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Giant lily pads capable of supporting a baby float in a pool in the rainforest glass house at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden.

Giant lily pads capable of supporting a baby float in a pool in the rainforest glass house at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)

Giant lily pads capable of supporting a baby float in a pool in the rainforest glass house at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden.

Giant lily pads capable of supporting a baby float in a pool in the rainforest glass house at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)

The flowers at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, like this bunch of clivia, are in full bloom this time of year.

The flowers at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, like this bunch of clivia, are in full bloom this time of year. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)

The foliage grows so densely at points in the garden's glass houses that an adult has to bend over to get through.

The foliage grows so densely at points in the garden's glass houses that an adult has to bend over to get through. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)

While the glass houses are a significant attraction, the botanic garden also features a large, tranquil outdoor garden, the perfect escape from the exhaust-fume bustle of the city outside.

While the glass houses are a significant attraction, the botanic garden also features a large, tranquil outdoor garden, the perfect escape from the exhaust-fume bustle of the city outside. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)

For those looking to get their desert fix, The University of Oxford Botanic Garden houses a variety of cacti.

For those looking to get their desert fix, The University of Oxford Botanic Garden houses a variety of cacti. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)

With the gray skies, cool temperatures and standard-issue flora that come with living in England, the environment can easily fail to stimulate the senses.

But there are places where tropical palm fronds loom, where giant lily pads capable of supporting a baby float next to their smaller brethren. It’s the University of Oxford’s Botanic Garden, and it’s the perfect color-soaked diversion when England’s gray gets to be too much.

Located in downtown Oxford, the botanic garden was the first in England and was originally used to grow medicinal plants, curator Louise Allen said.

The facility has a large outdoor garden replete with all types of aromatic flowers, trees and a fountain, but there are also large greenhouses bursting with 6,500 different plants.

“It’s really an amazing place to see a huge amount of plant diversity in a very small area,” Allen said. “It’s only 4½ acres in size, but you can visit everything from a rainforest to a desert.”

The garden also grows vegetables, but those are only for display, she said.

A recent visit found lush rainforest rooms with so much foliage that an adult has to bend over just to get through at points, and there are plenty of nooks and crannies for the kids to explore.

The plants are grown to support university research, the garden’s Web site states, but also to give a little inspiration to the novice gardener.

The garden came into existence in 1633, the Web site states, when Sir Henry Danvers donated 5,000 pounds, about 3.5 million pounds today, to establish the garden for “the glorification of God and for the furtherance of learning.”

It’s easy to see something divine when walking through the garden’s glass houses. The stillness, beauty and silence just ooze tranquility.

Everything is particularly lush this season, with the grass staying greener longer and “incredible” growth rates, Allen said.

In a busy world, such gardens are a welcome respite.

“It’s a place to kind of escape,” she said. “As soon as you step into the garden, you leave behind the business of everyday life. Suddenly the noise has disappeared, and it’s a green oasis in an incredibly busy city. It’s good for the soul.”

Getting thereLocation: Rose Lane, Oxford, on High Street right across from Magdalen College.

Hours: Currently open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the last entry at 5:15 p.m. Hours vary for the rest of the year.

Cost: Three pounds for adults, kids are free and 2.50 pounds for senior citizens and the unemployed. You apparently have to show proof that you’re unemployed to save those 50 pence.

Phone: 01865 286690

Web site:www.botanic-garden.ox.ac.uk


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