A botanical garden is an establishment dedicated to the cultivation and the documentation of living plants for scientific research,
with an emphasis on conserving rare plants and those threatened by extinction, whilst also being on display for the public eye.
Old and new botanical gardens are very popular due to their extravagant displays of plants and flowers, some not intending this effect, resulting in eye-catching and photogenic scenery.
Some even put on extravagant displays for the season or annually, bringing more attention to the beauty of plants and how picturesque they can look.
The History of the Botanical Garden’s
Precursors to botanical gardens can be found in Egypt, where house gardens were very popular and highly esteemed. The Egyptians often designed and lived in Garden houses, which would consist of both trees and other plants. The trees were planted to make sacred groves around the royal tombs and used to display power and wealth.
Sycamore, pomegranate and willow trees were will have been planted within a long or small strip of land in an enclosed area, along with pongs full of fish and some animals.
In some cases, the garden was split into more than one section and may have had many ponds facing or parallel to a river. Temples also had grand gardens with a decorative layout, full of lush plants and vegetables that will have been used as a source for wines and oils, providing the ingredients for the embalming process.
Houses, chapels and other foundations will have always had a garden next to them, full of roses, ivy and lotuses. They will have also provided food via the farming of vegetables and fruits.
It was typical to use a very symmetrical layout, with a pond on either side and outlined with rows of tall trees for decoration.
Another predecessor to typical botanical gardens can be seen within Mesopotamia,
where tributes of fruit trees from conquered cities would have been collected and displayed in large gardens and orchards. Assyrian kings were particularly eager to record their gardening and often undertook expeditions to distant lands in order to collect both seeds and animals.
Not only did they collect these, but they also ensured that the collected treasures would be able to thrive and reproduce effectively. The fabled ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylon’ were considered to be one of the great wonders of the ancient world, albeit never being found.
These were gardens that may not have actually been hung in the air, but that was high up in the air instead of in the form of roof gardens, laid out in a series of jagged terraces.
A closer relation to the botanical gardens were the early physics gardens, which are a type of garden that contained only medicinal plants.
It is believed that Botanical gardens are directly developed from them. In 1447, some areas of the Vatican grounds were set aside for a garden dedicated to the growth of medicinal plants in order to
promote botany teachings. This later paved the way for some of the earliest recorded botanic gardens at Padua and Pisa in the 1540s.
Some of the earliest recorded include the one in Pisa during 1544 and the one in Padua during 1545.
These were only for the academic study of the medicinal plants there and eventually spread towards the local Universities of the area, ultimately spreading across Europe. Physic gardens were often depicted as maze-like structures with large spans of greenery and plants.
An example of a long-standing physic garden is the Chelsea Physic Garden, which was established in 1673. The apothecaries needed an area to grow medicinal herbs to be used and to train apprentices.
Most of the garden in present-day is ordered by scents, such as healing scents and scents of nights.
A new edible garden has recently been introduced, including superfoods like kale which visitors can also interact with.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, gardens like the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Gardens was set up as an attempt to cultivate new species of plant, particularly from those that were brought back from expeditions to areas of Western Europe and Asia, which was able to provide bulbs.
In the mid 17th century, the Jardin des Plantes in Paris was a centre of great interest due to the number of new introductions it had for public attraction. This now covers 68 acres, containing 6 greenhouses for display purposes and 2 for service functions.
It is estimated that 23,500 species of plants are cultivated in the greenhouses and in the outdoor plots.
Historically, it had been developed into a scientific centre for study to be associated with figures of early French botany and zoology.
In England, the Chelsea Physic Garden is one of London’s oldest botanical gardens and was established in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. It was originally intended as a teaching garden that was designed to allow apprentices of botanists to identify medicinal plants.
In the present day, the garden is now home to 5,000 plants.
By the 18th century, the Cape of South Africa introduced succulents and a completely new variety of plants, whilst the Dutch trade also helped grow botanical gardens in Amsterdam and Leiden.
A major marker in this time period is the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew which was founded in 1759 by Princess Augusta, who isolates a 9 acre botanic garden within the pleasure grounds at Kew.
