Archive for October 2011

Magical Magdalen, Part I

October 21, 2011

Right across from the Oxford Botanic Garden lie the hallowed grounds of Magdalen College, one of Oxford University’s most renowned colleges. The college is over 550 years old and counts among its alumni nine Nobel laureates and numerous other notables. But it was its extensive grounds and the wide variety of its landscapes that fascinated me most the day I visited.

The gardens closest to the academic buildings include a long herbaceous border that is part sun –

Magdalen College gardens, Oxford University

Part of the sunny herbaceous borders on Magadalen College's grounds.

Magdalen College gardens

Same border, wider view. The gate leads to the outer grounds and the Deer Park.

and part shade in its composition.

Magdalen College gardens, Oxford University

The shadier part of the main borders.

I even spied a throwback to an earlier time – a bright red telephone box, next to one of Oxford’s ubiquitous and beautiful hanging baskets.
Magdalen College gardens, summer containers, hanging baskets

These borders flank a gate that leads out to the more bucolic parts of Magdalen’s grounds (more about which in the next post). But wandering around on my own in the Cloisters building, I saw crews pruning massive wisteria on the interior walls – and a serene, carefully composed planting scheme of Annabelle hydrangeas still looking quite fresh below them.

Magdalen College Cloisters, Magdalen College gardens

Wisteria and Annabelle hydrangeas create a rhythmic pattern in the Cloister quadrangle.

That’s all this time – next post, a look at an intriguing steel sculpture in another part of the College grounds, and its deer park . . .

For an interactive “virtual tour” map of Magdalen’s grounds, click here.

A Visit To the Oxford Botanic Garden

October 7, 2011

High on my list of gardens to visit while staying in Oxfordshire was one close to my friend’s flat – the Oxford Botanic Garden. Located directly across from a splendid garden at Magdalen College (more about that soon), the OBG is a Walled Garden that contains the national collection of euphorbias,

Oxford Botanic Garden, euphorbia

Aren't these euphorbias in the OBG splendid?

various plant-specific beds such as the one with ornamental grasses,

Oxford Botanic Garden, ornamental grasses

A view of part of the ornamental grasses bed at the Oxford Botanic Garden with Karl Foerster and Miscanthus grasses, among others.

and the “Tolkien tree.” This Austrian pine (Pinus nigra sp. nigra), which must be at least 60′ high and has grown from a seed planted in 1790, was described by one of the OBG gardening staff to us as the one that inspired J.R.R. Tolkein (a fellow at both Merton and Exeter Colleges during his many years at Oxford University), to create the Ents, massive anthropomorphic tree characters in The Lord of the Rings.

Oxford Botanic Garden, Pinus nigra var. nigra, Tolkien tree

The "Tolkien Tree" inside the walled garden at the Oxford Botanic Garden.

All these wonders (and many more, including poppies in bloom in August, lucky Brits!) can be seen inside the walled portion of the OBG. Pass through the door in the wall beyond the Tolkien tree, however, and you encounter another feast for the eyes – the Autumn Borders, designed by the husband and wife design team of Nori and Sandra Pope. I’ll let the photos tell the richness of this scene.

Oxford Botanic Garden, Autumn Border, Sandra Pope, Nori Pope

A section of the Autumn Border that sits underneath the Tolkien Tree on the other side of the wall.

Oxford Botanic Garden, Autumn Border, Sandra Pope, Nori Pope


Oxford Botanic Garden, Autumn Border, Sandra Pope, Nori Pope

One section of the Autumn Borders had an amazing variety of dark-leaved dahlias in full bloom. Above, the orange and yellow dahlia is 'Moonfire.'

Oxford Botanic Garden, Autumn Border, Sandra Pope, Nori Pope, Dahlias

Another variety of orange dark-leaved dahlias in the Autumn Border.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Popes and their work with color in the garden, I can recommend their book Color by Design: Planting the Contemporary Garden,  with photography by Clive Nichols, whose work I greatly admire. And if you are ever fortunate enough to visit Oxford, be sure to leave time to visit the Oxford Botanic Garden.

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