It is grey in Helsinki; +3 celsius degrees and humid weather. Last Sunday to cheer us up we decided to visit the University of Helsinki Botanical Garden, a place with tropical atmosphere. The garden outdoors looks rather sad now, but the white palm house built in 1889 and designed by Gustav Nyström stands out like a meringue cake and invites you in.
This is one of the places in Helsinki where it seems like traveling back in time, where things don’t change. The oldest plants date back to the late 1700s, to the time when the only university in Finland was still in Turku. The Botanical Garden has its roots in the Imperial Academy of Turku Botanical Garden, which was established in 1678. The garden moved to Helsinki in 1828 together with the whole university after the Great Fire of Turku a year before.
The glasshouses’ biggest attraction is the Victoria cruziana (Santa Cruz water lily), that also my three year old wanted to see as it appears in a great children’s book called Hooray for Helsinki! The water lily is the only plant together with one single cypress that survived the bombings of World War II when the greenhouse was destroyed during the winter and over 1,500 taxons died due to freezing temperatures. Seeds of the lily survived at the bottom of the water-lily pool. The lily pad can grow to have a diameter of over two meters, and it can carry the weight of an adult human. Unfortunately it is an annual plant that withers before Christmas and the new seedling is planted around March in the bottom soil of the pond. So now we have a great excuse to return to the botanical garden towards the end of the summer!