Today I learnt about a cultural collection of a very different kind… I was taken on a tour of Winterbourne’s extensive plant collections, which were truly amazing. I had never really thought of a botanic garden in the same way as a museum or gallery but in hindsight, the comparison is very sensible; both kinds of collections function as tools for research and education, create varied displays throughout the year (a plant sure puts on a good show when it flowers!) and require sensitively controlled environmental factors.
The garden was designed in 1903 by Margaret Nettlefold, who drew inspiration from the work of influential horticulturalist and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. It is a rare remaining example of an Edwardian garden. One of the reasons the final owner John Nicholson purchased Winterbourne was because it already had an established and mature garden with a reputable horticultural collection. He too was an avid gardener and he expanded many of its collections.
Winterbourne now contains plants from around the world, including from Asia-Pacific, the Americas and alpine regions. The garden itself is Grade II listed and also holds the National Council for Conservation of Plants and Gardens Anthemis, Iris unguicularis and European Rose collections. Winterbourne also occasionally acquires collections from private owners, including a recent donation of a vast number of cacti. The horticultural staff conduct a year-round propagation program for many of the species, which not only ensures backup plants are available for those currently in place in the garden but also helps make the program self-sufficient when excess are sold to the public.
Although the neighbouring school now occupies some of Winterbourne’s original lands, it is still easy to see why its garden remains so precious to both the university and the wider community.