It’s misty in the mornings on Coe Fen, damp and quiet. It provides a serenity very different from ticking library clocks and coffee shop buzz. The benches look out over the lower end of the river and company tends to be mostly birdlife. However, if duck-dodging isn’t for you and your idea of getting back to nature is keeping a basil plant on your college windowsill, walk a little further from town, down Trumpington Street, and past the Engineering faculty to the Botanic Garden.
In the NBC/Yahoo series Community, Donald Glover’s character, Troy, finds a secret garden containing a trampoline on college grounds. It brings him total joy, but he is loath to share the source of his newfound happiness. I first visited the University Botanic Garden because of an association with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, but instead of finding young love in a parallel dimension, I found Troy Barnes’s trampoline paradise. The Garden is open from 10am every day, CamCard holders have free entry. There’s a lovely, modern café if you haven’t already stopped at Hot Numbers on your way, and there’s something beautiful in bloom all year.
I would not necessarily recommend a walk among the manicured flower-beds until next term, dreary as this February weather is, but in the warmth, humidity, and abundant growth of the greenhouses, you might just find a bit of an escape, out of the bubble and into an overgrown womb of earthy smells and Latin-labelled leaves. The greenhouses are in the middle of the North side of the gardens, far enough from the roads and the cafés that they are completely peaceful, an advantage of the Botanic Garden over local parks or ‘pieces’. They feel like a kind of inverse Narnia, always summer, never touched by the torment of exams.
Last February, I packed myself a sandwich and a copy of Far From the Madding Crowd (other, less appropriately titled books are also available) and sat among the cacti for a few hours, phone silenced. Since then, it’s been an invaluable resource. It’s a haven I’m not that keen to share, but people have started to notice my increased knowledge of scientific names for plants and succulents so I’m willing let you in on this leafy little secret. It’s Week 5 already, and sooner or later we’ll all be needing a break from the library, so maybe I’ll see you there. Hopefully, the plot twist involving a neo-Nazi gardener doesn’t happen to us, at least not in this timeline.