The Friends' e-bulletin, May 2014

Our e-bulletin is published every four months, between the Friends’ newsletters, to give up-to-date news and features about the Garden, the Arboretum and Friends’ events and activities. If you are a Friend and you would like to be sent an e-mail notification when a new bulletin is published (January, May and September), please contact: The next e-bulletin will be published in September.

Welcome from the editor

Timothy Walker

Special events: Fascination of Plants day (17th May); Plant Sale (1st June); Friends' Summer Garden Party (23rd June); Opera (16th July); Outdoor Shakespeare (8th & 9th August); RHS Day at the Cotswold Wildlife Park (10th Sept).

Regular events: Garden visits (tickets still available for many); Friends' coffee mornings at the Garden; Sunday plant tour at the Garden; Insight tours at the Arboretum

Volunteers at the Garden and Arboretum

Garden & Arboretum news:  The New Sylva Trail; The Plants 400 Project; The Florilegium Society.

Article: The Danvers family and British gardening

Postscript: General Pitt Rivers' caravan at the Arboretum


Early summer delights at the Garden: tulips in the Herbaceous Border; orchids providing new interest in the Conservatory; the dove tree fluttering against Magdalen Tower; the handkerchief tree Davidia involucrata


Welcome from the editor, Seonaid Danziger

Welcome to this Friends’ Bulletin. The next few months of summer will be packed with special events for members of the Friends. We're eagerly looking forward to the biennial Plant Sale on 1st June, where as usual there will be a wonderful selection of plants to buy. The Friends' Opera on 16th July will be a very different but equally special occasion. At the Summer Party on 23rd June we will say farewell to the Director of the Garden and Arboretum, Timothy Walker, and in anticipation of that the Friends' Chairman, Richard Mayou, has written about Timothy's early involvement with the Garden and Arboretum.  Richard is also the author of an interesting article about the Danvers family. I hope that you'll also enjoy finding out about the work of the Florilegium Society.

This e-bulletin includes information about other special events including, at Harcourt Arboretum, an outdoor opera – The Taming of the Shrew - and Fascination of Plants Day.  There are still tickets available for many of the garden visits, and of course there are the other regular events for Friends, plus an RHS Garden Day at the Cotswold Wild Life Park near Burford in September.

Don’t miss the very last item about General Pitt Rivers’ caravan at the Arboretum!

As always, I welcome all comments and contributions from you.

Seonaid (pronounced Shornid) Danziger,                                                                   

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Timothy Walker

Richard Mayou, Chairman of the Friends writes:

Timothy Walker’s resignation as Director to concentrate on teaching and lecturing means he will be entering another stage in his long association with the Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum. He began as a botanist who became a horticultural trainee at the Garden, a contemporary of Walter Sawyer, who is now Superintendent of the University Parks. When Timothy was appointed Horti Praefectus (the historic title for Director) the Garden was in good shape with modest resources but confronted by new demands. It is now difficult to recall the many changes there have been during his time: the evolving Botanic Garden, the restoration of Harcourt Arboretum, the development of a renowned education programme and new national and international roles. We in the Friends will particularly remember him as our Founder.


Timothy Walker in typical mode, enthralling his audience

For a perspective on a time of transformation, it is worth quoting Hugh Dickinson, the former Keeper of the Garden and Sherardian Professor whom I interviewed for the Friends' newsletter in 2008:

“When I was appointed Timothy Walker and Louise Allen were just getting going and there were a lot of ideas going around for changing, raising and meeting expectations. Although the Botanic Garden is comparatively small, its history and association with Oxford University has allowed us to punch well above our weight”. Hugh and Timothy used to meet weekly at 8.00am to make plans over coffee, with an annual all-day review. “As a result the Botanic Garden had afive-year rolling programme long before Wellington Square (the University administration) developed an interest in such things. This aimed to establish the Garden as an essential part of the University, the local community and as a major international player”.

From the outset, Hugh and Timothy agreed the first priority was outreach and they spent ten years building an effective strategy. The link to University science was also pivotal, including Timothy’s undergraduate teaching and other collaborations with the Department of Plant Sciences. More widely, links have been forged with other botanic gardens and the Garden has played a role out of proportion to its size in developing international conservation strategy.

Hugh recalled: “The second stage has been the restoration of the Arboretum. The different soil and greater size offer new exciting opportunities for education, amenity and research."

