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What Is a Botanical Garden?

A botanical garden is a place where plants are grown, studied, labelled and displayed for everyone to enjoy. They are also often places where rare plants are protected and nurtured. They are oases of calm and beauty, enjoyment and enthrallment, both for people who know about plants and those who don’t.

Botanical gardens have lots to offer. You can be surrounded by nature and find a place to relax in a botanic garden. You might be interested in learning more about plants from around the world. Some people visit botanical gardens to get ideas for their gardens. Modern botanic gardens also make a great place for a family trip.

How Did Botanical Gardens Start?

Botanical gardens have changed a lot over the last few hundred years. The earliest botanic gardens in the 16th and 17th centuries grew plants as medicine. These are often known as physic gardens. Chelsea Physic Garden in London and the Botanical Garden of Padua in Italy are examples of some of these early gardens.

The 18th century saw the beginnings of plant classification – in other words, identifying, naming and organizing plants into groups. One of the leading 18th-century names in plant research and classification was the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. Many of the Latin plant names you might be familiar with in gardening were given to plants by Linnaeus.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, botanical gardens gathered plants from around the world for their collections. By the 20th century, the emphasis in botanical gardens was moving towards the enjoyment of the living plants in collections and inviting the public to appreciate and understand the importance of plants.

What Are Botanical Gardens for Now?

In the 21st century, botanical gardens do many different things and certainly work more on plant conservation than on plant collection.

Botanic gardens are places of learning and enjoyment for the public. They carry out and collaborate on scientific research. Also, they grow and monitor living plant collections. And they use scientific methods to document and protect the plant species in their care.

Botanic gardens across the world work together to inspire people to appreciate how vital wild plants are to all human life.

What Is the Oldest Botanical Garden in the World?

Some of the oldest gardens that could be called botanical gardens were first created for medical purposes. These are known as physic gardens, where medical students were taught about plant identification.  

The earliest physic gardens still in existence today are in Italy – Pisa’s physic garden is thought to date to 1544, while those in Padua and Florence began life in 1545. The Hortus Botanicus Leiden was founded in 1590 in The Netherlands, as an academic garden for the medical students of the University of Leiden.

What Is the Oldest Botanical Garden in Britain?

The first British botanic garden was founded in Oxford in 1621. Oxford Botanic Garden pre-dates Chelsea Physic Garden by about 50 years. Edinburgh Botanic Garden was Scotland’s first botanic garden and had a long history dating back to 1670. Kew Gardens, which now houses the world’s largest living plant collection, began life much later in 1759.

Are There Any Newer Botanic Gardens?

In the UK we have the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, which moved to a new site in the early 2000s. This was the first new botanical garden to be built in the UK in 40 years. The collections in Bristol revolve around four themes – evolution, Mediterranean, local and rare native plants, and useful plants. They have a Giant Amazon waterlily to wow you, and a wide collection of exotic plants in the Victorian glasshouses.

We also have the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Conservation, education and inspiration are the three driving forces behind the garden, which opened in 2000. The collection is spread over more than 500 acres of Carmarthenshire countryside and is home to rare native species.

The garden’s Great Glasshouse is the largest building of its kind in the world.

World Heritage Site Botanic Gardens

Out of all the botanical gardens in the world, three have been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, UK

Probably the most famous botanic garden in the world, with 30,000 different plants in its collection. Gardeners care for over 300 acres of gardens. There are over 90 different attractions for visitors including an art gallery, the Victorian Palm House, the Temperate House, a Water Lily House, the Princess of Wales Conservatory and the longest flower borders in the country. The London Eye designers have built a treetop experience here – walk through the canopy and get incredible views of the capital.

Orto Botanico di Padova, Italy

The Botanical Garden of Padua, in the northeastern part of Italy, was founded in 1545. The garden still has its original layout, a ring of water surrounding a circular central plot which symbolizes the world. The Orto Botanico houses a palm tree dating from 1585, and some of the oldest known growing specimens of magnolia and ginkgo, at over 250 years old. The garden showcases 6,000 different plants. There are the Mediterranean, alpine, freshwater and desert gardens and greenhouse collections of orchids.

Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore

It is a hugely popular and spectacular tropical garden which is famous for its orchid collections and its troupes of monkeys. There are more than 20,000 different orchid species to see at Singapore Botanic Garden. The garden was founded in 1859 and covered over 180 acres. There are many different attractions, including a children’s garden, a ginger garden, a museum, a gallery, a seed bank and a centre for ethnobotany. The garden even has its very own rainforest.

How Many Botanical Gardens Are There Worldwide?

There are 1,775 botanical gardens worldwide in 148 different countries. People love to walk through beautiful displays of plants and learn more about them, and this part of the botanic gardens’ role is very important if plants and fungi are to be protected in the future. It’s good to know that botanical gardens are now some of the most visited attractions in the world.

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Amit Kumar