University of Leicester Botanic Garden

The University of Leicester Harold Martin Botanic Garden

The Harold Martin Botanic Garden is part of the University of Leicester and claims to be one of the most varied gardens in the region. Named after a registrar of the University of Leicester it is comprised of 16 acres of garden. It can be visited in Oadby between London Road, Glebe Road, Stoughton Drive South, and Knighton Grange Road, 2.5 miles from the main campus. Generally, botanic gardens aim to preserve and cultivate different species of living plants and trees, as well as assist with their study and research.

A view of the Botanic Garden in Leicester 2014

A view of the Botanic Garden in Leicester 2014

The cactus and succulent house at the Botanic Gardens in Leicester 2014

The cactus and succulent house at the Botanic Gardens in Leicester 2014

The origins of the botanic garden go back to 1921 when the study of botany and zoology was offered at the Leicester’s old university college. The garden was developed in the main campus next to the Fielding Johnson building with the help of the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society. In 1928 it opened for the first time to the public. In 1947, due to the relentless expansion of the university, the botanic garden was moved to its present location in Oadby, where it can be found within the surrounding gardens of four adjacent houses: Beaumont House (1904, formerly called “Middlemeade”), Hastings House (1902, formerly as “Nether Close”), The Knoll (1907) and Southmeade House (1928). The properties once belonged to wealthy manufacturers until they were purchased by the university to accommodate the male halls of residence and the botanic garden.

At the turn of the twentieth century, when these elegant residences were built, it was fashionable to own a house in the suburbs that looked like a luxurious country house (more examples of this type of residence can be found in Stoneygate and Knighton).Three of the houses are graded-II listed Edwardian buildings, and all were designed by Harrison & Sons (who also designed Abbey Pumping Station and De Montfort Hall). Stockdale Harrison (1846-1914), the father and founder of the partnership, was known as one of the best architects in Leicester.

Plants being readied for planting in the Botanic Gardens Leicester 2014

Plants being readied for planting in the Botanic Gardens Leicester 2014

Beaumont and Hastings house are both ornamented in an eclectic Arts and Crafts style, mixing elements from different periods. Vernacular and Old English features such as half-timbering at first-floor level, steep gables and cat-slide dormers, tall decorative chimneys, and casement windows can all be appreciated in the houses together with other Jacobean elements. Southmeade, on the other hand, incorporates classical and Neo-Georgian features whereas the Knoll emulates the past splendour of the Tudors.

The former private owners took great pride on their fine gardens. The garden of Beaumont house, for instance, is believed to have been maintained by a team of up to 10 gardeners. The boundaries, which separated the different gardens of the houses, were removed in 1968 in an attempt to make space for the small but growing botanic garden. Original parts of the period garden, namely the sandstone garden built on carboniferous stones from Derbyshire and inspired by ancient Japanese rock gardens, were retained and restored. The sunken and the water garden with a pergola, also typical of gardens in Edwardian times, can still be visited at the site today.

Topiary at the Botanic Gardens Leicester 2014

Topiary at the Botanic Gardens Leicester 2014

Now the botanic garden incorporates significant plants from different climatic areas as well as native species from the Charnwood forest. National collections of fuchsias and other conserved garden plants can also be found, as well as greenhouses with cacti, the Attenborough arboretum and a medicinal and culinary herb garden. Remnants of old hedgerows and hedges of dwarf lavender and rosemary dating back to the Enclosure Act (1760), and prior to the urbanisation of the area, can also be appreciated.

Since 2002, the Harold Martin botanic garden also hosts an annual summer exhibition of outdoor sculptures, although permanent sculptures such as Tuscan Landscape by Ken Ford can be enjoyed throughout the year.

We would like to thank Victoria Milvaques for this article written specially for the Story of Leicester (August 2013)

References

Burch, B. (1996) The University of Leicester: A History, 1921-1996. University of Leicester: Leicester University

Lawrence, R.R and Chris, T. (1996) The period house: Style, detail and decoration 1774 to 1914. London: Phoenix Illustrated

Lyons, A. (2012) The Architecture of the Universities of Leicester. 2nd edn. [S.I]: Anchor Print Group

The Victorian Society Leicester Group (2013, summer) A Leicestershire Victorian Alphabet: Stockdale Harrison & Sons, p. 4. Available at: http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/regions/Leics_Newsletter_-_2013-2_Summer.pdf  Pdf (Accessed: 8 August 2013)

The University of Leicester Botanic Garden (2013) Available at: http://www2.le.ac.uk/institution/botanic-garden/gardarb (Accessed: 22 August 2013)