Empire and its Gardens

Ref: C3747088

This course is about botanic gardens of the British Empire, focussing, in particular, on the Royal Botanic Gardens of Peradeniya in the past colony of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). It looks at the origins of colonial botanic gardens; how they developed within an imperial network with the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew at its hub; and the multiple (and often conflicting) roles that these gardens performed. Plants of empire, as historian David Arnold points out, were situated within a ‘volatile nexus’ of science, commerce, state politics and personal ambition. Ceylon's strategic location, rich biodiversity and various climatic zones made it important both scientifically and economically for the acclimatisation of new crops. By the mid-nineteenth century, many garden directors were becoming aware of the environmental costs of plantation agriculture. The rich archival sources for Peradeniya will allow us to examine this so-called ‘Green Imperialism’ through the eyes of its successive directors.

Course aim

To introduce students to the dynamic character of colonial botanic gardens in the nineteenth century. To tell the stories behind familiar commodities (coffee, tea, cocoa, rubber), their environmental legacy and how garden directors engaged with this.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • This course is for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Understand the vital role played by plants within the British Empire.
  • Evaluate the character and complex role of botanic gardens.
  • Assess the stories behind familiar commodities such as coffee, tea, rubber, cocoa.
  • Describe the roots of environmentalism.

How will I be taught?

What kind of feedback can I expect?

What else do I need to know?


Pre-course work, reading and information sources

What can I do next?

View full course information sheet

Empire and its Gardens

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This course has been cancelled.


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you enrol. Please check the details below to ensure you meet the basic eligibility critiera:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2021
  • You declare that the address you provide is correct and that you will provide evidence of this and your eligibility to live and work in the UK
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

Not sure or have further questions? Contact courseenquiries@wea.org.uk

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