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Zagreb Botanical Garden

Whether you need a serene moment or an energy boost, a walk down the pathways of Zagreb Botanical Garden makes a perfect fit. And while you’re there enjoying the green exhibition, listen carefully, for the soft breeze running through centennial arboretum brings back the echo of the days when the Botanical Gardens were only founded. That happened about 120 years ago. 

Thanks to the city authorities of the time, this botanical research center is also a public park. It was the City that donated a piece of land to the University to plant the garden and pursue their research, but on one condition – to make the garden publicly available. Croatian botanists have stuck to this agreement till this very day, so there’s still no entrance fee. 

During the first couple of years of the gardens, it was obvious its surface was inadequate and it would have to spread east. But, the expansion was completely obstructed by the insurance building in the Mihanoviceva Street and the famous Esplanade hotel. Those palaces are also obstacles for the complete realization of Zagreb Green Horseshoe. The term refers to a unique horseshoe-shaped line of town parks surrounding the very heart of the city.  

Main disadvantages of the park – its lack of space and impossibility of further expansion – turned out to be its greatest enchantments. That is precisely the reason why the garden has kept its historical spirit safely locked inside, earning its status of a monument of horticultural architecture. The garden has been arranged in the so-called English landscape style which means its design is asymetrical, with winding pathways, free-standing groups of trees and bushes, lakes with bridges… 

There is however a French-styled part of the park. It’s the western zone with geometrical flower beds. There once had been a big marine aquarium standing over the flower beds, but it was removed because of high maintenance costs.

Most of the functional buildings are situated in this area, like the Art-Nouveau building that was once the gardener’s house, but now serves as the main administration building. And then there’s the most important public toilet of Zagreb – the last remaining small communal object from late 19th century in Zagreb.

But let’s head east, where we’ll find a recently restored red pavilion, rare example of authentic pavilion architecture. This building was a gift from the Ministry of Justice in the late 19th century. It was meant to serve as some sort of storage until ‘real’ buildings would be erected. Over the years, it got severely consumed by neglect and ivy. Now it stands live and proud again, and it was given a completely new use of an exhibition area and information center. 

Another interesting feature of the park are rock gardens with theme plant groups, such as Alpine or West European. But the most interesting one is Croatian Karst garden planted with indigenous species from Croatia. Botanical gardens make a living museum with a variety of collections – even the collection of tropical and subtropical species, cultivated in the glasshouses. 

 While enjoying this lovely park, it’s easy to simply forget that we are actually on the location with science work being its primal purpose. The park has always belonged to the University and it has educated several generations of botanists.

Still, it collaborates with residents of Zagreb in many ways. It’s possible, for instance, to offer a money donation by temporarily adopting a plant. And you know that user-friendly lack of space we mentioned before? It generated the tradition of plant-sales, for there’s just not enough room in the park for each and every plant. A tropical plant cultivated in the center of a European capital – how’s that for a souvenir?

My personal favourite is the project of Croatian threatened species cultivation. It’s a part of the conservation program with the aim to decrease wild plant gathering. That means you can actually buy the endangered Velebit Degenia – Croatian most famous endemic plant specie, seen in its natural habitat only by the lucky individuals. The rest of us are familiar with it from the 50 lipas coin. As I already said, the walk through the garden is a walk down the city’s memory lane, for the gardens haven’t really changed much from their original design. But you know by now that walk is also taking us to what’s best of future and science, and that’s the effort to conserve the diversity of living creatures and helping to heal the Mother Nature. 

Unfortunately, busy every-day-life of Zagreb makes it difficult for its residents to escape from the city rush by emerging into this beauty. It sometimes seems to me that only the visitors of this town have the time to enjoy its coziest corners. 

But then again, when a traveler enjoys this oasis filled with sensation of long lost times, he gives these plants another reason to live and grow in the very heart of this city.