Hugh also looked forward to a medicinal plant garden, a major glasshouse redevelopment and to an expansion of the academic relationship with Plant Sciences: “There has never been a time at which the expertise and facilities available to the Garden and Plant Sciences have been so important, and bringing them together will impact on how we develop the new plants necessary for all our futures."

When Timothy began as Director, his ambitions were demanding but right for Britain’s oldest Botanic Garden which belonged to an international research University and which was much loved by the local community. The achievements are great and the outlines are in place for large further developments in the period up to the celebration of 400 years of Oxford Botany in 2021.

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Special events

Fascination of Plants Day - Saturday 17th May, 10am - 4pm at Harcourt Arboretum

Join us for a celebration of International Fascination of Plants day, with plant-related walks, hands-on activities and much more. Our theme this year is “Family Trees” so try out our special trail to discover trees at the Arboretum which are closely related but don’t look alike, and join in our fingerprint Arboretum art. Other organisations taking part on the day include RSPB, BBOWT, University of Oxford Department of Plant Sciences and Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre.

Normal entrance prices apply. Further information on the day's activities here.

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The Friends' Plant Sale - Sunday 1st June, 11am - 4pm at Harcourt Arboretum


Maura Allen (left) writes:

We are looking forward to seeing many Friends at our largest regular fundraising event. This year we have added a range of woodcraft activities to highlight our wonderful location, the Arboretum. You will be able to see demonstrations of wood carving and turning, bodging and charcoal making, and to admire the barn, completed last year, settling very comfortably into its woodland surroundings. As usual we have the delicious homemade teas made and served by our volunteers, plus a pig roast run by Cooper's Oxford Pork who are providing a free range rare breed Oxford Sandy and Black.

We ned lots of volunteers to help us to prepare for the day, and on the day itself, so it you are able to help please contact Mary Isaac,, 01844 279606

If you have any last-minute donations of pots, gardening books and paraphernalia or plants please do contact me, Maura Allen, on, 01865 311711. Thank you.

This event is again generously sponsored by leading Oxfordshire estate agents

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As usual, the success of the Plant Sale will depend on an army of volunteers. Here some of them reveal why they enjoy getting involved...

Anne James and Jonathan Higgens have been members of the Friends for 25 years and have been regular volunteers at the Plant Sale. Jonathan is to be found under the striped tent ready to take your money and enjoying the many and varied people who buy our wonderful plants whilst Anne begins her volunteering earlier in the week helping to label and price hundreds of plants as they are brought to the holding area (which we share with peacocks). On the sale day Anne works on one of the many plant stalls and in particular enjoys learning from her customers who often help each other out. Her advice to anyone who thinks they may not be knowledgeable enough to help on the day of the Sale is to give it a go and enjoy the experience. Both Anne and Jonathon enjoy the camaraderie and atmosphere of the sale where our largest group of Friends volunteers gather. 



Sue Bedwell answers visitors' gardening queries at the Plant Sale. Sue is a renowned gardener and plantswoman who trained and worked at Waterperry Gardens under Beatrix Havergal where her specialty was in the greenhouse. She went on to work in private gardens and established a nursery which was in operation from 1986­ to 2000. Some of you may have had the opportunity to visit her beautiful small garden Monks Hood in Bletchingdon for NGS open day where her passion for bulbs is shown to wonderful effect and her cakes are renowned. Sue has worked on the advice table at the Friends' Plant Sale for many years as well as very generously donating beautiful and unusual plants for the event. If you have any queries on the day, Sue is bound to have the answer and you will be greeted by one of the friendliest and warmest figures in the gardening world. 



Michael Pirie (left) is Head Gardener at Green Templeton College in Oxford, a garden historian and Secretary of the Oxford College Gardens group. He has generously donated a beautiful array of annuals to the Plant Sale since its inception. Michael is a long-time supporter of the Friends and recognizes the value of our work, particularly in training and education in the Garden and Arboretum.


Wendy Richardson (right) has been helping Sally Orriss with teas at the Plant Sale almost ten years. A retired orthodontist and keen gardener, Wendy relishes opportunities to volunteer and as well as helping at the Plant Sale, she has especially enjoyed working in the Garden alongside the professionals in eradicating weeds from the Family Beds. She has helped at the teas which at now being regularly held at the Arboretum and bakes cakes for these events and for the Plant Sale. On the day of the Sale, Wendy works setting up, serving and clearing up but insists the camaraderie of the teas team is worth all the effort.  She recommends it as a most rewarding experience.



