The Apothecary Garden is a historical part of the Botanical Garden of Moscow State University, which is located on two territories. This is a favorite place of hundreds of thousands of Muscovites and tourists. Discover Moscow tells how the garden is arranged, what the best time to come here is, and what employees add to tea straight from the garden.
There are plants in the Apothecary Garden that are unlikely to be seen in one place anywhere else. After all, to see them you need to go to Japan, America and the Caucasus Mountains at the same time! There is also a corner that pays tribute to the memory of Peter the Great – you can imagine what the garden looked like before. This is a reconstruction of beds with medicinal plants, now 185 species are represented here, from mustard to plantain.
The garden has its own microclimate. Located in the center of Moscow, a few meters from Mira Avenue, it is protected around the perimeter from cold winds and the impact of the metropolis. Even breathing is different here.
The garden is divided into open and closed greenhouse part. A network of branched wooden paths stretched throughout its territory – so that you can get very close to any plant. In winter, the open part of the garden is covered with snow, heat-loving plants are moved to greenhouses, where there is something to see all year round.
Each collection of the Apothecary Garden is an expressive landscape and architectural composition. There is a collection of medicinal plants, an alpine gazebo, and a heather hill, beautifully blooming from April to the end of May. You can find a unique collection of flora from central Russia in the garden.
About a million people visit the garden every year. It has a lot to offer in every season. In December, the annual Tropical Winter Exhibition begins. It is then replaced by the “Rehearsal of Spring”: tulips, hyacinths, lilies of the valley, crocuses, lilacs bloom in greenhouses. In summer and autumn, the garden itself is no less beautiful. You can see blooming buckwheat, a giant American walnut, blooming rhododendrons, and lotus flowers.
The garden is famous for musical events, concerts, theatrical performances, and art and botanical exhibitions that take place all year round.
One of the key plans for the future is to create botanical exhibitions that will be dedicated to the flora of various regions of Russia. Now the garden is already working on an exhibition of the flora of the Caucasus, in the future it will be possible to see the corners of Siberia, Altai, the Far East. “Flora looks like you are far away, but in fact you are in the center of Moscow, in the Central Administrative District, 600 meters from the Garden Ring, 100 meters from Mira Avenue,” they say in the garden.
Aleksey Filin, Candidate of Biological Sciences, curator of plant collections of the “Apothecary Garden” Botanical Garden of Moscow State University
How the collection is arranged
Our garden is a unique place for the city center. From the jungle of concrete, steel and glass, you get in a little paradise. There are several exhibitions here, they are also collection sites. There are plants on display for visitors, and there is a garden collection for scientific purposes.
There can be up to 500 species of different plants in one zone. The task of the wild collection is to show the decorative nature of the wild, so that people can see that not only roses are beautiful. Forest plants are collected in the shady garden. The star of the exhibition is Japanese burdock. In nature, it is found in the Far East, against the backdrop of mountains and volcanoes, where it grows to an enormous size in just a few weeks.
I love the fact that the garden constantly offers something new. If you come in early spring, everything will be covered with carpets of flowering plants. The smell of honey is so strong that you can just sit and inhale the aroma. From March to June, there is always something massively blooming. This is one of the most beautiful times of the year for a garden. Then everything slowly turns green, then becomes a little dull, but the blooming never stops.
Who works here
I studied at the Moscow Pedagogical University and wrote a term paper on the arrangement of an eco-botanical exhibition. I got into the Apothecary Garden, and I liked it here so much that I decided to make a herb garden. I came, got hooked, and loved it. It’s been ten years already. And each day I love it even more.
In the garden, the most important thing is to have good hands. It is important to find an approach to each plant. They must not only be cared for, but also treated like living beings. Each plant has its own needs. Some prefer wetter lands, and some do not tolerate fertilizers.
We have a landscape architect who plans the territory and gives the task of how to fill it. The curators of the collection are scientists who deal with the very idea of the exhibition, the importation of plants. They also manage gardeners.
Each researcher has their own area of responsibility. I curate the outdoor display and the subtropical section.
What the working day is like
I arrive in the morning and go around all my exhibitions. I see what the situation is for my subordinates. I give employees the jobs of what needs to be corrected, redone, and so on. Then I go to the nursery, where I look at plants’ condition, and see what can be planted in the exhibition.
Then the less interesting paper work begins: maintaining databases, planning how the collection can be expanded, improved, and so on. However, no one forbids me to do gardening. So today I’m going to go cut boxwood! This is a pleasant pastime and an important thing to maintain the collection.
Sometimes it is necessary to go on expeditions for plants, write scientific articles and describe the success of our work on the collection. Now expeditions have become much more convenient: you travel by car from place to place and collect a herbarium.
The high season is spring. After all, when the snow melts, everything should look beautiful. Therefore, in winter we start transplanting and cutting plants. And when the “Rehearsal of Spring” exhibition begins, there are lines of people and this does not change up to mid-summer.
The most difficult and the most enjoyable
The hardest part of the job is working with people. Plants are much easier. Maybe because they do not say anything negative. And with people you need to have an individual approach to each person. And the best thing is to add cranberries to tea. Sometimes we try lemons, tangerines, kumquats and guava. This is a sort of indulgence, of course, but it is still nice.
Aleksei Reteyum, Director of the “Apothecary Garden” Botanical Garden of Moscow State University
Who works in the Apothecary Garden
The garden employs specialists – agronomists, researchers, curators, guides – who work with various collections in the open air and in greenhouses, collections of tropical and subtropical plants.
There is a landscape architect who develops the design and determines how the collections should look. There are gardeners looking after all the plants. In total we employ 50 people.
What the working day is like
I don’t have an office – I work in a corner in the library. In general, I try to approach work as informally as possible, because this is a very difficult process. Our garden is a well-known Moscow landmark, a scientific institution, and a center for educational leisure. All this activity requires a lot of time and attention both on my part and on the part of employees.
I am in the garden seven days a week. On working days, we approve salaries, and sign documents related to the turnover of finances, the supply of plants and fertilizers. Lots of bureaucratic logistical work. At weekends, you can do something more creative: brainstorm with employees what to do next, discuss what changes are coming.
One working day is not like another. Often there are meetings in the botanical garden, related to what, where and how to do next. It is important for us to find partners, to constantly develop the collection, to meet with officials, partners, guests in order to develop the relations of the garden. I give tours and lectures.
The most difficult and the most enjoyable
The most enjoyable part of the work is the creative process that accompanies all aspects of garden development. This is the planning of exhibitions, events, exhibitions. And the most difficult thing is overcoming bureaucratic barriers and problems that often complicate the implementation of our ideas and plans. Sometimes it looks like a disaster.
Often, journalists or sightseers ask: what is your favorite plant? Well, how to answer? How can you compare orchids, roses, tulips, lilacs and snowdrops? They are all so different that it is impossible to choose.
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