Botanical gardens – where nature meets science and society

There are more than 900 botanical gardens in Europe, a type of garden designed for the study, cultivation and propagation of the both native and foreign plant species.

Botanical gardens can be run by the state, municipality, private owners. Some botanical gardens are affiliated to botanical research institutes of universities. Let’s learn more and enjoy their beauty through paintings, photos and illustrations.

From medicinal benefits to scientific interest

From antiquity through to medieval times, plants with health properties have been cultivated. During the Renaissance, these gardens became officially recognised institutions, often belonging to universities.

illustration showing a garden with geometric layout from above
Gezicht op de Hortus Botanicus van de Universiteit van Leiden, 1610. Noord-Hollands Archief, In Copyright

Gradually, these gardens started to include plants without medicinal properties but that were interesting or beautiful. They were cultivated by specially-trained gardeners, studied and classified.

black and white photograph of a group of cactus
Kaktusar, Botaniska trädgården, Uppsala 1939, Upplandsmuseet, CC BY-NC-ND
black and white photograph, two men sawing wood while another watches
Bûcherons au Jardin Botanique à Bruxelles, KIK-IRPA, Brussels, CC BY-NC-SA

Preserving plant specimens in herbaria

Many botanical gardens maintain herbaria – collections of pressed and dried plant specimens used for research. Herbaria are essential for plant classification. That’s why it’s very important for the preserved examples to include as many aspects of the plant species as possible – flowers, stems, leaves, seeds and fruits.

Herbaria play a crucial role in recording the world’s biodiversity.

Caryota ophiopellis Dowe, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, CC BY
Herbarium, Norsk Folkemuseum, In Copyright

Collecting plants from all over the world

With the increase in overseas travel and trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, more and more species were brought back to Europe.

They needed specific conditions to be able to survive the European climate. This is how the first heated orangeries, palm houses and greenhouses became a part of many public gardens as well as private residences and palaces.

black and white photograph, ornate glass green house
Jardin botanique de Bruxelles : Serre Victoria, Meise Botanic Garden, CC BY-SA
colour photograph showing a garden with a small green bird on a perch
Wilhelmshöhe, Kassel, Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, In Copyright

As technolgy developed, these greenhouses could accommodate the needs of an increasing variety of plant species. Interest in collecting plants from all over the world reached beyond purely scientific purposes. It reflected imperialist ambitions and was a tool of colonial expansion, aiming to enhance the cultivation of crops interesting for economic reasons.

Serving the community

Botanical gardens are now a green oasis in many cities and can be a great escape from the hustle and bustle. Some of them are also tourist attractions or event venues.

postcard showing scenes from a botanical garden
Cluj – Botanical Gardens : postcard, Lucian Blaga Central University Library, Cluj-Napoca, Romania,
colour photograph, a mostly red/pink bird standing on a street sign
Spilopelia senegalensis (Linnaeus, 1766), Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin-Dahlem, CC BY-SA

Botanical gardens play an important role in raising environmental awareness through educational programmes and their work with communities.

colour photograph of people visiting a botanical garden
The rooftop botanical garden, University of Warsaw Library (BUW), Pictures-bank.eu (ICIMSS), In Copyright
black and white photograph, group of men doing martial arts
Japan society ‘s garden party, TopFoto, In Copyright
black and white photograph, a kneeling man wearing a suit is picking a flower
Man vid växter i Linnéträdgården, Uppsala 1960, Upplandsmuseet, CC BY-NC-ND

So whether you need a moment of self-care, feel like taking some pictures of lush greenery for your Instagram, would like to learn something or do something for the environment, you don’t need to travel far – just visit a botanical garden nearby.

By Aleksandra Strzelichowska, Europeana Foundation

Feature image: Der Botanische Garten in Wien, Hermine Lang-Laris, Belvedere Museum Wien, CC BY-SA

This blog is part of Europeana’s Discovering Europe season featuring cultural jewels and hidden gems from across the continent.

6 thoughts on “Botanical gardens – where nature meets science and society

  1. I love botanical gardens to enjoy and learn. Thanks for take us around to visit them no to feel so alone.

  2. The meeting of the European Botanical and Horticultural Libraries group was going to be in Meise this year but had to be cancelled. We miss that opportunity to talk to colleagues, visit their collection and tour their gardens. Each has unexpected treasures and I am grateful for the opportunity I have had of visiting such special places.

  3. Botanical gardens are the memory of vegetation who could be disappeared in a couple of years. On this way future generations could study and reintroduce plants of our period. I’m studying succulent Flora of the Canary Islands.

  4. Botanic gardens are of immeasurable importance to the World and need to be supported now more than ever with climate change and the horrendous acts of vandalism being done in one way or another around the Earth.

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