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The Friends' Summer Garden Party - Monday 23rd June, 6.30 - 8.00pm at the Botanic Garden

Please e-mail Liz Woolley if you are able to attend.  If you would like to contribute to a farewell present for Director Timothy Walker, please send a cheque made payable to FOBGHA, with ‘TW present’ written on the back of it, to: Liz Woolley, Botanic Garden, Rose Lane, Oxford OX1 4AZ. The presentation will be made on 23rd June, so please send any contributions by 2nd June. Thank you.

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The Friends' Opera: L’Infideltà delusa by Joseph Haydn

Performed by New Chamber Opera, Wednesday 16th July, 6.30pm in the Warden’s Garden, New College, Oxford

Carol Maxwell (left) writes:

If you have not yet bought your tickets (£44.00 each) for this wonderful evening of entertainment, please book using this opera booking form.

Tickets will be allocated on a ‘first come, first served’ basis and will be sent out in early June.




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Outdoor Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew

Performed by Folksy Theatre, Friday 8th and Saturday 9th August, 7pm at Harcourt Arboretum

In this wonderful comedy, Baptista has declared that no one may court his youngest daughter Bianca until first her older sister, the ill-tempered Katherine, is married. Petruchio, a brash young man from Verona, agrees to marry Katherine - but can he tame her? Set in the 1950's, this is The Shrew as you’ve never seen it before, a production is filled with live music and large characters which guarantees to have audiences of young and old laughing along.

Bring your picnics, blankets, folding chairs and friends and family to enjoy this wonderful open-air production.

For more information and to book your tickets, visit the Folksy Theatre website.

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RHS Plant Day - 10th September,  10.00am - 4.30pm at the Cotswold Wildlife Park, Burford

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Regular events

Garden visits

These are, as ever, very popular and our thanks are due to the team which organises them - Jane Annett, Pauline Coombes and Harriet Bretherton.

There are still places available on:

  • A rhododendron evening at Harcourt Arboretum, Friday 23rd May
  • Hill Court, Friday 6th June
  • Rofford Manor, Friday 13th June
  • The Coach House, Ampney Crucis and Oxlease Farm, Filkins, Friday 20th June
  • Hanwell Castle, Hanwell, Saturday 21st June
  • Mill Barn and The Manor, Monday 30th June
  • Hill Barn Farm, Snowshill, Saturday 5th July
  • COACH TRIP to two Bristol hillside gardens and the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, Sunday 13th July (right)
  • COACH TRIP to the London Wetland Centre, Saturday 26th July


Further details on each visit are available here. Friends should book for garden visits using this booking form.

Please note that unfortunately the visit to Stanway House and Snowshill Manor on 16th May has had to be cancelled.


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Friends’ coffee mornings

Coffee mornings are on the first Friday of every month (except January and August) in the Garden’s Conservatory, 10:30 to 11:30am. They are an opportunity for Friends to get together and usually about 40 people attend. After coffee a member of staff leads a tour of the Garden (left).

No fee and no booking required. Fridays: 6th June, 4th July, 5th September, 3rd October.

Friends' coffee mornings have been run very efficiently by volunteer Lucy Hughes (right) for several years, but she would like to step down and so we need to find a successor. The role is not at all arduous; it involves buying coffee, milk and biscuits beforehand (for which you will be reimbursed); arriving half an hour early to make coffee; and clearing up at the end with a group of helpers who also assist with serving.

If you would like to discuss the possibility of running the monthly coffee mornings at the Botanic Garden, please contact our Volunteer Co-ordinator, 01844 279606. Thank you.


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Sunday plant tour at the Garden

With Director Timothy Walker, structured around plants of particular interest for the time of year. Tours are crammed with botanical information and horticultural tips and are great fun. A plant list is provided.

Sunday 15th June, 10.00am to 11.30am, Friends £2.00, guests £7.50 (includes entry to the Garden), no booking required, just turn up.


Insight tours at the Arboretum

Friends are very welcome to join these free tours, which are a great opportunity for Arboretum staff to show off the latest developments, and for visitors to give their thoughts and opinions as well as to ask questions.

Wednesdays 7th May, 4th June, 2nd July, 6th August, 3rd September, 1st October, 1.30pm to 3.00pm [note new, earlier time], no fee and no booking required, just turn up.


