Oxford University Herbaria, a global cultural resource of approximately one million dried plant specimens founded in the seventeenth century, is the oldest herbarium in the United Kingdom.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the Herbarium Room was part of the Department of Botany; the herbarium was accommodated next door. In the early 1950s, more space was needed for teaching and research so the Department and herbarium were relocated to their current home on South Parks Road. The newly refurbished Herbarium Room reconnects the Botanic Garden with the Department of Biology and the Herbaria.
The prints on the walls are reproduced from the Hortus Elthamensis, which was published in 1732. This very rare book describes exotic plants cultivated by the wealthy, early eighteenth-century apothecary James Sherard (1666-1738) at Eltham, Kent (now Greater London). It was written and illustrated by the German botanist Johann Jacob Dillenius (1684-1747) before he became the University’s first Sherardian Professor of Botany in 1734.
The Bobarts: Building Botany at Oxford
The first exhibition in the Herbarium Room focused on the work of the original keepers of the Physic Garden.
Planting the Oxford Physic Garden began in 1642. Jacob Bobart the Elder (c.1599-1680) and his son Jacob (1641-1719), first Keepers of the Garden, recorded their horticultural efforts, both successes and failures, as lists of plant names.
More importantly, they collected thousands of herbarium specimens into a Hortus Siccus ('dried garden'), which survive to the present day. A physical specimen we can examine today means we know precisely what the Bobarts meant by the names on their lists.
Thinking 3D: Flower to Frame
Our next exhibition, together with Magdalen College Flower to Frame, explored the evolution and techniques of botanical illustration through the centuries.
Visitors were able to see how botanical illustrations were sketched and created, the use of three-dimensional sectional teaching models from the early 20th century, and 21st century 3D models of plants that cannot be cultivated in gardens.
Flower to Frame showed visitors both ancient and modern techniques, and exhibited new artwork by botanist Dr Chris Thorogood (Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum) and botanical illustrator Rosemary Wise (Department of Biology).
In the summer of 2022, we held an exhibition and event, Capturing Nature, which celebrated nature printing as an art form. The event showcased printing demonstrations, interactive workshops, talks, and a book launch. Nature printing is a process that uses plants and other natural objects to create an image by printing on paper from the surface of that natural object, and so we turned the marquee on the front lawn of the Botanic Garden into a printing studio. The exhibition showcased printing techniques from nature, such as block printing, cyanotypes, and much more.