A Historical Guide

Oxford University Parks occupy about 70 acres (28 hectares) of land on the west bank of the River Cherwell. Lying between the city centre and North Oxford they provide a pleasant retreat for citizens and visitors as well as for members of the University; accessibility by footpaths from Marston adds to their popularity. They are probably unique in successfully combining the functions of an arboretum, in having a collection of interesting trees and shrubs, and of a park providing for university sport and recreation.

Contents

A BRIEF HISTORY

The land now known as the University Parks was previously owned by Merton College. The University began negotiations for its purchase in 1853. The western portion had long been used for recreation and formed part of the University Walks: King Charles II is reputed to have walked his dog here in 1685. Remains of the hawthorn hedge which formed the eastern boundary of this area can still be seen to the north of the Physiology Laboratory. The meadow land adjacent to the river provided grazing for sheep and cattle.

Twenty acres (8 hectares) were purchased by the University in 1854; four acres of this were designated for the University Museum, which was built between 1855 and 1860. Over the following five years a further 72 acres (29 hectares) towards the River Cherwell were bought together with a 4 acre (1.5 hectare) spur towards King's Mill, on which Mesopotamia Walk was laid out in 1865.

The area looked very different from today. Farmland surrounded the Museum, which at that time housed the science departments. Construction of Keble College did not begin until 1868, while Lady Margaret Hall was founded in 1878. When the neo-gothic villas of Norham Manor were built along the northern boundary, those whose houses adjoined the Parks took full advantage of their situation by leaving an unrestricted southerly view from their gardens. Possibly the only trees growing here at the time were the 59 elms, 190 willows, 1 oak and 1 poplar recorded in the surveyor's report.

In 1860, a committee was formed to deal with the Parks. It reported that the area should be set out largely as an arboretum and a place of recreation for the University. Two years later, the implementation of this became feasible through a bequest from Lord Hyde. It was resolved that the whole ground should be enclosed by a substantial fence, except along the river, and 25 acres should be set aside for University Cricket Grounds. The remainder would be laid out as an arboretum, with trees planted especially for winter interest and forming a sheltered walk on the north side.

The Delegates invited the horticulturalist James Bateman to produce a plan for the Parks. He had been a frequent visitor to Oxford Botanic Garden while a student at Magdalen College. His own garden, laid out in the 1850s at Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire, had a decisive impact on Victorian garden design. (The National Trust is currently undertaking the restoration of this garden, with its underground passageways, clipped yew hedges evoking Egyptian pyramids, extensive rockwork representing the Wall of China, a Stumpery of upended tree roots and vernacular garden buildings.) Bateman's scheme for the Parks incorporated two Cricket Grounds with a Cricket House, a two and a half acre stretch of ornamental water and a circular walk around the boundary of the Parks. It also showed a bridge over the River Cherwell and an avenue of large trees connecting the new museum with the rest of the Parks. For the avenue he suggested Wellingtonias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) which were very fashionable and which he had used at Biddulph Grange.

The eminent landscape designer Robert Marnock, who in 1840 had planned the Royal Botanic Society's gardens in Regents Park, was recommended to oversee the implementation of Bateman's design for the Parks, which was presented to Convocation in June 1863. Although the design received the full support of the Delegates, as well as that of Sir William Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, objections were made on the grounds of cost, which was estimated at £9,475. The design was said to be too restrictive for the setting up of a Cricket Ground; the possibility of the ornamental water becoming stagnant was also a concern. The plan was subsequently rejected by Congregation and in January 1864 the Delegates considered themselves discharged of their duties. Four months later Hebdomadal Council recommended that "eight to ten acres of the Parks Estate be planted with belts, clumps and single trees at £50 per acre" and that "a walk be carried round the whole enclosure of an average width of not less than twelve feet". Along with the grubbing of hedges and levelling of ditches, this would leave a central unoccupied space of 40-50 acres largely laid to grass. The Vice Chancellor and two persons nominated by the Delegates of Estates were placed in charge of the Parks. In June 1865, £500 was allocated from the University Chest for specimen trees, the first of which were planted that autumn.

A University Decree in 1873 allowed for five Curators of the University Parks to include the Vice Chancellor; the Proctors were added to this body in 1892. Today, there are ten Parks Curators, all faculty members of the University. The day-to-day running is under the supervision of the Superintendent who manages  the University Parks Department. Apart from the Parks the department also maintains the grounds of almost all University departments, and has contracts to maintain and develop some College sites, along with other horticultural contracting.

