Published: 01 July 2013
Bath Botanical Gardens
Bath is known around the world for its famous architectural heritage, but fewer people are aware of its fine horticultural heritage.

On a recent trip to the city I discovered the Bath Botanic Gardens. Here I saw a plant collection that was inspiring both in its own right and for its great location on a south facing slope close to the Royal Crescent and Royal Victoria Park. The views across the surrounding parkland with the fine avenues of trees running through certainly placed the gardens in a wonderful setting.
 

As a public park this garden is certainly one of the hidden gems in Bath


Shaded Glades

The specimen Cornus kousa Chinensis
Once inside the gate it became apparent that there was going to be plenty to see.  The meandering paths encourage visitors to stroll at leisure through shaded glades and over stone bridges with flowing water or past large specimen flowering shrubs such as Cornus kousa Chinensis that was at its peak on my visit. 

The variety of plants within the garden is extensive. What is impressive is the size of many of the individual specimens. From evergreen to deciduous and the fast and slow growing species, it is possible to see several ‘Champion trees’ within the collection including the Ailanthus altissima, Tree of Heaven being the tallest in the UK.  
 
All of the trees are maintained to the highest standards by the council’s own arboriculture team. The Service Manager for Neighbourhood and Environmental services at Bath & North East Somerset Council is John Crowther, he commented that “Our two specialist teams in the Arboriculture Department within the council actively manage all the trees by carrying out routine tree checks and are fully aware of their great value and the potential threats to them” he continued “Having the teams in-house allows for continuity with the inspections, the staff get to know the trees and what potential problems could arise with each one”.
 
The hundreds of trees in the Botanic Garden, and the many thousands of trees around the city are in safe hands as a result of this forward thinking strategy by the regional authority.

Themed Planting

The different areas allow visitors to enjoy seeing themed planting displays within the gardens, these include the rock garden, rose walk, many scented plants to attract insects in the butterfly and moth garden, the streamside garden and pool, a heather garden and the magnolia lawn with several fine specimens of impressive size. 

A replanted island border contained a collection of ornamental grasses that provided a real contrast of plant shape, form and colour against the surrounding trees and shrubs.


John Crowther made the point that the gardens provide an oasis for people to come to and relax, to recharge their batteries and all within a short walk of the city centre. The natural topography of the site enhances the well designed layout and planting schemes that have been carried out since its conception in 1840.  

The scent from the mock oranges, Philadelphus microphyllus filled the air in parts of the garden

During spring and early summer the unmown areas of meadow grass had been provided a mass flowering of many bulb species that would have made impressive displays amongst the trees and mixed shrubs

Throughout the gardens, individual specimen trees and shrubs have been planted during recent years, many of which have been donated in memory of people who had connections with the gardens. John Crowther said “During the earlier years large collections had been planted because generous benefactors bequeathed them for safe keeping in the gardens. In more recent years it has been individual plants, now space is more limited and we do not wish to overcrowd plants and restrict the growth of established plants already in here.” 

An unusual deciduous conifer specimen, Taxodium ascendens 'Nutans' with its upright growing foliage

The main lawn with the magnificent Tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera at the far end

The informal layout throughout the garden is in contrast to the formality of the long herbaceous border that runs between a laurel hedge and mixed shrub planting and a flag stone path adjacent to the extensive well maintained lawn

Taxodium ascendens 'Nutans'

Tulip shaped flowers on the Tulip tree

The garden was originally part of the Royal Victoria Park and laid out in 1840 by John Milburn, who had previously been superintendent at Kew Botanic Garden. The intention was to create a picturesque garden with a botanical interest, not purely a botanical garden with formal collections; this policy is still followed by the City Council who took over responsibility for the upkeep in 1921.
 

Great Dell

Within a small clearing near the top entrance stands an impressive monument to the memory of Shakespeare, erected in 1864 to commemorate his birth
During 1987 an additional area across the road was incorporated into the Botanic Garden, this has become known as the Great Dell. Here the style and atmosphere is altogether different. The steep wooded valley with two fine redwoods, Sequoiadendron giganteum dwarf the surrounding mature specimen conifers. 
 
The Friends of Bath Botanic Gardens were founded in 1993 and have a programme of various events through the year, including conducted tours around the garden, talks and lectures and summer visits to other gardens of interest.

The Chairman for many years has been Stan Hitt, former Director of Parks at Bath and Kew student. John Crowther commented on the tremendous work carried out by Stan Hitt and his members and how they have helped develop plans that will take the gardens forward. One of these initiatives is the ongoing work with schools and education groups. A temple style building in the garden has been turned into a visit centre so groups can meet for events.
 
Anyone interested in becoming involved in these essential projects carried out by the Friends should see the website mentioned at the end of this article.   


Maximising Potential

Maintenance team transport adding more colour to the scene
With the aid of a Heritage Lottery Fund award there are ideas to increase the educational role of the gardens plus outreach programs to increase the public interest and involvement.

The management and ongoing maintenance of the gardens is carried out by the Bath & North East Somerset Council under the supervision of John Crowther who is keen to see the gardens maximise their potential for the people of Bath plus the thousands of visitors to the city.
 

The architecture of the city highlights the genteel and often extravagant life styles of Georgian society from the past, however the Bath Botanic Garden is still very much alive and offers many benefits for today’s society.

Long may the city authorities and The Friends continue their positive management styles by having apprentices working in their plant nursery, arboriculture teams and maintenance teams out on the ground plus the desire to improve the gardens for future generations.

Reported by Chris Allen  
   
 

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