The Garden Guide

Book: Gardening tours by J.C. Loudon 1831-1842
Chapter: Middlesex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Wilshire, Dorsetshire, Hampshire, Sussex, and Kent in the Summer of 1832

Oxford Botanic Garden

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The Botanic Garden at Oxford is a venerable establishment. It is entered by a noble stone archway, through which is seen a vista to the other extremity of the garden. The two principal hot-houses have elevations of stone, massive and grand in an architectural point of view, but scarcely suitable for preserving plants, much less for growing them. There are two other hothouses with very steep roofs, adjusted to the angle recommended by Boerhaave as admitting the greatest number of the sun's rays during the winter solstice. The walls of the garden appear to be about 2 ft. thick, and 12 ft. high, with a coved Gothic cornice on each side, under an elevated Gothic coping. The whole wall is composed of large blocks of smoothly dressed stone, and forms the noblest garden wall, speaking architecturally, which we have seen in any country. Comparing this botanic garden with all the others in Britain, it as far surpasses them in an architectural point of view, as it is inferior to the best of them in botanical riches. When we first saw it, in 1804, it was a very poor and apparently neglected garden, hardly worthy of being called botanical; but since it has been put under the direction of Mr. Baxter, the present curator, it has been in all respects wonderfully improved: the number of species, as it appeared to us, has been more than tripled; and the whole is in far better order and keeping. Mr. Baxter has also raised the entire surface of the garden 10 in., and has brought into culture a space outside, the surface of which he has also raised. All this he has effected without any extra-assistance, in the course of a great number of years, doing a little during the winter of each. It is, indeed, altogether extraordinary that Mr. Baxter has been able to accomplish this, since he has not half the number of men requisite for keeping such a garden in proper order. In proper order, indeed, it is impossible that it can be kept; we merely say that it is wonderful that it should be so good as it is. In showing us round, Mr. Baxter pointed out some box and yew hedges 9 ft. broad, which must be as old as the garden itself. The branches of yew are, in many places, grown together by a sort of natural inarching. These hedges are of no use whatever; and are injurious by occupying space, and affording a harbour to slugs, mice, birds, and other vermin. The cistern for aquatics is a parallelogram trough of boards, lined with copper, about 2 ft. wide, divided into squares of one foot each, so that each plant is kept perfectly distinct. The upper surface is about 3 ft. from the ground, so that all the plants are near the eye. In this aquarium the plant which was the most rare to us was the Caltha natans. The stages for alpines are built solid of brick; each step is 9 in. wide, and the thickness of a brick higher than the one below it. The pots are thus kept cool, the worms are prevented from entering them, and the plants are presented advantageously to the eye. There is a considerable collection of willows, and a surprising number of new plants, considering that none are purchased, and that there is but little to exchange with other botanic gardens for them. Some of the newest articles have been contributed by our good friend, Mr. Cameron of the Birmingham Garden. Near the entrance gate is what is believed to be the oldest and largest Christ's thorn (Paliurus aculeatus) in England: it is about 20 ft. high, and would extend wider were it not surrounded by other plants. It is now beautifully in bloom, a circumstance which adds greatly to its value as an ornamental shrub, there being very few of these which flower in August. There is an Aristolochia here, the leaves of which always produce a portion of green leaf on the under side, slightly attached in the middle, and showing a surface like that of the upper side. Whether this is a disease, or a peculiarity of growth, Mr. Baxter has been unable to ascertain. There are numerous fine plants of Yucca gloriosa in one part of the garden; and Mr. Baxter finds that suckers of this species require 12 years' growth before they come into flower, and that afterwards they flower every 4 or 5 years. He had five yuccas in flower at once, a year or two ago, some of them having flower stems 15 ft. high.