History of our Gardens

History of the Gardens

St Hilda’s riverside grounds have a hallowed history stretching back to the Middle Ages. Edmund Rich, the first Oxford Don to be made a saint, used to wander through Cowley fields. 

At the beginning of St Hilda's College's history in 1893, a small cedar tree was planted by Hall Building to celebrate St Hilda's taking over the house on Cowley Place. From its earliest days, the College's grounds were much admired. Our first visiting student, Umeko Tsusa, described St Hilda's Hall as being 'very prettily situated on the river with a beautiful view at the back of the building', when she arrived from Japan in 1899 according to The Centenary History of St Hilda's College Oxford by Margaret E. Rayner.

Our rose garden was created in memory of Winifred Moberly, 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, 1951).

Our Suffragette Border in Hall Garden was created in 2018 to mark the 100th anniversary of the first women winning the right to vote. It adds colour and scent to a relaxed and quiet outdoor space for College members and guests. In the summer months the border is full of suffragette colours with purple and white plants, including asters, erigeron (the darkest of all dunkelstealles), penstemon (sour grapes), anenomes, and clematises. The central plant is the Cynara scolymus. Some evergreen plants will give year-round colour. A wildflower garden was added to Hall Garden in 2020, to encourage more insects and bird life. 

The wall flower bed at the end of Hall Garden has been 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. Our riverside walk outside South Building is full of seasonal colour.

Today, our gardens are still a haven away from the bustle of the city centre. The wildlife-rich grounds are full of year-round seasonal colour. 


Showing the cedar tree planted to celebrate St Hilda's taking over the house on Cowley Place. From The Cheltenham Ladies' College Magazine, no. XXVIIRose Garden, c 1930