Virginia Barton

Il faut cultiver . . . An interview with the Honorary Gardener

Garden 1

The Honorary Gardener speaks to Simon Knight,
Oxford Union Society Magazine, February 1989


VB, the Oxford Union’s gardener, is leaving a scrap book to the library in her will; sketching a history of the gardens she claims that it also contains a series of scandalous items which she unfortunately denied me access to. “It’s amazing what you see and hear sitting in a flower bed”.

She has been the honorary gardener for four years, “honorary” in that she does it for love rather than money. As a citizen member of the Union she was inspired to action by the state of the garden at the time, and by her own tendency towards bossiness and tidiness.

She was certainly beset by problems at the start of her campaign. Although the basic shape of the garden was there, it was most distinctive for being a jungle of marigolds. A lack of railings along St. Michaels Street meant that one of her first jobs in the morning was clearing the flower-beds of bikes which had been thrown over the wall by late night revellers.

Since then paving has replaced flower-beds made tatty because of their position en route to the entrance, tree surgeons have operated on some of the more troublesome trees, and the addition of railings has given plants a chance to take root. Refurbishment of facilities inside the building might also afford a better prospect for convenient bushes outside.

That is not to say that VB no longer has problems to face. She holds her breath each time there is a function at the Union; matriculation drinks was always a special cause for concern with the garden reduced last year to something she describes as looking “like the Somme”.

She often faces an uphill task in trying to attract contributions to the garden, although plant donations have been made by past members such as Roy Jenkins, Michael Heseltine and Robin Day. She was eager for Ted Heath to contribute a monkey puzzle, but he obviously didn’t share her particular enthusiasm. As well as these benefactors, many people have left flowers in memory of people who have died, so that all plants in the garden have a history to them.

VB is grateful to all those who support her efforts in the garden, especially Professor Sir Brian Windeyer, ex-Vice Chancellor of London University, who helps her with the leaves and heavy chores. Trinity Term will be the best time to judge all her spadework.



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