Bluebells (left) and rhododendrons (right) looking spectacular at the Arboretum in April and May

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Volunteers at the Garden and Harcourt Arboretum

Volunteer Co-ordinator Mary Isaac (right, with volunteer Harriet Bretherton standing behind) writes:

Volunteers continue to be very active at the Garden and Arboretum. We have four teams of five, involved in a variety of activities, who are at the Garden twice weekly in rotation. Spme help on the Rock Garden, in the Vegetable Garden or in the Library;  at the Arboretum the monthly working party meets on a Wednesday and is involved in a changing programme of activities, from tree planting to scrub clearance.

The Garden and Arboretum benefit hugely from the enthusiasm of all these volunteers and are very grateful for all their efforts.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please contact me, 01844 279606. Thank you.


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Garden and Arboretum news


The New Sylva Trail opens at Harcourt Arboretum

Harcourt Arboretum is taking part in celebrations going on in gardens and arboreta throughout the UK and Ireland to mark the 350th anniversary of John Evelyn’s book Sylva, and the publication of a contemporary version – The New Sylva, whose 400 pages explore the future of our forests, provide 44 detailed tree profiles, and present 200 exquisite drawings which capture the delicacy, strength and beauty of our trees. the Arboretum is hosting a Sylva Trail from April until the end of November 2014, in which twelve wooden panels, with selected text and drawings from The New Sylva, guide visitors and inform them about trees and their purpose.


Setting up the Sylva Trail at Harcourt Arboretum: (l-r) Ben Jones, Arboretum Curator; Rodas Irving of Oxford Oak, designer of trail leaf boards; Guy Horwood, Arboretum Arborist.


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The Plants 400 Project

On the 24th November 2013 a momentous countdown started – the 400 weeks until the 400th anniversary of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and the University Herbaria. This countdown is being marked by a special project highlighting 400 different plants of cultural and scientific importance from the collections of the Garden, Arboretum and Herbaria.

The first plant profiled was the Garden’s oldest specimen – an English yew tree (Taxus baccata) planted in 1645 by the first curator, Jacob Bobart (right).

Each week a new plant is showcased. The project can be followed on Twitter @Plants400 and on the specially created website. This web portal acts as a database to enable people to find out more about each featured plant and to see images of it growing in the Botanic Garden or Harcourt Arboretum, or preserved as a valuable specimen in one of the University Herbaria. You can also hear Stephen Harris and Alison Foster talking about the featured plant of the week on the BBC Oxford Garden Café Sunday lunchtime show.

Our aim is to encourage more people to realise how important plants are in their daily lives, as well as how intricate, fascinating and beautiful they are. We hope the project will be of interest to adults and children alike, and we are planning other events around the countdown such as family friendly activities during school holidays, specially commissioned works of art and plant profiles written by eminent botanists.

The project is being run jointly by the Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, the Oxford University Herbaria, and the University of Oxford Department of Plant Sciences. Dr Stephen Harris, Druce Curator of the University Herbaria, said: 'Plants are fundamental to people's lives, and through this project we are aiming to demonstrate their importance, as well as showing that the science around plants is exciting and innovative. These 400 weeks are an excellent opportunity for people to get an insight into the treasures contained within the University's living and preserved plant collections. But we're also looking to the future and would like to use the 400 weeks to showcase plants in innovative fashions, present new research and build on the foundations created by the collections over the past 400 years.'

To see all the plant profiles, go to

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The University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum Florilegium Society

The aim of the Society, which was established in 2012, is to produce botanical illustrations of a high standard, either line drawings or paintings, for archival purposes. These illustrations will further the documentation of the living collections at the Garden and Arboretum, providing us with an invaluable resource for the future. Each illustration is fully comprehensive, showing flowers, fruits and enlargements and dissections where necessary. The first themes are medicinal plants, species from the 1648 Border at the Botannic Garden and plants with a special association with Oxford. Towards the end of 2013 we added trees to the list.

The first full year, 2013, was very rewarding. Through the spring, summer and early autumn we met monthly in the garden and everyone enjoyed walking round, looking to see if there were flowers and later fruits available on their chosen species. Alison Foster and Tom Price cut selected pieces for us. A particularly valuable part of the project is the few hours that we then spend in the Garden library when Barbara McLean and Rosemary Wise, who lead the group, help the team with any botanical or technical queries they may have.  It is also good to make a start before the plants wilt!

