|Select magazine number|
Central Botanical Garden in Kyiv is a mecca for admirers of lilacs and other natural wonders in bloom
“And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden;
and there he put the man whom he had formed.”
Recently, 30 trees of Oriental cherry were imported to Ukraine from Japan. The trees, usually refereed to in Ukraine by its Japanese name sakura, were replanted in the central Botanical Gardens of Kyiv.
Sakura is believed to possess some medicinal properties, but probably more important is the belief that being close to sakura trees and watching their blooms in spring cleanses your spirit and uplifts your soul.
So come spring, Kyivans and visitors to Kyiv will have the opportunity of watching sakura blooms. Incidentally, other great attractions of the Botanical Gardens in spring are blooming magnolias and lilacs. Lilacs and magnolias in full blossom are a great sight too.
In fact, every botanical garden should strive to be a sort of a paradise on earth. In numerous religious paintings and icons the paradise looks like a garden with all kinds of plants from all parts of the world, with palms and fir trees growing side by side. It seems to be a natural thing for artists to do — how else could they show unity and harmony of the Universe before the Fall? Since then man has done a lot of damage to the green world. Luckily enough, the idea of an earthly paradise lives on. Gardens continue to be planted, and who knows, maybe someday, distant descendants of Adam and Eve will find a way of growing the Tree of Life with fruit that will give them eternal life.
Botanical garden is an attempt to recreate the Garden of Eden. There are hundreds of botanical gardens in many parts of the world now. Each of them shows indigenous plants and plants from distant lands as well. It is also a groomed place, demonstrating what our environment could look like if we took enough care of it.
The Central Botanical Garden of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Kyiv appears to be a very special place indeed. The temperate climate of Kyiv is good for all sorts of plants (except for tropical, of course), and makes it possible to have a garden in which a great number of species of flora can grow. So many, in fact, that the garden looks like a close approximation to what appears as Eden in icons. The garden contains collections of about thirteen thousand species of plants from all the continents, displayed in many sections: arboretum (woody plants like trees and bushes), a rose garden, a lilac garden, etc. Extensive are collections of herbaceous plants as well. There are specimens from the cold lands, like the dwarf birch, for example; plants from the tropical lands are grown in greenhouses.
The garden spreads over a wonderful place, wonderful not only because of its natural beauty but also because two monasteries used to share this place. One may say that even the grounds of the garden have been sanctified. The garden is well cared for and tended by the descendants of many generations of Ukrainians who have always been known as skilful tillers and lovers of nature. All of these things put together make the garden a remarkable place. Even the size of it is outstanding — it is one of the biggest botanical gardens of the world ranking high on the world’s list of such gardens.
The garden sits on several hills in the southern outskirts of Kyiv. In the medieval times, the whole area was forested and was a hunting preserve of Kyiv princes. In the valley between the hills one can get an idea what kind of woods stood around there in the time of old. On one of the hills, where now one finds an excellent syringarium (a garden of lilacs; from the word syringa, which is a clever word for lilac), there stood once an out-of-town palace of Kyiv rulers. In the tenth century it was Prince Volodymyr (later made saint, the one who baptised the inhabitants of the land of Kyiv), who came to stay at the palace; later, the mighty princes Yaroslav the Wise, Volodymyr the Monomach and Yury the Long Arm, the founder of Moscow, spent lengths of time there. Nothing has survived of the palace, there are no bears, boars, or lynxes to hunt, but the place continues to be visited. By tourists and nature lovers. Hundreds of thousands of people have visited the garden since it was founded more than fifty years ago.
