14.11.11

The Wandering Botanical Gardens of Liverpool

Saturday, 2 October 1871

Wavetree Park with wall around the Botanical Gardens
Today I visited Wavetree Botanical Gardens and Park in what was once the village of Wavetree and is now a suburb in southeast Liverpool. Until recently, with the opening of Stanley Park and the near opening of Sefton, Wavetree was one of the few parks in an urban area desperate for open spaces.

William Roscoe
The Botanical Gardens themselves date way back to 1802 and another part of town. William Roscoe created the Liverpool Botanical Garden near Mount Pleasant on the then edge of town. This was not Britain’s first botanical garden but it was the first subscription one. Wealthy patrons not only contributed money, but more importantly many contributed new plants. Those that owned shipping firms instructed their captains to bring back interesting specimens they ran across from all around the world. Liverpool soon had a Botanical Garden envied by the rest of Europe.

Roscoea Purpurea
William Roscoe is an interesting chap in himself. Lawyer, banker, historian, writer, poet and philanthropist, he was elected Member of Parliament, despite his controversial abolitionist stand. After all, the slave trade was a huge chunk of the local economy. Roscoe collected Renaissance art, rare books and plants. Perhaps it was in his blood, being the son of a market gardener, but Roscoe’s biggest passion was botany. He was so well respected by other botanists that his great friend, Sir James Smith, the founder of The Linnean Society, didn’t just name a flower after him, but an entire genus--the Roscoea, from the ginger family.

Layout of new Garden
By 1836 the city had encroached, and the pollution was effecting the plants. Roscoe had already passed away five years earlier, so his friends, dug up every plant and moved them to the new edge of town at Edge Lane in Wavetree. The eleven acre garden, that included a large greenhouse, was enclosed by a brick wall.

By 1841 most of the subscribers had their own greenhouses. The Botanical Gardens were threatened with extinction when the Corporation of Liverpool bought it to make it a public garden. A large piece of land was bought next door and turned into Wavetree Park.

Wavetree Botanical Garden Greenhouse
Sadly the greenhouse was destroyed in the Blitz in 1941. It wasn’t that Hitler hated orchids, but the Luftwaffe missed the nearby railway. The remains of the Botanical Gardens will be moved again in 1964 to Harthill at Calderstone Park only to be closed twenty years later.

Gardens look tough, but they are delicate things that can disappear when forgotten. I recorded these down to the last orchid and Roscoea. With my data, Liverpool will be able to reproduce a virtual Botanical Gardens. Or if the city gets really energetic, they could reproduce an exact replica with real flowers. That would be fantastic. Gardens are works of art that should be preserved.

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