Memory Board

Share your memories, musings and snapshots of visiting the Botanic Garden.
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Share your memories

Share your recollections and photos of the garden on the Memory Board here.

Will you?

The Cambridge Oak

My Fiance chose the Botanic Garden as the perfect place to propose and it most certainly was perfect.   Beautiful day and amazing memories for us now of the Garden and in
particular the Cambridge Oak which is where he chose to get down on one
knee. Wonderful place.

A safe space

The Botanic Garden is a safe space for me. When I was pregnant I came here and I brought my new baby on her first outing. Over the years, I watched them run and play through all the nooks and crannies. Remembering the time my son’s dummy fell from his mouth into the water of the fen reeds. He thinks it’s still there! Now I work, and don’t come so often, I still miss it.

Mind the cactus!

Opuntia phaeacantha 20060452 A

Between 1932 and 1938 I attended a small school in Panton Street run by a Mrs Smith.  She had obtained permission from the Director of the Botanic Garden for her pupils to run about on the big lawn during their morning break, and each day if it was not raining, we walked, accompanied by Miss Henn the junior  mistress, in a school crocodile up Panton Street and into the Garden, where we followed the path round past the hothouses to the lawn.

Outside one of the hothouses was a cactus bristling with spines on broad leaves like pingpong bats, and one day a litttle boy called Johnny Lindgren fell into the cactus and had to be whisked off to the doctor to get the spines removed.  Ever after, Miss Henn stationed herself beside the plant, reciting “Mind the  cactus!  Mind the cactus!” rather like a hen preparing to lay an egg.



I was a student from 1977 to 1980 and discovered the garden in my first summer in Cambridge. I remember more revision being done lying on the grass than ever happened in the college library! Was it really that sunny?! I’ve been back a few times since – my favourite garden.


Zelkova serrata

I have made friends and been befriended by so many trees in the gardens that it is not fair to pick a favourite. On a recent visit, I had a touch of migraine caused by the dazzling sun. Looking for a shady bench, I realised that many of the seats in the gardens are set in the sun.

Eventually I found a still, dark and slightly chilly place and sat down with closed eyes. After a while, there was a gentle stroking on my head, a kind caress, and I realised that Zelkova was comforting me. On many occasions I have had a quiet word with this fine tree and its friend the Hop Hornbeam and its huge close neighbour the Wingnut. They make a particularly impressive trio. Anyway, it seems that trees have memories as well as good will. Thanks Zelkova, my migraine was gone within minutes of your touch.

A proposal

My happiest memories are from when, in 1989, each weekday, I would walk through the gardens on my journey to my small children’s day nursery.

On the return journey, my two-year-old son was often alarmed by the sound of the bicycling bell-ringer announcing the closure of the Garden.

However, such were his happy memories of the beautiful gardens, that he chose to propose to his girlfriend in the tropical greenhouse!  (She said ‘yes’!)

Jemima and John

I think John was bonded with nature.  He loved the birds, and he liked watching the ducks on the Lake, and the flowers, and he would notice when things were out and not out, which was amazing…He got very restless at home, too, so if I could take him out and he could walk a bit, that helped.

We were only allowed to go one way, which was straight from the gate into the Glasshouses.  We walked through the Glasshouses and he always looked at certain plants and through certain doors.  He loved the rainforest one, and he loved the fuchsias; then we would go off and have coffee in the Gilmour Building, then we would walk round past the fountain and sit there for ages and he would fall asleep, and I felt no-one worried about what he did, because people with dementia do do odd things and say odd things ….but nobody seemed to mind, which was wonderful…

And when he died I thought you would all be thrilled, that this boring man who was always trying to go through doors which were closed….and everybody said ‘No, because we could see how much you loved each other, and how lovely he really was’, and I thought, ‘Goodness, why can’t our friends see that?’  They all left.  We lost all our friends, because John was funny, wasn’t he?

Mother and daughter remember

Elsie Walton's bench

The following short piece is part of my mother’s reminiscences of her childhood. I am not sure precisely when the event took place but it must have been in the 1930s. My mother’s younger brother was born in 1928 and both he and my mother came to England, from Vienna, in 1938 when Hitler invaded Austria. My mother is Ulla Frisch and she has lived in Cambridge since the 1940s.

Picking wild flowers, by Ulla Frisch

 “We used to spend our summer holidays in a small place called Grundlesee. There was a lake surrounded by mountains.