Pinus nigra by Rosemary Wise


In the winter Barbara and Rosemary ran workshops in the Department of Plant Sciences, covering techniques of pen and ink work, drawing from herbarium specimens, dissections and the composition of a plate. Twenty five paintings were handed in for our panel of botanists to scrutinise; many were accepted outright while a few others were thought to need additions before they could be resubmitted. We are always looking out for new members. If you are interested in joining the Florilegium, please contact  From May onwards we will be meeting monthly again. This year we plan on at least one outing to the Arboretum and hope for another inspiring batch of artwork.


Atropa belladonna by Gaye Norman

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The Danvers family and British gardening


Richard Mayou writes: An article in the current Friends' newsletter about Chelsea Physic Garden, and a new biography of the poet George Herbert by John Drury, former Dean of Christ Church* emphasise the extraordinary role of the Danvers family in the origins (in the early 1620s) of Britain’s two oldest botanic gardens and their wider influence on 17th-century gardening and the arts. As we approach our 400th anniversary the achievements of this remarkable family need to be better known.

Henry Danvers KG, 1st Earl of Danby, influenced by travels in France and Italy, founded the Oxford Botanic Garden. He was a courtier who was also prominent in the arts. His younger brother, Sir John Danvers (left), a Royalist MP for Oxford who became a supporter of Parliament and a regicide, was also influenced by foreign travel. He created the first two Italian gardens in Britain. His Chelsea house and garden of the early 1620s (right), next to the former home of Sir Thomas More, were the first in Britain to be planned in a single design. There was an axial walk, a huge bowling green and statuary by Nicholas Stone who designed the walls and gates of the Oxford Botanic Garden.  After Danvers' death, the garden was leased and part became the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1673. His mansion was demolished but is commemorated by Danvers Street.



Roy Strong comments on the Chelsea garden that it “seems to have been the prototype from which stemmed the Caroline Italian garden style”. The antiquarian John Aubrey wrote in Brief Lives (1680-1693): "The Pleasure and Use of Gardens were unknown to our great Grandfathers. They were contented with Pot-herbs and did mind chiefly their Stables. ‘Twas Sir John Danvers of Chelsey who first taught us the way of Italian Gardens: He had well travelled in France and Italy, and made good observations. He had a very fine Fancy, which lay chiefly for Gardens and architecture. The Garden at Chelsey in Middlesex (as likewise the House there) does remaine Monuments of his ingenuity. He was a great acquaintance and favourite of the Lord Chancellor Bacon, who took much delight in that elegant Garden."

When Sir John remarried, his wife brought as her dowry West Lavington Manor House in Wiltshire where he created Britain’s second Italian garden. It was even more elaborate than Chelsea with much statuary. Although little is known of the design Roy Strong believes it was important in its time. The garden walls still stand.

Relatives of the Danvers brothers were also influential in the arts and gardening. The Earl of Arundel collected classical sculpture (now in the Ashmolean) and also made a reputed garden. Sir John Danvers' first wife was a close friend of John Donne and Donne's stepson was the poet George Herbert (left) who married a Danvers cousin. As a result Lord Danby became a patron of Herbert providing him with an apartment in his Wiltshire house. In the 1630s a Herbert kinsman, the Earl of Pembroke, created at Wilton the greatest garden of the first half of the century.

The Danvers passion for gardens continued in the next generation. Danby’s niece, Dorothy Osborne married the diplomat Sir William Temple and they made a famous garden at Moor Park House, Surrey. Nicholas Pevsner wrote that it “started a line of thought and visual conceptions which were to dominate first England and then the World for two centuries. It is the first suggestion ever of a possible beauty fundamentally different from the formal, a beauty of irregularity and fancy”.

We know Henry Danvers, Lord Danby, as the founder of our outstanding Botanic Garden here in Oxford. However, he and his family were much more widely important in a key stage of the development of British gardening. They were also central figures in politics, the visual arts and poetry. We should celebrate them all.

*John Drury, 2013, Music at Midnight, Allen Lane.

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Postscript: General Pitt Rivers' caravan at the Arboretum

Next time you visit the Arboretum, have a close look at the curious structure which acts as our ticket office there. It was once the caravan of General Pitt Rivers and Felicity Wood has kindly provided this link to a piece she wrote describing its history for the Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum's newsletter.