Blog post

Botanical gardens - where nature meets science and society

There are more than 900 botanical gardens in Europe.

Aleksandra Strzelichowska (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

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.

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

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.

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.

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,

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

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 new or help the environment, you don't need to travel far - just visit a botanical garden nearby.

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

natural history botanical gardens botanic gardens herbarium plants plant species Europeana