The Sheffield Botanical Gardens are botanical gardens situated off Ecclesall Road in Sheffield, England, with 5,000 species of plants in 19 acres (77,000 m2) of land. The gardens were designed by Robert Marnock and first opened in 1836. The most notable feature of the gardens are the Grade II* listed glass pavilions, restored and reopened in 2003. Other notable structures are the main gateway, the south entrance lodge and a bear pit.
*** – History – ***
Thomas Dunn, the then Master Cutler, called a public meeting in June 1833 following a petition signed by 85 local residents concerned about the lack of public open spaces and facilities to promote both healthy recreation and self-education in Sheffield. It was resolved, at the meeting, to develop a Botanical Garden. By 1834 the Society had raised £7,500 through shares, and, having taken practical advice from Joseph Paxton of Chatsworth and Joseph Harrison of Wortley Hall, they purchased 18 acres of south facing farmland from the Wilson family, the snuff makers.
The Society advertised a competition for laying out the grounds, the submitted plans were judged by experienced gardeners – Joseph Paxton (Chatsworth), Cooper (Wentworth), Walker (Banner Cross) and Wilson (Worksop Manor). Robert Marnock, gardener of Bretton Hall, Wakefield (now the Yorkshire Sculpture Park), was appointed to design the Gardens and act as their first Curator. He laid out the Gardens in the then highly fashionable Gardenesque style, where each plant was displayed to perfection in scattered plantings.
The runner-up in the competition, Benjamin Broomhead Taylor, was appointed as the architect for the buildings. The Gardens were finally opened on the 29th and 30th June, and 4th and 5th July, 1836, when more than 12,000 people visited. The Gardens were only open to the general public on about 4 Gala days per year; otherwise admission was limited to shareholders and annual subscribers.
The gardens were saved by the Sheffield Town Trust, dating back to 1297. In 1898 they paid £5,000 for the value of the shares, becoming owners and managers of the Gardens for the first half of the 20th Century. It was then that free admission was introduced and continues today. Demolition of unsafe buildings was necessary and only the conservatory domes were repaired. The Gardens thrived until World War II, when extensive damage left the Sheffield Town Trust unable to afford the repairs and restoration required.
In 1984, the Friends of the Botanical Gardens, Sheffield (FOBS) was established as a group providing education for the public and supporting the Gardens. Practical volunteer work to help staff maintain the Gardens started in 1993. The Friends managed to arrest the decline in many parts of the Gardens but not the listed structures, even the Paxton’s pavilions were derelict and in danger of collapse.
The project was designed to restore the Gardens, all the buildings and features to their 19th century condition whilst adapting to modern requirements. This included the full reinstatement of the Paxton’s pavilions to become a splendid home for frost sensitive plants from around the world.
The restored Gardens were officially opened in June 2007 at a cost of approximately £6.69 million. Eight years of committed fundraising was required. At that time Sheffield Botanical Gardens was the only public open space in the country where the voluntary sector had raised more than £1 million in matched funding. The incredible generosity of local and national charitable trusts, large and small, businesses, individuals, constant fundraising have restored the Gardens to their former magnificence.
In 2013 the Mediterranean Climate Garden was redesigned and replanted to a higher specification than the original restoration. There were enhancements to the Prairie Garden. Professors Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough from the Department of Landscape trialled this style of planting in Sheffield Botanical Gardens prior to their acclaimed “Fields of Gold” plantings in the London Olympic Park in 2012.
The new Himalayan Garden was opened in June 2014. The plants were derived from seeds collected by Chris Chadwell, a modern day plant collector, particularly from plants growing between 9,000 and 14,000 feet. One of the Friends with a passion for Himalayan plants has been share sponsoring Chris’s collecting trips and for the past 6 years growing a collection for the area.
The restored Gardens attract thousands of visitors annually. They are now established as the outdoor cultural venue for Sheffield. The Theatre, Art and Music in the Gardens events attract a further 30,000 visitors over the season. The Friends have a long established schedule of horticulture and botanical lectures and workshops. A number of plant fairs and specialist plant society displays are hosted eg Hardy Plant, cactus, rose and orchids. The Gardens have a popular thriving Florilegium Society.
Since 2018 their focus is on education. Over the past several years funds have been accumulated for a new education centre. There are approximately 125,000 pre and schoolchildren in the area and 500,000 in the natural catchment area of Sheffield Botanical Gardens. The new building completed and opened in March 2017 has 3 classroom areas, a library and an office for an education officer. The centre has been totally paid for by generous legacies and donations and fundraising.
Further plans for plant types not currently represented will be next. Alpine and tropical houses will be their next projects dependent upon successful fundraising.
Many of the features, which distinguished this design style such as winding paths, dotted island beds, expanses of grass, and tree-planted mounds, can still be seen. It was Robert Marnock, their designer and first curator, who perfected the style when he laid them out in 1836. Sheffield Botanical Gardens were acknowledged at the time as being the best of their kind in Britain. They are still one of the best gardenesque landscapes in Britain.