This was set up to cultivate new species from explorations to the tropics, and to help found new tropical botanical gardens.
Moving onto the 19th century, tropical botanical gardens were used as a means of colonial expansion,
mainly by the British and the Dutch, in India, the South-east of Asia and the Caribbean.
In the charter for these gardens was the thorough investigation of the local flora and plants,
which had the opportunity to provide economic aid to the colonists and the local people.
Tea, coffee, cotton and cacao was exploited for these reasons and grown in many of the gardens.
Rubber trees were also of significance when introduced to Singapore in the cultivation and production of rubber.
The Plants and Trees of an Botanical Garden
The classification of plants within these botanical gardens has varied over time. During the 18th century,
Carl Linnaeus had established a system of binomial nomenclature, where the name of a species is formed of two parts.
The first refers to the specie’s genus and the second of the species.
This greatly aided in the classification of plants within the gardens and allowed the botanical gardens to become a collection of scientific research, where botanists were able to publish their descriptions of unseen and exotic plants.
This has helped to differentiate similar looking plants within the same species
and has allowed scientists to see evolutionary relationships between members of the same species.
In the study of botany, the plants are no longer classified using the Linnaeus classification system.
They are now classed by kingdom, division/phylum, class, order, family, genus and finally by their species name. This allows for a more effective method of classification since it is much more specific and allows for members of the same species to be differentiated.
By the 20th century, many civic and municipal botanical gardens were founded.
These did not contribute to the scientific study of botany, but plants were labelled and built up collections of plants, often exchanging seeds with other gardens worldwide to grow their collection.
These eventually became beautifully looked after and cared for, often under the administration of general parks.
Other gardens saw an increase in the sophistication and educative side of the gardens,
allowing them to cater for widening interests and their displays often showed this. Themes of evolution within plants and taxonomy became popular, as did plants from other parts of the world and special glasshouse collections including orchids and cacti.
This increased the interest of the public eye, allowing for a rise in financial income where the financial support from the government was steadily decreasing. A key aspect of the 20th century is the focus of plant conservation to prevent endangered plant species from becoming completely eradicated.
Specialist gardens and areas were built up to allow for the cultivation of these plants whilst also allowing them to be shown to the public.
The oldest recorded botanical garden is the Orto Botanico di Padova in Padua, which was founded by the Venetian Republic in 1545. This garden contains more than 6,000 species of plant, with one of the oldest plants having been planted in 1585, the Mediterranean Palm.
This would eventually come to be known as the Goethe Palm after the poet by the same name was inspired to write his evolutionary theory after observing it in 1786.
The garden still preserves its original layout of a circular central area, surrounded by a ring of water and some greenhouses.
This houses over 5,000 volumes and manuscripts of both historical and bibliographical importance, and the herbarium. These two continue to be amongst the most important in the world,
particularly due to the massive contribution to the development of modern scientific principles like botany, medicine and ecology.
This garden also houses particularly rare plants and continues to contribute toward science as a centre for scientific research to this day. The order and display of plants weren’t intended originally for the viewing of people, but rather for the order and classification of the plants for later use and study.
The first foreign plant introduced to the garden in 1561 was the Agave from Mexico, which is known for its healing properties. Not only did the garden focus on medicinal plants for botany, but it is also known for growing and cultivating agricultural plants in order to feed the growing population of Italy. The structure of the garden consisted of a large circular foundation, surrounded by a ring of water and then another ring of ground.
The centre circle was split into 4 equal sections, each of those containing a different pattern for the plants to be arranged in. The pattern was made from the shapes of the plant beds, which would only contain one species of plant. These patterns were often very intricate from a bird’s eye view, and students learning botany would often use the patterns of the garden to help remember which plant was which in crucial exams.
The exterior of the garden was surrounded by a large wall with an equally large metal fence, and,
according to historians, this was to prevent criminals from stealing the medicinal herbs to sell for a particularly inflated price.
Eventually, the garden expanded to include a more modern area for the public and to expand the collection of plants that it had.
