden from our bus window - well - you know. Ding went the Stop Request button on the bus and into the oldest garden I've ever visited we went.

FM wandering around on his own near the water lily pond. At over 400 years old, this garden is full of history as well as plants.

From Wikipedia: The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in Great Britain and one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world. The garden was founded in 1621 as a physic garden growing plants for medicinal research. Today it contains over 5,000 different plant species on 4+1⁄2 acres. It is one of the most diverse yet compact collections of plants in the world and includes representatives from over 90% of the higher plant families.

From the Oxford Botanic Garden's website: The Garden’s founder, the first Earl of Danby, Henry Danvers KG wanted a ‘Physic Garden’ for teaching medical students about medicinal plants. He leased the five acre site from Magdalen College and, at 2pm on July 25th 1621, the founding stone was laid by the University of Oxford’s Vice Chancellor.

Over the next 20 years the level of the land, which sits within the flood plain of the River Cherwell was raised with “four thousand cart loads of mucke and dunge” and a wall with four gateways built to enclose the Garden. It was planted in the 1640s following the appointment of the Garden’s first Keeper Jacob Bobart the Elder in 1642. In 1648, Bobart created a catalogue of all the plants which he grew, now preserved as a treasured ancient manuscript at the Garden.

The Physic Garden was renamed the Botanic Garden in the 1830s by Sherardian Professor Charles Daubeny to reflect its growing focus on experimental botany and taxonomy. In 1946 the Garden was expanded with the lease of a further three acres from Christ Church at the southern end adjacent to Christ Church Meadow.

Today their mission is to communicate to the widest possible audience the critical importance plants play in our existence and well-being. And what a beautiful setting in which to do so!

In true British form, the gardens are romantic and beautiful. They happen to also be educational, scientifically significant, well-organized and diverse. There are areas of formal walled gardens, herbaceous borders, a small orchard, wetlands, wild meadows and water features. Let us then explore the surface of one of the premiere botanic gardens in the world. 

The building pictured here has been challenging for me to identify, as far as I can tell it is the Professor's House, though now used for graduate student accommodation.

The garden is comprised of two primary areas, the Walled Garden and the Lower Garden. This is the original seventeenth century stone wall in the former.

Do you see what I mean about feeling romantic?

A gate in the walled garden leading out to the greenhouses.

Begonia grandis subsp. evansiana and daphne.

The Taxonomic Beds comprise much of the plant material in the Walled Garden.

Standing in the Walled Garden looking out towards the Lower Garden and Water Lily Pond in the center.

In the Literary Garden where apparently the Cheshire Cat lives as well as Tolkien's Tree, a Pinus nigra, once stood (sadly it had to be removed in 2004). Many understory and woodland plants occupy this bed.

FM enjoying some sitting time in front of Datisca cannabina, false hemp.

Magdalen College Tower in the background.

The corner of the Literary Garden within the Walled Garden.

A rather large Itea ilicifolia, one of several I saw on this trip, looms large against the garden wall.

On the other side of the wall and now entering the Lower Garden with the beginnings of the rather large herbaceous border on the left.

The Herbaceous Border outside of the Walled Garden was a surprise.

Densely planted with herbaceous material, this was still full of flowers even in early October.

It feels like a typical English style border to me, delightful in its color shifts, graduated plant heights and textures.

Across the lawn from the herbaceous border are the Gin Border and Plants that Changed the World Gardens.

Standing in the Gin Border looking towards that fantastic stone wall and herbaceous border.

Farther down in the Lower Garden, the Merton Borders felt familiar. They are fairly wild and full of life. Seed heads from grasses and perennials will continue to provide for the array of wildlife they attract. I relate them to my own meadow garden where herbaceous plants and grasses are encouraged to reseed  and fill all spaces and are left for the winter to provide shelter. I was surprised and happy to see this, such a contrast from meticulously groomed formal gardens in the Walled Garden.

The Oxford Botanic Garden is hard at work protecting plant species and improving biodiversity throughout the U.K. The website is full of information about this and educational programs.

A European robin, so sweet in her birdsong, sat watching us and talking for several minutes.

A small but mighty orchard.

The gardens are bordered on one side by the River Cherwell with a lovely walking path along its bank.

The edge of the Water Garden with the Autumn Garden in the background.

Perhaps Persicaria amplexicaulis along the edge of the Water Garden.

In my own garden this would feel out of character, however it is meant to be in a garden such as this.

The Autumn Border was, as would be expected, in full swing this time of the year. The color combinations are wonderful - purples, blues, reds, cerise and more.

Tetrapanax papyrifer with asters at its feet.