My younger brother and I played with the village children, we went where they went and soon knew where to find wild strawberries. They taught us their songs and dances and we became like them, you couldn’t tell the difference.

One day as I was walking home I was stopped by a grey-haired lady who admired the flowers I had picked. What were they called, she asked in somewhat halting German. We were used to foreign visitors as the place was near Salzburg, so I thought I would try my English on her – so we got on fine.

Would I find her some wild flowers for her son who was a botanist, in fact he ran a botanic garden in England. Her name was Mrs Gilmour and her son was called John.*”

*Before becoming Director of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden in 1951, John Gilmour had been Assistant Director of RBG Kew from 1931-1946 and then Director of the RHS flagship garden, Wisley  from 1946-51.  Ulla Frisch’s recollection of picking wild flowers in Austria would seem to coincide with when John Gilmour was at RBG Kew.

Elsie Walton’s bench, by Monica Frisch

My mother and I have enjoyed visiting the Botanic Garden together since I returned to Cambridge in 2004. On one occasion she mentioned that there was a bench in memory of her friend Elsie Walton. So I kept my eyes open for it and on one visit located it near the Main Lawn.

She had met Elsie Walton soon after coming to London in 1938, through a Quaker refugee committee that provided her with a small grant. In return my mother offered to help by translating for the new arrivals. Elsie Walton and her husband, Arthur Walton, an agriculturalist and pioneer of artificial insemination, lived in Girton, Cambridge. Many of his students were British Council scholars from Africa, China and Burma, who were stranded in the UK because of the war and had nowhere to spend Christmas or New Year. They, and my mother, were befriended by Arthur and Elsie Walton, and warm and lasting friendships formed. When she died in 1996, these friends clubbed together and bought a bench in her memory, on which is inscribed “Elsie Walton 1908 – 1996 in memory of her outstanding contribution to international peace and good will gifted by her many friends”.

On a subsequent visit, I took my mother to see the bench and she was delighted to be able to tell the two women sitting on it about the woman in whose memory the bench was bought.

We are the Champions

It’s great that my son has come here since he was a baby with his gran, who is a botanist. Her love of plants and knowledge has passed to him. He’s only 5 and it’s a special place from him already.

Eddie adds: My granny takes me hiyr a lot. She likes all the flowwoos. I think they are byootiful.

And Mum adds a translation: He says he thinks it would be good to have multi-coloured patches.


The Chilean folk dance group would practise at the Garden in the 1970s

I was 15 months old when we moved into 5a Station Road. My father, mother, her parents and their four other kids aged between 14 and 19 eventually moved in too. We’d fled from Chile following a particularly violent military coup, under life threatening circumstances.

The first occupant of 5a Station Road was my grandmother Myriam, along with her two elder children, the two younger ones had left Chile first and were in foster care when she arrived in the UK.

By December 1975 most of us were safe except for my Grandfather. He was still being held captive at a concentration camp in Chile (quiriqinas) as he had been part of the government that General Pinochet had orchestrated a military coup against.

The Botanical Gardens were across the road from us. In the seventies, there was a huge green roundabout spilling with flowers right in front of it and we had a view of the gardens from the front facing windows of our house.

The Gardens were a peaceful retreat for us during the anxiety-ridden wait for my grandfather to join us. My grandmother, just 39 at the time, visited the garden each day in the lead up to his release.

Santiago Bell finally arrived in 1976 but he was not himself. The torture & imprisonment had cast a shadow over his whole being and there were physical repercussions too. I remember being taken to the Garden by him on many occasions. He would tell me many stories I couldn’t understand at the time although I’m sure they have shaped me into the person I have become.

For the first few years of my life I was at the gardens almost daily with my parents, friends or other family members. It was an oasis of calm for a community that had been forced to leave their home country often under appalling conditions.  The Chilean community had formed an Andean dance troupe and would often rehearse there!

Now, almost 35 years later after having lived in Birmingham, London, Bristol and various cities in Chile, I’ve taken up residence a stone’s throw away from my first home in Britain and most cherished gardens! Now a ‘Friend’ I take my toddler there so he can also enjoy the wonder and tranquility of the gardens that have become a very important part of my emotional landscape.

View from the Hope

I used to visit the BG rarely when I lived in Suffolk and then South Cambs, but now I live at The Hope and my windows overlook the CUBG!  Only one end of it with flower beds and hedges, but I can see trees beyond these and altogether am delighted with it. Also I have a motorised buggy and can get all the way round in one outing if I wish.

