Who are the Friends?

The Association of Friends of the University of Bristol Botanic Garden was founded in 1975 to support the work and development of the Botanic Garden.  A vital aspect of the Friends’ role is to stimulate interest in the Garden through a variety of events and activities.  Income generated by the Friends is used to invest in new projects and make a major contribution towards the upkeep of the Garden.  Many Friends also support the work of the Garden by becoming directly involved as volunteers.

The Aim of the Friends:


A message from the Chairman

Welcome to the Friends’ section of the Botanic Garden website.

We now have some 1900 members, many of whom are amongst over 200 volunteers who contribute in many ways, including the smooth running of events, especially with the provision of the all-important refreshments, updating of these pages, producing the newsletters and greeting and guiding visitors to the Garden.

In this our 40th anniversary year we want to celebrate what we have achieved but look forward to the future to ensure that lovers of plants and gardens will always be able to enjoy this very special garden.

We look forward to seeing you in Bristol’s beautiful Botanic Garden soon.

Pat Davie, Chairman

How do you find out what's on?

Friends are notified about events through:



Tours with the Curator:

Friends enjoying exclusive tour by the curator

Friends enjoy free tours with the Garden Curator, Nicholas Wray. These are normally on a Sunday morning and are an excellent way of learning more about the new developments in the garden and enjoying the seasonal delights. For forthcoming dates see: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/botanic-garden






‌A major benefit of joining the Friends is being able to attend for free, the Friends’ lecture series, delivered by top class speakers on a variety of topics. The 2016-2017 lecture series features Mike Nelhams, Curator, Tresco Abbey Garden talking about: Gardens of the Southern Hemisphere; Toby Beasley, Head Gardener, Osborne, on Osborne gardens and estate: Prince Albert’s pastime;   Lionel Smith,  a lecturer in horticulture at Myerscough College in Preston, talking about: Grass-free Lawns; Topher Martyn, Head Gardener, Syon House: 600 years of Syon garden history; Matt Jacobs, University of Bristol: Iridescence in plants; James Bolton: Romans and roses: a personal history of Italian gardens.

On Thursday 20 April 2017, there will be a special lecture by Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator and Director of Outreach, Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado, USA.

Friends are requested to bring their membership card. Visitors are most welcome and will be asked for a £5 donation. Most of the lectures take place in: Frank Theatre, Wills Physics Laboratory, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol, BS8 1TL. Please watch the event information for details of other venues.

Friends' excursions

A varied excursion programme is arranged for Friends (and their guests if spaces are available) to public and private gardens and other garden-related venues. Recent excursions visited Waterperry Gardens, Buscot Park, Bennetts Water Garden, Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens and Westonbirt Arboretum.

Excursion to Bennetts Water Gardens and the Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens

Bennetts Water Garden

Our own Garden purchases its water lilies from Bennetts, who in turn obtained stock from the French firm of Marliac. The founder of this company, Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac, supplied Claude Monet with water lilies, after he had been ravished by the hybrids exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889. Justifiably then, Bennetts has a ‘Monet’ Bridge, built in 1999, the centenary of Monet’s famous painting. However, there is much more in the Gardens than this ‘iconic’ view. The several lakes are variously stocked and edged with plants and set in a pleasant landscape of trees and shrubs, including a ‘willow walk’  The museum , of the local brick and china clay industry, was also interesting.


 Abbotsbury Subtropical Garden

Nearby, the celebrated Abbotsbury gardens nestle in a sheltered marine valley. Around the nucleus of a Victorian walled garden, the grounds extend widely into woodland, with a network of walks and streams. There is exuberant growth of trees with familiar temperate species jostling tender exotics, particularly from the Mediterranean climate zones of the world, giving a strikingly unfamiliar landscape appearance. Of particular interest were the extreme contrasts of light and shade. Visitors could climb a very steep hill, on a jutting extension to the garden, to a bastion in full sun, and admire an amazing view of the ‘Jurassic’ coast, with the lagoon and Chesil Beach. Then they could plunge down into the forest and find a slimy pool under vegetation in the deepest shade, the ‘Jurassic pond’.


Excursion to Waterperry Gardens and Buscot Park

The two gardens included in this Oxfordshire day, in August, were highly contrasted, but both were much admired and enjoyed. Waterperry Gardens had an air of practical gardening, recalling its history as a college for female students of horticulture. There were plant sales, a shop with garden tools and large packs of fertilisers and other garden supplies, and a museum of agricultural implements. The gardeners were friendly in sharing their expertise, and in the beds themselves we could see their methods in use, such as the ingenious weaving of willow wands into plant supports. The most striking feature was the large herbaceous border, holding up well after a hot summer, in which there was space to display large expanses of familiar plants, such as Eupatorium and Helianthus, to best advantage. Waterperry, this year, has claimed ‘the world’s tallest delphinium’, at 280 cm (over 9 ft)! There were fine sights elsewhere, for instance a pavilion set among the great golden oats of Stipa gigantea, and interesting plants, including a collection of Sedum species and cultivars.

The Water Garden at Buscot Park.