In 1873, suggestions were put forward to move the Botanic Garden from its site on the High Street to a five-acre portion of the Parks. After an appeal to Dr Hooker, the Director of Kew Gardens, this idea was finally rejected in 1876 and today the Parks and the Botanic Garden exist as separate but complementary departments, fulfilling different functions. The plants of the University Parks, the Botanic Garden and University Arboretum, and those in various Oxford College gardens, together provide one of the most varied collections in the country.

From the first, the Parks have been used for public gatherings to commemorate special occasions. Children from the city's elementary schools were given tea on 22nd June 1898 in celebration of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. Schoolchildren were again entertained in the Parks on Coronation Day in 1911 and to commemorate the Peace on 19th July 1919; however the games planned on the latter occasion were cancelled because of heavy rain. Other events were held on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of King George V and to celebrate the Coronations of both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II.

During the First World War, the Parks were used for drilling and training exercises; aeroplane hangars were erected and soldiers billeted in a camp in the south eastern corner. An allotment area was provided near to Lady Margaret Hall. All University sports ceased apart from tennis and croquet and the number of staff employed to maintain the Parks was reduced to a minimum.

Between the wars, bands played in the Parks on summer evenings. In 1927, the Curators reported that the attendance at these averaged 8,000. The following year a total attendance of 70,000 was recorded at five concerts given by the City Military Band. Even at the beginning of the 20th century, the large numbers of the public using the Parks on summer evenings and weekends caused the Curators to request the services of a police constable from the City Council's Watch Committee.

During the Second World War the area was again "dug for Victory" and about eighty vegetable allotments were provided. Aerial photographs show these south of the path to High Bridge, between Thorn Walk and Oak Walk, with some to the north of the Science area. The quantity of food produced in the various plots was probably variable because of the poor quality of the soil over much of the area. The war years also saw the construction of an air raid shelter under the Cricket Pavilion; obstructions were placed in the open spaces to prevent aircraft landing. At the end of the War measures were put in hand to reinstate much of the area, but the iron railings along the south and west boundaries, which had been removed to make munitions, were not replaced until the late 1960s.

Before the introduction of mechanical mowing equipment to maintain the large expanses of grass, sheep and cattle were grazed in the Parks, a practice which continued at least until 1937. It required the erection of fences and railings within the Parks to prevent the animals from straying. The large scale mowing equipment used nowadays has enabled the removal of these barriers to increase the enjoyment of the open space. Some areas are cut less frequently and managed in a way that encourages a diversity of native grassland species which are allowed to seed before the grass is cut as hay.

BUILDINGS & BRIDGES

Cricket PavilionThe Cricket Pavilion seems to symbolise the use of the Parks for University sport. It was built in 1881 to the design of Sir Thomas Jackson, whose other buildings in Oxford include the Examination Schools and the spire of the University Church on High Street. In 1886, when proposals for an enlargement of the Cricket Ground were considered, Jackson submitted designs for an extension of the pavilion to the west to provide space for a horticultural meeting room; however, this was never built. The only other buildings attached to the Parks are two lodges. North Lodge was designed by T. H. Deane, one of the architects of the University Museum, and built in 1866. South Lodge, constructed as a house for the Superintendent, was designed by Mr Drinkwater and completed in 1893 at a cost of £500. The University Observatory, built in 1874, originally occupied an isolated position in the centre of the Parks; it is now adjoined by buildings of the Science Area.

The area under the jurisdiction of the Curators formerly extended to South Parks Road. With the expansion of teaching and research in the sciences, the space allotted in the Museum to these subjects was found to be insufficient. In 1912 a Decree proposing the construction of an Engineering laboratory along the northern boundary of the Parks was rejected in favour of development along South Parks Road. During the first half of the 20th century about 20 acres were seconded for the University Science area. Further encroachment was thwarted in 1962 when Congregation rejected a suggestion that an acre of the Parks north of the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology be used for a 260ft high tower block for the department of Zoology.

