History of the Garden
A guidebook written for the Botanic Garden in the early 1970s tells us:
"The first Botanic Garden in Durham was founded in 1925 when the grounds of the science laboratories were laid out as an experimental garden. As the sciences expanded within the University and more buildings were constructed the garden decreased proportionately, and it was decided in 1969 to move the garden to a new site where it could develop undisturbed and develop an identity of its own."
The Botanic Garden has been on this site since 1970. It was created primarily for teaching and research. As the garden matured a Visitor Centre was built and opened in 1988 by Dame Margot Fonteyn, the Chancellor of the University at the time, to accommodate the 6,000 annual visitors. The garden now attracts over 80,000 visitors annually.
The FJR 1915 headstone
This headstone can be found in a small dell behind the monkey puzzle tree. It was placed there by the Roberts family who once lived in Hollingside House, a short walk away. It is in memory of Major Frederick John Roberts, who is buried in France, at Chocques Military Cemetery.
The old guide
Download pages from the 1970s guidebook written for visitors to the Botanic Garden. See how much has changed over the years!
The 1970s glasshouses
The Botanic Garden was initially set up by the Botany Department, its main focus being that of teaching and research. Visitors to the garden today can still see the original plantings in the Cactus and Tropical Houses, but the rest of the glasshouse is now very different. The picture below show the present-day Conservatory and Glassroom sections as they were in the 1970s when research was the main use of these areas.
Over time, the research methods developed, and the greenhouses were used less and less - instead, the research was becoming much more 'hi-tech' and specialised 'growth rooms' were being used more. As space became available and visitor numbers were increasing rapidly, the research sections were developed into what you see today.
A special thank you to Paul Sidney for providing the photograph at the end of this page.
The 1985 bird guide
The following information has been copied from a pamphlet Birds of the University of Durham’s Botanic Gardens and Woodland, which was written in 1985 by Kathleen O'Brien. The original pamphlet can be found in the Local Collection in the Barker Research Library at Palace Green Library.
"It is with much pleasure that we are able to publish this list of birds, carefully prepared by Mrs Kathleen O'Brien, giving at a glance some indication of the wealth of wildlife (apart from the plants) to be found associated with the University Botanic Garden and surrounding woodlands. A more detailed study reveals many as seasonal visitors to the area, doubtlessly encouraged by a management policy now operating in the woodlands for some decades of encouraging our native broadleaved trees and planning operations to encourage the amenity or conservation interests of the area rather that short term financial gain.
"Kathleen is well-known to bird-lovers in the area and hopefully her list will encourage many more potential bird lovers, possibly initially attracted to the area because of the variety of plants cultivated in the Botanic Garden or the beauty of the woodland walks. And it is well known that plant lovers are of course nature lovers in the broader sense.
"Doubtlessly other species will be seen in the woodlands in the future. Meanwhile this ought not to be regarded as a definitive scientific document, but rather a checklist to inform the interested bird-watcher possibly visiting the garden for the first time."
1988 The Visitor Centre
The "official opening" of the Visitor Centre by Dame Margot Fonteyn took place on Friday 1st July 1988 - shown below with Professor Don Boulter after whom the main room in the Visitor Centre is named. Don was Head of Botany/Biological Sciences at the time.
- View the official opening 1988 Visitor Centre Programme
1992 Prince Bishop Statues
These statues once stood in front of the coffee shop. They were originally created for the 1990 Gateshead Garden festival by local artist Colin Wilbourn. Colin also made a much-loved sculpture by Prebends bridge in Durham, called the “upper room”. Both pieces survived for about 20 years before they naturally decayed. The statues in the Botanic Garden were officially opened in 1992 by the Chancellor of the University at that time, Sir Peter Ustinov. They were of three famous industrialists and three Prince Bishops, their metal "shadows" depicting what they had been famous for in their lives, the installation being called "In the shadows of the past".