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Is there anything quite so awe-inspiring and peace promoting as a walk around a botanic garden? Tolkien is thought to have taken inspiration for the Ents in Lord of The Rings from the garden in Oxford – the oldest in the country – while scientist have long since harnessed the healing and medicinal properties of that which grows in them to the benefit of our collective health and wellbeing.

Whether you’re simply imbibing the beauty all around or actively seeking to learn about diverse plant life, these are places of true wonder. The good news is we can get regular shots of sublime beauty and inspiration from our favourites via their Insta feeds – and this is our top seven.

Oxford Botanic Gardens and Arboretum

‘Sharing the scientific wonder and importance of plants with the world’ is the succinct bio that accompanies @oxfordbga, the grid for the Oxford Botanic Gardens and Arboretum. What it omits to trumpet is that it is the oldest botanic garden in the UK and, in fact, one of the longest established in the world, having been founded in 1621 as a physic garden for medicinal plants. Housed within a classic walled garden and with Magdalen Tower overlooking it, it is one of the most sublime places to– whether aimlessly or – the trickle of its fountains the only noise punctuating the quiet, despite being in the heart of the city. Along one edge runs the Thames, along which in the summer months you can spot punters bobbing by. In short, an idyll and an inspirational follow.

Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Oxford and Cambridge are, in so many ways, each other’s mirror images, down to the many colleges which feature matching names. It stands to reason then that the second oldest university in the country should also have a botanic garden – in its case, established between 1760 and 1763. It was laid out in the Renaissance physic garden style by Thomas Martyn, who was, at the time, professor of botany – but rather than taking his cues from the Oxford incarnation, it was to London’s Chelsea Physic Garden that he turned for inspiration. Since those early days, the garden has moved to a larger site and its 8,000 plants from around the world continue to be closely studied by the Department of Plants Sciences. Happily, the rest of us can glimpse its many wonders over on its beautiful Instagram feed.

Chelsea Physic Garden

Anyone who has ever slipped behind the door and into Chelsea Physic Garden, just a short stroll from the King’s Road, will attest to its near-Narnian through-the-wardrobe magic. It was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries as a place to train the apprentices in the uses of medicinal plants. Today it’s often used as a venue for the most achingly glamorous of parties. But we love it as much for a calming and quiet respite from the hustle of the city, a little hit of which we can also get from gazing at its stunning little squares.

Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens is not only a place of unutterable beauty; it is also a world-leading and internationally important centre of botanical education. Founded in 1759, it houses the ‘largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world.’ Ever-evolving, from both a botanical and a design perspective, we love the 2008 addition of a canopy walkway, enabling visitors to traverse the site at tree level, and the John Pawson designed minimalist Sackler Crossing Bridge. Lose yourself in its Instagram feed, which is a thing of absolute joy and delight.

Eden Project

Cornwall’s Eden Project, launched at the turn of the millennium, has been one of the county’s abiding success stories ever since. Its two striking biomes are home to diverse plant life hailing from climates and environments across the globe. Designed by Grimshaw Architects, there is a biome for tropical plants and another for those hailing from the Med; both have an almost lunar aspect to them, making the whole garden as beguilingly strange as it is beautiful. The project also places an onus on environmental education, as well as on examining ‘the interdependence of plants and people.’ Follow its Instagram feed here.

Lost Gardens of Heligan

It stands to reason that Cornwall should be home to not one but two nationally important botanical gardens; its mild maritime climate makes it, after all, conducive to the nurturing of a diverse range of plants. The Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey, are impossibly romantic, comprising of Victorian Productive Gardens and Pleasure Grounds all executed in the Gardenesque style. Created by members of the Cornish Tremayne family from the mid-18th century to the beginning of the 20th-century, the gardens fell into neglect and disrepair after the First World War, with their renaissance in the 1990s rapturously documented through various books and TV shows. Today, visitors can explore its jungle-like fern gully, as well as ancient woodland, pastures, an Italian garden and even Europe’s only remaining pineapple pit. Can’t get there? Experience the pleasure instead through its little squares of joy.

Chris Nicholson at Glasgow Botanic Garden

Unlike the others listed, Glasgow’s beautiful botanic gardens do not have their own Insta feed. However, their orchid propagator, Chris Nicholson, on Insta as @polystachya, does. ‘First love ferns. Bonus delight carnivorous plants,’ goes his bio and, with that, we’re immediately sold. For images, however, of the wider gardens, you can instead take to Flickr, which has a suitably gorgeous and atmospheric selection that will make you want to make a beeline for these glorious grounds without delay.

By Nancy Alsop
Updated May 2022


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Nancy Alsop


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