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8 Lush botanic gardens of the world and their history

BY Deborah Trentham

19th Mar 2024 Places To Visit

5 min read

8 Lush botanic gardens of the world and their history
From the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew to Bagh-e-Jinnah in Lahore, we explore the magnificent plant collections in the botanic gardens of the world 

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, England (1840)

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew are thought to be the largest botanical gardens in the world, a 121-hectare (300-acre) site on the edge of London, home to the world’s biggest collection of living plants and more than 8.5 million preserved plant and fungal specimens.
It is a setting rich in history that spans from royal follies to colonial exploitation and wartime bombing.
Kew states that its mission is to “protect plants and fungi for the future of all life on Earth,” and to investigate the plant world for new sources of food, medicine, fuel and materials.
"The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew are thought to be the largest botanical gardens in the world"
Kew continues to help us understand the wonders of nature and to question how we care for it in a world where climate is now dangerously being ignored.
Installations like The Hive whirring away in the middle of a meadow, recreating life inside a beehive, remind us of the challenges bees face to survive.
Designed by artist Wolfgang Buttress, it features a thousand LEDs lighting up according to the vibrations of bees, and creates a musical symphony in the key of C—the same key that bees buzz in!

Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier, France (1593)

pond in Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier, France
Established in 1593 by Henri IV, the Garden was originally intended for the pharmacological education of student doctors and apothecaries at the city’s celebrated university.
Lost and remade more than once over the centuries, that does not diminish the importance of either the site or the vision of those who have moulded it.
Still faithful to its early purpose as a teaching garden, it contains some 2,680 species, including almost 500 from the Mediterranean, along with collections of medicinal and subtropical specimens.
With its fresh air and sea breezes, the garden’s 4.6 hectares (11.3 acres) are today a Historical Monument and Protected Site.

Parque de Monserrate, Sintra, Portugal (1789)

Parque de Monserrate in sintra mountains, portugal
A botanic garden with a difference, Monserrate is a combination of wild rugged landscape with ruins and waterfalls, formal lawned areas, cacti and succulent gardens. 
The Garden sits on the lower slopes of the Sintra Mountains, with valleys that create their own microclimates. Sintra has one of the mildest climates in Europe, so the Garden is frost-free, and can grow tender exotics outside in the wider landscape.
At its very centre is a stunning palace (Palácio de Monserrate), which has a distinctive mixture of different architectural styles. It has been the site of various buildings and gardens for hundreds of years.

Bagh-e-Jinnah, Lahore, Pakistan (1860)

Bagh-e-Jinnah, Lahore, Pakistan
Lahore is known as a city of gardens with a long tradition of garden-making.
In the period of British colonial rule, between 1849 and 1947, their style fundamentally changed, moving away from the historic Mughal Charbagh (a fourfold garden design relating to the four gardens of Paradise as described in the Quran) to become more focused on the cultivation of botanic collections.
"It is the only botanic garden in the world to incorporate a former Test cricket ground"
Bagh-e-Jinnah, set in the centre of the city, was an early manifestation of this development.
It is the only botanic garden in the world to incorporate a former Test cricket ground and English cricket pavilion.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town, South Africa (1913)

Kirstenbosch botanical gardens in south africa
Kirstenbosch is one of the world’s great botanic gardens, and one of the largest. Together with its spectacular neighbour, Table Mountain National Park, it makes up part of the Cape Floristic Region Protected Area, which became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2004.
It is a wonderful garden, although only around six per cent of its territory is cultivated, and the rest is a protected area of natural forest and fynbos.     
Its collection of more than 7,000 species is dominated by plants indigenous to southern Africa, with some 2,500 from the Cape specifically. Operated by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), it is one of the country’s ten national botanic gardens.
Famous for its Protea Garden and a Cycad Amphitheatre, it also has a Fragrance Garden, a Medicinal Garden—and, in 2002, a Useful Plants Garden was added, focusing on African and indigenous uses of plants.
Today, the Garden’s primary concern is to “champion the exploration, conservation, sustainable use, appreciation and enjoyment of South Africa’s exceptionally rich biodiversity for all South Africans.”

Kyoto Shokubutsuen, Kitayama, Japan (1924)

Kyoto Shokubutsuen, Kitayama, Japan
Japan has more than 60 botanic gardens and a great love of plant life.
Kyoto Prefectural Botanical Garden is the oldest botanical garden in Japan, and it holds over 120,000 plants from 12,000 species. It is conveniently situated along the scenic Kamo River, in Kitayama.
The garden is spectacular whatever the season: in spring, the world-famous cherry trees blossom; in summer, the fragrance and colour of the roses are prominent; in autumn, the rich reds and orange of the maple trees can be seen; and for the rest of the year there are an exciting variety of trees, flowers, lush open spaces and even a forest to discover. 
"Japan has more than 60 botanic gardens"
The garden covers 24 hectares (59 acres), and this land is divided up into various areas. There is a Perennial Garden, a Peony Garden, an annual Bonsai Exhibition, Bamboo, Camellia and European Style Gardens, and many others. 
In the northern half, there is the only natural forest in the Garden, the Nakaragi-no-mori, and a botanical ecological garden, where native plants growing wild in the mountains and fields of Japan are planted in a state that is as close to nature as possible.

Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis, USA (1859)

autumn leaves on trees in Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis, USA
The Missouri Botanical Garden is the oldest botanical garden in continuous use in North America. Founded in 1859, it is also known as Shaw’s Garden after the founder and philanthropist Henry Shaw.
It is recognised internationally for its scientific research, with over 4,000 live trees (some rare and some planted by Shaw himself). The garden has been involved in the conservation of plants from native American regions and also from Madagascar, China and Central America.
It includes almost 50 themed gardens, with five formal gardens and 23 demonstration gardens.

Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1808)

Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio’s Botanical Garden, dating from 1808 and the first such garden in Brazil, inhabits a 54-hectare (133-acre) site in the south of the city, at the foot of the Corcovado Mountain in the shadow of the famous “Christ the Redeemer” statue.
The garden stands as a monument to Brazil’s rich diversity of flora and fauna, containing over 6,000 species of tropical and subtropical plants and trees, including some 900 varieties of palm trees.
40 per cent of the site is cultivated; the rest is Atlantic Forest (Mata Atlântica) spreading up the mountain slopes.
It is home to colonies of Capuchin monkeys and marmosets, along with over 140 species of birds, including toucans, rusty-margined guan, slaty-breasted wood rail and white-necked hawks.
Extracted from Botanic Gardens of the World by Deborah Trentham. Published by Greenfinch, the book is out now
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