New Perspectives on Botanical Gardens


Organised in partnership with The Gardens Trust.

This weekend will seek to explore and debate the contribution of botanical gardens to research, education, conservation, well-being and commerce from the 17th century to the present day.

New scholarship will be presented to illuminate the involvement of designers, plant hunters, gardeners, scientists, artists, governments and local communities – and to tell the forgotten stories of those who suffered as plants became commodities in global trade.

The weekend will include tours of the Oxford Botanic Garden (the oldest such garden in the country). 

Programme details

Sessions will include:

Prisms and Palimpsests: new voices and hidden histories in botanic gardens, by Dr Sharon Willoughby

The modern botanic garden has many roles, operating as a scientific research and collecting organisation, a pleasure garden offering a place of connection to the natural world and public institution engaged in the quest to create botanically rich and sustainable futures. If we peel back the layers, it is possible to see that gardens concentrate, reflect and refract the ideas of the peoples that created and visit them - framing places of meaning and memory. These storied landscapes and living plant collections have many tales to tell but whose voices and which stories do we hear and how will traversing this complexity help us navigate the modern world?

The Bobarts: publicans and plant-men, by India Cole

Jacob Bobart the Elder (c.1599-1680) was the first keeper of the Oxford Physic Garden (as the Botanic Garden was originally known). His son, Jacob Bobart the Younger (1641-1719) later became the second superintendent of the Garden, and was crucial in its development and on-going success. This talk will give a brief overview of the Bobarts and their contributions to botany and horticulture, as well as the commercial activity that underpinned their success.

Esteemed for eminent skill in his profession: gardeners and botanic collections in late Georgian Britain, by Dr Clare Hickman

Expert gardeners were crucial in the creation, maintenance and use of botanic collections and performed roles as scientific technicians in the University garden as well as managers of private scientific gardens. This talk will explore their centrality to a range of eighteenth-century activities, from the teaching of botany to domestic botanic collecting, with examples from the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and from private gardens owned by medical practitioners.

Convicts, foundlings and the insane: captive labour and the botanic garden, by Dr Caroline Cornish

The infamous role of slavery, and slavery’s successor, indentured labour, in the history of economic botany is well documented. From the 17th to the 20th century, and from the sugar plantations of the Caribbean to the rubber plantations of SE Asia, cheap labour was an integral element in the imperial botany formula. However, in this talk, we consider other forms of captive or coerced labour – including prisoners, ‘lunatics’, and orphans - who were deployed in the creation of items in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection. Taking an object-based approach we will look at who was involved, and how, and what this can tell us about economic botany as it evolved over the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Pigment and earth: ethnobotany and art in the northwest Amazon, by Lindsay Sekulowicz

As an artist, Lindsay uses drawing and ceramics to work collaboratively with Indigenous communities of the Northwest Amazon. Through investigations of clay, pigments derived from plants and material processes, her work generates new insights into historical and biocultural collections, and considers the way that knowledge is transmitted over time. In this discussion she will explore how artistic practice can be a tool to engage with Indigenous cosmovisions.

Historic and Modern Plant Hunting for Kilmacurragh, by Seamus O’Brien 

The talk will trace the story of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, Kilmacurragh from a monastic settlement to the arrival of the Acton family in the mid 17th century and the creation of a great estate. This includes the laying out of a formal Dutch park, later replaced by a wild-style garden in the 19th century. Planted during the heyday of the great plant hunters, Kilmacurragh was abandoned following the Great War, and has been restored with recent travels to Chile, China and Tasmania to restock the gardens.



Description Costs
Course Fee (includes tea/coffee) £220.00
Friday dinner £26.00
Saturday dinner £26.00
Saturday packed lunch £8.85
Single B&B (Friday and Saturday night) £202.80
Single room only (Friday and Saturday night) £174.40
Sunday baguette lunch £6.50
Sunday hot lunch (3 courses) £17.60


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.


Accommodation for this weekend is at Rewley House for Friday and Saturday nights. If you would like to book a double or a twin room, please email

Depending on availability it may also be possible to extend your stay: please enquire at the time of booking for availability and prices.

All bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.