A blossoming education at Sheffield gardens centre
Since the Botanical Gardens were restored to their full glory more than 10 years ago, the development of a permanent learning facility at the site has always been a long-term aim.
And now the ambition has become a reality, following the opening of the Dorothy Fox Education Centre, which promises to boost the gardens’ use as a venue for schools visits, courses and talks, positioning Sheffield as a ‘major venue for horticultural education in the north’.
The centre, which replaces a temporary and outdated classroom block, is named after a donor who made the project possible.
Dorothy Fox was a Sheffield woman who loved the gardens, and left a house in her will to the Botanical Gardens Trust.
The legacy was big enough to fund much of the development of the new building, which has a library and three flexible classroom areas which can be combined to create a large lecture space. It will also offer educational opportunities for schools and practical workshops for adult learners, as well as a programme of lectures, demonstrations, art classes and photography sessions.
The Grade II-listed gardens were created in 1836 by Robert Marnock, a leading horticulturalist and landscape designer of his day. In 1951 the gardens, which cover 19 acres, were leased to Sheffield Council from the Sheffield Town Trust.
The site now has 15 different areas featuring collections of plants from all over the world, including Mediterranean, Asian, American prairie-style, woodland and rock-and-water plantings.
A restoration project to refurbish the pavilions and gardens was finished in 2005, and since then the trust and Friends of the Botanical Gardens have continued to raise money to improve the site.
Jill Sinclair, chairman of FOBS, said: “We are thrilled by the opening of the new centre, which gives us the chance to develop some exciting new initiatives. It has the potential to put Sheffield on the map as a major venue for horticultural education in the north.”
Joe Kavanagh, of the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust, said trustees, patrons, friends group members and the gardens team had ‘worked very hard’ on the project. And council cabinet member Coun Mary Lea said the gardens were a ‘jewel in Sheffield’s crown’, adding that without supporters’ help the centre ‘would simply not have been possible’.
The building was opened by the Duke of Devonshire, a trust patron.