Botanical Garden’s around the World
In contrast to this, one of the largest botanical gardens worldwide is the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew which was founded in 1759.
According to the Kew website, the gardens began with a 9 acre botanical garden within the pleasure grounds at Kew, founded by Princess Augusta.
Within the next decade, the Great Pagoda is built as a gift to Princess Augusta and is one of
several Chinese buildings designed by William Chambers.
Thousands of plants came from South Africa in 1772 following Francis Masson’s journey there.
The following year involved the creation of the Hollow Walk, which later became the Rhododendron Dell.
In 1788, an expedition to Tahiti collected 1,000 breadfruit plants which were added to the garden’s steadily growing collection.
Under the care of Sir William Jackson Hooker and his son, the Kew gardens became an important centre for scientific research and the international exchange of plant specimens, allowing for the growth of other gardens worldwide.
In 1848, the Palm House is completed, a large glasshouse containing plants typical to rain forests and plants that have now become extinct.
5 years later, the Herbarium is built, which is a collection of preserved plant specimens to be used for scientific study. These are stored and catalogued for later use by scientists and to widen our knowledge of the plants.
The Herbarium at Kew
The Herbarium at Kew houses roughly 7 million preserved plant specimens, acting as a source of information to allow scientists to determine what a plant looks like and where its natural habitat is.
The specimens can often have some of their DNA extracted so that evolutionary relationships can be formed between different species of plants.
The Herbarium only houses specimens of vascular plants, which are characterised by specialised vascular tissues like the xylem and the phloem.
Examples of these are flowering plants and ferns. In 1863, the Temperate House opens for the public. Roughly 3 years later, the Jodrell Laboratory is built and initially focused on the study of plant physiology, but the study of plant anatomy later became dominant.
In 1882, the Marianne North Gallery opens. North travelled the world on her own with the purpose of recording the tropical and exotic plants that intrigued her interest. Her work mostly consisted of the landscapes in which the plants were found rather than traditional plant paintings of the era.
Her paintings are now on permanent display in the gallery and in geographical order, allowing the public to follow in her footsteps as she travelled to exotic lands.
The Japanese Gateway
In 1911, the Japanese Gateway ‘Chokushi-Mon’ is first presented to the gardens, and now has an entire landscape dedicated to Japanese architecture. This contains the Garden of Peace, which is reminiscent of a traditional Japanese tea garden known for having a calming effect on the visitors.
In the Garden of Activity, there is a large slope symbolising the elements of the natural world.
The Garden of Harmony units these two landscapes, where traditional Japanese mountain regions are represented by stones and rocks, intertwined with shrubbery and plants. These additions came in 1996 when the Gateway was restored.
The garden was expanded to 300 acres in the 20th century and contains both child-friendly attractions and key attractions.
The Princess of Wales conservatory
The Princess of Wales conservatory contains computer-controlled climate zones,
and zones completely dedicated to carnivorous plants such as the venus flytraps or pitcher plants.
Another key attraction at the Kew is The Hive, a 17-metre tall piece of architecture that depicts the secret
life of bees and the pivotal role they play in sustaining life on Earth.
The Temperate House is another key attraction that drives many visitors towards it.
It is one of the world’s largest Victorian glasshouses and is home to 1,500 species of plants from all over the world.
All of these plants require special conditions in order to thrive and to live, needing 10 degrees Celsius to even survive.
Many of these plants can be considered endangered or rare, allowing them to be cultivated in a safe space where they can allow scientists to find solutions to the decrease in biodiversity within an ecosystem.
The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art puts on show contemporary botanical art and can be considered one of the best collections from around the world.
Having opened in 2008, it has hosted 48 exhibitions with works collected from around the globe and has an archive of 200,000 botanical images.
Botanical Garden’s in the Public
One of Kews’ most popular events is the Annual Orchid festival, which brings the exuberant colours of the flowers to London for a few weeks, and takes inspiration from around the world.
The 2019 event was inspired by ‘the colours of Columbia‘ and involved a brown sloth hanging from one of the branches, along with other animals native to Columbia.
