The Beauty of Nature

As we step into spring, Andy Winfield – Senior Botanical Horticulturalist – looks forward to this year’s Easter Sculpture Festival, welcoming people back to reengage with nature…

Plants are everything, they’re vital for human existence; just a quick look around the room you are in right now and you’ll see the influence of them. The cotton of your clothes, the flax of your linen, the wood of your furniture, the tea leaves in your cup of tea, the chocolate in your KitKat, and the paper of the magazine. Plants literally give us the air that we breathe. There is so much to know about plants, but we don’t need to know everything, just being among them is enough to raise the spirits. I work at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden and see and hear from visitors what an impact plants can have from just one visit; the Garden is a peaceful environment, but a question I often get asked is, what exactly is a Botanic Garden and how is it different form other gardens?

A Botanic Garden is a museum, and the plants are the exhibits. The plant world is full of incredible stories from all over the planet and far back through time; it is a Botanic Garden’s job to tell these stories, and here in Bristol we try to do it in a way that everybody can enjoy, from the seasoned botanist to the reluctant ‘visiting with a plant loving partner’ people, the aim is for visitors to leave having had a good experience and learned something new.

It’s a Botanic Garden that is both educational and beautiful, a place for people to learn but also a place to catch their breath. Visitors will see the incredible relationships between plants and their pollinators, the ingenious structures, scent, and colour used by plants to attract exactly what they want; stories about early plants and how they adapted to not be eaten by dinosaurs; about plants used as medicine, and about plants that live right here in our city and nowhere else on earth. We have glasshouses full of cacti and succulents from the driest deserts, orchids and bromeliads from the wettest rainforests. At the entrance to the Garden is a large pool teaming with life, it’s possible to lose yourself gazing into the water watching another world play out.

The Garden has always hosted events; these are a great way for people to see the Garden and experience nature. One of our biggest events of the year is the Easter Sculpture Festival, this year taking place from 7 – 10 April. Art and nature rub along very well, and each embellishes the other. By April, the time of our sculpture event, spring has become irrepressible. This year winter has had a good attempt at holding back spring with icy blasts and snowfall, but all in vain. The Garden is becoming green again, trees are filled with blossom and magnolia flowers are being overtaken by their leaves. On the ground wood anemones carpet our ancient woodland area, their flowers opening and closing with the sun, the first delicate bluebells are nodding under branches whose leaves are slowly unfurling, as if they’re stretching and yawning their way into the year. Tulips are clustered in our Mediterranean display, while iris surround the pools. There is an air of business as pollinators bustle from flower to flower, and birds sing the songs of their territory. In the glasshouses, the incredible jade vine is flowering, its unusual blooms hanging from above. It is a plant that in the wild hangs over the streams and ravines of Philippine tropical rainforests, a colour more unusual than any other flower, its luminescence attracting bats in the twilight who which suspend from branches to drink the sweet nectar reward; all the pollination happens upside down.

Amidst all of this plant growth during the Easter weekend will be local sculptors displaying their work. The work is created in a range of materials from ceramics, metal, and stone; carnival heads will watch in the glasshouses, and shiny metal kingfishers will monitor the pools. Lifelike wire wildlife seemingly scurrying off, and classic stone figures lounge on sunny rocks. Visitors will also have the chance to be creative themselves with willow weaving, stone carving, pottery, and wood turning experts all on hand to teach new skills. For two hours Afro-Leana will be meeting and greeting visitors on Saturday; this friendly ten foot carnival giant will charm all who meet her. There will be coffee cake and sandwiches from Chandos Deli, every garden needs cake!

While the events are a great way to visit, the University of Bristol Botanic Garden is open seven days a week, there are over 4,500 species of plants so there is always something new to discover at every time of year. We look forward to welcoming you in the Garden.

The Easter Sculpture Festival is taking place from 7 – 10 April; All images courtesy of the University of Bristol Botanic Garden