Hortus Botanicus

DSC04186The botanical garden in Amsterdam is one of the oldest in the world and at three acres also one of the smallest.  It’s tucked into the Plantage district, a green area of central Amsterdam, near a big public park and the zoo.

One of us took this opportunity to sit in the cafe and read, but I did my best to explore the compact, diverse plantings, ranging from water garden to desert, in the hour we had before closing.

The water garden featured these beautiful tropical leavesDSC04187 – shades of the Oxford Botanical Gardens (which I really should report on even if my visit was back in 2009).  The water garden was roughly circular, with these giant water lilies (they start them from seed in May) in the pond, while a huge gunnera plant, which you see everywhere in English gardens, dominated the central point.DSC04210I couldn’t resist closeups of the blooms.DSC04188DSC04211But the garden is really known for its collection of cycads, primitive plants that have been around since before the dinosaurs.  They mostly lived in a glasshouse, but some were growing along the paths.DSC04189This one is so rare that it lives in a cage, apparently.  DSC04190I think it’s the Wollemi pine, known only through fossils until it was collected in Australia in 1994  and distributed to botanical gardens around the world to keep the species alive.

The glasshouses are renowned although I have to confess that I was underwhelmed, perhaps because these plants don’t interest me too much.  In fact, I have no pictures of them so you will have to look at this one from their website, which does display their elegance but gives no sense of scale. palmenkas_foto02Both in the glasshouses and along the paths are plants first collected by the VOC in the East Indies in the 18th century, including coffee plants from seeds brought here in 1706.  They formed the basis of the coffee plantations later established in South America.

On the other hand, the butterfly house was enchanting.  DSC04199How could you not like these butterflies?  Hypolimnas bolina, according to the sign, that live on sweet potato vines and flourish in Madagascar and New Zealand.

In the green houses were tropical and desert gardens, the latter of which I fell in love with for their shapes and patterns.  This one looked like stacked tongues (but in a good way).DSC04202This one is some kind of tradescantia, weirdly:  sillamontana Matuda from northern Mexico.  Softly fuzzy and subtly shaded in purple and green.  I had no idea that spiderwort could be so succulent.DSC04205I loved these flowers as inspiration for applique.DSC04204Finally a small tree that is actually clethra – a bit scary that it could get that big.DSC04208C. arborea Aiton, native to Madeira, so I probably don’t need to worry about my C. alnifolia.

My favorite story from the arboretum is about the famous 19th century director, Hugo de Vries.  He once threatened to leave unless the board installed the glasshouses that allowed him to display palms and cycads.  Another perk was the installation of a private gate on one side of the garden, that opened on the street directly across from his house.  If you like your director, make it easy for him to stay!

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