The Princess of Wales Conservatory was filled to the brim with coloured, flowering orchids from South America. One of the main attractions was a Toucan mid-flight, made entirely of orchids and other tropical flowers, along with a swimming turtle and some other animals.
The festival contained Colombian music, dances and foods to share most of its rich culture.
Workshops and special products were also available from the gardens.
The event featured over 6,200 orchids displayed by the 100 workers in the gardens who had arranged them to create beautiful displays, and even Columbia’s national flower was seen around the conservatory; the Flor de Mayo.
The conservatory was also filled with extremely colourful street murals, reminiscent of those in Colombia,
and a series of original sculptures were unveiled for a special exhibition. Even Columbia’s rainbow river was represented in the form of hanging orchids from the ceiling.
For 2020, Indonesia was the country of inspiration for the Annual Orchid Festival, bringing more colour to the cold February.
Indonesia is home to roughly 4,000 orchid species, most of which were displayed at the festival.
A large, erupting volcano made of orchids and other types of tropical flowers was showcased,
as well as orangutans, a tiger and a rhino all made of flowers too.
Traditional foods, dances and music were also involved in the festival,
illuminating the wonderful culture that most of the public were previously unaware of.
For each one of the festivals, some of Kew’s orchid experts talk to the public and teach them
about the eye-catching flowers that decorate almost every surface of the conservatory.
Another activity that occurs at Kew Gardens is the Christmas at Kew, where the entire botanical garden is covered in awe-inspiring lights, roughly one million, and seasonal activities take place. This event is mostly for children, but the entire family can be entertained by it.
The Millenium Seed Bank, Kew
The Kew garden is most known for the Millennium Seed Bank, which is a growing collection of seeds from around the globe and aims to provide a rescue for any plants that are in danger of becoming extinct.
This is one of the largest ex-situ conservation programmes worldwide, allowing plant seeds to be collected and stored for future planting.
The team mainly focuses on plants from alpine, arid and endemic plant seeds. Alpine plant seeds are the most susceptible to climate change, so gathering their seeds is vital to protecting the species from extinction following the drastic changes in temperature.
Arid plant seeds can tolerate being frozen or dried out for a long time,
allowing them to be stored for longer when compared to plant seeds from moist areas of the globe.
Endemic plant seeds may have economical importance or are endangered,
meaning that these are vital to allowing further generations to see the plants that were previously on the edge of becoming extinct.
This work being done by researchers and scientists is vital in the conservation of plants and allowing them to continue living years later when they are needed the most.
The International Union of the Conservation of Nature (ICUN.org) has found that the number of extinct plant species would be roughly 34% higher if they hadn’t been preserved in botanical gardens,
and this number may have increased due to the rate of deforestation occurring.
The Purpose of an Botanical Garden
One such purpose of a botanical garden can be for the conservation of plants.
Most of these gardens focus on the ex-situ conservation of these plants,
meaning that they are being conserved away from their natural habitat and off-site, normally in a separate research centre.
This allows the plants to be protected from any dangers like deforestation and climate change,
where the temperature in their natural habitat has changed so much that they can no longer live there without dying.
Since botanical gardens focus on conservation, this allows the public to become educated on how to conserve plant life around them and prevent endangered plants from becoming extinct.
Botanical gardens are ideal for the conservation of plants due to the scientific research that is being conducted there, and the conservation of the plants can be aided through breeding programmes to produce more seeds for planting.
This also opens the opportunity for the creation of cross-breeding to allow for agricultural gains and successes, particularly in the farming district where the population wants a higher yield of crops and larger crops.
Research can also be conducted more thoroughly and accurately since the plants are already in a research facility and do not need to be carried to a lab where they may die or wilt on the journey.
Botanical Plants and Conservation
The conservation of plants in botanical gardens also allows for rare and borderline extinct plant species to breed, allowing new generations to be able to see plants that they normally wouldn’t be able to.
The cultivation of these rare and threatened plants allows the plants to be studied more thoroughly due to their abysmal numbers in the wild, opening the gateway for more scientific research.
One of the key functions of botanical gardens is to act as a good location for the many branches of scientific research.
