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Cambridge University Botanic Garden

by Marina Fiorenti
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Glasshouse and Bee Borders at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, credits Cambridge University

Among the various institutions associated with the University of Cambridge, its Botanic Garden stands out for its beauty. Unlike the other University museums, which are free of charge, admission to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden is charged, but I would say that it is worth paying the ticket to enjoy a few hours in this place.

History of Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Cambridge University Botanic Garden was created in 1762 in the centre of Cambridge as a physic garden, a garden where plants could be cultivated to enable the University’s medical students to study botany for their future work.

John Stevens Henslow, Professor of Botany at Cambridge from 1825 to 1861, moved the garden to its present site. His ideas about variation and nature of the species caught the attention of his famous student Charles Darwin.

Henslow was only 29 years old when he accepted the chair of Botany, which was rather in decline as was the botanical garden. He succeeded in convincing the University to give more space to allow the study of new species of trees that had arrived in Europe thanks to the explorations of North America Not just to study plants for medicinal purposes, but to study plants for themselves.

The first curator, Andrew Murray, designed a circular path that embraced the garden, cut in two by the east/west axis of the Main Walk, the beautiful avenue lined with majestic conifers. At that time there was already a lake and a greenhouse. The garden expanded so rapidly that by 1850 Murray’s published catalogue already contained 5,500 plants.

Scented Garden at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, credits Cambridge University
Scented Garden at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, credits Cambridge University

What to see at Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Murray’s layout is roughly the one we still see today. Later additions include the Glasshouses and the Limestone Rock Garden. Here the Cambridge University Botanic Garden’s highlights.


The scenic lake, one of the most beautiful parts of the gardens, was created by exploiting a gravel pit located in the cornfield that became the present site of the garden, in order to have a way to grow aquatic plants.

Inside, a small peninsula houses the Bog Garden, a shady marshy area that allows the growth of plants that need a very humid climate, such as bamboo.

Limestone Rock garden

The Limestone Rock Garden is located to the north of the lake and was created in the mid-1900s using rocks from Cumbria, some of them weighing over 3 tonnes, in order to create a suitable habitat for growing alpine plants, subdivided according to origin from the various continents.


In the glasshouses, plants ranging from those able to survive at high altitudes to tropical trees are protected in order to show the adaptability of the plant world and the different environmental habitats.

In the Mountains House alpine species are on display, while the Continents Apart House shows the similarities between the flora of South Africa and south-western Australia. In the centre, the beautiful Palm House is dedicated to rainforest plants.

Bee borders

In front of the greenhouses, two borders have been created with some of the bees’ favourite flowers in a variety of shapes and colours reminiscent of the style of country cottages gardens. Colours blue, mauve and violet flowers are very popular and are clearly visible to the bees.

The nectar of the flowers provides these insects with energy while the pollen gives them the necessary protein, and the Bee Borders include plants that flower from March until autumn so as to provide food precisely in the season when the bees go in search of nourishment.

Rising Path at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, credits Cambridge University
Rising Path at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, credits Cambridge University

Rising Path and Systematic Beds

This is a raised circular walkway built in 2018 that provides a bird’s eye view of the Systematic Beds. Intended by Andrew Murray, Systematic Beds are one of the first attractions created when the gardens were moved to their current site in the mid 1800s. They are used to show plant classification to students at the University and the division between monocotyledonous (grown in the centre) and dicotyledonous plants.

Scented Garden

The Scented garden was created in 1960 to illustrate the wide range of scents and odours created by plants, both to attract pollinating insects and to ward off pests. Among others, here we find the wide range of herbs used in cooking, such as sage, thyme and rosemary.


The fountain is one of the few modern additions to the Botanical Garden. It consists of 7 large dishes, resembling water lilies, placed at various heights, and is an irresistible attraction point for all young visitors.

? Cambridge University Botanic Garden
1 Brookside, Cambridge CB2 1JE

I absolutely recommend visiting Cambridge University Botanic Garden, it really is a must-see attraction.

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