As tourists marvel at the famous Belvedere Gardens in all their baroque splendour, few know how close they are to another landscaped garden open to the public.
The Botanical Garden runs along to the east of the Belvedere complex and can trace its roots (sorry) back to 1754 and a pharmaceutical garden established by Maria Theresia.
Where Belvedere’s gardens end in ornate palaces, these gardens end in ordinary greenhouses (which means more glass, less marble, and fewer statues of 18th-century military heroes): the Botanical Garden is actually a research, teaching and public education facility belonging to the University of Vienna.
Its big advantage is that it offers a little more breathing space than its imperial rivals, given far fewer tourists find their way inside.
The garden is split into themed zones, such as the “Flora of Austria”, “Medicinal, domestic and poisonous plants” and “Cacti and succulents”. The entire middle section is turned over to displays of plants based on systematic principles, i.e. grouped according to their genetic relationship with each other.
If that sounds all rather dry, it isn’t.
To put in concisely – it’s a pleasant walk around a park with more to offer than your average municipal park. Particular highlights for me as a non-scientist were:
- the Hosta Superstar horticultural art installation, which includes a small display of hostas in an abstract sunken bed, partly-lined in turquoise. It’s a startling contrast to the pastel greens of the natural park
- two huge giant sequoia trees
- a thick copse of green-glaucous bamboo (Phyllostachys viridiglaucescens), with stems several metres high. If the boardwalk through the copse is open, you can wander through and listen to the knocking of the stems in the wind
- the Chilean rhubarb (Gunnera tinctoria) with its giant leaves
- a pond full of sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), whose leaves are incredibly water resistent so drops retain their form on them
- a mini showcase full of carnivorous plants (and one unfortunate fly, who was in considerably more danger than it could ever imagine). There were several other showcases – one, for example, featured living stones – and a very small tropical plant house
- the cactus and succulent group – some quite impressive specimens in there
I had high hopes of a plant labelled “Naked ladies” but it was less exciting than you might imagine.
Entry to the Botanical Garden is free and it’s open more or less every day from around 10am (depending on which entrance you use) to between 4pm and 6pm (depending on the season).
It’s closed late December / early January and if weather conditions are unsuitable – check the university website for full details and more background information on the history and contents.
How to get to the Botanical Garden
- Upper Belvedere entrance. Follow the directions for (Upper) Belvedere, go to the south gates and walk east a few metres to reach a double entrance – right is the Alpine Gardens (a completely separate entity you have to pay to enter), left the Botanical Garden.
- Reitertor entrance. If you’re at the Upper Belvedere palace itself, go to the east end of the building and look east. There’s a raised building and just to its north behind a hedge is another entrance direct from the Belvedere grounds into the gardens.
- Main entrance. Follow the directions for (Lower) Belvedere. When you’re at the palace entrance, don’t go in but walk southeast along the Rennweg road for another 400 metres or so and you’ll see Praetoriusgasse on your right. Go down that street and it takes you to the main entrance.
Address: Mechelgasse/Praetoriusgasse, 1030 Vienna | Website
If the map below doesn’t display, try here.
(Photo credit: © Aleksey Sagitov / Fotolia)