For thousands of years, people have introduced plants to the British Isles from all over the globe for interest, for pleasure or for economic gain, and our gardens have been greatly enriched by this diversity as a result.
The Chronological Border is a linear, mainly herbaceous planting which puts these plant introductions into a time-frame.
The border begins with a group of plants known to have been introduced to Britain from Roman times up to the 16th century. As we come towards the present day, more accurate documentation has allowed plant introductions to be grouped into 20-year periods.
What emerges is a picture of British geopolitical and economic interest over the last 500 years, as the Americas, South Africa, India, and China in succession provided new species for consumption, for medicinal drugs or for pleasure. Plant-hunting activity reached fever pitch towards the end of 19th century. It powered the expansion of the British Empire by redistributing economic crops to new parts of its dominions, but also changed the plants in British gardens and parks through the introduction of new ornamental species.
The chronological planting allows a glimpse as to which plants may have featured in a medieval garden, for example, but it is interesting to see just how recently some of our Garden stalwarts have been introduced: the cottage-garden stalwart, Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis), with its froth of acid green flowers, only arrived at the end of the 19th century, and the lovely burnt-orange Euphorbia griffithii, was only introduced from the Himalayas after the end of the Second World War.
The Chronological Bed was designed by John Gilmour, Director of the Botanic Garden from 1951 to 1973.