The Jagiellonian University Botanic Garden in Kraków
I visited this fascinating garden whilst on a recent trip to Kraków in Poland and really didn’t know what to expect but as soon as I went through the unassuming side entrance, I realised that I would need at least a full day there just to soak up the history of the place and gaze at all the array of plants and trees….
In the early-mid 1700s, European plant hunters and botanists were sent on long sea voyages to Africa, Indonesia and Central America sometimes for months and years at a time, to seek out new species of plants and trees and either bring back whole specimens or collect seed whilst painstakingly cataloguing their finds. It is incredible to think that many of today’s plants in our own gardens originated in far-flung areas and continents of the world, that were then virtually unknown or newly discovered themselves, let alone the plants they yielded. Plant hunters often risked life and limb to discover new species of plants often encountering warring local tribesmen, tropical diseases, storms at sea and earthquakes on land.
Established in 1783, the Botanic garden is a relaxing space to wander round, meandering through some 10 hectares of landscaped (but not municipal style) park, with thousands of different species and varieties of plants, trees and shrubs collected from around the world.
Most of the plants are categorised into their own areas i.e. alpines, medicinal, succulents, heathers, grasses, temperate water plants and ornamentals. Then there are the magnificent glasshouses with collections of ferns, orchids, cactus and palms and tropical water plants. I loved seeing the old water heating pipes under the surface of the indoor ponds and on the walls, still in use today. Fantastic.
An iron-and-glass glasshouse was constructed at the Jagiellonian University Garden in 1882 and tropical plants – orchids, aquatic plants, ferns and palms etc. are housed in that and the other large glasshouses around the grounds and they are all packed with plants from floor to ceiling. It’s quite a jungle in some of them but it makes it all the more intriguing.
There is also a collection of tropical commercial plants including tea, coffee, cocoa, vanilla and ginger. You can see the swollen green vanilla pods in my photograph. By the time we get to see them they are shrivelled black sticks but wow what a flavour the tiny seeds give to our culinary exploits in the cake making department, especially at Brookside where we have all brought in our homemade cake delights (Vanilla planifolia Andrews).
The palm house has numerous species of palms, cycads, fig plants and philodendrons. In fact, philodendrons are having their moment again in the plant fashion world. Having been out of favour for many years, these and other large green-leaved houseplants are now trending in homes and featured in magazines across the UK and Europe. I remember them in the seventies, the 1970’s, not 1870’s, before you ask.
The Jagiellonian University garden was listed as a protected landmark, important nature site and a memorial to the sciences and horticulture in Poland in 1976 and its teachings cover taxonomy, plant geography, ecology, the history of botany as well as studying endangered species of Central and Eastern Europe, including many native Polish plants.
I particularly loved the glasshouses with their collections of cactus and ferns I was drawn to those in the glasshouses almost immediately and found some larger than life examples.
I also didn’t realise that there are over 2000 species and hybrid Euphorbias ranging from tiny annuals to large and long-lived trees and pretty much everything in between. The Christmas poinsettias we buy by the millions at the festive time of year are Euphorbias! Many Euphorbias were in the cactus house but this is not because they are cactus, but because they have evolved physical characteristics and forms similar to cactus.
Today the gardens are essentially a living, working horticultural museum and teaching establishment and I love the way it is presented, not as a show garden all neat and prim but more, as a natural environment. However, it does have structure in as much as the plants are in sections and labelled.
Now, I am not one for labels stuck next to every plant as a general rule, especially in a domestic garden, but I have to say I found the labelling of the plants to be relevant and extremely helpful.
I am looking forward to a return visit to the gardens for maybe two days next time!