A botanical garden is a place in which plants are grown and displayed primarily for scientific and educational purposes. A botanical garden consists chiefly of a collection of living plants, grown out-of-doors or under glass in greenhouses and conservatories. It usually includes, in addition, a collection of dried plants, or herbarium, and such facilities as lecture rooms, laboratories, libraries, museums, and experimental or research plantings. Concrete fountains and wall water fountains are often included in the display of botanical gardens.
The plants in a botanical garden may be arranged according to one or more subdivisions of botanical science. The arrangements may be systematic (by plant classification), ecological (by relation to environment), or geographic (by region of origin). The larger botanical gardens often include special groupings, such as rock gardens, water gardens, wildflower gardens, and collections of horticultural groups produced by plant breeding, such as roses, tulips, or rhododendrons. A plantation restricted to exhibits of woody plants is called an arboretum. Most botanical gardens will incorporate water features such as water wall fountains.
History of Botanical Gardens
One of the earliest botanical gardens for the study of plants was established in ancient Athens about 340 B.C. by Aristotle and run by his pupil Theophrastus. The oldest public botanical gardens in the world are those established at Pisa, Italy, in 1543; at Padua, Italy, in 1545; at Paris in 1635; and at Berlin in 1679. In the 16th and 17th centuries, herbalists cultivated medicinal herbs in private gardens. In 1673, the Society of Apothecaries planted the Chelsea Physic Garden in London to provide materials for research and medicine. The American botanist John Bartram near Philadelphia established the first experimental botanical garden in the U.S. in 1728.
Where Botanical Gardens Are Found
Almost every major city has a botanical garden. The Royal Botanic Gardens, better known as Kew Gardens, near London, founded in 1759, is the largest in the world. Experiments and research done there have led to the transplanting of commercially productive crops, such as rubber, from their native habitats to other parts of the world.
More than 300 botanical gardens are in the U.S. Among the most important are the Missouri Botanic Gardens in Saint Louis (1859); the New York Botanical Garden in Bronx Park (1895) and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, both in New York City. The Arnold Arboretum, established in 1872, is located at Harvard University.
Benefits of Visiting a Botanical Garden
By visiting botanical gardens or arboretums, city dwellers can discover a part of the natural world to which they ordinarily have no access, escape from the pressure of dense urban population, and perhaps even develop new interests and hobbies having to do with the natural environment. In these special parks, plants from all over the world are scientifically cultivated, studied, and artistically displayed for the pleasure and enlightenment of the public. Arboretums specialize in raising trees and shrubs (woody plants) in their natural surroundings. They may exist independently or as part of a larger botanical garden.
Unlike ordinary parks, botanical gardens and arboretums are laid out with more than just the beauty of the landscape in mind. They will offer sculpture and cast stone water features. Although trees and shrubs may be interspersed throughout the area to enhance the pleasant surroundings, plants are usually grouped according to their scientific relationships. Often there are small, special gardens, such as rose gardens, rock gardens, wildflower gardens, or Japanese landscape gardens contained within the larger botanical gardens. Many have sections devoted to plants of particular geographic origins, such as a tropical plant section, or an aquatic plant section. Usually, plants are labeled according to common name, scientific name, and region of origin.
A garden may contain a few hundred or as many as 20,000 different species and varieties of plants, depending upon the amount of land, money, and professional help available. In size, botanical gardens range from about 2 1/2 acres (1 hectare) to over 220 acres (90 hectares). There may be a greenhouse, or more than one greenhouse, in a botanical garden. The greenhouse is used both for displaying plants and, where winters are cold, for growing plants that would not otherwise survive the seasonal change. In temperate climates, certain tropical plants must be grown in greenhouses-for example, tropical orchids and ferns, pineapples, Spanish moss, cacti, African violets, and begonias. Seedling plants that are to be set outdoors as soon as the weather is warm enough for them may be started in greenhouses or in hotbeds, which are beds of earth that are heated and covered with glass.
Many kinds of plants need certain climatic conditions at certain seasons, and a botanical garden may need special storage areas for them. Some young plants, for instance, may need a winter growing period but cannot survive freezing temperatures. They must be stored in cold frames, which are unheated, boxlike structures covered with glass. Houses built of lathing may be needed to store some plants temporarily in semi shade and to grow certain plants that cannot stand the hot summer sun.