The gardens have historically played a role in establishing botany and herbology,
but more recently have come to play pivotal roles in the study of plant physiology and plant growth tactics, there the perfect conditions for maximum plant growth can be steadily maintained.
Additionally, the gardens are good locations for an investigation into seed disposal and pollination,
where seed disposal can be monitored and perfected by scientists to allow for maximum pollination of plants.
This may also allow for research into the sudden hybridisation of plants and how these can produce mixed offspring.
Botanical Gardens and Climate Change
Botanical gardens may also allow valuable insight into climate change and research.
The gardens are able to provide answers to questions that normally wouldn’t be able to be answered,
like how certain plants respond to changes in their climate and whether they will survive or die if the changes are too drastic.
The gardens also contain knowledge of flowering times of many plants, which has recently been linked to temperature.
Some plants have now begun flowering earlier in the year due to the changes in temperature, caused by climate change. The gardens are thus able to provide valuable information into how the temperature affects the plants and whether steadily increasing the temperature of a terrarium may be beneficial or redundant to the growth and flowering times of plants.
They may also provide research into the tolerance of plants to certain climates and whether the plants can withstand these changes.
Many gardens over the world grow the same plants, often with the same genetic makeup,
allowing climate change researchers to see how these different climates over the world affect the plants and their growth rates. Also, since the gardens allow for plants to grow without any pests and outside factors like deforestation, researchers can easily manipulate certain variables like the altitude and pH of the soil to see how this may affect the plant growth rate and flowering times.
The physiology and anatomy of the plants is also recorded in botanical gardens, allowing researchers to see how the daylight cycle affects the growth of these plants and increases or decreases their rate of photosynthesis.
This may allow insights into climate change since more UV rays are allowed to enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Again, this could change the rate at which the plants grow, but more importantly when they flower and pollinate, perhaps leading to a change in the months that they flower.
Climate change has also been linked to more powerful winds, drastically changing the pattern of seed dispersal when compared to previous rates.
Also due to climate change, plants in colder regions may be becoming more accustomed to a slight increase in temperature, allowing an increase in biodiversity since they can be planted in slightly warmer areas.
Botanical gardens provide education to the Public
Botanical gardens also have a role in educating the public masses.
By presenting a large collection of plants and the immense variety within a plant species,
the public is able to widen their knowledge of plants and how different they may be from an average shrub in a garden.
There is also the opportunity to teach children about how to conserve plants, especially with field trips to a garden to show them how to record plants and how their taxonomy is key to identifying them.
They also act as tourism centres, allowing for the public to visit them and become immediately calmer when seeing the plants arranged in beautiful fashions.
Relaxation and the calming effect from a botanical garden
These gardens have mostly become known as centres for relaxation and tranquillity,
allowing people to take a break from their busy day-to-day lives and focus on simply taking a breath.
The plants are also extremely aesthetically pleasing to look at, and may inspire pieces of literature depicting landscapes and plants, as well as paintings of the plants to be sold or as a means of thought-provoking decoration.
A key example of this would be the Goethe plant mentioned above, which became known after the writer was inspired to write his theory.
Photograpy and Artistic Properties.
The picturesque landscapes in the gardens also provides the perfect pictures for up and coming photographers, allowing them to take pictures of the beautiful collections of plants, trees, people and buildings.
Photographs can be seen and shared from all over the world. The new and seasoned photographers and their photos represent both the beauty of the garden and the skill of the lens.
The Tranquillity and beauty of a Botanical garden can also attract artists. The Botanical garden bosts unique colours and shapes to put to canvas. Gardens can be painted in every medium and by anyone!
Mental illness and depression
People with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety may also come to the gardens for an opportunity to become much more relaxed and calmer,
especially since their illnesses may make them extremely anxious and often distressed at times.
Some of the gardens may put on flower shows for particularly rare flowers that only bloom once or twice a year, allowing for more visitors to come to the gardens and experience them first hand rather than viewing them from a picture.
Many of the gardens also have leisure activities with them, such as restaurants and children’s activities.
This allows visitors to eat whilst looking at the amazing plants, further enjoying their time at them.
