Mon 16 Apr 2012
Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra
(Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Coimbra or simply Jardim Botânico)
Picasa Photo Gallery click on picture below
|Coimbra Visit, April 26 2012|
The tour started at 11.00am with Filipe, our knowledgeable guide – his speciality turned out to be the study of tree rings …. dendochronology, which would be a fascinating talk all by itself !
Some of the group had visited the garden before, but perhaps not with an English speaking guide and entrance to all areas, otherwise closed to the public (greenhouses, bamboo grove and woodland, among others). Recently the maintenance of the garden has improved significantly.
Thanks to a European Economic Area Grant funded by Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, a Historic Garden Project was finalized in 2010 re-establishing ancient hydraulic and water-management systems. Water mines, ponds, fountains, tanks and the Sao Bento Chapel were cleaned and restored (See “Water in Portuguese Gardens” by Cristina Castelo-Branco, www.scribe.pt ) This means that the Botanic Garden is now self-sufficient for all it’s water needs and has saved approximately €25,000 per annum in water bills as a result.
We learned about the garden’s history and the theme of our guided tour was “Discovering the World of Plants”. The garden was created in 1772 as part of the academic reform undertaken by the Marquis of Pombal. The current area of the garden is now 13ha. As a whole, the Garden is divided into two parts: the woods and the gardens which are arranged in three terraces forming an amphitheatre. There are in excess of 1,200 species, some of which rare and exotic, and which afford the visitors a true journey through the world flora.
Our guide, Filipe, explained that the four areas of activity for all botanic gardens are Education, Conservation, Investigation and Leisure. At Coimbra they have a very active seed collection and distribution service for the many mature exotic species in the garden. The seed of the date palm (Jubea chilensis) are very much in demand as this is now extinct in the wild and the specimen here is reckoned to be 150 years old and provides excellent genetic material for adding to the stock in cultivation.
He also explained that the garden has lost some old specimens of rare palms due to the red palm weevil and control of this pest is proving very difficult for major palm collections. We were invited to collect leaves from the ground and, after crushing, these released a wonderful citrus smell – Eucalyptus citriodora was the magnificent tree which produced these leaves.
Our tour included the spectacular bamboo forest, the cold shade house and the huge glasshouse which is divided into various controlled zones for tropical and sub tropical plantings. The orchids were looking particularly good for our visit, but, unfortunately, we did not see the Vanilla orchid in flower. Filipe took us through the carnivorous plants and the various strategies they have for capturing a meal, everything from small insects to rodents !
Marion had arranged for us to take our picnic lunches in the splendid Sala dos Azulejos at the Main Seminary in Coimbra and many were also able to park there. There was a short tour of the buildings and we then visited the Casa Museu Bissaya Barreto and Garden which was very handily situated just across the road from the Botanic Garden.
This museum used to be the home of its founder (1866-1974) who was a distinguished surgeon, lecturer at Coimbra University and founder of various social services in the centre of the country. Prof. Dr. Bissaya Barreto was one of the pioneers of specialist medicine in Portugal.
All furniture, chinaware, paintings, tapestry, silver, books etc. were works of art collected by Bissaya Barreto. There are 18th century tiles, statues and a gem of a small greenhouse in the garden. The house retains a homely atmosphere and some of us agreed we could move in any time and enjoy the wonderful selection of art works, many of them from the Orient.
The day had been organised by Marion ter Horst and a splendid job she made of it too. Thank You Marion, it was well worth the journey up from the Algarve to take part and meet everyone again. Following the very dry winter we have had in the south of Portugal, it was a sheer delight to see fresh spring foliage and enjoy the damp and humid atmosphere, perfect !