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CambPlants Hub

A networking organisation for plants-related research and impact

As CUBG celebrates 175 years of being on this site, we are delighted to share memories of the Garden past and present, as well as host a variety of summer activities for our visitors to enjoy.  

This year, CUBG celebrates 175 years on our current 40 acre site. Founded by John Stevens Henslow, a biologist and Professor of Botany at the University of Cambridge from 1825, and designed by the Garden’s first Curator, Andrew Murray, (1845-1850), the move to this site saw the Garden evolve from a small city centre physic garden for medical students learning how to use plants as treatments, into a large and accessible garden showcasing plants from around the world grown for research and teaching purposes in beautiful landscapes.  

CUBG at 175 years:
This summer, we are delighted to be hosting a summer of activities for our visitors which include:  

CUBG’s Director Beverley Glover says: “It is both humbling and an honour to reflect on and celebrate the significance of this Anniversary, especially at a time when the Garden has taken on a new role and meaning to our local community during lockdown. We have had so many wonderful messages of gratitude and support for the Garden remaining open during the pandemic. In our anniversary year, we really want to appreciate and reflect on what the Garden means to our local community, our visitors from further afield and our social media followers as well as our researchers, students, Garden guides, volunteers, members and staff – in fact everyone who make this a wonderful place to visit and work in and who give the Garden its unique and special spirit.”

Over the summer, we will be sharing pictures and memories from the Garden’s archive on our social media channels, as well as asking our visitors, Friends and followers to share their memories, favourite plants and areas of the Garden using #CUBG175.

CUBG – our history:

The transition to the Garden’s current location was made possible through Henslow, who successfully persuaded the University of the need for a much bigger site. The purpose of this new botanic garden would be to study plants in their own right, marking a clear shift from the traditional concept of a Physic Garden. Henslow also wanted more space to grow a collection of large trees, particularly those being discovered in different parts of the world.

The present-day Garden has been designed in two halves – the Western half laid out by Henslow and Murray from 1846, and the Eastern half developed over 100 years later in the 1950s.

The Western half, designed in Gardenesque style, has only one straight line – the Main Walk – with trees grouped together in families around the outside of a curving path. The Eastern half is laid out to show scientific thinking with areas that highlight plant science research and different growing environments, together with demonstration gardens.

CUBG today:

Today, the Garden is home to a collection of over 8,000 plant species from all over the world. This diverse range of plants includes many threatened with extinction, as we aim to anticipate scientific research needs and prevent species from dying out. Plant research covers wide-ranging topics including plant behaviours, global food security, conservation of biodiversity and habitats.

CUBG is also one of the most visited University botanic gardens in the world and celebrated a record 300,000 annual visitors through its gates in 2018. Although its primary role is to support scientific research and teaching, it is also an outdoor classroom to almost 8,000 school children who visit each year and our Learning Team run adult courses, workshops and talks for the general public and community programmes. We also hold events for visitors as well as being an inspirational place to visit and relax in for visitors from all over the world.

During the COVID pandemic, the Garden closed from April – June 2020 with just a small team of skeleton staff working on site to keep the collection of plants alive. Since re-opening in June 2020, the Garden has become a valued green space for the local community for walking and wellbeing.

Pioneering times - the role and importance of plants for scientific research and teaching:

At a time when plants were seen as part of God’s unchanging creation, Henslow’s Garden pioneered research into the idea of variation in plant species. Henslow wanted to understand the variations, ranges and boundaries of plant species.

This influence was far-reaching, with Charles Darwin following Henlow’s teachings for many years. In fact, Darwin owes his place on the Beagle to Henslow who nominated him to go and observe, collect and note the natural world. The voyage proved groundbreaking –demonstrating that in the variation of species over time, new or different species can evolve. The thinking and theorising with Henslow laid out a path for Darwin’s evolutionary theories.

Today, the Garden’s Director is Professor Beverley Glover, whose research includes understanding what attracts animal pollinators to flowers, the developmental programs that build flowers and how these evolved. This research ties in to current global concerns including the supply of food, for example how to feed the world in the future when 35% of food comes from crops that rely on animals for pollination.

CUBG and the future:

In the future CUBG’s main priorities are to continue to support international plant science research and teaching; encourage and facilitate the use of the Garden’s plant collection for research and teaching; and develop displays and interpretation to deliver the research to our visitors.

As well as our living collection of plants, CUBG’s other collections include a herbarium collection of dried plants; a seed bank; printed collections held in the Cory Library and an archive collection of manuscripts and objects.

Learning and Community:

CUBG is a valuable resource and an inspirational outdoor classroom for everyone. It is a place to develop knowledge, encourage creativity and bring learning to life. Our learning programmes deliver activities for schools, colleges, universities, community groups, families and adults with a great choice of activities and events throughout the year to encourage exploration of the natural world. Our learning team also run a community programme – reaching out to local groups and residents through a range of projects and initiatives.


Protecting the world’s plant diversity is a crucial part of the activity of any botanic garden. CUBG holds over 8,000 plant species from around the world, with 4% of those species listed on the IUCN Red list as threatened. Of those, 18% are critically endangered. These plants are being looked after as an insurance policy against extinction in the wild - known as ex situ conservation.