One of the tasks facing the Delegates appointed to co-ordinate the laying out of the Parks was the provision and siting of a bridge across the River Cherwell. Bateman showed this in the south east corner of the Parks and this site was chosen for the first bridge. The rollerway which allows punts to circumnavigate the weir was built nearby in 1887. Repairs and Rainbow Bridge. Picture Celia Sawyer 2005alterations to both have been recorded over the years, the most notable being the rebuilding of the bridge in 1950 to the design of Alfred Goldstein. This has been recommended for listing and is thought to be the first pre-stressed fixed arch bridge in the world; this construction resulted in a more slender structure than the previous bridge. It is now the middle bridge along the cycle track to Marston which was opened in 1994.

A relief project for the unemployed enabled the construction of High Bridge in 1923-24. Its shape, which has led to its being sometimes called Rainbow Bridge, was a topic of much humour when it was built. Time has rendered it a notable landmark which increased accessibility to the meadows on the east side of the river at a time when the southern part of the Parks was being built on. Earlier, these meadows could only be reached from the west by a foot ferry operating in the summer months. A similar ferry existed about half way along Mesopotamia Walk. This was replaced by a footbridge in 1925-26.

SPORT

One of the objectives in laying out the Parks was the provision of facilities for team sport for members of the University. Since 1965, this has been overseen by the Committee for Sports, now the Sports Strategy Committee, which is distinct from, but answerable to, the Parks Curators. Football was the first such sport to be allowed. In 1867 permission was given to the Eton, Harrow and Winchester Football clubs to play in the Parks. The following year this was extended to the newly formed Association Football Club and a year later to the Rugby Football Club. Hockey and lacrosse are also played in the winter months. The Parks have been the home venue of Oxford University Cricket Club since 1881 when cricket was first officially played here. Although a survey and plan for the formation of cricket grounds had been prepared in 1867, it was not until 1879, following instructions to the firm of Field and Castle to prepare a fresh plan for the sports pitches, that a Decree was passed by Convocation to allow a portion of the Parks to be let to the University Cricket Club. There was much debate at the time about the amount of space allotted. Today the cricket ground is regarded as one of the most attractive in the country. Both County and International matches are scheduled during the summer months. Tennis and croquet are also played in the summer.

Provision of a bathing place alongside the river featured in the earliest discussions on the recreational use of the Parks. Parson's Pleasure, close to the rollerway which transports punts around the weir, was reserved for the use of male members of the University. The area was incorporated into the Parks in 1991, and the bathing place closed; the cycle path to Marston was opened nearby in 1994. Similarly, Dame's Delight on the river bank opposite Mesopotamia Walk, the ladies' bathing place from 1934 to 1970, was closed because of high maintenance costs and damage from flooding.

THE POND & WILDLIFE

Although Bateman's original design included a two and a half acre stretch of ornamental water, a pond was not constructed in the Parks until 1925. It was circular, with a diameter of about 50 metres. Mechanical tools being unavailable at the time, it was dug out entirely by manpower. In early 1996 the pond was extended and its size is now more in keeping with that of the Parks. It also more nearly reflects the body of water shown in the original plan. The informal shape, with grass reaching down to the water's edge, enables the youngest children to feed the ducks from a safer vantage point than was previously possible.

The construction of the lily pond led to some interesting wildlife stories. During the excavation a drain was laid into the Cherwell which allowed baby pike to get into the pond; however as these were unable to get back into the river when the pond was completed, they grew to a large size. One Academic, concerned for the safety of frogs, organised the making of wool 'ladders' which were hung over the sides of the pond to allow the frogs to get out and escape from the pike. Eventually the pond was trawled and a large number of pike were caught.

Along with the water feature, the trees and shrubs of the Parks offer a habitat for many animals. In 1885 a Mr Johnson Pond. Picture Celia Sawyer 2005was allowed, at his own expense, to put up two small enclosures of wire netting in an unfrequented part of the Parks to encourage nightingales. In 1914 a collection of wild ducks and geese was made in Mesopotamia. However, in 1921 this was done away with because of continued depredations by otters. In 1929 the Curators again tried to attract waterfowl and a pond was made for fancy ducks in the south east corner of the Parks. In February 1930 a large Persian cat got into the duck enclosure, killing two teal and a melanistic mutant hen pheasant. Seven years later this duck pond too was demolished. Since the enlargement of the lily pond in 1996, more waterfowl have been attracted to the area, so perhaps the wishes of previous Curators are now being fulfilled.