Especially I love th trees, but am pretty hopeless at names.  The snowdrops have been mollycoddled this spring, but looked good and will look better with greenery round about in 2015.  Looking forward tot he buds and new leaves opening.

Thank you CUBG staff and others for a beautiful and charming Garden.  Peaceful, pleasant and pretty near perfect.

Life saver

As a plant lover with a visual handicap which stops me driving, I use the Garden to fulfil a need to see creative use of plants as well as learning about them.

It’s been a bit of a life saver for me.


I remember growing carrots to a humungous size, for which I entered a competition and won a rake as a prize!


I used to visit the Garden from time to time in the early 1970s, but work prevented frequent visits. We moved to London for 25 years then because of my husband’s work.  Being brought up in the country, my heart ached for the countryside all those years, even though we visited rural areas when we could.

My husband retired and in 2003 we returned to live in Cambridge. Shortly thereafter I developed a serious illness and was told to walk as much and as often as possible. So, every other day I walk from Chesterton and along the Backs to the Botanic Garden. Every visit there are changes – buds breaking into flower, a view of the goldcrest, green woodpecker of kinfisher, butterflies, fungi.

It is a wonderful place to come to. I really appreciate all the work that goes in to keeping the Garden so beautiful.

A debt to Henslow

My first memories of the Garden are of being taken there, together with my brother, by my mother in the 1950s. Back then the Garden had a very different feeling to what it has today. Rules were very strict. Not really child or family friendly. Children running around were discouraged and definitely no picnics or food allowed. However, we loved the stepping stones on the lake, and were very excited to be shown the banana plants in the greenhouses, but we never saw any bananas however hard we looked. There was a distinctly ‘old fashioned’ feel to the greenhouses, with their rather gloomy Wardian cases.

After a gap of many years of not visiting – the Garden was only open to key holders on a Sunday. The keys cost £1 I think, and I never seemed to have that spare pound! Since my retirement and becoming a ‘Friend’ of the Garden, it is with great pleasure that I visit it now. In fact I think that it is the nearest thing to ‘Heaven on Earth’ you can find in Cambridge. The blue sky seen through the green of the trees, the Winter and Scented Gardens, the lake and the ducks, the updated greenhouses, seeing the bees busy at their hives and in the bee borders, the majesty of the pine trees, are just some of the delights there.

What I also think is so wonderful is how the Garden is now much more family friendly, as I see the mothers with young children who enjoy running around the maze and having ice-creams at the café, and enjoying the educational events. There is such a continuity with the generations of the past. I was with friends at the Flamenco evening last summer on a very warm, perfect evening and it was wonderful to see so many people enjoying the music in the idyllic setting and you just couldn’t stop the children from joining in dancing to the rhythms, they were so drawn into the performance.

I often think how indebted we are to Professor John Stevens Henslow. His vision started the Garden, and left a wonderful legacy to all of us to enjoy

Coming of Age

I was a pupil at St Mary’s in the 70s and 80s and in those days the garden was free to visit! We would gather in groups after school with our friends from The Leys – and young love blossomed. We also spent many hours lying out in the summer sunshine, allegedly revising for our exams.

Now, I work close by and come in most days for a stroll, I love to watch the seasonal changes and remember those carefree days!

Time to spare


After dropping my sister at the Perse, with time to spare before I was due at St Faith’s, our mother and I always spent it in the Botanic Gardens.
My favourite was the Judas Tree, very ancient, grown from seed brought by Dr Covell. Its label, almost overgrown, written (I believe) by Humphrey Gilbert-Carter, struck me even then as a model of its kind, appealing equally to the specialist and amateur. I used to recite it, with the result that I still know it by heart.
It is one of many reminders of Humphrey, who took a kindly interest in the young, and to whom I owe a long-lasting interest in botany and its literature, further encouraged by his successor, John Gilmour.

A Sunday Key

When I was first married with small children, my mother-in-law gave me a key to use on Sundays. The children loved feeding the ducks and scrambling over the rockery. Later on it was a favourite place to visit on Wednesday afternoons when my son had a school half day.

Living all the days of our lives


We first used your gardens as our gardens. I would escape from our home on Bateman Street for an afternoon walk, first for some space to think in the middle of my working day. Then somewhere to tread slowly and look around as my tummy got bigger and bigger. Our twin boys arrived just when the apple blossom was coming out. I placed them under Isaac Newton’s apple tree, and told them of Big Isaac, a namesake to one of them.

