Durham University Botanic Gardens in December

It seems fitting that my December visit to the gardens took place early in the month, during out first proper cold snap of the year, when temperatures rarely climbed above zero Celsius during the day for a full week. The blue skies we had for most of that week mean that this final post of the year is really just a tribute to the beauty to be found in the gardens at every season of the year and to Mike Hughes and the staff now running the gardens for all their hard work.

The woodland garden looks smaller at this time of year, when all the Gunnera manicats growing so vigorously in April, has died back but it’s good to see a new young oak tree, part of ‘The Queen’s Canopy’, planted to mark the Platinum Jubilee earlier this year and replacing one felled by last winter’s storms.

Despite the patina of frost there is still colour to enjoy, from both berries and leaves, as well as the spikey stems of young Monkey puzzle trees growing up to replace the giant killed by Honey fungus  and the Lawson cypress cones I first spotted in March.  

Visiting the Botanics throughout the year has been a real pleasure for me, even if writing about it sometimes only happens well after the event.  I visit frequently on my own when I have an hour to spend between teaching commitments or with students who want a walk and a chat.  The New Year has seen me starting to get a group of our Durham undergraduates involved in projects at the gardens, ranging from helping to catalogue the plant collection with a view to building it up, to refreshing the orchid display and rejuvenating the silted-up pond.  I hope that, as well as gaining useful practical experience and building contacts, the students will experience the same sense of wellbeing that I get from being connected with the natural world. Evidence for the value of nature connectedness for both personal wellbeing and for the sake of our planet is growing all the time and anything which offers people the chance to develop this has to be worth encouraging (Sheffield et al., 2022).

I guess the final picture should be Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’, filling the garden with fragrance through the coldest days of winter and surely a harbinger of spring.

Sheffield, D., Butler, C.W. & Richardson, M. (2022). Improving Nature Connectedness in Adults: A Meta-Analysis, Review and Agenda. Sustainability 202214(19), 12494; https://doi.org/10.3390/su141912494

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