University of Leicester eBulletin

Garden Plays Part in Borough Bloom Title Bid

June 2003

The University of Leicester 16-acre Botanic Garden, which this summer will host a three-month international sculpture exhibition, is playing a part in a bid to be identified as one of the most attractive places in Leicestershire.

Oadby and Wigston Borough Council has entered the forthcoming East Midlands in Bloom competition. The Borough is also hoping to launch the first Oadby and Wigston in Bloom competition later this year.

Peter Bhogaita, town centre manager for South Wigston, Wigston and Oadby, said the Borough's gems included the University of Leicester Harold Martin Botanic Garden.

He said: "What we have in the borough really does have a chance of winning but, because we live here, we don't realise what's available in terms of greenery and flowers.

"We certainly do have a lot going for us and can certainly compete with some of the best of the others."

East Midlands in Bloom judges will visit the Borough on July 16. The Sculpture in the Garden exhibition opens on July 5 and runs until September 20.

Oadby and Wigston in Bloom, which is expected to be launched later this year, will give residents and businesses a further opportunity to shine. Categories are likely to include best gardens, best shop fronts and best public spaces.

The University of Leicester Botanic Garden comprises:

Water Garden

The Water Garden is flanked by pillars and ropes on which are trained climbing and rambling roses. In the pool grow a range of water lilies, among which the pale pink ‘Marliacea Rosea’ is outstanding. A variety of climbers scramble over the pergola which crosses the axis of the water garden at its northern end. These include a purple leaved form of the Grape vine, whose dark purple grapes yield a harsh juice.

Sunken Garden

Beyond the Pergola is the Sunken Garden. This is a parterre of small beds laid out on a brick pavement, each bed edged with a dwarf form of Box. A traditional rotation of spring and summer planting is maintained in these beds.

Conservation Garden & NCCPG Collections

Bordered by a Yew hedge, the Conservation Garden contains the National Collection of hardy Fuchsia, which are at their best from late August to October. Three other National Collections are held in the Botanic Garden and separate leaflets are available for them all: Aubrieta - April to May, Skimmia - all year , Lawson’s Cypress - all year.

Succulent House

Succulence in plants is associated with very arid or salty environments and involves the production of a group of special characters, such as: massive fleshy, water-storing organs; spines or sharp-pointed leaves; and often a special mode of photosynthesis whereby carbon dioxide is taken into the plant at night, rather than during the day. The display contains not only members of the cactus family but also other plants that have adopted a similar habit. A separate leaflet provides more details.

Beaumont House and Terrace

Beaumont House (known as ‘Middlemeade’ until 1947) was built in 1904 for Mr F S Brice, a Leicester hosiery manufacturer. The sheltered south-facing wall is home to some tender plants, such as the evergreen Magnolia grandiflora, a native of the southern United States whose sweet scented flowers open a few at a time from July to late autumn. Adjacent is a specimen of Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’, whose double yellow flowers appear in June. The terrace beds in front of the house have been planted with evergreen, summer-flowering shrubs, chiefly from the Mediterranean region.

Sandstone Garden

Lying between the two lawns in front of Beaumont House, the Sandstone Garden is dominated by a collection of Japanese Maples, cultivars of both Acer palmatum and A. japonicum. Cultivated by the Japanese for centuries, these species have produced a wide array of forms differing in leaf colour and shape. Particularly impressive is a specimen of A  Japonicum ‘Aureum’ which carries golden yellow leaves throughout the summer, and in the autumn ‘Aconitifolium’ often provides a splendid display of turkey-red leaves. In late winter the clean trunks of the maples are complemented by large drifts of the lavender-coloured Crocus tomasinianus.

Limestone Garden

The Limestone Garden is dominated by a well-grown specimen of Bristlecone Pine, the tallest in the country (9.1m in 1981). In the wild the species grows at high elevations in the Californian Sierra Nevada, where some trees have been dated as being about 5000 years old, among the oldest living things on the planet. The Limestone Garden itself is layed out on a geographical theme, with the mountain floras of America, Europe and Asia all represented. A smaller island towards the northern end contains British species.

Alpine House

One side of the Alpine House contains plunge beds in which is grown a diverse array of alpines. The other side features a planting of species that occur wild only in the Balearic Islands. Just in front of the Alpine House is the National Collection of Aubrieta.

Southmeade House

Southmeade House was built in 1928 for Mr Brice when he retired and left Beaumont. Its terrace provides a sheltered pocket for plants from Mediterranean climates. Here may be seen a large specimen of Azara microphylla from Chile, Jamesia americana (a white-flowered relative of Hydrangea from California), and the Moroccan Broom, with yellow, pineapple-scented flowers, from North Africa.