The Rock Garden features many Mediterranean plants.

A rose climbing up the wall in the Rock Garden.

Water Lilies in the Water Lily Pond, most likely Nymphaea 'Colorado'.

The Water Lily Pond with the Lower Garden beyond.

The Water Lily Pond is in the heart of the Rock Garden. Foreground, left is Phlomis fruticosa.

Actaea pachypoda, doll's eyes.

Along the inner Walled Garden.

Any Inspector Lewis fans out there? Do you remember this episode?

Perfectly maintained lawns in the Walled Garden with mature trees as a gorgeous backdrop.

Olearia solandri or coastal daisy bush in the New Zealand Border.

A personal favorite, Atriplex halimus.

FM on the bench in the background patiently awaiting for me to finish my photographic journey of the Oxford Botanic Garden.

Poised and waiting between two Hershey's kisses. FM says he is not necessarily "waiting" but enjoying the garden at a much slower pace. Jetlag does that to a person.
Just lovely stonework, vines and a place to sit for a cup of tea.

The Conservatory near the entrance.

The gardens are along the River Charwell where punting is alive and well. Although we were up for trying it, we ran out of time and will have to give it a go (or hire some student to do the driving) another day. So. You can visit the garden, grab a cup of coffee and go punting all in one place. How perfect is that?

As we left the garden we walked along the river past Christ Church Meadow where some very lucky cows were having lunch. 

There is so much more to this garden than this, layers of science, history, points of interest and beauty throughout the year. I would encourage anyone with the chance to definitely stop for a visit. If I lived in Oxford I think it would not only be a place to have membership to, it would be a place I would definitely volunteer in. It is also backdrop to movies and television, for me it was familiar from Inspector Lewis and Morse.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Stay tuned for more British garden adventures, this isn't the end of it. We spent an afternoon at both Sissinghurst and Great Dixter, two gardens I have been wanting to visit for decades. They did not disappoint. More to come!

Cheers from us both and thank you for reading and commenting, we do love hearing from you all! Happy gardening to you all!


  1. I can definitely envision you rushing around to see *absolutely everything* with FM trailing behind slowly.

  2. So do I understand correctly that you just happened upon this lovely garden? It wasn't a spot you intended to visit? How lucky! I love that conservatory.

    1. Yup, kind of - FM had it on his radar from a while back but we literally passed it while riding the bus. Such a find.

  3. Anonymous3:46 PM PDT

    Thrilled that you finally got to make this oft-postponed trip!

    1. Woo hoo! We are so lucky and happy to have finally gone. Hooray!

  4. Enjoy what looks to be a fabulous vacation with many gardens to examine and experience. There are many besides Sissinghurst and Greater Dixter--but those will surely be wonderful.

    1. Ah, yes, but since we're home now we'll just have to go back and see some of the others another trip! I actually can't wait to go back.

  5. Anonymous7:29 AM PDT

    You just did an 8-year retrospective post. I thought how lucky it's not a 400 year old garden, although I would gladly read one :-D
    I'm an anglophile, never get enough of anything British (including Inspector Lewis), and they do gardens right! Just returned from a week in Stockholm where I was happy and a little surprised to find many common plants that I grow in my PNW garden. I bet you'll find common plants and get ideas to apply in your garden.
    All those romantic borders, arbors and walls... absolutely perfect for curing jet lag.
    I love those berries on Actaea pachypoda, doll's eyes. (I wish the Actaea ‘Black Negligee’ in my garden had them too).

    1. Oh my gosh could you imagine what a long post that would be? Oy!

      I'm the same, well - FM and I both are - anglophiles for sure. Love history and the gardens and....all of it, really. Except the driving thing.

      We too saw many common plants in the UK but they are grown so well and look so perfectly placed, it's an inspiration.

  6. Thank goodness you stopped. It would have been a shame to miss this. What a sweet treat to visit Ye Olde England. Enjoy and I look forward to seeing future posts.

    1. I know, thank goodness we stopped! I would have kicked myself for missing this one.

  7. What a lovely find! I love walled gardens - very British. Plus, the lushness and color that a mild climate with consistent rainfall allows for. History and gardens mix so well together. "The Anatomy of Melancholy" would make a great name for something, maybe a plant with somber purply-black flowers? Or, maybe something that blooms in the fall, when all our Oregon clouds return. So glad you found this place!

    1. Those walls....swoon! They just can't be recreated like that. History and gardens - two of my favorite subjects. That's a great name, Jerry - "The Anatomy of Melancholy" - somehow that hits a good nerve with me. Brings some kind of connection to place. Love it.


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