The Botanical Garden of the University of Latvia hosted the Rīga Flower Show last week, coinciding with the Youth Song and Dance Festival. With art and plant exhibitions, music, songs, theatre and workshops for adults and children, the gardens were decked out in their finest. Even though we missed the show by one day, there was more than enough to see. Covering 40 acres, they are the oldest botanical gardens in Latvia, having been established in 1922. The gardens were moved in 1926 to their present location, the former Albert Wolfschmidt manor. Within the park boundaries are four manor buildings, all listed as national monuments of wooden architecture. The majestic linden alley that once connected the manor house to the road still stands, now leading to the Palm house.
Boasting an arboretum, a palm house and even a tropical butterfly house, the collection totals 8,300 species of which about 2,000 are tropical and subtropical – quite an achievement for being located at such a northern latitude. The origins of the plants range from the dunes at the Baltic Sea to the forests of Australia, with the Amazon jungle, Mexican desert and Caucasus Mountains all represented.
About 750 species are trees and shrubs, including 124 species of azaleas and 15 magnolia species and cultivars. I was impressed with the rhododendron collection, which contains over 110 species; sadly, it was not currently in bloom. However, the rose garden was. 65 floribunda roses, shrub roses, park roses, polyantha roses and hybrid tea roses – so much color within the carefully tended beds.
After paying an additional fee, we entered the tropical butterfly house, where South American, Asian and African butterflies were free-flying through the exotic jungle setting. Be forewarned; the temperatures inside the greenhouse can reach 90˚+ so plan accordingly.
Vestiges of the Flower Show still remained, and the installations we did see were clever and well-executed. I can only imagine what the gardens looked like in all their splendor…
Roberts and I agreed that we like how there were “wild” portions within the gardens, where native plants were allowed to show off. The Shade garden and Perennial plant collection covered the middle ground, with an organized chaos bursting with life. In the center next to the Palm house are the rock garden and pond, the latter a scene straight out of Monet’s waterlily series.
The boys had fun trying to spot the hares living in the trušu karaliste Ļipmuiža, as most of the rabbits were hiding from the sun in their castles. Nearby was a giant Easter bunny statue, which I’m sure served some purpose in the Flower Show; could it be that it was actually a Laimas šokolāde exhibit?!
We stopped by the cafe for coffee and croissants, surrounded even then by flowers and luscious green grass. It was a beautiful day for a vist, and I was reluctant to leave. The botanical gardens are only a short cab, trolley or bus trip away from the center of Rīga (they are across Daugava on Jūrmalas Gatve), and can easily be combined with a trip to the National Library of Latvia or the Train History Museum. For information on hours, admission and events please visit the official website, www.Botanika.lu.lv.