The Cambridge University Botanic Garden reflects the shifting perspectives of human relationships with our environment, our scientific priorities and our preoccupations. Established in its present 38-acre (16-hectare) site south of Cambridge city centre in 1846, the first garden established at Cambridge University in 1762 as a small physic garden. During the nineteenth century, the western half of the New Botanic Garden was planned and planted under the direction of John Stevens Henslow, Professor of Botany and mentor to Charles Darwin, and Andrew Murray, first Curator of the Garden. This Grade II heritage landscape is renowned internationally for its systematic beds and its ‘Gardenesque’ style.
During the 1950s, following a generous bequest from a former Trinity College student, Reginald Cory, development of the eastern half of the garden began. Although this post second world war garden echoed the ‘Gardenesque’ layout of the existing western half of the garden, unlike the 19th century garden, the development of the eastern area was ‘in a piecemeal way without a master plan’. The resulting garden therefore enables us to chart the changing perspectives echoed by the various plantings through the second half of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century. My project traces the social history of the eastern garden over seven decades – from the 1950s to the present – to examine contemporary social and scientific priorities and to document how people have responded to the changing gardenscape.