The Parks’ Genetic Garden commemorates the contribution to genetics of Professor Cyril Dean Darlington, Director of the John Innes Institute and the Sherardian Professor of Botany, Oxford from 1953 to 1971.
Cyril Darlington established his reputation as one of the foremost researchers in the field on chromosome studies at a time when the chromosomal basis of heredity was not universally accepted. He promoted the fundamental (but then novel and highly contentious) belief that genetics could illuminate every branch of biology – from infection to human behaviour.
Among other things he revolutionised the teaching of the plant sciences in Oxford and parallel to, but separate from, the Botanic Garden (which was founded upon a purely taxonomic disciplinary basis – the conception, naming, and classification of groups of organisms) he began to establish a Genetic Garden. This garden was to be dedicated to highlighting the diversity, flexibility and evolution of the plant kingdom.
Professor Darlington’s collection was established first in the gardens of numbers 9 and 10 South Parks Road (now the site of the Department of Zoology) and was moved to its present site in University Parks in 1964 where it was laid out in formal beds.
The garden has since been redesigned to an informal plan, which provides an attractive setting for this interesting and scientifically unique collection of plants.
Mature trees and shrubs remain from the first plantings in 1964, together with herbaceous plants and bulbs which were also part of Professor Darlington’s scheme.
Other plants of more recent genetic interest have been added to the collection. The natural variation within plants is represented, along with a wide range of mechanisms important in evolution and exploited by plant breeders.