St Hilda’s grounds have a hallowed history. It stretches back to the Middle Ages, when Edmund Rich, the first Oxford Don to be made a saint, used to wander through Cowley fields.
Hall Building, then known as Cowley House, was originally built for Dr Humphrey Sibthorpe, Sherardian Professor of Biology 1775–1783. Although the gardens have changed greatly since then, there is a lilac tree in Hall Garden that is thought to have been planted by Dr John Sibthorpe in 1786, when he had just succeeded his father as Sherardian Professor. According to College folklore, it is the oldest lilac of its kind in the country. A cedar tree was planted in Hall Garden in 1893 to celebrate St Hilda's taking over Hall Building. At that time the grounds were cared for by a single gardener, James Kinch. When St Hilda's acquired Cherwell Hall (now South Building) from Christ Church in 1921, it came with extensive flower and vegetable gardens. There was also a fowl pen and a pig sty, where pigs were kept until the JCR complained that they detracted from the charm of the gardens.
Today, we have ambitious plans to develop St Hilda's gardens. Take a look at our long-term vision. In 2018, we created a Suffragette Border in Hall Garden to mark the 100th anniversary of the first women winning the right to vote. Our new border adds colour and scent to a relaxed and quiet outdoor space for College members and guests. It will be full of purple and white plants, including asters, erigeron (the darkest of all dunkelstealles), penstemon (sour grapes), anenomes, and clematises. We saw see quick growth over the summer and the borders were full of the suffragette colours. Some evergreen plants will give year-round colour.
The wall flower bed at the end of Hall Garden is being developed as our Blossom Border, to honour the Japanese connection already present in the Prunus mume and hawthorn trees. We have added hydrangea, anenomes, daphnes, and wisteria. The beds towards South Garden reflect our suffragette theme and our riverside walk outside South Building is full of seasonal colour.
Our rose garden was created in memory of Winifred Moberley, Principal of St Hilda's from 1919–1928, by the Old Students' Association. The bird bath in the rose garden is engraved with her initials, WHM. The garden was restored and replanted in 2011, thanks to a gift from our alumna, Margaret Bliss, née Massey Stewart, (Biochemistry, 1852). Our new planting is designed to encourage butterflies and bees. We include many native plants in our plans, and in May each year, the wildflower meadow is full of fritillaries.
New plants were added to the flower beds outside Wolfson Building in August 2018, to add to the colour and scent in South Garden.
Our long-term vision is to create one of the prettiest college gardens in Oxford. We hope to create a terrace overlooking the wildflower meadow. New flower borders will be developed outside Garden Building and Wolfson Building and we plan to add a viewing platform and seated area to our riverside walk.
Students at St Hilda’s are delighted by the new gardens, which offer an oasis of peace and calm. The new Suffragette Border also provides a link to the College’s heritage, which we are all so proud of. We are particularly pleased that the Hall Gardens include British wildflowers that encourage bees and butterflies and support biodiversity.