The Benefits of a Botanical Garden
Another perhaps scientific benefit that botanical gardens pose is that they are uniquely suited to researching into plant functional traits,
which are morphological, biochemical, physiological, structural, phenological or behavioural characteristics measured at an individual level,
influencing individual fitness. These have potential uses in the scientific understanding of plant populations and how their communities may work at a molecular level.
Botanical gardens would be key in this scientific pursuit since most of them have in-built laboratories and have large resources at their disposal in the form of the many thousands of plants in them. By studying the functional traits of the plants, scientists can determine the biodiversity of certain areas and how to combat the unfortunate decrease in the biodiversity of plants in the wild due to humanity destroying their natural habitats.
More benefit of botanical gardens is that they allow people to become inspired by the flowers and plants they contain. As mentioned earlier, they can often inspire poets and writers to create beautiful scenery in books and published works.
Even intricately painted watercolour paintings can be inspired from the botanical gardens due to the incredibly bright and inspiring colours of the flora and fauna. The fragrances of the gardens, particularly areas with the most flowers, can inspire those working in the perfume district to create scents similar to the flowers found in the gardens.
From the perspective of a gardener, a botanical garden can create a mental image as to what they would like their garden to look like and may take small mental notes of what plants look nice together. This again is an unexpected but welcome benefit of the gardens, particularly since they can help gardeners to create lovely gardens for their family to see daily, reminiscent of the botanical garden they visited.
They may also be inspired to grow more flowers rather than agricultural products, or vice versa.
This can allow people who don’t usually change their own garden to consider something new and maybe a newfound hobby for those who have never experimented with planting their own crops and flowers.
Another benefit may be the introduction of medicinal plants to those who have had an unsuccessful time with traditional medicine and have turned to herbal remedies to help cure them of their ailments.
Some other commercial benefits of botanical gardens is that they allow florists to re-arrange their flower
shop displays into something that is more aesthetically pleasing for the general public, inspired by the arrangement of seasonal floral shows that the gardens often put on.
Seminars and Learning Courses
A somewhat interesting benefit of botanical gardens is that they can teach the public new skills, such as the identification of medicinal plants that could be used in the home.
Many botanical gardens often have talks and hands-on activities where the public becomes involved with the plants, learning physically how to use them. This can teach them how to recognise medicinal plants in their own gardens, and seminars on how to use them.
These seminars may teach the public valuable skills if they or one of their friends becomes injured on
a hike and their only solution is to use the plants they have nearby until proper help can be given to them.
Some other botanical gardens offer to weave, a traditional technique used in the past to create baskets that carried food, berries and vegetables.
The Chelsea Physics Garden offers a seminar teaching those who are interested in how to use textiles in their weaving process, an upgrade from the usual types of weaving that there are. Again, these are skills that are learnt and not forgotten, often used to pass the time or as a means of relaxation after a busy day of work.
Our top 9 Direct Benefits of a Botanical Garden that you can enjoy right now.
- Can improve Mental Health
- Great Plant Inspiration
- Learn History and Insight
- Get some Outdoor Excercise
- Quality Time
- Enjoy the Tranquility
- Calm and Quietness
- Enhancing and engaging your Senses
- No Age Discrimination
As a final note, botanical gardens are buildings filled with beautiful and eye-catching plants from around the world, illuminating the minds of the public to plants they wouldn’t normally be able to see.
Having once come from physics gardens, botanical gardens have come a long way after centuries of providing scientific knowledge and research to botany, plant physiology and medicine.
Now used as recreational areas, some of which are still used as centers of research,
botanical gardens are often visited by the public as a means of relaxation or inspiration.
Some of the public may be unaware of the key functions that the botanical gardens play,
such as being the pioneers of botany and plant research, having potential uses in increasing the biodiversity of habitat and perhaps even allowing us how to maintain thousands of plants after climate change affects their natural environment negatively.
Overall, these gardens are extremely aesthetically pleasing and much of the public thoroughly enjoys visiting them with their friends and family, sharing the feelings of serenity that come from them.
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