Since then the Gardens have been our wonderland. We have climbed mountains, seen a snake in the pond, fed brave little ducklings, explored wild, hot jungles in the glass houses, thrown stones on the frozen fountain and dabbled fingers in it when its warm. We have eaten so much cake in the cafe, picnicked on the lawn, found a princess tree in blossom. When you have small children, exploring the wider world is hard. But we have explored the small world of the gardens and made them our own, told stories of golden leaves to be found at the end of a perilous quest, fought dragons on the hills, chased one another around the maze. When someone I know moves to Cambridge the present I buy them is membership of the garden. Selfish, I know, but I want to share our special place and watch other people’s children slip off the stepping stones and get their feet wet.

Now the garden is my solace. I was diagnosed with cancer a year and a half ago, and last Christmas they told me it was incurable. I come to the garden most weeks, with or without our children. I come to watch the changes ring in as the trees lose their leaves, as the bulbs come out, as the purple magnolia flowers. I hope it will be a place that my family can come and remember me and the exuberantly happy times we had together there long, long after I am gone.

21 years a Guide

I was one of the earliest Guides to the Garden, being ‘trained’ (if you could call it that!) by Peter Orris indoors in the morning and around the Garden in the afternoon with Norman Villis (what a lovely man). No-one asked if the potential guides had any botanical knowledge, but fortunately I had been an obsessive gardener and amateur botanist from childhood. I remained an enthusiastic Guide for 21 years.
I also attended Ann Abraham’s botanical art courses. One of the most sensible things I ever did. I have been painting ever since and that, and the gardening, are my chief pleasures. I have many books of flowers I have painted and heaven knows what my poor family will do with them when I pop my clogs!
I love the Botanic Garden. It is a magical place and often difficult to imagine, in its peace with birds all around, that it is in the centre of a vibrant city.

From Lionel Clark, Captain of the BG Cricket XI

The Botanic Garden Cricket Team, 1950s

As a 16 year old I arrived at the Garden in 1943 and spent 2 years in the glasshouses, temperate house, stove house and fern house, which helped me to understand nomenclature (plant names.)  The Director was the much-loved Humphrey Gilbert Carter and the Superintendent was F G Preston.

I had a gap from 1945 until 1948 doing my National Service, getting married in 1947.  I returned to the Garden mainly in the alpine section.  Very soon the Garden was about to spend some of the Cory bequest and, as the leases of the 10 hectares/20 acres was not renewed, the area was blended into the original garden.  The Superintendent was by now R W Younger, a talented landscape designer.

Some of our plantings in those days are now mature specimens.  The work was mainly done by different students, serving with me for 6 months of their student time.  I remember being referred to as ‘Leo’ and often the students called out “Leo it’s raining”  to which my unsympathetic response was usually “You won’t melt”.

Further development took place with a limestone rockery – huge limestone pieces some weighing 3 tonnes came from Westmoreland (would not be allowed these days.)  A small part of the rockery garden forms a doline [collapsed water-worn caves] reminiscent of what was then Yugoslavia where plants from Eastern Europe were planted.

Over the period I was at University Botanical Gardens the knowledge I gained of the wide variety of plants set me up to embrace many aspects of horticulture and all because knowing plants, you next  learn how to grow them.

I was captain of the cricket team which consisted of a league made up from other departments – Chemistry, Botany, Engineering and others.  I also entered the ‘round the garden race’ and did very well in it each year usually winning it until Cyril Toft came along and I just could not beat  him!

After a period with The Department of Estate Management looking after widespread areas and having gained my NDH, we left Cambridge and took up the Farm Management position in 1959 at Rosewarne in Camborne, Cornwall.  Further on in my career my knowledge of basic botany enabled me to do plant variety testing of the top fruit and soft fruit at the Brogdale National fruit trials, Faversham.

For the encouragement of future students one  has only to observe the careers of past students.

Stephen Bull

Scan2013 The Bulls

After our marriage in 1963, my wife Sheila (nee Powell) and I lived closeby and enjoyed popping in to the ‘Botanics’ for romantic walks!

Later, during family visits, the ‘favourites’ – aside from the wonderful Glasshouses – were sitting by the recently contstructed, iconic Fountain AND clambering on the Limestone Rock Garden (with supervision of course) bordering the Lily Lake.

PS On going through family photographs recently we came across the attached photograph of a family visit to the botanics in 1976. Here we have our daughter Stephanie (left) and son Malcolm (right) and our niece feeding the ducks, having already admired the lily lake and no doubt climbed on the granite boulders….