In 2019, we launched the Garden’s first ever Collections Strategy, with conservation at the heart of it and received the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) Accreditation Award in recognition of achievements in plant science, horticulture, education and conservation.

The Garden holds a number of rare and endangered plants within our collection (such as the Wollemi Pine, Wollemia nobilis; Giant Redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum; Titan Arum, Amorphophallus titanium and Impatiens gordonii x I walleriana ‘Ray of Hope’). Alongside these, CUBG staff undertake collecting expeditions which are an essential activity to ensure that our living collections are stocked with living material of wild provenance and help with international conservation programmes. We are also actively involved in monitoring and recording wildlife in the Garden, as well as running regular conservation and wildlife talks and events for the public.

More recent events of interest:

More recently, CUBG has received worldwide interest for the flowering of our Moonflower and for recording the hottest day in the UK. In 2019, the Winter Garden - which was the first botanic garden in the UK to dedicate an area solely to plants offering ornamental winter interest - celebrated 40 years.

Recent stand-out science and conservation moments include how plants from our alpine collect are shown to spin their own flavonoid wool; our collections going online for the first time; receiving a BGCI accreditation award; successful pollination of our titan arum and Beverley Glover's research into plant iridescence.

As we celebrate 175 years, we look forward to the years ahead and thank all our Friends and visitors for their continued support! Please do share your thoughts and memories on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels @CUBotanic Garden using #CUBG175.

Historical events of interest:

1831: University acquired the current Botanic Garden site soon after the appointment of John S Henslow as Professor of Botany in 1825.
1845: Andrew Murray was appointed as the first Curator of the new Botanic Garden. He began planting following the ‘gardenesque-style’ plans that had been drawn up a decade earlier by architect Edward Lapidge.
1846: Botanic Garden on Trumpington Street finally opened after a 13 year delay due to a dispute over the tenancy of the land.
1855: First Glasshouse Range was built on the northern boundary of the Garden. This was replaced in 1888-91.
1858: The Lake was constructed around an old gravel pit at a cost of £152.
1904: Weather recordings began at the Botanic Garden. The Garden continues to provide daily figures to the Meteorological Office.
1909: The old Botanic Garden wrought iron gates and flanking limestone pillars dating from 1762 were transferred to the Trumpington Road end of the Main Walk.
1921: Humphrey Gilbert-Carter appointed first academic Director (1921-50). He developed a life-long friendship with Reginald Cory which led to Cory’s generous donations to the Garden.
1924: Cory Lodge was built for the Director Henry Gilbert-Carter with money given by Reginald Cory, the Garden’s benefactor. Directors John Gilmour and Max Walters also lived in Cory Lodge. In 1986 it ceased to be the Director’s house and now is used as offices for the Curator, Plant Records Officer, Head of Horticulture and Head of Estates.
1932-34: The present Glasshouse Range was re-built complete with a 90ft corridor at the rear.
1940-45: A large part of the Eastern section of the Garden was transformed into allotments during WWII.
1951-73: John Gilmour - Director.
1954-58: Building of the Rock Garden.
1959: Work began to develop the Eastern section of the Garden after a significant bequest from Reginald Cory. Cory Lodge was re-designed, The Cory Library and new laboratories also opened with this bequest. Bob Younger (Superintendent 1947-74) created paths driving round in curving sweeps with tyres marking out the shape of the paths.
1960s: New Pinetum planted; Limestone Ecological Mound, the first Fen Garden, Chronological Beds and the Scented Garden were developed.
1967: Silversmith David Mellor was commissioned to create a fountain to provide a focal point at the end of the Main Walk.
1973-84: Dr Stuart Max Walters – Director.
1978-79: Winter Garden was created by Peter Orriss (Superintendent 1974-95) and Norman Villis.
1989: A new Tropical Palm House was opened by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
1996-2010: Professor John Parker – Director.
1997: Dry Garden was created; introduction of the annual Apple Day.
1998: First Education Officer appointed and classroom opened for courses and classes as part of a programme of public engagement and education under the Directorship of John Parker (Director 1996-2010).
2002: The Garden’s Dawn Redwood is awarded ‘One of the Fifty Great British Trees’ in celebration of the Golden Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II.
2005: Schools’ Garden opened.
2009: The current entrance, Brookside Gate, was officially opened by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. It was designed by architects Saunders Boston.
2011-13: Dr Tim Upson – Acting Director.
2011-15: Mediterranean Beds were remodelled and extended.
2011: Official opening of the Sainsbury Laboratory on site by HM Queen Elizabeth II.
2013: Professor Beverley Glover – Director.
2016-17: Dredging of the Lake for the first time in its history.
2016-19: Systematic Beds renovation as part of the Understanding Plant Diversity project. This involved replanting three of the five sections of the Beds with tweaks to the remaining two.
2018: Opening of the Rising Path.
2019: Winter Garden celebrates 40 years; Systematic Bed renovation completed.

Adapted from a press release provided by Cambridge University Botanic Garden (

Image supplied by Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

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