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Gardens: Pay a virtual visit to the Botanic Garden

Even if we’re unable to visit in person, Cambridge’s beautiful Botanic Garden remains the perfect place to take solace in nature, as Jude Clarke reports

Being able to spend more time outdoors, beyond the single exercise hour allowed in early lockdown, is such a blessing; all the more so as nature is really coming into bloom. Is there a month when wildlife is more beautiful than in June?

After closing its gates in March due to the pandemic, the Cambridge Botanic Garden staff were more aware than most of this keenly-felt gap in people’s daily experience.

Beverley Glover, the garden’s director, explains: “In this challenging time we’re more aware than ever of the importance of nature. It can be really uplifting, giving people an important psychological boost.”

So, wanting to share the beauty of the garden “with everyone, whatever their situation”, weekly videos to share its sights, colours and sounds, dubbed Wellness Wanders, were born.

Sally Pettit, the garden’s head of horticulture, vividly describes what you can expect in the Botanic Garden at this time of year: “The garden is changing rapidly, with everything bursting into fresh new growth. Even in the space of a few days the landscape changes dramatically – irises appear to have shot up and produced flowers, while some trees have shed their blossom to be superseded by another display of eye-catching bloom.

“The pace of change is relentless, and it provides comfort to know that some things are untouched by coronavirus.”

Asked to pick a favourite part of the garden in June, Sally is spoilt for choice: “That’s a very tricky question, as my favourite areas can even vary in the space of a day, given weather, light and season. I particularly like the Gilbert Carter Woodland, which has a more natural appearance, where rides of short grass are mown through drifts of long grass and cow parsley, all carpeting the floor beneath a woody canopy.

“In contrast, the Rock Garden is another favourite at this time of year.Here countless alpine plants spring into flower to create a spectacle contrasting with the harsh limestone landscape in which they grow, while providing a wonderful backdrop to the lake.” As Sally says: “What’s not to like?”

With around 10,000 people now visiting the Wellness Wanders webpage, she is thrilled with the popularity of the initiative, with visitors not only including locals who would normally come to the garden in person, but also people from all around the world.

And if the beauty of the Botanic Garden has inspired you, like so many of us during lockdown, to give gardening a go yourself, more help is at hand. Horticultural learning coordinator Sandie Cain has produced a series of videos sharing brilliant tips and advice for the novice gardener, with guidance for everything from growing your own veg (from a garden or even just a sunny windowsill) to improvising equipment and materials.

There is advice on encouraging wildlife to your garden, creating art with kids in the garden (perfect for a homeschooling lesson) and daily quizzes, posted on the garden’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

What would Sandie’s best tip be for the novice or would-be gardener? “Get a good book to guide you with the basics,” she advises. “And compost: composting feeds your soil, and soil is everything in gardening and growing.”

For those of us without an outdoor space to garden in, her recommendation is to start with microherbs: check the website for a handout with bags of advice on growing your own.

Nourishing for the mind and soul, and literally nourishing for the body – the Botanic Garden is providing perfect antidotes to these troubling times.

* Visit botanic.cam.ac.uk/wellness-wander and botanic.cam.ac.uk/gardening-club to learn more and join in the fun, or take part in the daily quiz (and submit questions to the team) at @CUBotanicGarden on Twitter or facebook.com/CUBotanicGarden

* Pictures by Howard Rice

Show Time

We’re not alone in our appreciation of the glorious Botanic Garden. The Beeb know a good thing when they see it too, and recently turned the spotlight on the garden in their Heavenly Gardens programme with Alexander Armstrong and garden designer Arit Anderson. Broadcast on BBC One on Good Friday, the garden was showcased as an outdoor laboratory used for scientific research, as well as “a spiritual place representing hope, expectation and joy”. We couldn’t have put it better ourselves!

* Find out more about the programme at botanic.cam.ac.uk/heavenlygardens, or catch up with it on the BBC iPlayer.

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