A walk around…Oxford Botanic Garden

I am not sure quite why I am bothering to write anything for this blog now there’s a great opening line, as I could just upload all my photos from this trip and it still wouldn’t do justice to how much I loved the Oxford Botanic Gardens.

We had a long weekend planned in Oxford as the Mr was at a conference – and the Botanic Gardens was top of my list of places to visit. The colleges all look lovely but not the kind of place you can snoop on a weekday (especially not in exam season), climbing church towers not really toddler-friendly, and the museums I suspect she will enjoy much more in a few years.

So I had the rare luxury of going somewhere I wanted to go – and why not Britain’s oldest botanic garden?

Oxford Botanic Garden

Oxford Botanic Gardens – view across the walled garden

I was completely out of my depth identifying the trees, though many were clearly very old, but idling around the flower beds I spotted a few favourite plants – alliums, irises, columbines.





A new one to me was (what appeared to be) a white version of a verbena. I love purple verbena but the alba variety is gorgeous…one to try and get hold of one day, if I can find it.

Verbena alba

Verbena alba

The gardens spill out from a formal walled area into lawns which end abruptly at the river’s edge – a sheer (unfenced) drop which the toddler teetered on the brink of, terrifyingly, to watch ducks and punts going by.

River Cherwell

River Cherwell

Along the river side of the gardens we also found the glasshouses, not on the Kew scale but still very impressive. Lilies, cacti, carnivorous plants.

Water lilies

Water lilies – Nymphaea

Golden Barrel Cactus

Echinocactus grusonii – commonly known as Golden Barrel Cactus

Finally, and most importantly of all, there was a bench I needed to find. I had done my research, read up on other blogs, looked at Google Image Search, and I was determined to find Lyra and Will’s bench.

It really was the loveliest place I could have imagined – under a spreading tree, with its back to the river, and a view of flower beds stretching away towards the church towers and college walls.

Will and Lyra's bench

Will and Lyra’s bench

View from Will and Lyra's bench, Oxford

View from Will and Lyra’s bench – toddler in foreground

We found the names Will and Lyra scratched into the wood, and I wondered how many people will fight to sit there on Midsummer Day, and dream of lost loves?

His Dark Materials is one of those books I wish had been written when I was younger – I can take or leave Harry Potter, I haven’t tackled the Hunger Games or A Song of Ice and Fire (and I don’t intend to), but if only, if only I had been 14 or so when I first encountered Lyra and Will, it would have been a life-moulding experience.

As it is, I love the books and I re-read them religiously every year, but I know they won’t quite bind themselves to my heart the way they would have if I’d read them in the crucible of teenage angst and fury. As it is, I feel a kind of nostalgia for that white-hot intensity, but mainly a relief that it has passed.

Instead, I grow my garden, I water, I nurture and plant and weed and dead-head and prune – gentle, grown-up, non-threatening pursuits – but just for a moment, I got to be Lyra sitting on her bench, and it was just perfect.

Sitting on Lyra's bench

Sitting on Lyra’s bench


Front gardens – snooper’s paradise

In the days before social media took over our lives and allowed us to share every waking moment online, I favoured a more traditional approach to record my interest in gardens and interior design – I had a scrapbook.

I kept it up faithfully from around 2000 to 03, with pictures cut out of glossy magazines and the Evening Standard property supplement, and lists of design ideas I liked and plants I wanted to grow one day.

It was another five years before I had a garden of my own, and by then I had a digital camera and iPhone, so I was able to start taking photos of plants here and there and keeping those as inspiration for my garden planning.

I do yearn for the days of my scrapbook, though, (and I haven’t yet been tempted to try Pinterest) so am going to use the blog to keep track of plants and design ideas I’ve spotted around the place. (My interior design preference seems to be ‘paint everything white and fill house with clutter’, so that I think is less interesting to anyone else and certainly not particularly inspirational…)

I was hoping to visit some of my favourite gardens in Dulwich this weekend, as part of a series of open weekends (and all for charity), which would have provided a golden opportunity for taking some photos, but the rain kept us away, so instead, I’ve fallen back on a faithful standby – the front garden.

Front gardens provide wonderful inspiration to a confirmed snooper like me, and are a source of much envy, as my own front yard has room for little more than a wheelie bin and hanging basket.


White Alliums

First up, I saw these white alliums in a garden in Herne Hill. I’d not seen white ones before, only purple ones, and I thought these were rather striking (especially in such numbers – if only I could afford to plant so many!)

The alliums were paired with some red flowers I didn’t recognise, but looked a bit like runner bean flowers – the impact of a two-tone colour scheme (and the additional interest provided by the spiky foliage) was very attractive, although with my eclectic tastes I don’t think I could ever settle for two colours only.


Rambling roses

These gorgeous scarlet roses were spotted yesterday in Gipsy Hill – in fact my friend took me on a detour from our afternoon walk especially to see them, as she knows I have a thing about roses. Red roses still aren’t my favourite shade, but these beauties might be the ones to make me change my mind…


Wild geranium bliss

Today in West Dulwich – gorgeous wild geraniums with a border of alchemilla – I do have both these in my garden already, but thought the colour contrast of the two together was worth a picture.


Pastel heaven

Also seen today – pink and yellow roses together. It shouldn’t work, and yet somehow it does. Lovely.