Squirrels are frequently seen. In spring they nibble the crocus flowers, while in autumn they forage for acorns, conkers and haws, the fruits of the thorns. Bird life is also abundant, the variety of seeds providing food for winter inhabitants of the Parks.

MESOPOTAMIA

At the south eastern corner of the Parks, a gate leads onto the cycle path and thence to a strip of land opposite the former site of Parson's Pleasure bathing place, lying between an upper and lower branch of the River Cherwell, one of which was the mill stream. The name, Mesopotamia, that of the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris, has been used in the English language since 1854 to allude to any area between rivers. It is a relatively unfrequented part of the Parks with habitats for waterfowl and wetland flora. The quiet path, about a mile long, leads across footbridges to Kings Mill and thence to Marston Road. A mill was recorded at this site in the Doomsday Book, and milling did not cease here until as late as 1825.

THE GENETIC GARDEN

In 1964, an area immediately north of the Science Area which had previously been the site of hard tennis courts, was allocated for the use of the Sherardian Professor of Botany as a Genetic Garden. Its purpose was to show the evolutionary processes known to occur in flowering plants. The plants were arranged in formal beds according to the various processes exhibited by them. This type of garden needed high maintenance. In 1995 the surrounding fences were removed and the area was incorporated into the Parks. Taking into account the necessity for both an attractive appearance and ease of maintenance, the borders have been redesigned. The original planting has been consolidated while plants used in more recent genetic studies will also be grown.

PLANTING

When the land was purchased, the recorded timber consisted largely of elms and willows. The first plantings were carried out under the direction of William Baxter, Superintendent of the Botanic Garden, and supervised by the Reverend T. H. Hopkins, Fellow of Magdalen College and a Curator of the Parks. In December 1867 twenty eight trees were planted at intervals of 100ft, with shrubs between to form a winter garden. This was presumably along the northern boundary and may include the large Turkey oak (Quercus cerris) which still grows there. The choice of Wellingtonias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), planted near North Lodge in 1888, was perhaps influenced by Bateman's plan. Subsequent planting over the decades has resulted in the presence of more than sixty different genera of trees, many of which are represented by several species or varieties, giving a total of over two hundred different specimens.

Over the decades disease and the effect of storms and drought have taken their toll. However, the "poor little deodars" referred to in the Gardener's Chronicle magazine of 1892, have grown into fine specimens and no doubt the various younger trees which have been planted will in time have a substantial effect. In the 1930s the Curators were alarmed by the presence of Ceratocystis ulmi in the locality; Dutch Elm disease was about to affect the landscape! An extensive collection of elms had been assembled, comprising more than 20 different varieties. Over the next 50 years almost all were to be felled, mostly in the 1970s. In the gaps which were created many fine semi-mature trees are developing.

Thorn WalkA number of trees remain from the original planting of Crataegus (thorns) along West Walk. In 1928-29 a new collection was planted along the walk from South Lodge to Lady Margaret Gate, a brilliant choice as these trees enjoy poor soil and exposed conditions. Now known as Thorn Walk, it has many varieties not in commercial production.

A group of trees was planted in 1953 to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Further trees were added to this clump in 1977, in commemoration of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, along with a circle of ten Aesculus hippocastanum (horse chestnut) north of the cricket field.

In the 1980s a number of oaks were planted along Middle Walk to replace an avenue of elms. They were planted in groups to allow selection of the best specimens; the 'nurse ' trees will eventually be removed. Smaller ornamental trees such as Malus (apples), Prunus (cherries) and Sorbus (rowans and whitebeams) have been planted between the oaks. As these are quick maturing, they provide short term interest and colour in this area.

Photographs dating from the 1930s show the existence of flower borders, rose beds and a small ornamental goldfish pond near to the North Lodge Gate. In his book 'An Oxford University Chest' published in 1938, John Betjeman refers to the 'municipal flower beds'. In the 1960s the Curators record an attempt to lessen the upkeep of the beds by reducing their size and replacing some of the herbaceous plants with roses. The 1977 Handbook of Trees and Shrubs shows a broad shrub border to the south of North Walk. Over the past few years, this has been altered to produce a number of more informally shaped beds. The planting of shrubs, conifers and herbaceous plants in these has been undertaken to provide groupings which are attractive throughout the year and has been extended along the east side of West Walk. Near North Lodge Gate, the flowerbeds include a selection of slow growing conifers, together with winter flowering heathers (Erica carnea) which tolerate less acid soil conditions than usually required by this family of plants. In the south east corner of the Parks, in Cox's Corner, borders have been planted with native or near native species of shrubs and perennials which grow well in the damper, shady conditions. Willows (Salix) and dogwood (Cornus) are pruned annually to maintain winter stem interest. Hayrick Border, close to South Lodge, is the only purely ornamental herbaceous border. It contains a large variety of unusual perennials and is particularly colourful during summer and autumn.

