The latter is all carefully-cultivated geometric shapes, paths and formal arrangements. The former is all meandering pathways drifting randomly around rocky outcrops thick with a tumble of plants, shrubs and small trees.
It’s not very big – we’re talking around 50m by 50m. So you won’t be spending half a day here. But the alpine gardens do offer a little respite from the Belvedere crowds: it’s just you, the Edelweiss, the chatter of birds and the distant drone of Viennese traffic.
You can make a similar argument for the botanical garden next door, which are much bigger (and free). But the alpine gardens has one thing extra going for it: the bonsai.
It’s a little bit more than just Edelweiss (I don’t recall if there was any there at all): the gardens actually cover over 4,000 plant and shrub species from alpine areas around the world and play an important conservation role. You’ll find everything marked with Latin and German names, but I didn’t spot any information in English.
The collection dates back to the early 1800s and the botanical interests of Archduke John, brother of Emperor Francis I. The gardens were originally in Schönbrunn, but moved to Belvedere in the second half of the 19th century.
The most impressive plants (at least for the non-specialist) are the bonsai collection, partly behind glass and partly out in the open to your right as you enter the gardens.
Having said that, if you take the path along the left after the entrance you’ll come across what looks like a moss-covered rock which is actually a cultivar of white spruce. And near the back there are cages crawling with houseleeks (which have nothing to do with leeks, but are pretty, rosette-shaped succulents).
There’s something strangely captivating about the Bonsai trees, though, and there are quite a lot of them here.
Maples and pines dominate the couple of dozen outside, with the glasshoused bonsai covering a broader mix of species, including juniper, spruce, chestnut, elm, beech, larch, birch, pear and apple. Their accompanying labels look a little old, so the age of each trees is likely more than stated.
The outdoor bonsai are, perhaps, the best examples of this Japanese art form and feature, for example:
- A beautiful 60 year-old purple Japanese maple and 100 year-old trident maple
- Gorgeous miniature pines, including a 180 year-old Japanese white pine
- A perfectly-formed 90 year-old cedar of Lebanon
The alpine gardens are actually managed by the federal parks and gardens department, so Belvedere tickets and passes don’t apply here. An adult ticket cost €4 at the time of writing.
Unlike Belvedere, it’s not open year round, but usually from late March to early August. During that time they also have a handful of plants for sale.
How to get to the alpine gardens
Just follow the directions for Upper Belvedere. To enter the gardens, go to the southern gates of Belvedere and walk east for a few metres – you can’t miss it.
(Photo credit: © leeyiutung / Fotolia)