In the busy Vlaška Street, there is a deserted two-storey house eager to tell stories of its flowered past. The building is known as the Gardener’s House. It’s hard to imagine that this little building was put up to guard a beautiful episcopal garden. Zagreb is widely known for its parks, many of them enlisted among national heritage. But, sadly, there were also many magnificent parks and gardens that remained a mere memory. That’s precisely what the Gardener’s House is – a tangible memento of disappeared bishop’s garden.
The building in Vlaška Street 72 used to dominate the north end of the glorious garden. It was built at the end of 18th century.
Even though it might just be the loveliest example of late baroque/neo-renaissance architecture in Zagreb, it’s not quite clear who the author of the project was. We do know his name: it was Joseph Reymund. But the confusion emerges from the fact that there were three architects of that name in Zagreb back then.
Unlike the residential buildings that surround it, the gardener’s house faces south, therefore its entrance can not be seen from the street. That particular detail can be of service as our carrier back through time, back to 1790, the year of its construction. The building used to be a part of a bishop’s estate and it looked over a large and carefully cultivated garden. The bishop concerned was Maksimilijan Vrhovac, who happened to be the founder of the well known park Maksimir, the favourite leisure place for the citizens of Zagreb from those days onwards.
The beautiful episcopal park and garden in front of the Gardener’s House emerged in what was then the easternmost part of the town. We can only try to picture it, relying on the contemporaries’ descriptions. Spreading over the surface of more than ten acres, it presented a harmony of English landscape and French geometrical gardening style.
Except for the garden and the houses alongside Vlaška Street, the area was still unsettled. Quite interesting if you consider the fact that this part of the city is now only three tram stops away from Zagreb’s main square. The 1822 graphic by Josip Szemann, representing Zagreb, distinctively shows the house surrounded by garden in the lower right corner.
If you give the graphic a closer look, you’ll sure be noticing long wings that are nowhere near the house today. These are greenhouses that used to house tropical and Mediterranean plants. Yes, we can proudly say that Zagreb used to grow oranges more than two centuries ago. Imagine the interest that local folk used to show for the exotic fruit. Even more, since they were a valuable rarity that could be measured in gold, those oranges were often used as gifts for distinguished guests and noblemen.
Even though the garden must have been a charming place, it suffered from severe neglect only decades after its construction. The bishop Vrhovac himself lost the interest for enjoying his garden in his own golden years. The final verdict over what could have been another oasis in the heart of the city was given in 1930’s. That’s when its green surface was completely covered in concrete and a big construction project by architect Hugo Ehrlich emerged. Huge archdiocese residential complex popularly known as Vatican occupied the last remnants of the garden, encircling and suffocating poor old gardener’s house. What once was a great dominating object is now swallowed by the big city that surrounds it. What was once compared to countryside castles, is now a cat shelter. The place where the gold literally used to grow on trees, now remains with no function, no one to even use it. What used to be an ornament of the entire street, is now barely noticeable. The house is drowned by the nearby edifices and deeply wounded by relentless time. Still, the gardener’s house is ever prepared to astonish those passengers who stop to wonder what was its role in the city’s memory.