Not every garden in the world is something to write home about. At the oldest botanical garden in Britain, however, many an author and poet have been intoxicated by the flora and fauna. First planted for medicinal purposes, the Oxford Botanical Garden’s herbs have been known to heal more than one’s physical maladies.
In 1621, the 1st Earl of Danby, Henry Danvers, donated five thousand pounds in order to construct a physic garden on the Univeristy of Oxford’s grounds for medicinal research. Still surrounded by its 17th Century brick walls and the Baroque-style Danby gate, the 4 ½ acre garden holds over 5,000 plant species. One of the most diverse collections in the world, the garden contains 90% of the higher plant families for herbaceous research and study. From Verbenaceae to Violaceae this garden could provide herbal assistance to any sickness or drink in need of botanicals, though the serene garden’s place in history is more renowned due to the written word.
Firmly located within the University of Oxford, the historic garden provides a welcomed solace away from the debate-filled classrooms. Many writers, who were also professors at the hallowed institution, found inspiration within the walls of this aromatic environment. Lewis Carroll often visited the gardens with Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, along with one of the garden’s greenhouses appearing in one of the book’s illustrations. J.R.R Tolkien was known to smoke his pipe beneath the garden’s ornamental black pine, which many to believe to be the muse of his “Ent” creatures in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Lastly, fans of Phillip Pullman’s writings make pilgrimages to a bench within the gardens where two of his characters supposedly meet though living in two separate worlds.
Walled off from the frenzied study halls, the old garden feels like a separate universe from the bustling university. Whether needing mental or physical medicine, Oxford’s floral forest has one covered with a plethora of remedies. One only need bring their smoking pipe.