Was it ever really like that?
Looking back on my student days it seemed like the weather was always sunny, the jokes were always funny, the food tasted better (which is definitely not true) and the British obsession with gardening meant that Oxford was always filled with perfect lawns and beautiful flower beds. Was this last thing any more true than the others? Quite possibly not, but it's undeniable that the city takes great care to always put its best floral face forward. Nowhere can you find a better example of that than in the Oxford University Botanical Gardens.
It's typical of many of the city's attractions that they tend to be pretty much ignored by students and others who live there. I'm ashamed to say that the list of attractions I ignored was a shocking one. I never went to the Ashmolean Museum, the Pitt Rivers Museum or the Museum of the History of Science when I lived in the city despite all of them being free. However when it came to the Botanical Gardens, you could hardly keep me away. It might have had something to do with being on my way home or more likely because of having a massive crush on someone who lived in the accommodation building adjacent to the gardens but then again, perhaps I had a middle-aged interest in gardening long before I should have.
Trying to impress the foreigners
When I met up with my French friend and her son to spend an afternoon in the city a couple of weeks ago I was warned that they'd already had a full week of museums and that it would be wise not to try to force any more on them. So I proposed the Botanical Gardens and they – very politely – agree to go along with that suggestion. I think that unless you are determined to find it, the Botanical Gardens are very easily missed. You can walk down the High Street and over Magdalen Bridge without having the slightest idea that they are tucked away behind the honey-coloured limestone building that faces Magdalen College. The signage is pitiful - if you don't know that the gardens exist, you are unlikely to stumble upon them by accident.The first nice surprise was discovering that the entrance fee was less than I'd feared, especially as my friend's son got in for fee by qualifying as a student (albeit not a local one). I got a reduced fee as an ex-student despite having no ID to prove it but then no such common ID exists. I paid £3 and Squidge got in for £3.80.
Isn't April a bit early?
I was a bit worried that the gardens might be a bit 'thin' so early in the year but the recent bout of exceptionally warm sunny weather had put paid to any fears. The botanical gardens were looking fantastic. We started out by checking the conservatory which is full of citrus plants including some big ugly yellow things that neither of us could identify as well as the more obvious oranges and lemos. Next destination was the bank of greenhouses that line the edge of the river Cherwell where we sweated it out to see some lovely exhibits. Once inside the greenhouses, the path is overgrown with vegetation and it's easy to convince yourself you could be in the jungle - though a neatly labelled jungle for sure.