Visit to  Exeter University Gardens

13th July 2017


     The University Campus is a registered Botanic Garden and is home to a variety of rare species         of plants and trees.  The site covers an area of 141 Hectares and, until recent cutbacks, there           were usually forty groundstaff to look after it all year round. Last Year we visited the Streatham         Campus botanic garden with its pond and trees and the site of its old Glass Houses.  The well-         known Veitch family were responsible for the trees and shrubs layout in the 19th century.

This year we visited the more formal, individual gardens spread over a large area including the original farm buildings that became the work centre for the groundsmen.  Starting from the Northcott Theatre we crossed the road to a wall with a statue and a fountain, noting a recent duck-house on the pond.  We then turned right into a cactus area.   The cactus beds design was based on the natural conditions of arid Central America and it is sheltered under a canopy, facing the sun but sheltered from rain. The cacti were supplied and donated by a local Cactus Society some years ago and are now well established. Several were in full bloom when we saw them.



Then we proceeded back to the bus stop and past it to the adjacent pond lawn and the small pond area. The small pond is artificial and has no stream to feed it, but is kept topped up by a pump with water from a lower pond down a wooded valley opposite, into which we then entered.

In the valley we noted the signs along the winding paths to different subject buildings for students, accompanied by prominent warnings to Watch out for bicycles!   The area is known as The Plantation and the original natural valley has the stream running through it from the upper pond to the lower, from which water is returned to the top pond by a pump. Half way down we were able to stand on a bridge across the stream, getting a good view of it.  The valley is home to Camellias, Eucalyptus and a fern collection, as well as Heucheras and here is housed the national collection of Azarus (see left).  These are now at full height of about 35 feet and the valley also has a Bug Hotel to support Wildlife.


Emerging from the Plantation we came suddenly to the Lower Road, at a large roundabout.  Opposite were the original farm buildings of the original estate, known now as Streatham Court.  It is now the home-base for the gardeners, although there is also a new, more modern building available to them not far away.  A large house adjoining was the original home of the Farm Manager in the days before the University.


We then crossed the road to the Business School and tucked away behind the first building we saw the miniature Wildflower Meadow.  We noted the Description Board which told us how wild plants would grow naturally in uncultivated areas and would attract various insects including bees.

Returning to the front we turned right, around the corner of the main building, towards Magnolia Lawn, passing Chamomile Lawn and hybrid azaleas, all more recently planted.  Residential buildings in the near distance are mostly owned now by the University and many have been converted into student accommodation.  At this point we arrived at the ponds, noting the two sections fed from opposite directions.  Mallard ducks, and even swans, have used these two ponds for years (Malcolm used to bring his dog for walks when he lived the other side of this hill). From this point, we could just see the huge extent of the University grounds and the original farm by the out-buildings on the horizon. There was some discussion amongst us of the recently publicised intention of the University to build houses for sale here to raise money for the continuing rising costs of the university.

Turning back to the avenue heading north away from the ponds, we entered a wooded area.  This is Taddiforde Valley, with a number of Millennium Magnolias planted in the year 2000.  It also contains some palms and tree ferns. Sadly, one or two very old trees have succumbed and only their bare trunks still stand - just about!    One had in fact been felled very recently!  As the valley path led us up hill, a third stream of water was running happily down to the ponds and the ducks were making the most of it!

After a pleasant, gentle climb we came back onto the main road.  Malcolm explained that to the right it continues up hill to the Edinburgh Wild Conifer Collection, where there is also a large badger set, or at least there was some years ago when Malcolm lived opposite it in Hillcrest Park.    However, we decided not to continue further up the hill and instead crossed the road into North Park Road, where there is still an attractive display of border planting to be seen.   Frances remembers her early years of working here when the planting was much younger and better cared for. In the past, this included at least one major stone fossil bedded in amongst the flowers.  Sadly, today the borders are not so frequently trimmed and, though still colourful, are not quite so attractive as they have been in the past. This was the end of our visit as this path led us towards the bus stop where we had started our walk a couple of hours previously.

All talks are now on the second Thursday of alternate months (February, April, June, August, October & December).                                          All meetings start at 7 pm and are held at JURYS INN, Western Way, Exeter EX1 2DB.                                                                  Free parking is available from 6pm in the Triangle Car Park at the rear of Jurys.                                                                                Walks/visits are usually on the second Wednesday of alternate months (January, March, May, July, September November). 

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