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  • Writer's pictureDoug Chapman, MA

A Brief History of Cambridge University Botanic Garden

What is Cambridge University Botanic Garden?

Cambridge University Botanic Garden is a tranquil botanic garden with over 8,000 different species of plants.

Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Cambridge University Botanic Garden History

This wonderful horticultural patchwork is one of the major landmarks in the city and offers a peaceful place for an afternoon stroll. The Botanic Garden hosts a collection of over 8,000 species from around the globe spread over a 16-hectare site. The garden both promotes scholarship and welcomes the casual visitor in search of green tranquillity. In pleasant weather, it’s without a doubt one of the best locations in Cambridge to spend an idle afternoon. It offers the combination of a beautiful setting alongside interesting and informative botanical displays, and on any given sunny day the gardens will be full of people, wandering the footpaths and lounging on blankets in the many open spaces.

The original iteration of the Botanic Garden was founded in 1762 in a more central location of the city to provide remedies and plants for use by the university’s medical students. It was not until nearly a century later that it was relocated to the present site by John Stevens Henslow, Professor of Botany and mentor of naturalist Charles Darwin. Henslow envisioned the garden as a site to study the emerging science of botany, and originally arranged it in the distinctive ‘Gardenesque’ style that can still be seen in the older parts. It was eventually opened to the public in 1846.

While the entire garden merits exploration, particular highlights include the Glasshouse Range to the north of the site (especially useful for warming oneself during a wintertime visit), a serene rock garden by the pond, and a peculiar tree that appears at first glance to have eaten a brick wall. This wild pear suffered a lost branch in the 1960s and the gap was bricked over. It has since slowly grown to encompass the brick bandage and the sight has startled many a passer-by in the years since, observing it from one of the main paths. Another feature that merits a visit is a small bridge situated over a recreated fen. The terrain is common to the area and much of Cambridgeshire would once have looked like this. The garden also regularly hosts talks and tours to teach guests about the many wonderful (and occasionally bizarre) specimens tended on the site.

Dive deep into the city’s rich history with our comprehensive Cambridge audio tour.

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