A Padovan Botanical Experience

Botanical gardens are an interesting dimension of landscape design. These ecological patches in an urban area are intrinsically multi-purpose. They can be places that produce positive emotive reactions from us humans, simply by their tranquil and balanced nature. Equally, botanical gardens can provide deeper understanding of disciplines like botany and chemistry, or inspire learning centered around them.

On a trip to Padova (also referred to as Padua), Italy this past September, the highlight was the visit to the University of Padova's Orto Botanico. Founded in 1545 by Benedictine monks, it is the oldest existing university botanical garden in the world and widely regarded for its preservation of rare plant species, both inside and outside of Europe. The garden’s central design – circular plots that convey the sphericity of earth – plays out like a maze, guiding and directing the user to various features of plants, sculptures, water elements, vertical green walls, an herbarium and a massive library, containing thousands of historical volumes and manuscripts. I was drawn to this feature, and in particular, the medicinal and pharmaceutical characteristics housed in Orto Botanico including the arrangement of its potted herbs and cacti.

Taking inspiration from ecological & cultural properties like Orto Botanico, and infusing that into individual, residential or public landscape design, a designer or gardener is able to go beyond choosing certain flowers and herbs for a garden solely for their aesthetics. There’s an opportunity as well to tap into a plant's whole value, at nearly each stage of its life cycle.

It is more and more fascinating when selecting certain species of flowers and herbs, to become acquainted with a wider range of their benefits, including their aromas, their visual appeal, their psychological effects and complex properties that create and nurture health, beauty and wellness. Mimicking a botanical garden may be a holistic approach to designing landscapes since it welcomes new ecologies. Importantly, the give-and-take components that arise from this strategy allow the user to interact again with nature in a complete way.