History of the College Gardens Tour
The Gardens of the Universities of Oxford course tours St Hugh’s.
The grounds of St Hugh’s College have been featured in a course run by the University’s Department for Continuing Education. The course called the Gardens of the Universities of Oxford is led by Michael Pirie who is the Head Gardener of Green Templeton College. In charge of running the course for over 12 years, he looks at the changing design of the gardens and the role they have played in the life of the Colleges.
St Hugh’s College’s gardener, Jacqui Custerson, joined Mr Pirie earlier this month to take those on his course around the grounds of St Hugh’s. The course takes in different Colleges each year (and next year will also feature Headington Hill Hall of Oxford Brookes University) and this is the first time that St Hugh’s has featured. Students look at the changing landscape through periods of economic, intellectual and social prosperity and stagnation. The course also asks them to consider how the Colleges have looked to maintain and/or develop their gardens and what this says about the enduring value that has been placed on them as an adjunct to learning.
On a balmy and stormy day, a hardy group of 15 braved the elements to take in St Hugh’s College’s grounds. Mr Pirie’s course gives a strong historical perspective, though not exclusively so. He believes that a representative garden from the former women’s colleges is an essential part of the course, especially given the different traditions and historical context in which the gardens were created. The tour took the terrace and its sundial as a logical starting point given that the core part of the College still owes something to the initial gardens’ designer, Annie Rogers, in whose memory it was created.
Jacqui, whose skill as a plantswoman and knowledge of the College Mr Pirie felt made her an ideal guide, received lots of positive comments from those attending the course about the College’s gardens being a real credit. They described it as a lovely location and a kind of secret garden tucked away from the rest of the city. Head Gardner Martin Brandom’s skills in groundsmanship were also highly regarded and they were also full of praise for what they felt was a “proper garden”. With a wonderful herbaceous border, perfectly maintained flower beds and a wide variety of shrubs and trees, it was a real surprise to find such a hidden treat.
You can sign up for next year’s course through the Department for Continuing Education’s website and you can also keep up with news and tales from the College’s gardens on the Hugh’s Horticulture blog.