About Oxford Botanic Garden
Situated beneath Oxford’s dreaming spires on the banks of the River Cherwell, the city’s Botanic Garden offers a peaceful retreat from the bustling ranks of tourists that typically animate the neighbouring High Street. As befits a city of Oxford’s academic standing, the Botanic Garden mixes aesthetic splendour with serious scientific pedigree. Originally founded in 1621 to grow plants for medicinal research, it now boasts one the most diverse collections of plants on the planet.
Oxford Botanic Garden history
Founded by Henry Danvers, the First Earl of Danby, in 1621, the Botanic Garden was originally conceived as a place to grow plants for medicinal study. Danvers contributed the princely sum of £5,000 (more than £5 million in today’s money) towards the creation of a garden “for the glorification of the works of God and for the furtherance of learning”. The result, located on the site of a medieval Jewish cemetery, was impressive and significant – it is the oldest botanic garden in the UK.
Despite Danby’s substantial donation, much of the budget was spent on the impressive walls that enclose the garden, leaving little money for the plants. Nonetheless an impressive botanical collection began to emerge and the stonework that surrounds it, including a grand gateway, the Danby Arch (courtesy of Inigo Jones’ master mason, Nicholas Stone), remains one of Oxford’s architectural highlights.
Oxford Botanic Garden today
Despite the relative constrictions of its compact setting, the Botanic Garden grants access to a spectacular celebration of botanic diversity across an array of beautifully maintained spaces. The walled garden is home to a fine collection of hardy plants, still ordered in oblong beds according to 19th century botanical classifications and a series of glasshouses transport visitors to vibrant tropical realms, resplendent with a riot of exotic flora. Highlights include a tropical water lily pond and the quietly menacing Carnivorous Plant House.
Getting to Oxford Botanic Garden
Like so many of Oxford’s best historic sites, you don’t have to venture far from the city centre to find the Botanic Garden. A short stroll up the High Street will bring you to the Danby Arch and the entrance to the garden, situated just ahead of Magdalen Bridge.
There’s a modest admission fee (children under the age of 16 can get in for free).
Opening times vary according to the season. For most of the year the gardens are open between 9am and 5pm but the opening hours are 10am to 3pm between November and February.
If the weather’s nice the gardens are a lovely spot to spend a lethargic afternoon. There are plenty of benches and picnics are welcome, just remember to take your waste with you.