Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 5 May 2014

Garden Visit: University of Bristol Botanic Garden

I've been meaning to visit the University of Bristol Botanic Garden for years, so an invitation from the Head Gardener Botanical Horticulturalist* - Andy Winfield - to attend a bloggers get together on Easter Monday was the perfect excuse to go.

The garden may look deserted in the above picture, but it was packed, I just got lucky with my timing for this photo. There was lots of lush growth around the garden showing the promise of goodies to come. This part of the display explains the different kinds of plant pollinators. This is shown by the presence of various willow animal sculptures such as bees, birds, bats and not the pictured goats. The latter were part of the sculpture exhibition put on for Easter.

The garden is very much a teaching resource and well integrated into the University's courses, so unlike many botanic gardens in the UK, its fortunes are relatively secure. Bristol has had a botanic garden since 1896 - before it became a University - though the garden we visited doesn't date from that time. It was moved to its present site in 2005. I met an ex-colleague who has been coming to the garden since that time and she described how at first there was really only a series of holes on display dug in readiness for the plants. She's enjoyed coming back to see how things have developed in the intervening years.

Another of the garden's main strands is the display of plants indigenous to the south west, so a mini Avon Gorge, Cheddar Gorge and the Somerset Levels have been built to house these plants. The picture above shows an experiment looking at the progress of plant colonisation using seed taken from nearby Durdham Downs.

Another main strand of the garden's strategy is to show plant evolution. As well as the family beds showing the plant kingdom's family tree, here we are entering the Evolutionary Dell which shows how plants developed over geological time. Even that pool on the left has a tale to tell, as it contained the tiniest of ferns collected from Snowdonia. It looked more like a very tiny grass than a fern.

There are various interpretation boards around the garden, but to really absorb some of the many tales encapsulated in this garden, I'd recommend a guided tour.

No botanic garden is complete without some glasshouses of various temperatures stuffed with verdant plants and a pool. It's not just the glasshouses, the whole garden has around 4,500 different plants, all squeezed into just over 4 acres.

Whilst in the glasshouses, I couldn't resist taking a picture of this spadix...

... and who knew the chocolate we love starts with such a small, tree hugging flower?

The garden relocated to The Holmes, the house you can see in this picture. This is usually where visitors can find refreshments and cake. It may be a botanic garden with a focus on education and conservation rather than design, but the basic needs of garden visitors are still met!

My favourite find of the day - a grassy mound dotted with Anemone pavonina. This species hails from the Mediterranean, a region which forms another of the garden's main interpretation strands as students have the opportunity to visit during their studies. Unlike the plants from this region we saw at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, species can be displayed outside in Bristol owing to a significantly lower rainfall.

This is a garden with the friendliest of welcomes and plenty of interest. I'll be returning with my SUP friends for another visit.


  • Sarah over at Hillwards has also posted about her visit. It was lovely to meet her at last :)
  • And Emma found a Time-travelling Clanger - I'm glad she posted her photo as I regretted not taking one for this post

* = I apologise to Andy for getting his job title wrong, I hope you didn't get teased too much as a result!


  1. It looks wonderful, I was especially interested to see the cocoa growing. And that grassy mound is exquisite. I think the University Botanical Gardens I've visited must have been at the previous site (in Clifton). I've had a look at the location of these, I really must visit, it's not far from me.

  2. Envy. I'm not a great garden visitor but I've been trying to persuade my family for ages that we should go to Bristol Botanic. It's a long way but not impossible in a day. No success yet - but I'll get there some time. (I think!)

  3. It was a fun afternoon, and the gardens really varied and interesting - I agree that the tour really brought them to life too. The bank of jewel-coloured anemone were my highlight I think.

  4. I also used to love visiting the old Botanical Gardens when we lived in Bristol. Like CJ above I'm going to check out the location of the new Gardens. Sounds well worth a visit.

  5. This really looks fascinating especially the chocolate flowers...


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