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A park of paradisiacal beauty in Trostyanets
The expulsion of the first humans, Adam and Eve, from the Garden of Eden, left wonderful memories which fed their desire to return to the care-free existence in Paradise. But the way back was barred, and this desire was passed on from generation to generation of the descendants of Adam and Eve. Depending on their ambitions and means, people tried to create their own Gardens of Eden on earth — some had just a little plot of land, others, of the dictatorial kind, dreamed of turning huge expanses of land into earthly paradises. Still others managed to create gardens or parks which could, with some obvious reservations, of course, qualify as replicas of Paradise.
Andriy PYROHIV and Serhiy POPOVYCH tell a story of a man enamoured of the park he himself created and share their impressions of the park’s waning beauty.
Ivan Skoropadsky (1805-1887), a rich landowner, art collector and patron of arts, had an idea of building “a little paradise” in his estate at Trostyanets in Chernihiv Huberniya (Province). Destiny was kind to him and he lived in more or less peaceful times. He was a man of great energies and he directed them not into vainglorious politics but into the development of his lands (Skoropadsky was a descendant of Ivan Skoropadsky, 1646-1722, hetman of Ukraine; his grandson Pavlo Skoropadsky, 1873-1945, was also a hetman of Ukraine, the last one, in the short-lived period of Ukrainian independence in the second half of the 1910s). The adventurous streak must have been running in the Skoropadsky family — though Ivan did not become a hetman, he undertook to have a park laid in the steppe flat as a table top, with only a grove of oaks to start with.
This stone idol, Polovetska baba, has survived from
Ivan Skoropadsky loved his native land — both the land of Chernihivshchyna where he was born, and Ukraine of which he was a patriot.
He was born on January 12 1805, at the estate of Kochubeys, in the vicinity of the town of Hlukhov. He served in the elite Siversky Cavalry regiment for some time but soon found that military service was not something he would like to devote his life to. He got himself discharged from the service and starting from 1822 devoted himself entirely to civilian matters, matrimonial ones included. In 1829, he married Yelizaveta P. Tarnovska who was a relative of the owners of another famous estate — Kachanivka. But it was not a happy marriage right from the start — Skoropadsky’s young wife did not want to spend most of her time in the country, drinking fresh milk, still warm from the cow, and spend evenings sitting in a belvedere thinking fine thoughts and enjoying the view. Skoropadsky tried hard to convince his wife that life in the country was much preferable to life in the city, and that walking on the grass was better than walking on the stone of the streets. Ten years of persuasion failed to make her change her views, and they had to part. Love for a woman was replaced in his heart by love for his park that was already taking shape.
It is difficult to say why Skoropadsky chose Trostyanets among his estates to create a paradisiacal park in — he owned 5,000 desyatynas of land (if you are mathematically inclined, you are welcome to do your own calculations — one desyatyna is 1.456 hectares and one hectare is about three acres) in various parts of Chernihiv and Poltava Huberniyas. There were quite a few charming places to choose from. There must have been something in his Trostaynets estate that greatly attracted him. He kept buying land around the estate and expanded it to 2,000 desyatynas. He could be considered a rich landowner — he owned 2,350 male serfs (the figure was much higher if the women and children were counted); a horse-breeding farm; a sheep-breeding farm; two sugar plants, and three wine distilleries.
His Trostyanets was situated in the steppe, far away from any “civilized” places, and it could have been one of the reasons why he preferred it to his other estates.
Skoropadsky was intent on changing the two-hundred hectare plot beyond recognition and turn it into a veritable “Paradise Revisited.” Thanks to “a plastic surgery” of enormous proportions the future park acquired picturesque hills. Thousands of serfs (and hired hands, after the Reform of 1861, which abolished serfdom) created mounds, valleys, lakes ponds and streams. The work was going on for over half a century — from 1834 and to Skoropadsky’s death in 1887. He personally and every day controlled the work that was in never halting progress. He, like pharaoh incarnate, did not spare either money or the rod — punishment was easily meted out to those who committed any transgressions. He must have thought that means justified the cause. It is estimated that he spent at least a hundred thousand roubles on his park — an enormous sum of money at that time. And mind you — the cost of labour was very low. How many serfs and hired hands died, broken down by work, is not known. “Many” is the vague word that often is callously used in similar situations.
Skoropadsky did not care to have all those artificial ruins, grottos and other “romantic” features once so popular. The only concession to the park fashions of the time in Trostyanets was centuries-old stone idols once left in the steppes by the nomads and moved to the park. The park acquired even a more “natural” look when in 1918 the revolutionary masses destroyed all the buildings in the park so thoroughly that no traces of them were left. At present, the park is a harmonious blend of natural features — groves, groups of trees, scenic meadows and lakes in the calm surface of which the sky above is serenely reflected.
The monument to Ivan Skoropadsky.
The floral richness of the park is truly amazing. There are no exotic plants brought from distant tropical lands but there are many species which do not grow in Ukraine but once brought to the park somewhat surprisingly thrived there.
