Garden Description

small map of the garden

Situated on the Whiteknights campus of the University of Reading, about two miles south of the town centre, the Harris Garden provides an important amenity for University students and staff, as well as the local community and an increasing number of visitors from further afield. The Garden also provides and important space to support teaching, conservation and recreation.


The area on which the garden was established was once the home paddock of the now demolished ‘Wilderness’, a Victorian house built in the remains of a famous landscape garden created at Whiteknights Estate by George Spencer, Marquis of Blandford (later Fifth Duke of Marlborough) between 1798 and 1819.

A small botanic garden was established here by the University in 1972 when the Department of Botany moved from London Road to Whiteknights. In 1987, the Department of Horticulture and Landscape also moved to Whiteknights and work began to extend and enhance the Botanic Garden to meet the wider teaching and research requirements of the new School of Plant Sciences. At this time Richard Bisgrove, garden historian and Director of Landscape Management at the University, drew up a plan for the garden that included features still providing interest now throughout the year.

In recognition of its new role, the garden was renamed the Harris Garden in memory of the late Professor Tom Harris (1903-1983), a distinguished palaeo-botanist at the University, and a renowned gardener.

In 2010, with the closure of Plant Sciences, responsibility for the main part of the garden passed to the Facilities Management Directorate of the University and a major revitalisation programme began. The Walled Garden is, however, under separate management and there is limited access because of its use for scientific purposes.

Main Features of the Garden

The large bank to the right of the Entrance was created to screen the adjacent buildings from view. Among the mature trees which include, birches, eucalyptus and a Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), a range of deciduous and evergreen shrubs, perennials and bulbs have been planted to provide interest throughout the year. In early spring daffodils and brunneras are a highlight, while three flowering cherries and a magnolia can be admired here during April and May. An area in the vicinity of a tall narrow leaved ash (Fraxinus angustifolia) and two strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo) has been planted with a number of shrubs and perennials with scented flowers such as winter flowering honeysuckle, philadelphus, skimmia and sarcococca and is now known as the Fragrant Garden.

Opposite the Red Border is a Hardy Fuchsia [G] collection, which is being developed to show off a range of hardy fuchsias including those hybridised by former graduate and staff member John Wright, such as Fuchsia ‘Whiteknights Pearl’, ‘Whiteknights Amethyst’, ‘Whiteknights Glister’, and some of his Lechlade series such as Fuchsia ‘Lechlade Magician’ and ‘Lechlade Gorgon’. See also our gallery page dedicated to this collection.


Please consider donating via JustGiving to our charity to help fund the upkeep and development of this beautiful public space.

Thank you!