Driving in the Botanic Garden

A much prized Sunday key. This one belonged to the then constable at the Garden and came to us via his son Jim Crothall, who helps our wonderful library volunteer, Sylvia, in her garden

I must be one of only a few to have driven a car in the Botanic Garden.

In early summer 1975, I mentioned to John Gilmour that my mother was very sad that she could no longer visit the gardens.  We had a Sunday key when I was a child and she loved going there. John thought for a moment and then suggested that I brought her in my Citroen Dyane, which was suitable for a drive in the gardens.

So I drove her to Cory Lodge one evening, and John got in the back and directed the route I should take and talked to my mother about the plants, as I gently drove and paused.

I also played in the little band that accompanied the Cory Lodge operas, and so did my husband.

Jill Jones

I can remember being awed as a small child by the big, beautiful gardens – ‘The Botanics’.

Then, later, I had a special visit into the glasshouses: they appeared enormous and a green wonderland, and centrally a lovely big indoor pool with many different fish – gold, silver and bright orange – and in the corner was a tree with huge leaves. I was told to ‘look for the banana’.  After careful searching – there it was, small yellowy-green and a strange shape!  Remember – no bananas in the war.

But the leaves of the tree, the warmth of the conservatory and the amazing water feature – a wonderful place I fully recall – at 77 years.

BG Gym

A mini-holiday, a shot of oxygen really lifts the spirits.

As I am disabled, it is my gym and exercise regime.

Very soothing on the eyes, a nice place for a weekend lunch.

You can really experience the passing seasons.

The only tropical jungle in Cambridge!

Sheila Bull, nee Powell

As a sixth former at ‘the County’ we used the Botanics as our learning point, led by our teacher Miss Marianne hill. We were taken to look at plants not seen before, ie the Turkey Cork Oak and the Ginkgo Tree. The latter was little known at the time even though it’s now to be seen at many schools and hotels, eg The Felix  in Cambridge, and has been specially planted at Bar Hill School.

The other reason we liked visiting the Botanics was because I had a really good friend, Margaret Potts, whose family lived in Bateman St and we would use their special key to come in on a Sunday


I used to be Co-ordinator of the Lifecraft’s Women’s Group. Lifecraft is a mental health charity on the corner of Gwydir Street, Mill Road, and the Women’s Group was my baby.

We had a budget and periodically we used to meet up at the Botanics.  The weather was always kind to us and we had good exercise, walking round, and we appreciated the scented garden.

We stopped off in the Café to have a healthy drink and snack.

My ex-partner, last year, had a Friends of the BG season ticket. We always laughed because we sometimes couldn’t find the Café and we had a picnic at the picnic bench instead.



Wild daffodils

Jane Burton 1952

The Botanics has been a part of my life for almost all of my life. My father worked for Heffers and was the first treasurer of the Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely Naturalist Trust, then based at the Garden.  We lived then at 96 Hills Road, and I remember looking over the wall to what is now the Winter Garden and seeing wild daffodils. I went to school at St Mary’s on Bateman St, so I often used to walk home through the Garden. As a family, we enjoyed having a ‘Sunday key’ when we felt it was our own secret Garden.

I loved it then, and I love it still.

40 miles in the 40s

Me, Sandra

It is quite interesting that my family drove forty miles or more in the late 40s especially to visit the Botanic Garden, although there had been a prior connection with Cambridge.

My father, Alan Brown,  was at school at The Leys, which then served the East Anglian Methodist business community. He was a builder in Wellingborough (Northants) and brought us to Cambridge from time to time to see the spring flowers on the Backs or the Botanic Garden. He had quite a large cacti collection, some of which had begun life
attached to larger cacti in the hot houses…. You will be glad to learn that this is not a trait that was handed on to the next generation!

The photos were all taken in 1949 by Alan Brown and show me, my sister Pamela and our mother Gwen in the area beside the duck pond.  I’m afraid they don’t show too much of the Garden itself, but that area doesn’t seem to have changed a lot – probably rather less than other parts of the garden.


From 1990-1996 I worked at the Medical Research Council Cancer Trials Office, housed in Brooklands Ave, and then Shaftesbury Road. I used to spend sunny lunch hours with colleagues strolling round the Botanic Gardens (then free of charge!) and sitting on scenic benches to eat our lunches.  We always felt very privileged to be in here.