The first inventory of plants taken in the park in 1886 showed that there were 580 species of plants and their varieties from all over the world. The collections of deciduous trees, oaks, maples and horse chestnuts were the richest in Ukraine. Ivan Skoropadsky was very thorough in picking what he wanted from many countries of the world and though the gorgeous park has lived through many revolutions, wars, and thunderstorms, the damage to it was not so great that it could not be mended; plants were taken good care of by generations of gardeners and caretakers.
At present there are about 520 species of various plants in the park, fewer than at the time when Skoropadsky was alive, but in the arboretum — a place where an extensive variety of plants are cultivated for scientific, educational, and ornamental purposes — there are about 1,700 species. Many of the plants are over a hundred years old and some are two or even three hundred years old — oaks, poplars and willows among them.
About 40 percent of the plants are of Asian origin; 26 percent are “Europeans”; 25 percent are “Americans,” and 9 percent have come from Australia and Pacific islands. The evergreens make up a considerable part of all the plants which create a conspicuous feature in the park — pines, firs and hemlocks in many varieties make the park green in any season. The winter snow give the park a hibernal charm.
Those who like and seek classifications will be upset to discover that the Trostyanets Park is difficult to pigeonhole. There are hills but no stone and this alone makes categorizing difficult. Among the old parks created back in the times of the Russian Empire, only the park in Uman and one in the Tsarskoselsky Park near St Petersburg can boast man-made hills.
Now the Trostyanets Park looks more like a forest than an artificial creation, but whatever name tag will be affixed to the park, walking around it is a pleasure. You can even join a guided tour around the park and then you’ll be told how many subspecies of this or that plant the park has, how to tell the difference between true hemlock and pseudo-hemlock, and many other useful and useless things. Some of the tourists, old ladies in particular, write down the figures and other pieces of information they are given in their little pads. To our mind, it is just better to take slow walks in whatever direction your whim may take you and enjoy what you see. You can lean against the trunk of a tree whose girth is such that it would take at least three men with outspread arms to stand around the tree holding hands, and look at the yellowing leaves and deeply inhale the air permeated with autumnal scents and think your own, unhurried thoughts…
One of the tallest trees on earth is an arboreal species from the family of pines that grows in the Pacific coast of the USA. It can grow to the height of about 115 metres tall and its bole can be up to 4 metres (12 feet) in diameter. If you expected that now we would say that there are many trees like that in the Trostyanets Park, we are sorry for misleading you into a wrong track of thinking. There are no trees that tall in the park, or any other super giants like giant sequoia, but there are trees that will surely impress you greatly by their sheer size. There would have been many more of them if “poachers” had not cut down trees for timber… In spite of the damage done to the park, the scars are overgrown and there are no eyesores. Your walks can last hours on end and your eyes will be feasting on the glory of nature, and serenity will come to your soul. The park in autumn presents such a magnificent display of colours that at every step the scenery almost literally takes your breath away.
You will not meet many visitors in the park and you may even feel and fantasize that all of that beauty is yours, and that you are the only one taking a walk there. So the Trostyanets Park is particularly good for lonely hearts. If you like curious shapes in nature, they will be there in abundance for you to marvel at, and if you are romantically inclined, you can come to the shore of one of the lakes and feed the swans that will move in a graceful hurry to the shore the moment they spot you.
The beauty of the lakes and ponds
Ivan Skoropadsky loved his park so much that he took daily walks or rides in a phaeton when his legs were no longer good for long walks, to distant parts of his park. He never stopped doing it until he died at the age of eighty two. He supervised tree planting, changes and improvements of the landscape. He died at his desk, writing instructions for further improvements of his park.
Some time before his death he ordered a burial mound to be erected close to a meadow with the most precious and rarest species of trees. He also had a marble angel made for his tomb. He was buried where he wanted to lie after his death and the angel was put at the head of the grave. The pedestal is still there but the angel must have flown away, up to Heaven to join Skoropadsky’s soul in looking at the park from above. The view from up there must be even better than from the burial mound.
Though the angel is gone, the epitaph carved into the marble of the pedestal remains and reads, “Gentle passer-by, the park you are taking a walk in has been created by me; it gave much joy to my heart when I was alive. If, during your walk, you have noticed that something is out of order, something that can do a great damage to the park, tell the present owner about it — you’ll do a good thing.
The swans in Trostyanets are not at all afraid
The Land of Chernihivshchyna boasts several beautiful parks dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If you travel along the route from Kyiv to Sokyryntsy to Trostyanets to Kachanivka and back in Kyiv, you will find several old parks of exquisite beauty in various stages of neglect or care. The park in Sokyryntsy, for example, still has a magnificent palace with two Italian statutes dating from the eighteenth century surpruisingly extant; also you’ll find a museum there of a remarkable kobzar (a bard who plays the kobza, Ukrainian traditional instrument), Ostap Veres. In Kachanivka, the central palace and the Church of St George are in a good state of preservation and there is some restoration work going on. The church is in such a good condition that the services in it have been resumed. The old mews were converted into a small hotel so you can even stay overnight — the park is so huge and beautiful that one full day of wandering in it may leave you with a feeling that you want more of it.
Photos by Yury Buslenko
A rare species of pines which, probably,
One of the decorative arrangements