Imagine the early years of the twentieth century. Four houses being built in the Arts and Craft Style, each with four acres of gardens for wealthy merchants and industralists. It was a golden age for plantmanship, and I'm sure there must have been some upmanship between the owners of those houses called Beaumont, Southmeade, The Knoll and Hastings.
Here's one of them.....Southmeade
Fast forward to 1947 when all all the separate gardens were merged into one sixteen acre garden and became the University of Leicester Botanic Garden.The houses became halls of residence for students.
Fast forward again to when my three children and I spent hours here over the years, learning, sharing, playing and yomping around the garden in every sort of weather. Different spaces for different seasons....in summer on dry days, the children would all spend an hour or so roly polying down the bank in front of The Knoll.
The lawns weren't just a place to romp around though....they learnt which trees were which, to estimate...how tall do you think that tree is.? How many times bigger than you is it?
There's some silver birches in the distance, and one day my daughter who was about six then, suddenly starting singing a lovely Canadian song "Land of the silver birch" which she'd learnt at school that day. And I still start humming that song to myself even now, years later as I walk past them.....
This is one of my favourite places ...so tranquil, so pretty in high summer, a place to sit and reflect....when I'm on my own that is.When the gang were younger , this was a place where I was always on tenterhooks - my hyperactive eldest son had a habit of falling in water anywhere....
But it was also where he and his brother and sister learnt about nature, about life cycles...they would sit for ages looking at the frogspawn...and demand to go back each week by week to wait to see frogs.My youngest boy learnt to count here, by seeing how many fish he could find....
Meanwhile I would just enjoy the view....but it winter when the pond froze over they found out how dangerous the ice could be....thanks to my friend (another Bridget) who, warning our huge gang of nine children, accidentally putting her foot through the ice..accompanied by hysterics from everyone else there.
On cold winter walks around the gardens , so icy you could see your breath in the air, and the children barrell shaped with so many layers of clothes on.....this was the place to warm up ...the cacti and succulent house...or the cowboy house as the boys would call it...
My eldest son would dive in, and start speaking in an American accent, using his fingers as an imaginary gun...and would pretend he was in the wild west. He loved it in here....but he also learnt about the real history of the wild west and geography.
The glasshouses belong to Beaumont House. In it's glory days it was known as the finest garden in and around Leicestershire; it employed ten gardeners - five outside and five in the greenhouses. Nowdays, there's four gardeners....for the whole sixteen acres.
I've learnt so much from this garden too.....in the herb garden, the herbaceous borders, and it's always lovely to see the national collections of Skimmia, Aubrieta, and hardy Fuchsia .To see mature plants in all their glory and what plantings work together.
But in this garden that I learnt to sit and really look, to relax in the tranquil gardens and appreciate the legacy of those gardeners from Edwardian times.This is an absolute jewel of a garden....
Ahem,....but when I said really relax.....I also learnt what it's like to lose a child here...and minutes and minutes of panic seemed like hours as I frantically searched for the eldest boy...........I found him here, hiding.....grinning away as he thought it was the best game of hide and seek ever. The thing is, we weren't playing that game at the time!
And when I found this place again the other week, I couldn't help but smile ...even so, my heart began to beat faster as I remembered the sheer fear of thinking he'd disappeared....
The Botanic Garden is open 10 until 5pm in the summer, 10- 4pm in the winter and it's free to get in.
University of Leicester Botanic Garden,Stoughton Drive South,
Back to the silver birches for today's track....This is the song my daughter sang EVERY time we visited the garden....!
This version is by Michael Mitchell...Land of the Silver Birch