Arbour ardour

Rosa Mme de la Roche-Lambert 20026220 HR

In 1957 a young man met me from work – ‘a first date’ – he invited me along to the Botanic Gardens early evening. After a walk along the paths we found a seat underneath a kind of arbour. We only had eyes for each other at the time, talking about everything, yes, even the roses got a mention, ‘roses, heart, love’. He then realised it was time for us to go and get our buses home.

But lo and behold we were locked in, the Gates shut! Locked in, we had to climb over the railings at the right-hand side of the gates carefully negotiating the spiked part to get out. What excitement.

My family always remind me of that time whenever the Garden is visited by a TV programme or mentioned anywhere so the Botanic Garden in Cambridge, the ‘special visit’, remains in my heart and mind forever.

PS I didn’t marry the boy.

My back garden!

For 53 years I have been visiting the Botanic Garden.

Each season has its own special attraction fromthe stillness of winter to the stirrings of spring and the appearance of snowdrops. On into summer and the blossoming of plants and much activity of wildlife onteh pond. Then comes autumn, when nature begins to prepare for winter and ocne agains stillness settles over the Garden.  The perimeter walk with its trees and shrubs is special. Int he summer I pause by the lavender bushes and observe, as W B Yeats wrote, ‘The bee loud Glade’.

A cup of coffee in the excellent Cafe always rounds off an uplifting time in the Garden.


As a small child, I used to visit the Garden regularly with my father in the 1950s.  I specially liked going through the great gates at the front (alas no longer an etnrance) and crossing the brook to be met by a glorious avenue of huge trees. We followed progress as the limestone rockery was built and my father loved pointing out the rarest and the most ancient trees. No visit was complete without a walk through the steamy tropical greenhouse.

The Tatnells

Our youngest daughter took her first outdoor steps in the Garden. She loves visiting (age 7 now) and has many favourite places: ‘the mountain ‘ – the limestone area, ‘the jungle’ - in the bamboo, ‘the curtain tree’ – now trimmed back , but between the pond and the Glasshouse (she cried when this wa cut back!!), the mulberry tree, the stepping stones. We love the gardens as a family and visit regularly.

Generations of visits

Eleanor writes: My parents used to bring me to the Botanic Gardens from time to time when I was a child, and I remember enjoying running around with my brother.  I also remember at that time there was a notice next to the Limestone Rock Garden saying that children under 14 were not allowed to go in, which disappointed me greatly.

Now I am lucky enough to live within walking distance of the Garden, and bring my own children here very often, especially in the summer. I’m pleased that they can go onto the Limestone Rock area now, and they love exploring other parts of the garden as well, especially the fountain,t he grass maze and the glasshouses.

Son, Eliot, aged 7 adds: I am very pleased to see that my younger brother is really enjoying it because he really likes the maze. I like it because I like looking at everything in the glasshouses, especially the big pond.


I’m not quite sure in what year I went to work in what had been a ‘pub’, on one of the roads leading from the main road, but probably in the 70s.  The work (shorthand/typing) had no connection with the Garden as such, but it was not long before I took my sandwiches out and sat under the trees there to eat them.  At first, I just sat and ate but I soon became entranced by this vast area, little frequented during the early spring time.  As the summer came, I went further and further afield, until I was walking all the time, munching sandwiches.  Then I began to get to know the men (and a few women only, then) who were working around the gardens. I asked innumerable questions and if I didn’t remember much of what I was told, at least I was among knowledgeable people who were only too willing to share their knowledge with me. I did have a garden at home, and bit by bit, I learned about flowers. Up to that time I had grown only vegetables. There were quite a lot of roses in the grounds, however, so I started learning how to prune them and oh! what a difference that made!

In the winter months, I could go into the greenhouses and keep warm without let or hindrance. Quite often, I would be entrely on my own, but with all those tomatoes and cucumbers, not to mention the larger plants, who could feel lonely?

Joan Waton recalls

I have lived in and near Cambridge since 1950.  As a family, we visited the Garden regularly but it was not until I moved to Trumpington in 1983 that I became a Friend.    A near neighbour invited me and gave me transport to meetings for some years before she moved to Norwich with the Plant Breeding Institute.

Over the years I have enjoyed visits by coach to several well-known gardens and especially enjoyed Great Dixter, Christopher Lloyd’s garden to name just one among many. I went to Chelsea twice but preferred the individual gardens more.

I have enjoyed several lectures and remember hearing Roy Lancaster many years ago, which was held in, I think, the Chemistry Labs.  Andrew Peters, whose family I knew, was another one much enjoyed, and I specially admired both Roy’s and Andrew’s grasp of Latin names with no guiding notes.