Braced up with gardening ideas and resolution, the excursion went on to relax in the landscape pleasures of Buscot Park. This property has been opened by the National Trust, but Lord Faringdon continues to develop the estate and add to the art collection, building a refined assembly of contemporary art to complement the classical and Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

In the gardens, among the fine trees, an Egyptian Avenue has recently been established, with statuary and complex sundial obelisks (reflecting the distinctive furniture in the Egyptian style, indoors). This avenue has taken its place beside two enchanting established features. In the Water Garden, designed by Harold Peto, water emerges from gentle fountains and trickles and tumbles, via falls and under bridges flanked by stone herms, into the great lake. In the Four Seasons walled garden, pleached hedges of Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia) surround a central pool, with a statue of a male nude carrying a wineskin from which water spouts. Beyond the hedges can be seen grassed areas with unusual small trees, and the whole is surrounded by a lush and lax planting. At the time of this visit vegetables, beans, squash and gourds, were intertwined with flowers, agapanthus and roses, to complete the delight of this original garden.


Excursion to Westonbirt Arboretum

For the October excursion the Friends chose this favourite place, quite near to Bristol, and enjoyed a dry, warm autumn day together. The arboretum comprises two different areas, the carefully designed Old Arboretum, as established in the 1829 by Robert Stayner Holford, and the larger Silk Wood,‘working woodland’ from the 13th century which has received later additions. Silk Wood was chosen for the morning tour.

 This relaxed, but carefully maintained, wood was just turning golden in autumn’s damp and was full of strikingly shaped and coloured fungi. The two friendly guides, volunteers from the thriving Friends of Westonbirt, informed the visitors about the history of the arboretum, pointed out the fine collection of native trees and set the woodland in its economic and social role. The tour included buildings constructed of wood by traditional methods, which are used to house courses in crafts such as furniture making. The epitome of woodcraft, coppicing, was given striking demonstration. In a clearing, there is a very ancient coppiced lime, represented not by a tree with a single trunk but rather by a large number of stumps from which leafy twigs were sprouting – intended to grow into the straight poles to be harvested in several years’ time. The latest previous crop was standing on the site, as a stockade-like ‘sculpture’. Without loss of this immemorial English culture some exotic trees have been introduced to the Silk Wood, in particular Japanese maples, which in this part of the arboretum were not yet showing very much autumn colour change. The group was delighted, however, by the brilliant yellow of the hickories (Carya spp.).

In the afternoon the visitors explored the broad avenues and rides of the Old Arboretum, designed for carriages and quite taxing in their length and disorientating in their subtle curves.

Here were seen magnificently grown specimen trees, all clearly labelled, and many with information boards with engaging titles and texts. Excursion organiser, David Speller, explained: “We could delight in their characteristic growth form, bark, foliage, cones, then turn to a rather different experience and surrender to the colours of the maples in the celebrated Acer Glade, from vivid crimson through all the shades to clear yellow, the great attraction at this season.”



Watch the Newsletter for next year’s excursions.


Seed List distributed to Friends each year

Seed list distributed to Friends each year


This list is only available to Friends and provides the opportunity to grow something very special from seed for free. There is always a wide variety of seeds on offer with full instructions on growing. The day the garden seed list appears in the letter box is a treasured moment for many members.



Friends' Open gardens programme

Friends open their gardens, large and small, each year to raise funds for the Botanic Garden.

Friends Open Garden which also appeared on T.V..                                   

Friends Open Garden which also appeared on T.V..

Open Garden and a chance to meet up with old friends

Open Gardens and a chance to meet up with old friends.







Many of these gardens are rarely open to the public. The programme varies each year but there is always something different ranging from a wonderful spring garden to a jungle garden featured on Gardener’s World. Several gardens have plants for sale and some also supply welcome homemade cakes and teas. The atmosphere is convivial and welcoming and many Friends share their gardening knowledge and experience with visitors. Visiting these gardens is not only pleasurable but makes a valuable contribution to the Friends’ fund raising in aid of the Botanic Garden. If you would like more information on this programme or indeed would like to open your garden, please contact the Convenor, Chris Purvis. Tel: 01179245656. Email: christinepurvis@hotmail.com


Themed tours and Science picnics

Professor Simon Hiscock leading a Science picnic.

Each year the Garden hosts a number of science picnics where students and research staff discuss a variety of subjects such as plant pollination, wheat and cereal evolution and bat sonar with evolution of flower shapes. Some of these events have been made available to groups of the hearing impaired. This photo shows professor Simon Hiscock leading a Science picnic.




All tastes are catered for at the Botanic Garden whether your interests involve art, sculpture, jazz, picnics, theatre performances, wine tasting or the Bee and Pollination Festival.

Appreciating the art

Susan Brasher's 'View of Dundry.'         

'Susan Bracher's 'View of Dundry'.

Sorbus bristoliensis, water colour by Annie Morris.         

'Sorbus bristoliensis', water colour by Annie Morris.

Winter crab apples by David Royle

'Winter crab apples', water colour
by David Royle.










Impressed by the sculpture............and.......... the Bee and Pollination Festival

Sculpture by Peter Moorhouse.    

Sculpture by Peter Moorhouse.

Sculpture by Susan Long.

Sculpture by Susan Long.

Demonstration of bees at work at the Bee and Pollination Festival.

Demonstration of bees at the Bee and Pollination Festival.










Tasting the wine  .......  and ......  Enjoying the Jazz

Tasting the wine with a tour of the Garden.

Tasting the wine with a tour of the Garden.

The Blue Notes band entertain.

Blue Notes Band entertain.

Blue Notes Band.

Blue Notes Band.







To join the Friends see Membership details.

Download a Membership form (PDF, 209KB)