The enlarged pond provides a greater opportunity to grow a variety of moisture loving plants. The red and green-stemmed dogwoods (Cornus alba 'Sibirica' and Cornus stolonifera var. flaviramea) give winter interest, while the herbaceous green and purple leaved forms of mugwort (Artemisia lactiflora and Artemisia lactiflora 'Guizho') have clusters of white flowers throughout the summer.

Crocus bloomsMany of the mature trees are under-planted with spring flowering bulbs. The annual report of the Curators for 1927 recorded that 200,000 spring bulbs were planted after the clearing of overgrown plantations and shrubberies. This initial collection has been added to; a further 250,000 bulbs have been planted in the last seven years. The first flowers to appear in the year are the bright yellow winter aconites (Eranthus hyemalis) under the beeches near Lady Margaret Gate, at South Lodge and in Hayrick Border. These are followed by snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and the blue flowers of Scilia siberica and Anemone blanda along North Walk. Crocuses, including the delicate Crocus tomassinianus, have naturalised along Thorn Walk, while drifts of daffodils cover the banks north of the Pavilion; Narcissus lobularis is the first variety to flower, in early February. Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and autumn flowering cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) alongside North Walk continue the succession.

In some areas the grass is allowed to grow longer, enabling the growth of wild flowers such as Cardamine pratense (lady's smock, cuckoo flower), Jasione montana (sheep's-bit scabious) and Lotus corniculatus (bird's foot trefoil).

The first annual report of the Curators of the University Parks was published in the University Gazette in 1889. William Baxter, the first Superintendent of the Parks, produced a list of some 400 trees and shrubs in 1888. This document appears to have been lost, although an earlier list by him of suggestions for planting has recently been rediscovered in the University Archives. The handbook prepared in 1936 by Mr Harvey Dunkley indicated that many of the trees listed by Baxter had not survived. The introduction to this guide records the existence of over a thousand individual trees and gives notes on the more interesting or conspicuous specimens, numbering about 250 different varieties including a large number of elms, some of which were already infected with Dutch elm disease.

In 1953 the Curators published a second guide, on the centenary of the setting up of the Parks. This was superseded in 1977 by the last formal publication. Almost half of the trees listed in 1977 have been lost as a result of disease, drought or storm damage. The Curators have undertaken to provide more up to date information on the Parks, of which a leaflet produced in 1997 was a beginning.

"I wish the trees were labelled" has been a comment often made by visitors to the Parks. In 1889 the Curators record the printing of a fresh set of labels to coincide with the production of William Baxter's list and to replace those wantonly destroyed by visitors. Further attempts to label the trees and shrubs were made over the years. Labelling is both time consuming and costly and, within the Curators' resources, it is not possible to label all the plants. However, labels giving a location code and an individual number have now been attached to all mature trees. The trees can be identified by reference to the tree guides, which are arranged alphabetically and by location.

TREES OF PARTICULAR INTEREST

Conifers

The group of Sequoiadendron giganteum (Wellingtonia) near North Lodge was planted in the late 1880s when there was still much interest in plants being introduced from abroad, in particular from North America. These specimens have not achieved the size usually expected for this species, presumably because of the poor soil. The small tree was added to the group in 1972, the same year in which another tree of this type was planted at the eastern end of the tulip tree and bean tree avenue. This particular specimen has an attractive conical shape. Sequoia sempervirens (Californian Redwood) has a different leaf shape, resembling that of Taxus baccata (yew).

Cedars are among the most notable conifers in the Parks. The characteristics of the different types are that Cedrus libani (cedar of Lebanon) has horizontal branches with a "platform" appearance; Cedrus atiantica (Atlas cedar) is more upright in habit and the blue foliaged form (glauca) is often grown; Cedrus deodara (deodar) has pendulous branches and in young trees the leading shoot bends over.

