The Harris Garden
University of Reading
The Harris Garden provides an important amenity for all, giving pleasure to an increasing number of staff, students and visitors.
The garden is part of the Whiteknights Campus of the University of Reading, about 2 miles from the town centre. It is set in what was originally the home paddock of "The Wilderness", a Victorian house (now demolished) built in the remains of a famous landscape garden created at Whiteknights by George, Marquis of Blandford (later 5th Duke of Marlborough) between 1798 and 1819.
A botanic garden with adjacent experimental grounds was established by the University in 1972 when the Department of Botany moved from London Road to Whiteknights. In 1987 the Department of Horticulture and Landscape moved from Shinfield to join with Agricultural Botany and Botany in a new School of Biological Sciences. The garden was redesigned by Richard Bisgrove of the Centre for Horticulture and Landscape in Biological Sciences and in 1988, work began on the redevelopment of the Botanic Garden to meet the wider teaching and research requirements of the new School. In 2010 the garden was passed to the Facilities Management Directorate, and became a University wide facility.
The garden occupies about 12 acres (5 ha.). In recognition of its new, wider role, the former Botanic Garden was re-named the Harris Garden in memory of the late Professor Tom Harris, a distinguished palaeo-botanist at Reading University and renowned gardener.
The Large Bank to the right of the entrance was replanted autumn 2012 with plants for spring interest including Epimediums, bluebells and winter aconites with some interesting trees such as Eucryphia.
The Winter Garden is near the entrance to be enjoyed even in inclement weather, and contains a wide range of plants of interest between November and March. Winter flowering shrubs, herbaceous plants and bulbs, plants with good winter foliage or attractive form, and plants with attractive bark or particularly persistent fruits, all have a place here. The fact that many winter flowering plants have delightful scent is an additional bonus. Although this is primarily a winter garden, care has been taken in the planning to ensure that it will provide summer interest too.
The Green Border, opposite the winter border. Here there are a range of plants to give mainly foliage interest through the year including Japanese bamboos, trilliums, border clematis, vibernum, bergenia and penstemons. Some of these, such as the Japanese bamboos, need winter protection.
The Orchard, to the left of the path opposite the second half of the Green Border, contains a collection of ornamental crab-apples, including both vigorous and smaller-growing cultivars, with single and double flowers in colours ranging from white to deep pink. The crab apple collection was the first gift to the new garden from the Friends of the Harris Garden. In addition to prolific spring blossom, many of the trees also have good autumn foliage and colourful fruits. These two seasons of interest are being echoed beneath the trees with bulbs and wild flowers. Cowslips and ox-eye daisies, planted when the Orchard was established, have produced numerous seedlings, while drifts of snowdrops, scillas, crocus, narcissus and snakes head fritillary provide a delightful tapestry from January to late April.
The Mixed Border is the largest feature of the garden and is opposite the Turkey oaks. It was originally planted in 1993 with a collection of nearly 50 shrub roses, both old and modern, many of which are highly perfumed. A wide range of perennial herbaceous plants mix within the roses, giving a long season of interest and colour. Phlox play a major part in the border along with peonies, poppies, day lilies and many others.
The Pond. The liner was replaced in 1995, another gift from the Friends, taking the opportunity to enlarge and re-shape the pond in order to create a larger water surface nearer the path. In summer the notable feature are the numerous Gunnera. Wild flowers and foxgloves run along the path at the side of the pond.
The Stream. Running water adds an exciting dimension to the garden. The pump and associated work for this new feature were financed by the Friends in 2000/01 as new feature for the millennium. Spring planting includes different types of iris, primula, in particular the purple Primula denticulate, and snowdrops. Later cistus, digitalis, ferns and grasses maintain the interest.
New Wood, in the centre of the Harris Garden, consists of three rectangular blocks of young, mainly native trees. These were planted in 1989/90, initially as an experiment to study the establishment of young trees and woodland flora beneath new plantations. The trees are now making a real contribution to the structure of the garden.
The wood, with its glades, clearings and smoother lawns, are managed to produce a variety of habitats for wild flowers, butterflies and other wildlife.
