DCS: Local Heritage Event:
Tour to the Botanic Gardens

Saturday 11th June 2011 Return to Alumni Events

Once again, a Darwin College Society trip was blessed with lovely weather this time for our visit to the Cambridge University Botanic Garden and, by the time we joined our guide the Acting Director Dr Tim Upson in mid-morning, the day looked perfect. The event began with a short illustrated talk about the history of the Botanic Garden before we emerged into the sunshine and immediately were exposed to an enthusiastic and very informative presentation by Tim Upson for the reasons and philosophy of the layout of the gardens since their inception to today. He explained that Henslow, a famous name to Darwinians, extensively remodelled the garden and was interested in variation of species, but not in an evolutionary way as this came later with Darwin's Origin of Species. Much of the layout of the gardens follows this philosophy of showing variation and much of it still bears the original Henslow plan.

The tour started by looking at the walnut family showing how the seeds of some early species were dispersed by the wind and how they changed to be more efficient but also some evolved to the walnut we all know and which is dispersed by animals. The theme was continued as we walked along one of the wide walks which has black pines on either side. The shape and size of the trees, the length of the needles e.t.c. all vary quite markedly from parts of the world with different climates. In Henslow's day these were variants of the same species although today with modern technology, some have been reclassified into sub-species.

Walnut trees

Tim Upson By the Walnut Trees



Examining pine trees

More pines

More pine trees


The Old Gate

We visited the gate which is that from the original Botanic Garden, then sited on land now known as the University New Museums Site. When the garden was moved to it's present site, the gate was moved with it eventually and has not been changed since apart from the paint .

Sainsbury Centre

Sainsbury Centre

As the morning wore on we were shown the wild area which was the work of Gilbert Carter one of only five directors since the garden had been moved to it's present site. This area has been especially useful to those university researchers who have looked at the effect of different types of trees on the breeding success of birds. Then to the systematic gardens arranged radially according to plant relationships but planted in irregular shaped and sized plots, each plot showing a close relationship between the plants. Finally, via some modern plots showing crop improvements over the years, we were shown the new Sainsbury Centre recently opened by the Queen and we had a small talk on how it is equipped and how it will work for research.


The timing was perfect as we had time to comfortably walk back to Darwin College for lunch where the kitchen staff had laid out our table absolutely beautifully. Tim Upson joined us and answered questions informally over lunch (with of course wine as it was a DCS event). Our entrance tickets were still valid so several of the party moved back to the Botanic Garden. More than one of our party had commented that they had visited the garden before but after the tour they had seen it in a completely new light. Great thanks are due to Tim Upson for this enlightenment which was due in part to his knowledge but also to his enthusiasm and a wonderful ability to make everything seem like an adventure story. Those of us who returned in the afternoon certainly felt enlightened and areas had reason instead of looking random.

Many thanks on behalf of the Darwin College Society and the alumni on the tour in particular, go to Tim Upson, the Darwin College catering staff and of course the weather for making it all a special day.

(Click on the pictures for larger versions) Return to Alumni Events


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