Despite its reputation as an industral city, Birmingham is a very green city with over six million trees, some 8,000 acres of parks1 and public open spaces (more than any other city in the UK), and three Botanical Gardens. The greenery of Birmingham is not always evident however, as it was a city designed for the motorcar, with many by-passes and underpasses. Once you move away from the main roads, the post-war planners made great efforts to provide open spaces. The Botanical Gardens have developed independently, away from the hands of any planners, through the actions of individual citizens and the support of a keen army of volunteers.
Winterbourne Botanic Garden
Winterbourne is the University of Birmingham's Botanical Garden. The house and gardens were established in 1903, and bequeathed to the University in 1944. Entrance costs to the gardens (at time of writing) are approximately £4 per person. The gardens are attached to the house, which was recently opened to the public and is free to enter. It is an Edwardian house, dating from the Arts and Crafts movement, and contains a number of rooms furnished from the period, a tea room and a small gift shop. There is also a small gallery where local artists occasionally display their work.
While there is no children's play area, an 'Explorer Pack' can be obtained from the gift shop to encourage children to investigate the gardens. There is an interesting array of plants, and the Winterbourne gardens are full of life and colour throughout the year. Much of the colour is provided by mature trees, which at different heights provide a fantastic layered feeling to the view.
There are several different areas within the gardens:
From the formal garden there is a softened merging into an area of less rigidly-designed regional planting (African plants, and plants from Australasia). In this area a large wooden pirate ship acts as a frame for some of the planting.
Further down there is an area of wetland planting. Here there are some unusual plants and a lawn area. Tall reeds stand along the edge of a stream, large water plants sit on the water. A rock garden also sits in this area, with a grassy bank going down to a pool that is covered in large lilies. Rock planting arrays the bank and the pool has a set of stepping stones. The stepping stones are almost irresistible, but caution is required here to avoid wet feet, or worse.
One h2g2 Researcher remarked of Winterbourne:
The light coming through the trees here is so beautiful I bought a camera in the hope of capturing the changing leaves and lights throughout the year.
The Martineau Gardens are free to enter and are based on Priory Road, Edgbaston. The gardens occupy a piece of land contributed by a wealthy benefactor to the city. Given the location, and value of the land, this is an admirable act of philanthropy. The gardens are also used as a therapeutic resource by local NHS2 providers.
Martineau Gardens are slightly chaotic and shabby, with many different projects underway. Visitors first encounter an orchard and a beautiful lawn surrounded with established planting. Further into the property there is a cactus house, a woodland walk and a children's play area.
The woodland walk, consisting of established trees and wildlife, is encouraged and a bird hide has been constructed for those who wish to view the birds attracted to the area. The local Woodcraft Folk have constructed moss sculptures, and fences have been woven into the trees. At the end of the walk is a pond teeming with plant and other life.
The children's play area consists of a large lawn and a pirate ship constructed from wooden planks, straw bales and a large ship's steering wheel. Children enjoy raising the flag and throwing each other 'overboard'.
The staff are also really friendly, and always happy to discuss the projects underway with visitors.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses
The Birmingham Botanical Gardens were founded by the Birmingham Botanical and Horticultural Society, and are funded through subscription. This is the most formal of the Botanical Gardens in the city, and is also the most visited, but most expensive (approximately £8 per person at time of writing).
The entrance–way is dominated by a series of glasshouses (tropical, sub–tropical, Mediterranean, and arid). The tropical house is the largest, with an array of tropical plants and a large pond containing Koi carp. One h2g2 Researcher observed:
On the day I visited, a James Bond [themed] party was in full sway, as I walked amongst the fronds of palm trees and banana trees I caught occasional glimpses of James Bond characters amongst the leaves.
The gardens have a large lawn sweeping down from the glasshouses, and then a series of 'rooms' set up to display different gardening styles (for example, a cottage garden, a children's garden). These 'rooms' are themed to show stories of gardening, from past to present, and then the history of agriculture. In between the two themed areas there is a large shrubbery, with mature planting and trees.
There is also a children's play area which boasts an adventure playground and a children's discovery garden. These are very popular, and get very busy in the summer months.
The three Botanical Gardens that Birmingham offers the visitor represent some of the different approaches to the development of a botanical garden, each having its own strength. Individually they are worth visiting, but going to all three tells a wonderful story of both amateur and professional gardening. All the gardens are conveniently located near to Birmingham city centre, and can be reached by bus, train or car. It is even possible to walk from one to the other.