Secret Botanical Garden (in Leeds!)

A month or so ago I found out that Leeds has a Botanical Garden. Not the City of Leeds Botanical and Zoological Garden which closed over half a century ago (the Bear Pit of which you can still visit) but one belonging to the university. I sent around a few emails to various people working at Leeds and didn’t get much in the way of a reply. So instead I turned rogue, using my powers as an historian to turn against the society that created me. What this amounted to was putting on some sunglasses and using the GPS on my phone to locate the gardens (some helpful person had acted as the Al to my Dr. Sam Beckett by marking the gardens on google maps.) On arrival I had every intention of scaling the 12foot high fence and barbed wire all in the name of HPS.

However, when I tested the gate I found it unlocked and a very polite and helpful gentleman on the other side who was in the process of relocating some bees. He was happy to let me wander around and take some pictures, some of which are included in a gallery at the bottom of this post. It really was a fantastic place, and a very odd one to find in the middle of Headingley, indeed I haven’t found many people who have heard of it. Nor are many people likely to hear of it in the future as in 2007 the university decided the garden should be closed. I am still waiting for a reply on this front; the reasons for closure, what will happen to it next etc. etc. and shall of course keep both of you up to date (I know I repeat this joke a lot, but I can confirm I have two dedicated readers and they both like getting a mention, but only anonymously).

Inside the gardens were several rows of green houses, some of which had clearly seen better days. Also to my delight a trial plot of wheat had been laid out and was developing nicely (tempted to pop back now as it would be ready for harvest…).

Anyway, there was little I could gather about the history of the place from pretending to be Freddie Lyon so I turned again to the emails. I was put in touch with Mr Martin Lappage who has been in charge of the gardens for some time. Lo and behold he is writing up a history of not only this garden, but two other similar properties owned by the university! He was able to tell me that the gardens had been founded in 1946 by Professor Irene Manton, the first and only woman to have been made President of the Linnean Society. Here then is another project, rather like my own at NIAB, ripe for further investigation that has been salvaged by the hard work of the people closest to it. Without such people it would be all too easy for these source materials to end up in a skip, or worse. This post is therefore written in the same vein as our latest Museum project, one which sought to bring attention to parts of the universities scientific history that otherwise might remain hidden. With any luck, a small blog post here and there will be enough to prevent these places dropping out of sight entirely.

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6 thoughts on “Secret Botanical Garden (in Leeds!)

  1. A very interesting blog- made even more interesting as it seems there is a similar situation at the University of Manchester.

    Their botanical gardens are tucked away, and facing closure- as the biology department becomes much more about things on a micro-scale, having a centre that grows plants for experiments is becoming less & less necessary.

    A small dedicated team are trying to save the plot here at Manchester, diversifying its operations (last year the site planted trees surrounded by different surface materials as part of an experiment into urban run-off), and highlighting to university big-wigs how enriching and enlightening those who visit find the gardens!

    • They’re such a great resource, I am hoping to get some more on the reasons for closure soon. I don’t know how much of a struggle went on over our way, I have only spoken to a couple of people and neither mentioned resistance (there must have been some of course, it’s all about who to ask). Do you know if someone is looking into the history of the gardens, how long you’ve had them etc.? There is still so much you can do with them but as you say, lab work is dominating the scene at the moment. Trends in Plant Science is an excellent journal for tracking exactly this kind of issue.
      I came across it looking for this special issue dedicated to botanic gardens though of the larger variety. Glad you enjoyed the post, let’s hope your gardens at least last a little while longer.

  2. Pingback: Irene Manton and representations of the cell | HPS Museum Blog

  3. Did you ever hear anything back about the reasons for closure or what will happen to the gardens now? I know it’s a few years on but I’d love to be involved if there is any sort of restoration work planned. I’m a student at Leeds and I’m really interested in horticulture.

  4. It was very interesting for me to read about this as my grandfather was Senior Horticultural Technician at the Experimental Gardens with special experience in hothouse ferns from 1953-1959.

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