My favourite part of the Garden has always been the Winter Garden. I watched it grow in its new site and regular visits there became very much part of my routine, together with the hellebores bed by the old Bateman Street area.  The spring bulbs were also a great pleasure.  Because of immobility, I can sadly no longer get there.  The recent lecture here brought back over 60 years of great pleasure, so many thanks to the member of staff for it.

Keeping loved ones

Jemima Atkinson’s moving memory in the Friends’ News has inspired me to share this, so I hope she sees it.  I have been a Garden ‘Friend’ for over 5 years, though before that I always visited the Garden on the free days during the winter.  The Winter Garden is one of my favourite places within the Botanics.

My friend Sue lived in Norwich Street until she left Cambridge, though she still visited the Botanics with her parents on weekends home.  But we never went there together.  Sue was lost to cancer 3 1/2 years ago.  Soon after she died, on a beautiful sunny day with a cloudless blue sky, I went to the Garden to walk and think about her.  The last photos of Sue in Cambridge are of her enjoying a visit to the Botanics with her husband and parents.  She was in a wheelchair but looked so happy.  So when I saw a rainbow arching through that cloudless blue sky, it really felt as if she was watching over me.  The Botanic Garden is a place of calm (mostly) and beauty where it’s easy to feel peaceful.  My dear friend is always with me there.  I hope Jemima feels the same way about her husband John.

Ruth Cupit remembers

Through several generations we have been to the Botanical Gardens.  Our friends and family staying at our parents’ home were always treated to a visit, arriving by bus, and entering in Bateman Street.  As children, my sister and I loved the greenhouses, especially the banana tree.  We couldn’t buy bananas, it was a great treat to see them growing, and hoping one would drop off, so we could try it (it never did).

We came in all seasons, loving the bare trees with frost on the ground, and the sun shining through, the huge fir cones, and the tall trees in the summer, shading us from the bright sun.

Dad kept bees, and visited the bee keepers’ meetings which took place in the botanic. We loved to look at he observation hive, and then walked round the Garden whilst he was busy.

After we married we took our children many times.  Paul loved the pond, and they all loved the then new rockery – which had a path to the very top, where they felt really tall.

My last visit was last year, then in a wheelchair, and didn’t recognise much of what was to us a magical place.  I did however, buy a plant from your garden for mine, which is growing well.

I have yet to visit with my great grandchildren, but the day will come.  Thank you for much pleasure.



Remembering Ethan


The Botanics are a haven for my family and we use it as an extension of our garden.  Gardens in the town centre are not very big so we make use of the space that the Botanical Gardens offers us.

Before Ethan could walk we would all go – Ethan in pushchair – and look at the beautiful flowers, the seasonal changes and the displays in the glass houses.  The children just run off and enjoy the freedom and space in a safe environment, all the while of course careful not to damage anything.  We go and take the different trails and children’s activities that are held once a month.  They all enjoyed the treasure hunt and Clay Egg making at Easter.

When Ethan started to walk I took him to The Botanical Gardens to walk for the first time on the grass.  He loved it and immediately ran off, investigating the grass, leaves and twigs and looking at the different stones.

When Ethan became ill and came home back on high amounts of oxygen, the Botanical Gardens was close enough that we could all still go to and spend time as a family, making precious memories.  We knew by then that we had little time left with Ethan and so that was so important to be able to acknowledge that yes he was very ill, but we could still have the precious family time doing what we enjoy.  Ethan would watch the children run through the glasshouses investigating all the new plants, he laughed at the ducks by the lake, watched the children on the stepping stones. (And sometimes watching them falling in!).

After Ethan died The Botanics has become a place for us all to think about the fun times we had there as a family, watching Ethan grow from a baby into the toddler, the icecreams on the lawns in the summer, the times we sheltered under some trees during a surprise downpour and the cups of hot chocolate that we had at the Cafe.

We see it as Our Garden and feel very lucky to have The Botanics so near to home.

When I was little

When I was Little I relly Liked playing in the maze! In the summer I really Liked paddling in the rockfall stream. I like the cafe food and I Liked the books in it and I liked Looking at the pondskaters.


My mum, Brenda Godden as she was then, spent a summer at the Botanic Garden when she was a horticulture student at Wye College.  It would have been around 1958-1960 – she remembered the paperbark tree(s) being planted in the picnic area during her time there.  She regularly told an anecdote about watering (most probably when admonishing me as a child for having done a poor and lazy job with some watering she had asked me to do).