At the foot of one of the garden hills — the one with lilacs on top — there stands an ancient monastery. The Vydubetsky Monastery sprang up in the 11th century and its central church, the Mykhaylivsky (St Michael’s) Cathedral dates from 1070. Some frescoes of the 12th and 18th centuries have been preserved on the interior walls of the church. Some of the graffiti on the walls are almost as old as the church itself. The monastery had its own orchard and though there are no trees in our land that can live a thousand years, one can get a very good idea what the place might have looked like in the early times, since both the monastery and the orchard are still there. Another church of the monastery, the Heorhiyivsky (St George’s), is of later times, dating from the year 1696. Historians of architecture call the style it was built in “Ukrainian Cossack Baroque.” Some of the buildings of the monastery were erected thanks to the donations of Colonel of Myklashevsky from the town of Starodub. Now the town, because of the changes in the line of the borders, is in Russia, and there seem to be no colonels left in Ukraine who could donate enough money to have a monastery built. Coming back to the Vydubetsky Monastery, one can safely claim that there is hardly another architectural complex in the whole of Ukraine that looks so well harmonized with its natural surroundings. The domes of Ukrainian churches were of three colours: gold, to symbolize the sun and God’s glory; blue, with stars, to symbolize the heavens, or grassy green, to symbolize nature.
Climbing the hill, one comes to another monastery, the Ionivsky (Prophet Jonas’), with a magnolia grove on the way. The botanical garden of Kyiv is the easternmost point in Europe where magnolia still can live. The magnolias in this grove are among the first to announce spring by bursting into white and pink blossoms at the time when other trees have not yet put out their first leaves. The sweet smell of the blossoms of these subtropical plants hover above the place, attracting young lovers and old people alike. The cells of the Ionivsky Monastery (founded at the end of the 19th century) are situated close by and the monks may show the visitors the Zvirynetski Caves — an underground system of corridors connecting caves, both natural and man-made, dating from very early times. An underground church there, for example, is believed to have been founded in the 10th century. Massive invasions of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries of the Polovtsi, Mongols, and other non-Christian nomads eventually led to the abandonment of the underground monastery. It was rediscovered only in the eighties of the 19th century. Going down is like travelling in time: you see some of the things — or rather their fragments — that have survived from a thousand years back, left behind there by the last inhabitants of the cave monastery, you see skeletons, mute witnesses of the ancient tragedy, and if you have enough imagination it is easy to feel transported a millennium back in time.
One section of the botanical garden is given to the “Steppes of Ukraine,” with many wild flowers and grasses typical of the steppe growing there. One can even see there several extremely rare purple wild tulips among other wild flowers of many colours. On a mound in the middle of the garden “steppe” stands a baba — a pagan idol that once dotted the countryside of southern Ukraine in thousands. Some of the surviving ones have found their way into museums and public gardens.
Walking through the garden you can visit many parts of the planet. There are sections in the garden made to look, with appropriate plants growing there, like the Crimea, Caucasus, Siberia, and other distant lands. In one of the smaller greenhouses, not open to the public, ginseng, known for its medicinal properties, is grown. Rosarium, that is a rose garden, is notable for its vast collection of roses, displayed with great taste. The pond in the centre of the rose garden enhances the beauty of the place. The collections of other flowers are extensive enough to satisfy the aesthetic and taxonomic requirements.
The arboretum of the garden contains both indigenous species and exotic ones. A layman, walking through the arboretum, cannot fail to be amazed at how many variations there are of species of well-known trees. Horse chestnuts stand out here as the most impressive eye appeal. In May, when they are all covered with candle-like blossoms, one can see that the colours of these blossoms vary from pure white to intense scarlet. The horse chestnut section then looks like a fairy-tale place adorned with thousands of candelabra with candles. If you think that birches are white you are sure to be surprised to find birches with black bark. This kind of birches grow in China. Among more exotic woody species one should mention tulip trees and Judas trees (according to tradition, Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus Christ, hang himself on one of such trees, and thus gave it its present name). Climbing plants are given a separate section.
Some of the tropical plants, like Mexican yucca, survive in the open, in spite of occasional severe colds in the otherwise temperate climate of Kyiv, but others are more sensitive and require greenhouses to live in. A new and very big greenhouse being built in the centre of the garden, will house baobabs and sequoias, in addition to the more usual banana trees and ficus.
The Kyiv Botanical Garden is an exciting place to visit practically any time of the year, though, of course, autumnal colours and vernal fragrances offer the best impressions. Nevertheless, even in the dead of winter, a visit to the greenhouses will get you transported to the rich colours and scents of the tropical lands.
Come to the garden for a mental escape from pressures of urban life, relax, and enjoy nature in its almost pristine paradisaical beauty.
Photos by Oleksandr HOROBETS