Garden Voices

Voices from the 1950s ● From the 1960s From the 1970s ● From the 1980s ● From the 1990s From the 2000s Voices of the Future 

During 2013, the Changing Perspective project conducted a series of oral history interviews with key people who were involved in the transformation of the eastern section of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden since the 1950s.  Listen to the Garden Voices talking about how they shaped the modern Garden and how shifting ideas affect the Botanic Garden of the future.

Voices from the 1950s  

Norman Villis (left), retired Acting Superintendent of the Garden, recalls how Cory funding was central to the development of the eastern section in the 1950s. Click on the tab below to listen to Norman.





Peter Sell, who joined the Herbarium as a young boy in 1944, recalls Humphrey Gilbert-Carter, the charismatic Director of the Botanic Garden (1921 – 1950) as well as Curator of the Herbarium.




Norman Villis remembers his horticultural training in the 1950s – a mix of practical and horticultural skills.

Bob Younger’s unconventional method of laying out new paths in the Eastern Garden is recalled by Norman Villis.  Soil from the paths created the base of the Limestone Mound in the British Wildflower Section.



Voices from the 1960s

Donald Pigott on the development of the Ecological Limestone Mound and experimental ecology.



Donald Pigott on how his pioneering dot maps helped to influence the Map Scheme, which led to the production of the first Atlas of Great British Flora in 1962.

Voices from the 1970s

Peter Orriss and Norman Villis created the influential ‘new’ Winter Garden in 1978 – 1979.  Norman talks about the reason for moving the Winter Garden and experimental research projects being undertaken at the time.


Voices from the 1980s

Donald Pigott (1984 – 1995) talks about his attachment to Cambridge University Botanic Garden, and recalls his friend, Max Walters (right), Director of the Garden (1973 – 1984).




Norman Villis on the four Cambridgeshire ecological habitats – Breckland, Chalk Down, Fen and Woodland and Max Walter’s interest in local plant conservation. 
Voices from the 1990s  

The Dry Garden demonstrates the use of attractive garden plants selected for their drought-resistance.  The idea was to create an average domestic garden with plants easily available from a local nursery.

Norman Villis developed this sustainable planting in 1997.  The Dry Garden has never been watered.

Donald Pigott (1984 – 1995) talks about the quest to save the Botanic Garden from becoming a ‘city park’ by introducing entrance charges in the 1990s.

“One of the problems I was confronted with about 1990 was the suggestion that after my Directorship ceased, the Garden would probably be, I call it ‘downgraded’.  Very much like what has happened at St Andrews, for example.  It has become essentially a city Botanic Garden. I guessed it would become more like a park, if that happened. It would not have a scientific director…”.   Donald Pigott

Voices from the 2000s   

Professor John Parker (1996 – 2010) (centre) on his desire to leave the Garden with a secure future (1996 – 2010).




Tim Upson (1997 – present) (far right) on why he was interested in updating the history of the Botanic Garden.  Tim talks about how past decisions affect management decisions for the future.

John Parker on the ideas leading to the development of the Sainsbury Laboratory in the private area of the Botanic Garden in the early twenty-first century and its connection with Henslow and Darwin.

Professor John Parker (left) talking with HRH the Duke of Edinburgh at the official opening of the Sainsbury Laboratory for Plant Sciences, in 2011.
IMG_8431  Duke of Edinburgh photo by Nigel Luckhurst

Voices of the Future  Professor Sir David Baulcombe, Regius Professor of Botany, talks about the seismic changes in a molecular biological approach to the study of plants in the late 20th-century.

David Baulcombe on the future for the Botanic Garden.

Sara OldfieldSara Oldfield, Secretary General of the Botanic Gardens Conservation International, talks about the importance of Botanic Gardens in Plant Conservation and Biodiversity.




Professor Donald Pigott on the future of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden


Further Listening
Alan Stanton and Gavin Henderson of Stanton Williams talk about the ideas and concepts behind the design of The Sainsbury Laboratory and their patron, Lord Sainsbury, in a video on the Stanton Williams website.  The building was awarded the RIBA Sterling Prize for Architecture in 2012.

Professor Richard West, Botanist and Quaternary Geologist talks about botany students, Donald Pigott and David Coombe’s ‘phenomenal knowledge’ of the flora of the British Isles in the British Library recording, 2010. This is taken from Professor West’s Oral History Life Story recorded by Dr Paul Merchant as part of the Oral History of British Science project. The section starts at 13.13.

James Lovelock, scientist and author talking about his life and the Gaia theory, BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, 1991.