She was watering in the glasshouses when the Director came and stood watching her,  for what seemed like ages, without saying anything. As a new student she was deeply intimidated but couldn’t do anything but keep on with the watering, until finally he demanded ‘Who taught you to water?’  Thinking that her horticultural career was about to end before it had started, she managed to tell him who it was ….and was flooded with relief when, finally, he said ‘Well, they’ve done a good job’ and congratulated her on giving the plants an appropriately thorough soaking.

Miss 1970

Cambridge Evening News 2Nov1970-1 from Kate McInery

My item from the Cambridge evening news whilst at the botanic gardens (with name wrongly spelt!).  There is a story about this article: at first the CEN published the same story but with a picture of a bathing belle and sash!  Sorry to disappoint but I was fully clothed at the time. With happy memories and best wishes.

Kate Freeman née McInerny
(Writtle student sandwich year 1970/71)

Illegal icecream

I was chargehand in the Palm House for a year and took part in student demos, while working towards and RHS – NDH as it was then called.

I recall Phil Butler’s idea to tie bromeliads, with moss, in the forks of large multi forked cut tree branches for a natural display, in which I planted the plants. I also recall climbing high in the Palm House to put wires up the sides of the upper roof for climbers (we were not handicapped by health and safety then!).

I was told that I was the first woman to complete the Round-the-Garden Race at that time – 1967. Bob Dixon, who won that year, presented me with a red geranium from a border display. I also recall that I had to take my turn, to slip out of the Garden one hot summer afternoon, to buy the ice-creams for students. Peter Orriss seemed to know that I had been out, but I was not reprimanded. I took part in a cricket match – students and staff versus – ? I was rather rusty, it was 11 years since I played at school.

What the Garden means to me

My husband I moved into one of the Victorian terraced houses along Hills Road opposite the Botanic Garden in 1976 and have lived there ever since. When we first moved in, we got a free Sunday key to the gate opposite our house and absolutely loved being able to let ourselves in on Sundays. Entry to the gardens was free in those days and we could enter by any of the five gates on all sides of the garden. While I was doing an M Phil over on Sidgwick Avenue, I used to be able to walk through the gardens and over the fen to get to my lectures, which was such a delight – I used to see a heron stealing fish from the pond. You could get in from 8am in those days and it almost felt like an extension of our garden.

Our daughter was born in in 1977, followed by two sons, and our favourite playground as a family was in the Botanics (never called anything else). Children weren’t supposed to play in there, but I’m afraid mine did – I used to get told off by the keepers for occasionally letting the children climb on the enormous cedar trees near the fountain or scramble up the limestone gully in the rock garden. My son fell into the fountain and also, once, into the pond by stepping onto the ice in winter. Something we loved doing in winter when the fountain was iced up was loosening the ice and pushing the circle of ice right round the fountain – you can’t do that these days, as the plants hold the ice in place. The children also loved rolling down the little grass slopes near the gate over Hobson’s Conduit – we loved using that entrance and were sorry when it was closed. They also loved collecting fallen pine cones, autumn leaves, seed heads, bits of bark – anything that had fallen to the ground. (Nowadays you have the children’s backpacks and my grandsons enjoy identifying things and using the magnifying glass.) The garden is a wonderful place for hide-and-seek and also for pretending that the redwoods, with their branches growing right down to the ground, are your den.

Working here in the 50s


I started my first job at the Gardens after finishing my degree in horticulture at Wye College. J S L Gilmour was my eternal examiner and advised me of the position.  For two years I was in charge of the Cactus House and Tropical Orchid House.

At the same time David Hinks, who in 1958 became my husband, started his course as a student. While David was a student he helped to construct the Limestone Rock Garden which was completed in 1959.

One of my lasting memories of the Cactus House was of the Mother-in-Law’s chair which was a massive plant in 1955. David and I have had a cactus collection since then.  In 1957 I left Cambridge and David became a member of staff as external propagator, a position he was in for two years.  In 1959, we left to go to Kidderminster when David was appointed assistant curator at Birmingham University Botany Garden. He ultimately did a degree in Plant Sciences at Wye as a mature student in 1968 and spent the rest of his working life at Beechams, now Glaxo SmithKline, managing the production of anti-allergy compounds for hayfever and organising the collecting of appropriate pollens. He sadly died in 2009 with Parkinson’s.

Our love of CUBG always remained with us and until David’s illness we made annual visits.