The Garden Landscape Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Botany in Russian gardens

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469. Botany, in Russia, has been encouraged more or less since the time of Catherine II. During the reign of Alexander, 50,000 silver roubles, and the Apothecaries' Island in the Neva, were appropriated to the construction of a national botanic garden; and Dr. Fischer, an eminent botanist, long established in Russia, was appointed its director. This island includes an area of sixty English acres, and the whole is turned into a garden. The operations were commenced in 1824, and carried into execution with such rapidity as, perhaps, has scarcely any parallel in the annals of botanical institutions. Orders were given for ranges of greenhouses, conservatories, and stoves, the cost of which was estimated at 1,000,000 roubles (about 40,000� sterling), and the whole were completed before the winter of 1825. There are three principal houses facing the south, each 700 feet in length, and 20 to 30 feet from back to front, placed in parallel lines, but at such a distance from each other, that with two other houses of the same length, running from north to south, and placed at the ends of these, the whole forms a parallelogram, measuring 700 feet each way, intersected by a central house of the same length. The middle building is most lofty, being forty feet high in the central part. The three that face the south have sloping lights in front, reaching from the top to the ground; those which run north and south have double roofs, are comparatively low, and have the path in the centre. All are heated by means of common flues, and with wood, principally birch. Water is raised by engines from the river, and cisterns are filled in various parts of the houses, and in the most convenient situations. The large spaces of ground, or areas, between the buildings are filled with shrubs and flower-beds; only behind the most southern one is a splended suite of apartments for the royal family; these have windows opening from above into the house below, so that the plants may be seen to great advantage. Handsome and commodious apartments are built for Dr. Fischer, and for the two chief gardeners, one of whom is a Dane, and the other a Frenchman. Two secretaries are employed, one a French gentleman, M. Fleury, the other a Russian; and also an excellent botanic painter, a native of Germany, who has already executed some very beautiful drawings of new and rare plants: 100,000 roubles were appropriated for the purchase of plants at the commencement; and 68,000 roubles annually for the ordinary expenses. Dr. Granville, who saw this garden in 1829, describes it thus: - The imperial botanic garden of St. Petersburgh. The glass-houses in this garden form a parallelogram of three parallel lines; which are united at each end by covered corridors, and constitute the principal feature of the garden. Of these lines, that which is to the south contains greenhouse plants in its centre, and hothouse plants at each end. The middle line is for hothouse plants alone, and the north line has no other than greenhouse plants; the north and south lines contain respectively five different compartments, of 100 toises each. The middle line has seven compartments. The connecting corridors at each end are thirty-five sajenas in length (245 feet). The plots of open ground between the lines are used, the one for plants requiring hotbeds, the other for exposing the greenhouse plants in summer. The whole range of hot and green-houses, taken in a continued line, measures 518 sajenas, or 3624 feet, being little short of three-fourths of an English mile in length. This, Professor Fischer informed Dr. Granville, was then the largest extent of buildings for plants, covered with glass, to be found in any botanical garden in Europe: the hothouses are warmed by flues. To the north of this plot of ground is a nursery of every tree and shrub growing in the open air. To the south there is a systematical arrangement of all the plants that live in the open air in Russia, especially intended for the study of botany. The classification adopted is the natural one; and to this part of the garden it is intended to add a collection of plants to form a Flora Rossica. An arboretum for such fruit and forest trees and shrubs as can endure the climate of St. Petersburgh, exists in another part of the garden. The study of medical botany is facilitated by the cultivation, in a particular division of the ground, of every vegetable article of the materia medica adopted in Russia; and there is another division for culinary and other economical plants. No fewer than three subdivisions of the ground have been devoted to medicinal plants, or simples, on a scale sufficient to supply the hospitals; and with regard to one article alone, the extract of Aconitum Napellus, this part of the garden has been the means of saving great expense to the crown, it having furnished the medical department of hospitals in the course of last year (1828), 4560 pounds of the fresh leaves of that plant. Experimental gardening also has not been forgotten in the general arrangement; for which specific purpose a plot of ground has been set apart; and in a farther division of the garden a plantation has been formed, accessible to the student of botany, for examining every plant oculis et manibus. The inundation which took place in November, 1824, extended to this establishment, then in an incipient state, and caused considerable damage. The water rose, as marked by a red line in one of the outer rooms leading to the hothouses, to a height of four feet four inches; and M. Fischer had to regret, among other severe losses, that of about 150 species of heaths. One of the great advantages belonging to such a great extent of glass as that possessed by the botanic garden of St. Petersburgh, is, that it admits of a double classification of plants, namely, a geographical one, and another according to families. Professor Fischer has fully availed himself of this facility. Arrangement for the dissemination of plants and seeds from the botanic garden of St. Petersburgh. As the imperial botanic garden of the capital is intended to become the centre of propagation of vegetables to be distributed to the imperial gardens all over the empire, as well as to private individuals gratuitously, there is a large compartment formed in the north line of the great hothouses, in which the young plants are kept and cultivated, together with a seed department, for both purposes. The distribution of seeds, cuttings, and plants of all sorts, is one of the surest modes of preserving them, and promoting their propagation in the country. Among the Australian plants were Acacia speciosa, which had grown eighteen feet in the space of two years, and an Eucalyptus, which had attained the height of twenty-one feet in the same period; a beautiful specimen of the Smilax excelsa also attracted Dr. Granville's attention, as the plant is used by the Persian physicians for the same complaints for which sarsaparilla is prescribed in Europe. There are twenty-six families of Australian plants, and thirty-two of these from New Holland in one compartment; forty-five families of Cape plants, an extensive collection of rhododendrons and other American plants; and another of resinous plants fill the fifth division of the north line. The corridor of communication between this and the south line contains, among other plants, a collection of Amaryllide�, these belonging to the Cape being kept distinct from the rest. In the south line, one house is devoted to the plants of the south of Europe; another to succulent plants; and another to the natives of China, Japan, and Nepal: this last contains forty-eight families. The Flora Canariensis consists of thirty-four families, and the Orchide� are both numerous, and contain some fine specimens. From the south to the middle line is a greenhouse, devoted to the cultivation of hardy perennials and reserves. The middle line presents one of the most interesting sheltered promenades to be met with in any botanic garden. The palms, the ferns, and an arrangement of Cacti on rocks, are included in this division. Here also are the agaves, among which is one of the two agaves planted by Miller at the Chelsea Garden, and presented, a few years ago, to M. Fischer, by the Apothecaries' Company; the gigantic Amaryllide�; the columnar and gigantic Cacti; together with some fine specimens of the most celebrated monocotyledonous woody plants, among which were a plantain (Musa) thirty feet high, and a Caladium sagittiforme. The cinnamon tree was also in great vigour here, and had more than once flowered; as had also a magnificent specimen of the Japanese sago tree, Cycas circinalis. Beyond these was an A'rum appendiculatum, which has flowered every year since 1824, and whose greenish corollas have, as the professor informed Dr. Granville, the same propensity which its leaves possess, of multiplying themselves under favourable circumstances. A shoot of bamboo, rising to nearly the full height of the hothouse, attracted attention from its beauty. During the great heat of 1826, this plant grew twenty-six feet in the space of eighteen days. The whole collection amounted, in 1829, to above 11,000 species, and 80,000 single plants. (Travels to St. Petersburgh, &c., vol. ii., p. 169.)