400th Anniversary of the founding of Oxford Botanic Garden

On July 25th Oxford Botanic Garden will celebrate the 400th anniversary of its founding as the Oxford Physic Garden in 2021.

On that day in 1621 at precisely 2pm the Vice-Chancellor laid the founding stone on the 5-acre site leased from Magdalen College by the Garden’s founder Henry Danvers First Earl of Danby KG whose intention was to provide Oxford with a physic garden for teaching medical students about medicinal plants.

Over the next 20 years the level of the land, which sits within the flood plain of the River Cherwell was raised with “four thousand cart loads of mucke and dunge” and a wall with four gateways built to enclose the Garden. It was planted in the 1640s following the appointment of the Garden’s first Keeper Jakob Bobart the Elder inn 1642. The Physic Garden was renamed the Botanic Garden in the 1830s by Sherardian Professor Charles Daubeny to reflect its now primary focus on experimental botany and taxonomy. In 1946 the Garden was expanded with the lease of a further three acres from Christ Church at the southern end adjacent to Christ Church Meadow. In 1963 the Botanic Garden expanded further by taking on the management of eight acres of pinetum at the University’s Nuneham Estate at Nuneham Courtenay which the expanded to become the 130 acre Harcourt Arboretum.

Today the Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum cultivate ~5000 different plants used in research, teaching, conservation, and engaging with the public.

July 25th 2021 will mark the launch of a year of events and activities to celebrate the history and activities of the Botanic Garden and its ambitious plans for the future (see: https://www.obga.ox.ac.uk/). In the morning there will be a small private event at which the Chancellor, Baron Patton of Barnes, will plant a handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata) to commemorate the day. Peter Beales Roses Ltd and Botanic Garden Director, Professor Simon Hiscock, will then reveal a new hybrid rose created to celebrate the 400th anniversary. At 1pm the Garden will open to the public for free and at 2pm the bells of Magdalen will ring out to mark the time the founding stone was laid on that day in 1621.  

Larger scale celebrations, originally scheduled for July 25th and the subsequent week, have been postponed until July 2022 because of the pandemic thereby allowing celebrations to be extended for a year. Highlights will include: a new song cycle at the Oxford Lieder Festival, performances of new work by Oxford Professor of Poetry Alice Oswald, concerts by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the official launch of the celebration rose at Chelsea Flower Show in May 2022 (originally 2021). A special celebration whisky has also been produced in collaboration with the Oxford Artisan Distillery. An exhibition at the Weston Library, Roots to Seeds: 400 years of Oxford botany, runs until October 2021.