The botanic garden at the University of Oxford is the oldest in Britain, but its influence stretches around the world. Many of England’s most renowned fantasy writers have been frequent visitors to the garden, and have incorporated elements of this enchanting place into their novels.
Lewis Carroll, who was a professor of mathematics at the university, often visited the walled garden with his acquaintance Alice Liddell, which evidently inspired many of the tales in Alice in Wonderland. The glass house where the waterlily garden is located was even featured in the early illustrations of the book.
Similarly, fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien, who taught Anglo-Saxon studies at Oxford, was often found in the gardens, sitting deep in thought puffing on his pipe beneath his favorite tree, an ornamental black pine. This tree (which was sadly cut down for safety reasons in 2014) is commonly believed to have been his inspiration for the wonderful Ent creatures in his masterpiece trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. (The name “Ent” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for “giant.”)
A more contemporary author and former Oxford student, Phillip Pullman, also included the botanical gardens as the setting for many scenes in his award-winning His Dark Materials trilogy. Notably, a bench in the garden which has since become widely known as “Lyra and Will’s bench” features prominently in the last scene of the final book of the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass.
Know Before You Go
Open year-round, with a cafe in the summer months. You can book guided tours in advance; check the website for details.