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.
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.
Reginald Radcliffe Cory on the French Riviera, 1933. Cory’s generous bequest to the Botanic Garden enabled the development of the eastern section from the 1950s.
The beginning of a research project is a particularly exciting time. There is the delicious element of the unexpected, not knowing what you may discover, which paths will appear or unknown connections may emerge from your explorations and questions.
Since my project focuses on the social history of the eastern section of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden through time, understanding the timeline of people and developments seems a useful navigational point to begin. While historic people, decisions and events have influenced the development of the contemporary eastern garden, it was only after the second world-war that work began on this half of the garden, following a generous bequest from Reginald Radcliffe Cory (Trinity College). Cory is a key figure in enabling the development of the eastern garden, therefore Cory’s story is an important one. It dates back at least to the 1920s and his relationship with the first academic director of the botanic garden, Humphrey Gilbert-Carter.
The main emphasis of my project will be on key people and developments from the 1950s. For example, since 1951 there have been six directors and acting directors – John Gilmour, Max Walters, Donald Pigott, Thomas ap Rees, John Parker and the current acting director and curator, Tim Upson. The newly-appointed director, Beverley Glover, takes up her post in July 2013. Each director has overseen a range of developments in the garden; each has been influenced by prevailing ideas about the environment, biology and horticulture.
A serendipitous opportunity to attend a SHARE Museums East training day at the Cambridgeshire Archives (Shire Hall) and the Cambridgeshire Collection (Central Library) offers some additional fascinating resources to explore. It is hoped that information from these local archives will add further colour and texture to the botanic garden history.