In the year of the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg University, the Botanical Garden will celebrate its 160th anniversary. The garden should look its best when it commemorates this festive date and the start of a new stage of its life. St Petersburg University therefore has been engaged in the garden restoration since the spring of 2018. To find out how the reconstruction is going on, representatives of Sberbank have visited the garden.
The excursion for the guests was conducted by: Natalia Diuppei, supervisor of works on the revival of the University Botanical Garden; and Aleksandr Khalling, Director of the Botanical Garden. They presented to the guests a concept design of the Botanical Garden. It was developed by Artem Parshin, who is the author of the concept for the Moscow State University Botanical Garden ‘Apothecary Garden’ and its landscape architect. The architect pointed out that the garden is located in the historical centre of the city. He suggested therefore emphasising this feature while designing the concept. Even now, its visitors have views of the dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral, as well as the Twelve Collegia building, the Mendeleev Centre, and other University buildings. In order to harmoniously integrate them into the larger picture, it will be necessary to restore their façades and remove old maintenance buildings. An unusual part of the Botanical Garden is the astronomical complex. It houses an old observatory, built in the 1880s on the initiative of Sergei Glazenap. Observations are still conducted here as part of academic and research work. The instruments of the astrometry laboratory (the Time Services of St Petersburg University) are also operating without a break. At the moment, this site is separated by a fence and few visitors know about its purpose. However, in the future, it is planned to supplement it with a collection of plants ‘The Garden of Time and Evolution’: in the northern part of the Botanical Garden, where there are many shady and humid corners, mosses, ferns, and other shade-tolerant plants will feel comfortable. Once here, guests will be able to admire the new collection and see the astronomical complex with the historical building of the observatory. It should be noted that the concept includes not only a list of directions for the development of future botanical collections and open field expositions. It also includes a functional zoning scheme that takes into account all the needs and goals of the University Botanical Garden.
However, when carrying out restoration work, it will be necessary to take into account the fact that the territory of St Petersburg University is under the protection of the Committee for the State Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments. Also, the legislation imposes strict requirements for the restoration of historical sites. For example, two greenhouses out of three can be reconstructed. However, the oldest one, which currently contains collections of conifers, is only allowed to be restored. Nevertheless, during the renovation, it is planned to use cutting-edge technological solutions such as automatically opening windows and a new drainage system. There are also plans to exchange polycarbonate in the walls for glass as it is the most suitable material for glazing greenhouses. At the same time, it will be possible to work on a tropical greenhouse only in a warm period. Part of the plants placed on the racks can be transferred to other rooms. However, palm trees and other large plants planted in the soil of the central decorative bed cannot be transplanted. According to the order of the Committee for the State Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments on the approval of the subject of protection, not only separate structures, but also some plants are subject to conservation. The document lists valuable and mature trees and other plants that need to be preserved, with some of them being planted more than 100 years ago. This list includes: Kalopanax septemlobus; needle fir; Laburnum alpinum; Microbiota decussata; and a giant common hornbeam, bent at the very pond in the oldest part of the garden.
‘To begin with, it is necessary to carry out preparatory work: to make a historical and cultural plan; and study the periods of the garden’s development, as it looked in the 19th century, in the middle of the 20th century and in subsequent time intervals. Having compared the layers, you will be able to apply a layout on them and decide what should be saved, restored, and what is better to remove,’ advised Aleksei Mikhailov, Deputy Chairman of the Committee for the State Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments. ‘I have been engaged in restoration and landscape for about 20 years. From my own experience I can say that sometimes, returning to history, we get a good foundation that can be filled with new content in the future.’
According to Natalia Diuppei, supervisor of works on the revival of the University Botanical Garden, it is necessary to make the garden a point of attraction not only for students and staff of the University, but also for other residents and guests of the city. Of course, research and academic functions will remain its crucial ones. There are therefore no plans to make it free for the general public, as the Summer Garden. ‘This is not a culture and leisure park. However, we can admit a limited number of visitors on excursions, master classes, and other events,’ she explained. ‘Now we do not have enough public space where those who are interested in plant collections and in tending them could meet. The target audience is very diverse: students and schoolchildren, for whom we would like to cultivate a love of plants; amateur gardeners who want to learn more about agricultural activities; and, of course, professionals. We will need some place to receive them. At present, there are venues for events in any cutting-edge botanical garden.’
To solve this issue, the concept of reconstruction of the Botanical Garden of St Petersburg University provides for the creation of such a venue and a veranda for classes and a site for demonstrating decorative gardening techniques.