Contrasting tree coloursMany of the tall pines are over a hundred years old. The native Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) can be distinguished from Pinus nigra ssp. laricio (Corsican pine) by having reddish-brown bark on the upper part of its trunk and slightly shorter needles.

A group of deciduous conifers can be found along the riverbank walk close to Cox's Corner. Eight Taxodium distichum, (swamp cypress) are part of the earliest plantings. The younger tree in the group (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) was planted in 1967. It can be distinguished from the swamp cypress by having opposite leaflets, whereas those of Taxodium are alternate. Known as the Dawn Redwood, it was thought to be extinct until it was found growing in China in 1943.

Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair tree) is another primitive deciduous cone bearing tree. Unlike other conifers, its leaves are not needle shaped. Male and female flowers are found on separate trees; those growing in the Parks are all male.

Broadleaved trees

A few of the larger trees date from the 1880s; where possible, younger trees of the same type have been planted to maintain continuity when the older trees reach the end of their lifetime. Older trees include the aptly named Scholar tree, Sophora japonica, which in summer bears small fragrant pea-like flowers. Its alternative common name, Japanese Pagoda tree, belies the fact that it originates from China.

North Walk plantation boasts several types of oak including the two native species, Quercus petraea (sessile oak), whose acorns are without stalks, and Quercus robur (English oak), a columnar form of which can be seen south of the path. Non-native oaks include the evergreen Quercus ilex (holm or holly oak), Quercus cerris (Turkey oak) and Quercus suber (cork oak) from whose bark bottle corks are made. Quercus x lucombeana (Lucombe oak) is a hybrid between Q. cerris and Q. suber which often retains its leaves throughout winter.

Another native British tree growing in the Parks, whose fastigiate cultivar is a prominent feature along the northern Oxford ring road, is Carpinus betulus (hornbeam). Ostrya carpinifolia (hop hornbeam) whose common name describes the hop-like fruits, has similar leaves and the added attraction of long drooping male catkins in spring.

Other trees with attractive catkins include birch, several varieties of which have been planted. A group of the native Betula pendula (silver birch) with fissured white trunk and pendulous branches, is seen to advantage with other white-barked forms, backed by dark foliaged conifers, near South Lodge. Hazels are represented by Corylus colurna (Turkish hazel) which, unlike the native Corylus avellana, becomes a very large tree. One such specimen planted in about 1868 towers over the cork oak on North Walk. The contorted form of Corylus avellana, sometimes known as "Harry Lauder's Walking Stick", can be seen growing in the Genetic Garden, together with other tortuous cultivars.

Catkins are also to be found on the native Alnus glutinosa (alder) growing along the riverbank with Alnus glutinosa 'Laciniata', the cut-leaved form. Alders grow happily in damp, boggy ground and other species have been planted south of the pond.

Dissected foliage is also seen in large specimens of Fagus sylvatica (beech) and Tilia platyphyllos (lime) in Lazenbee's Ground. These two genera exist as weeping trees as well as the typical native form.

The weeping habit is displayed by willows (Salix babylonica and the golden Salix x sepulcralis 'Chrysocoma', a hybrid with Salix alba), in the meadow area between South Lodge and the river. Other willows are grown in Cox's Corner for their attractive winter stems. These are pollarded to accentuate the bark colour. The wood of Salix alba var. caerulea is used for cricket bats.

Tulip treesFagus sylvatica (beech) exists in green and purple leaved forms. A more unusual purple leaved tree is Catalpa x erubescens 'Purpurea', whose almost black spring foliage becomes dark green in summer. Other Catalpas (bean trees) form an avenue alternating with Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree) along the southern edge of the Parks.

The collection of thorns includes Crataegus monogyna 'Biflora' (Glastonbury Thorn) which often flowers around Christmas. Crataegus laevigata 'Paul's Scarlet' and 'Rosea Flore Pleno' are grown for their colourful spring flowers. Thorns which are especially attractive in autumn with orange-red foliage or fruits include Crataegus persimilis 'Prunifolia' and Crataegus phaenopyrum. Crataegus macrantha has particularly long thorns. Hybrids between Crataegus (hawthorn) and Mespilus (medlar), can be seen in the Genetic Garden.

