Tag Archive | annual reports

In the midst: going to the source(s)

The Changing Perspectives: a garden through time project at Cambridge University Botanic Garden is just over half way and research is revealing some of the fascinating stories, ideas and philosophies behind the making and shaping the garden since the 1950s.  For this project, a variety of written and living sources are being consulted. These include the Botanic Garden’s annual reports, specialist botanical publications such as the esteemed Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, and significantly some of key people who have been involved with the Garden, botany or plant science from the mid-twentieth century to the early twenty-first century.

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In May, Emeritus Professor John Parker (pictured above), Director of the Botanic Garden for fifteen years (between 1996 and 2010) was interviewed for the Changing Perspective project on a visit to the Garden.  Professor Parker’s directorship coincided with a major new chapter in the Garden’s history – the construction of the Sainsbury Laboratory of Plant Science.  Since its inception, learning and research have been integral to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.  As a champion of public engagement and of the appreciation of plants through knowledge, Professor Parker promoted an active agenda for eduction to all ages during his years in the Garden.   Today, the Botanic Garden’s educational programme includes primary and secondary school children, as well as children and adults of all ages wishing to learn about plants, nature and the environment on a more creative or informal basis.

During his visit, Professor John Parker gave a talk on behalf of The Galapagos Conservation Trust in the John Gilmour suite.  Entitled ‘The Five Weeks that Changed the World’, his talk linked the Galapagos Islands and Charles Darwin with his mentor, Cambridge professor of Botany and founder of the new Botanic Garden, John Henslow.  The plant specimens collected by Darwin on the Beagle’s voyage to the Galapagos are now part of the historic Cambridge Herbarium collection.  These are held in the Herbarium’s new home within the Sainsbury Laboratory of Plant Science.

The Changing Perspectives project continues the approach of the University of Cambridge Museum to make its incredible collections more accessible to wider audiences.  The results of this research will be presented in an online digital exhibition of the contemporary history of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden from the 1950s. The Changing Perspectives: a garden through time exhibition website will be launched in September 2013.  Watch this space.

Pippa Lacey


Stories from the Archives: Where? International Botanic Connections

This research project focuses on the Cambridge University Botanic Garden (CUBG) – in particular the eastern half of the Botanic Garden from the 1950s – so the answer to the question: ‘Where?’ may seem entirely obvious.  Nevertheless, by their very nature, botanic gardens are outward-looking national and international, as well as local institutions.  Indeed one of CUBG’s key aims is ‘to extend knowledge of the Botanic Garden, its collections and its activities within the local, national and international communities’.  The interests of the CUBG have always extended far beyond the confines of the thirty-eight acres plot between Hills Road and Trumpington Road in Cambridge.

Another key aim of CUBG is ‘to maintain a correctly-named and professionally-curated living collection representing the diversity of terrestrial green plants’. Diversity is an old French word which means ‘different or varied’.  It was in the 1980s that the word was allied with ‘bio’ to create the term ‘biodiversity’, the ‘diversity of plant and animal life’, yet the desire to collect and study plants from across the globe has long been one of the keystones of this Botanic Garden and indeed all botanic gardens.


Humphrey Gilbert-Carter, Director of the Cambridge Botanic Garden, 1921 – 1950
Image: CUBG

The annual reports of the Botanic Garden reveal local, national and international connections of the Garden were thriving before and after WWII, although these were curtailed during the war years (1939 – 1945).  For example, in 1934, the then-director, Humphrey Gilbert-Carter (1921-1950) used his annual travel allowance towards a Christmas collecting trip to Barbados and Trinidad.  Such exotic trips were atypical however.  More usual in the 1930s were visits to European botanic gardens.  Gilbert-Carter visited Walsertal in Austria in 1937, Norway in 1938, the Savoy region of France in 1939 and Denmark in 1940.  At the same time, Bob Younger, his Garden Superintendent (now known as Curator), travelled the breath of Britain, visiting botanic gardens, private gardens and commercial nurseries to collect and swap seeds.  After WWII, Gilbert-Carter’s final foreign visit as director was to the Copenhagen Botanic Garden, Denmark in 1947.  Gilbert-Carter retired in September 1950 and John Gilmour succeeded as director in March 1951.

Each year, contributions are received from – and distributed to – British and international botanic gardens and horticultural institutions.  The CUBG annual report for 14th November 1951 notes the annual donations for that year; contributions were received from sixty-seven Botanic Gardens and horticultural institutions from Adelaide to Zürich, as well as fifteen British botanic organizations.

In addition to such institutional exchanges, as part of Cambridge University, the Botanic Garden is also the recipient of seeds, plants and other materials from students, staff, associates and other generous donors.  Another entry in the 1951 annual report notes contributions from over fifty donors, including seeds and fern spores from Colombia, succulents from South America as well as seeds from the Aegean and Western Anatolia. In the following year – 1952 – several plant-collecting exhibitions were being sponsored in Spain, New Zealand, Ecuador and Turkey, ‘which have resulted in the addition of a large number of interesting plants to the Garden’.

Although geographically the Cambridge University Botanic Garden may be confined within thirty-eight acres, it is a microcosm of the wider world.  This world is seen through the lens of British and international botanic gardens, Cambridge alumni, academics, travellers, explorers and scientists, all of whom are interested in preserving, studying and understanding the flora of the world we inhabit.

Pippa Lacey

University of Cambridge Museums

Archive of projects, events and news from 2012 to May 2017