Herb Garden

Dominated by a pair of Mulberry Trees, and edged with hedges of dwarf lavender and rosemary, the Herb Garden is planted with medicinal and culinary plants, often aromatic members of the mint family, such as sage, bergamot, Nepeta and thyme. Complementing the mints are other grey-leaved aromatic plants, such as various species of wormwood and Santolina.

Order Beds

Between Southmeade Lawn and Hastings Glasshouse lie the Order Beds. About 30 flowering plant families are displayed, representing all the larger ones native to the British Isles. The beds are rather unorthodox in that they are designed in the form of two ‘snakes’, one for dicotyledon families and one for monocotyledon families. On the north-facing side of the wall and by the western hedge are perimeter beds which house the National Collection of the genus Skimmia.

Warm-temperate & Tropical Glasshouse

Featured in the warm-temperate section is a variety of species, including the Bird-of-Paradise Flower and a small collection of palms and cycads. The tropical section recreates a rainforest environment but also displays a collection of economically important plants, such as banana, coffee, rice, sugar cane, mango and pineapple. It also features a small display about Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates, two former residents of Leicester who made significant contributions to our understanding of how evolution works.

The Knoll, Lawn and Pond

The Knoll was constructed for Mr William Winterton, a local brick manufacturer, in 1907 with specially made tudor bricks and roofed with local Swithland slates. Later occupied by Mr E.S. Fox (of Glacier Mints), the house was bought by the University in 1964. In the middle of the lawn is an old oak, a field tree dating from the last century. Nearby, is a pond planted with aquatic and marsh plants, including Gunnera tinctoria, a Chilean species with huge leaves and prickly leaf-stalks. Overlooking the pond is a specimen of our native Downy Birch, similar to the Silver Birch but with hairy young shoots and twice as many chromosomes.

Hastings House and Terrace

Hastings House (known as ‘Nether Close’ until 1947) was built in 1902 for Mr Stevens, a Leicester hosiery manufacturer. The design is apparently based on that of Old Ragdale Hall, near the Leicestershire village of Rotherby. Warmth-loving species grow against the wall of the house and fronting the the terrace is the largest Wisteria sinensis in the garden, almost certainly dating from the original planting in the early 1900s. 15     

Cedar Grove

On the far side of Hastings House lawn is a grove of Cedars. Left to right they are: the grey-leaved variant of the Atlas Cedar from North Africa; in the middle is the Cedar of Lebanon from the Near East; and on the right is the Deodar Cedar from the Himalayas. Across the path further to the west is a young specimen of a fourth species, the Cyprus Cedar, planted in 1982 by T G  Tutin, Emeritus Professor of Botany at Leicester University, to commemorate the founding of the Botanic Garden in 1921.

Hastings East Side and Old Pinetum

Many of the Garden’s coniferous species are to be found in this area. Notable specimens include the following:

Giant Sequoias, including a curious pendulous form, that looks very gothic;

Dawn Redwood, a plant known only as fossils until living trees were discovered in the mountains of China in 1941;

Grand Fir, the tallest tree in the garden at 24m.

Highland Pine, a native variant of the Scots Pine and collected from the Black Wood of Rannoch in Perthshire, one of the few remaining stations of the formerly widespread Caledonian pine forest.


The Meadow is quite a good example of ‘unimproved’, neutral grassland, now rare in Leicestershire, and contains over eighty native British species, including Adder’s Tongue Fern, an indicator of undisturbed pasture, and Yellow Rattle, a species which parasitises many of the meadow grasses.

Old Hedgerow

Bordering the meadow to the west is a line of trees, some of which, i.e. the Field Maple and the Common Ash are the remnants of an old hedgerow dating back to the last century.

The Paddock

Formerly a paddock, this area now contains a planting of trees characteristic of northern hemisphere woodlands, including species of birch, alder, maple and sweet gum, the last displaying impressive autumn colouring. Providing an evergreen accent are various tree heaths, bearing sprays of white flowers. Of special interest in the westernmost planting is a group of Lodgepole Pines, collected in the wild from five localities ranging from Alaska to Oregon. They show genetic differentiation in height very clearly, with the northern collections being smaller than those originating from further south.

  Holly Walk and the Tennis Lawn

Leading northwards from the heather beds on the far western side is Holly Walk, so named because most of the garden’s collection of hollies is planted along its route. The adjacent lawn (which used to be a tennis court,) has been planted with part of the National Collection of Lawson’s Cypress, a temperate rain-forest species.

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Information supplied by: Barbara Whiteman
Last updated: June 2003
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