The Meadow, a feature of the centre of the Garden is the meadow planted with 60 000 bulbs in 2010, giving colour from April to June . Early Narcissii start flowering in April, followed by a succession of later flowering Narcissii and daffodils. Nearer to the stream mass plantings of camassia and allium prolong the intense colour here.
The Cherry Bowl was planted in April 1995. The collection of Japanese flowering cherries is arranged around a circular clearing which has been planted with bulbs chosen to coincide with the cherry blossom. As with the crab-apple orchard, the cherries have been selected to demonstrate the range of flower variation in the group, with the bonus of colourful autumn foliage. The rough ground around the trees was cultivated, levelled and re-sown to create a low, wild flower meadow bordering a smooth grass path.
The Formal Garden. This former bedding area now contains strongly sculpted hedges echoing the shape of the borders, with a central bed containing a wooden sculpture ‘The Meteor’ by local sculptor Jon Roberts. The planting is predominantly white, using white phlox and lychnis, both complemented by Helictotrichon (the large grass) giving a spikey texture to the planting that links well with the sculpture.
Mixed height prairie garden. The former annual borders were sown with an American mixed height prairie mix, purchased from a specialist supplier in the United States. It was sown into a sand mulch system, invented and developed by Professor James Hitchmough, whose recent achievements include the innovative planting at the Olympic park in east London. This type of habitat was created because of its long flowering period and because these species are loved by bees and other beneficial insects. From August to September you will see black-eyed Susan, prairie sage, silphium, blue asters, echinacea, wild bergamot and Golden Alexander among others.
Red Border. This 50 metre border has three parts; all backed by sculpted yew and beech hedges. It starts in the shade of a Lucombe oak, with plants such as Red bamboo, hydrangeas with burgundy flowers , Heuchera ‘Winter Red’ and Bergenia’ Ruby Glow'. Grasses and large lilies also feature. A wide range of red perennials with elements of pink, such as Phlox ‘ Starfire’, Persicaria ‘FireTail’ and grasses, fill the middle section. The last section of the border has a more tropical scheme with Cestrum roseum and salvias among others.
The Woodland Garden. Just past Pete's shed on the left is a woodland path leading to the Jungle garden. The area either side of this path is due for clearing in summer 2013 to allow new planting
Jungle Garden - additional planting of ginger lilies, bananas, kniphofia, gladioli, crocosmia and other perennials took place last year. 2013 will see more 'jungle' plants being established here. A Magnolia dendata was donated last year which extends the length of the flowering season here.
Conifer Circle. A circle of Lawson's Cypress forms and similar conifers was planted in 2002. It contains over twenty forms of this most variable of conifers arranged in a sequence from grey to green to yellow foliage.
Gravel garden. This former area of wild roses and ground cover bamboo was cleared for planting as a gravel garden in March 2012. This area already contains two large eucalyptuses, and at one end a beech hedge has been planted along the boundary. New trees such Cercis siliquatrum have been planted. The lower planting contains border line tender plants such as Aloe striatula and Fasicularia bilcour, tied together with more standard perennials such as euphorbias and sedums
The Miller Borders. These four borders were replanted in autumn 2010 and now make a major impact in this area of the garden, particularly in late summer and autumn. As the season progresses a mass of colour from yellows to pinks, whites and oranges come from heleniums, sunflowers (Helianthus), veronicas, rudbeckias, agastache, amsonias and tall grasses. The impact of these borders as you round the corner is magnificent. In the winter months the seed heads remain attractive for visitors and the birds.
Autumn Border. A crescent-shaped path defines a secluded small garden known as the Autumn Border on the left past the pond. Much clearing and planting has been undertaken in the last year. Although it is called the Autumn Border colour starts in the spring with amalanchier, spireas, forthergilla and new acer foliage. Most of these plants have good autumn foliage as well. From September further impact is provided by herbaceous perennials and grasses including asters, sedums, grasses, anemones and cyclamen, to give shades of red, pink, purple and yellow.