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Paradise found in the heart of Cambridge.
Cambridge University Botanic Gardens (Cambridge)
Member Name: northers
Cambridge University Botanic Gardens (Cambridge)
Advantages: Lots to see, good value.
Disadvantages: Building work may annoy some.
The Cambridge University Botanic Garden can be found close to Cambridge City centre; initially it comes as something of a surprise to find a peaceful 40 acre garden only a few minutes walk from the railway station. The Garden has an impressive collection of thousands of plant species in a fantastic setting, including a Scented Garden, Lake, a number of Glasshouses, and a mature Woodland Walk.
There is year-round interest at the Botanic Garden; visitors can explore the beautiful Winter Garden, taking in barks, foliage and berries and there is a profusion of spring bulbs and early alpines in the Woodland Garden. During the Summer the Herbaceous Borders, Dry Garden and Scented Garden are worth a visit alone and in the Autumn the late flowers and foliage of the Autumn Colour Garden are impressive.
--- New entrance ---
The first thing that visitors encounter is the Botanic Garden's new 2008 Design Award winning Brookside Gate. This high-profile entrance is a vast improvement on the old Bateman Street entrance and gives the site a presence on the busy Trumpington Road, leaving passers-by in no doubt as to what lies within. A new timber-clad ticket office gives the entrance a contemporary feel and provides services for mobility-impaired visitors.
--- History ---
The Botanic Garden was first conceived as a teaching and research centre by Professor John Stevens Henslow in 1831. The garden was opened to the general public in 1846. Henslow recognised the importance of plants and the need to study them; furthermore he believed that trees had great ecological importance and it is no surprise that a number of large mature specimens form the backbone of the Garden.
--- How to get there ---
Parking is at a premium in the middle of the city. If you have not been to Cambridge before and you plan to come by car the best option would be to park and ride as the Botanic Garden has no car park. I personally use a free car park in Newnham and walk across the common. This car park is a bit of a local secret and can be quite busy, but if you look on Google Maps it can be found on the corner where Barton Road (A603) meets Newnham Road (A1134). The Botanic Garden is just a few minutes walk going East, crossing the river. Visitors travelling by train only have a five minute walk and there are regular buses.
--- Admission and opening times ---
Admission Charges are £4.00 for adults aged 17 - 60 and £3.50 for concessions. Children under 16 go free. The Garden is open 10 am - 6 pm from April to September, 10 am - 5 pm February, March and October and 10 am - 4 pm November to January.
--- Main attractions ---
For many visitors the glasshouses are a great draw. Contained within these structures is an impressive array of tropical plants, including the spectacular Jade Vine which has numerous trailing racemes of bright green flowers around Easter time. There is also a range of Alpine glasshouses with different microclimates from around the world represented.
There is a large Lake and Water Garden, which is buzzing with wildlife, including birds, newts and brightly coloured dragonflies in the Summer. The water theme is further represented by a large fountain in the centre of the Garden which has a large array of flowering aquatic plants and provides a bit of movement and sound to the overall experience.
There is lots of formal planting in the Garden, with the historic Systematic Beds displaying hundreds of flowering plants. The Dry Garden is an experiment in water conservation, using plants that are drought-tolerant. As the name suggests, it is never watered, and relies solely on rainfall for moisture. The Scented Garden needs little introduction, but is one part of the garden that children can really appreciate as it is a lot of fun investigating all the different smells.
For those that like the grand statement, there are a number of areas that have some mature trees, including the previously mentioned Woodland walk, a Pinetum and a procession of Giant Redwoods and Black Pines which line the Main Walk and look spectacular. Some of these large trees were planted in 1846 during the Garden's opening to the public.
--- Sainsbury Laboratory ---
If you visit the Botanic Garden the construction work on the new Sainsbury Laboratory will provide an ever-present background hum on the North side of the garden. When I recently visited I expected this to put a bit of a dampener on the day, but it is surprising how easily you forget it is there. This new complex, opening in 2010, will provide a world-class facility for 120 scientists involved in research in to understanding plant diversity.
With lots of new landscaping, and some conference facilities, including a dedicated visitor centre, this new development promises to become a welcome addition to the Botanic Garden.
--- Refreshments / Shop ---
The Botanic Garden has recently updated its gift shop into a more spacious, welcoming space, with a large selection of tasteful items to buy. Likewise, the café has been replaced with a larger, more accessible area with all the usual drinks and snacks that you would expect to find at an attraction of this type.
--- My opinion ---
The Botanic garden provides a welcome antidote to the busier things that you can indulge in, offering refuge from a hard morning's shopping. At the price I think it represents good value for money and there genuinely is year-round interest, with many different things to see during all four seasons.
There are lots of areas of interest for children, with the Bee Border and fountain being very popular. As mentioned earlier, the Scented Garden can keep children amused for a while and the glasshouses are a great draw. One criticism of the glasshouses is some of the Cactii are within reach of small children, so some supervision is required.
I would definitely recommend the Cambridge University Botanic Garden as it is an attraction that the whole family can enjoy all year round. An impressive array of plants and trees from around the world is on display; check it out.
Summary: Year round classy attraction.
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