In 1882 Bristol University College awarded their Lecturer of Botany, Adolf Leipner, a grant of £15 for the purpose of laying out a botanic garden. Leipner raised a further £89 and the garden was built on waste ground adjacent to the newly opened buildings of University College at the top of University Road, near to Royal Fort House in Clifton, Bristol. Later the garden moved to a site adjacent to Tyndall Avenue which became known as Hiatt Baker Garden.
In 1959 the present Senate House was built on the site of this garden and the collections were moved to Bracken Hill. Built in 1886, Bracken Hill had been the home of Melville Wills, a noted benefactor of the University. For the 46 years until 2005 the gardens of Bracken Hill have been the home of the University Botanic Garden.
In 2002 as part of an overall review of its estates and gardens policy the University decided to relocate its botanical collections and establish a new Botanic Garden in grounds closer to the University. The Holmes at Stoke Bishop was subsequently chosen as the site for the new Botanic Garden, thereby allowing the sale of Bracken Hill. The relatively undeveloped ornamental garden at The Holmes was an ideal location for the new garden because it is of comparable size to Bracken Hill and is ideally situated just off the Downs on Stoke Park Road within walking distance of the University and City Centre.
Situated opposite Churchill Hall, The Holmes was built in 1879 in the 'Arts and Crafts' style as a large residential house sitting within 1.77 hectares of gardens. During the planning of the Normandy landings in 1944, The Holmes was used as a base for top US Army generals and today the house functions as a University hall of residence and small conference centre.
Top garden designers Land Use Consultants, whose previous commissions include The Eden Project and Heligan, drew up a detailed design for the new garden in close consultation with the Garden Director, Professor Simon Hiscock, the Curator, Nicholas Wray, External Estates Manager Alan Stealey and a team of botanical and horticultural advisors. The final design for the garden was agreed by the Curatorial Advisory Group in July 2004. The design offers a meandering 'organic' trail through a blend of informal and formal plantings both educational and aesthetically pleasing.
Professor Sir Peter Crane, Director of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, who acted as specialist botanical advisor on the project said: "It has been wonderful to follow the process of developing the New Botanic Garden. This is an important investment by the University that will not only enhance teaching and research, but that will also further enrich the City of Bristol for all its citizens".