Other uncommon trees include Eucommia ulmoides (gutta-percha tree), the only hardy tree known to produce rubber, and Parrottia persica (Persian ironwood), a spreading tree with orange-red autumn foliage, both of which can be found in the beds on the south side of North Walk. Also along North Walk are large trees of Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven), with very large ash-like leaves. Male and female flowers are produced on different trees.

Trees described above are just a selection of those grown. The alphabetical and location lists of trees include all the mature specimens of interest found in the University Parks.

CHRONOLOGY OF SOME MAJOR PLANTINGS IN THE UNIVERSITY PARKS

(as recorded in the Curators' Annual Reports)
 

1867

28 large trees planted at 100ft intervals with shrubs between

1870

trees planted in the centre of the Parks

1875 

oak plantation in the centre of the Parks replaced by a mixture of other trees

1877

birch plantation in south east corner

1878-1881

trees planted to screen Observatory and Cricket Pavilion

1880s

beeches and cedars along central walk; thorns along North and West Walks; two clumps of Scotch fir to east of Cricket Pavilion

1887

further additions to the single line of trees along North and West Walks

1888

catalogue of the rare trees and shrubs produced; specimen trees and shrubs relabelled

1892

Scotch firs planted on one of the football grounds

1895

plantation opposite the new buildings of Lady Margaret Hall considerably enlarged

1902

gift of 102 New England elms offered for an avenue 

1909

yews planted in a belt abutting Norham Gardens 

1911

gift of trees and shrubs from the Director of Kew

1925

avenue of trees along the new paths (? Liriodeodmn & Catalpa) 

1926

special selection of trees between Lady Margaret Gate and the lily pond; weeping willows, bat willows and other varieties planted in Mesopotamia to replace old dangerous trees; plantation between road from South Lodge and Pathology laboratory

1927

trees planted to replace those that had died; rose trees planted around pond 

1928

gift of 50 trees and shrubs from the Director of Kew 

1928-30

the more important trees relabelled

1928-9

Thorn avenue from South Lodge to Lady Margaret Gate

1930

replanting after January storm; poplars planted east of Pavilion 

1934-5

young trees planted to replace losses due to gales and drought 

1935-6

young trees planted in anticipation of loss of elms through elm disease

1936

Handlist of Trees and Shrubs printed

1938

ash, oak and birch planted to replace elms 

1939-40

collection of flowering cherries planted

1947

deciduous trees planted to replace cedars lost in gales

1950-1

groups of trees planted north of new Physiology lab on former allotments

1953

Coronation Clump planted to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
Handlist of Trees and Shrubs published in recognition of the centenary of the University Parks

1953-4

bushes in the area skirting Parks Road relabelled 

1957-8

trees planted along east side of West Walk 

1977

Handlist of Trees and Shrubs published
additions to Coronation Clump planted to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee
young horse chestnuts planted north of cricket field; short avenue of Sorbus planted east of pavilion; additions made to plantation between Lady Margaret Gate and pond; plantation made between Lady Margaret Gate and Rugby field; maples planted along path to High Bridge; oaks planted along Middle Walk

1996

native and near native species planted in Cox's Corner 

1997

planting around extended pond

Acknowledgements

Superintendent of the University Parks
Curators of the University Parks
The Parks staff
Department of Geography cartography unit - for map work
E. Browne-Grant - for historical information
H. Dunkley - for anecdotal information and taxonomy of Crataegus
Dr B. Juniper - for historical documents
M. Pirie - for historical information
C Sawyer - for photographs

Bibliography - sources used

Guide to the University Parks, 1936
Guide to the Trees and Shrubs in the University Parks, Oxford, 1953
Guide to the Trees and Shrubs in the University Parks, Oxford, 1977
The University Gazette 1870 - 1974
University Archives - Parks Curators' Minutes Books 1862-1939
Manuscripts and maps in the Bodleian Library
National Monument Record - aerial photographs
Oxford Centre for Local Studies
The Oxford Magazine
The Gardener's Chronicle
Jackson's Oxford journal
Oxford Journal Illustrated
Exhibition Catalogue 'Sir Thomas Jackson... an exhibition of his Oxford buildings' Oxford, 1983
M. Batey 'Oxford Gardens', Amersham: Avebury, 1982
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Researched and written by Dr Sally Craig Copyright 1998
Additional material by Dr P.A. Bulloch