Before he came to Sheffield, Marnock worked as the head gardener in Bretton Hall (now the Yorkshire Sculpture Park), Wakefield. He was appointed by the Sheffield Botanical and Horticultural Society in 1834 to design and lay out the Botanical Gardens, at an annual salary of £100. Marnock designed the Botanical Gardens in the then highly fashionable gardenesque style. He became the first Curator of the Gardens in 1836. He also acted as a landscape consultant for the Sheffield General Cemetery, across the valley from Sheffield Botanical Gardens, which opened in 1836. It’s considered a nationally outstanding example of a Victorian cemetery.
In 1840, Marnock moved on to lay out the Gardens of the Royal Botanic Society of London in Regent’s Park and was appointed as the Gardens’ Curator. His appointment was on the advice of John Claudius Loudon. “Mr Marnock has evidently an excellent taste in landscape gardening, and may be regarded, in this point of view, as a valuable acquisition to the part of the country in which he is situated”. He remained curator until 1863 but continued to practise as a landscape gardener until 1879.
He returned to Sheffield for 2 commissions, Thornbury in 1865 and Weston Park in 1873. Thornbury was a mansion for the cutlery and steel magnate Frederick Mappin. It is now a private hospital. Weston Park was the first municipal park in Sheffield and developed from the grounds of Weston Hall which was converted into Sheffield City Museum.
*** – The Gardens – ***
Situated close to the city centre Sheffield Botanical Gardens were opened in 1836 and now cover 19 acres on a south-west sloping site. The Gardens are listed by English Heritage as a Grade II site of special historic and architectural interest. The Grade 2 Glass Pavilions house a wonderful collection of plants from the temperate areas of the world and provide a wonderful backdrop for the sweeping lawns with their magnificent trees and central Broadwalk.
Several winding paths take the visitor on an exploration through over 18 different garden areas based on geographical or botanical themes. Much loved by children of all ages is a rare Grade II listed Bear Pit which can be found hidden between the recently renovated Mediterranean and Himalayan gardens. A well-preserved fossil of a tree-like Lepidodendron (could be 312 million years old) is displayed in the Evolution garden.
From the traditional layout of the Victorian Rose garden to the Prairie style area designed by Professors James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett there is plenty of interest for the visitor throughout the year. Please click here for a downloadable map of the gardens.
*** – Access – ***
People in wheelchairs can access all parts of the Gardens. The site is gently sloping and there are still a few sets of steps, but wherever there are steps there is an alternative, wheelchair-friendly route. The Sheffield Time Walk is a non-profit organisation which promotes and informs people of Sheffield’s heritage. Their first graded access map was of Sheffield Botanical Gardens. (Pdf of Botanical Gardens Access map).
Two mobility scooters are available for free hire (Monday to Friday) at the top of the drive off the Thompson Road entrance. Call 0114 250 0500 to book.
Disabled parking is available at the top of the drive off the Thompson Road entrance. Disabled toilet facilities are available at the Curator’s House and at the top of the drive off Thompson Road.
*** – Curator’s House Restaurant and Tea Rooms – ***
The Curator’s House is an independent café bistro set within the grounds of the gardens. They are open every day for breakfast, lunch, homemade cake, cream teas, coffee, snacks and ice-cream. All their food is prepared on the premises using fresh, seasonal ingredients. The menu includes all the café classics such as toasties, jacket potatoes, soup and sandwiches but they also have a daily changing specials board with hot meals and salads. They also serve Sunday roasts.
Sit in the light and airy conservatory, in one of their other cosy rooms or outside on the terrace within the gardens. The venue is also available for exclusive private hire. They are fully licensed and have a range of menus available from buffets to 5-course sit down meals.
*** – Guided Tours of the Gardens – ***
Learn about the history of Sheffield Botanical Gardens, its restoration and wonderful plants by booking a guided tour round the Gardens. These are run by FOBS throughout the Spring/Summer and Autumn and last approximately 1 to 1½ hours. The cost is £5 per person with a minimum cost of £50. The last tour commences at 6.00pm. Special arrangements may be made for a later tour but would incur additional costs as the Gardens close at 7.45pm.
To arrange a Group Tour of the Gardens, please contact Kay Keeton. email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: 0124 641 8355
Location : Botanical Gardens, Clarkehouse Rd, Sheffield S10 2LN
Transport: Sheffield (National Rail) then bus. Bus routes : 6, 10, 10A, 181, 271 and 952 stop outside.
Opening Times Winter: 8.00 - 16.00 Weekdays; 10.00 – 16.00m Weekends + Bank Holidays.
Opening Times Summer: 8.00 - dusk/19.45 Weekdays, 10.00 - dusk/19.45 Weekends + Bank Holidays.
Opening Times Glass Pavilions: 11.00 – 15.30 every day.
Tickets : Free
Tel: 0114 268 6001