Gardens and Recreation: A Day in Füvészkert

Writing about the cherry blossom festival held annually in ELTE’s Botanical Garden (or Füvészkert in Hungarian) is perhaps not particularly timely, as this year’s event was held on the previous two weekends of April but recommending it without the pictures is somewhat of a Catch 22 situation. Sure enough, we do have pictures from previous years, but one of the most exciting parts of the event is to see how the phases of spring vary from year to year. Last time we visited the spring had been unseasonably warm early on, so by the second weekend the cherry trees were already bedecked with tiny green cherries instead of flowers, and the lilac and peonies were in full bloom.

This time around the timing of the cherry blossoms themselves was perfect, but alas, there were no peonies yet- I have to smugly inform all those (not) interested that I correctly identified the bushes though, and they have tiny buds, so for those with a weak spot for peonies next weekend is probably a great time to visit- there, we have reached some sort of timeliness in this recommendation as well.

Generally speaking, the sakura weekends may not be to everyone’s liking, as they are fairly crowded, especially in the late morning to early afternoon hours, which have the most Japan related events happening as well. This results in frequent traffic jams in the palm house, miserable people queuing for various foodstuff, screams of MARCIKA DON’T YOU TOUCH THE CACTUS and blanket wars under the cherry trees -of which there aren’t all that many, a fact which surprises some people, though it shouldn’t, as a botanical garden is wont to have many different plants but in moderate quantities.

While this might sound apocalyptical, the size of the garden does allow for people to ultimately fan out, and generally most visitors are of the well socialized kind- plus one can purchase tiny cute Japanese items one does not need but must have. (Proud owner of small saluting cat at your service.) The ideal time slot for the plant loving misanthrope, however, is probably a weekday- summer opening hours last from April 1st to October 31st, and are 9 AM to 5 PM daily, tickets are 1000 forints for adults, and 600 for children and pensioners. A photo ticket costs 300 forints per person, but there are pricier options for wedding or portfolio photography too- the blog’s industrious co-photographer caused the ire of what looked like a party engaged in a fashion shoot by taking a picture of a young lady dressed like someone who should by no means be close to cacti. She was in the cactus house.

The easiest way to reach the garden by public transportation is taking the blue metro line to Klinikák, then turn left onto Korányi Sándor street or alternatively take trams number 4/6 to Corvin negyed, walk about ten minutes on Üllői avenue in the airport’s direction and then take the left mentioned above onto Korányi street.

Since few things make me happier than dates and numbers, you won’t be spared a quick history of the garden either: its current plot of land was purchased by the university in 1847 from the Festetics family, and received several improvements over the second half of the century, including the palm house and the so-called Victoria house, which hosts the tropical water plants, among them the Amazon water lily and the giant lily. The name of Füvészkert, a Hungarian composite word thought up during the 19th century language revival as a native response to the Latinate botanical garden, was popularized by Ferenc Molnár’s novel The Paul Street Boys, which is partially set in the garden, and is still in wide use today.

The garden shrunk considerably at the beginning of the 20th Century, when some of the land it occupied was needed for the expansion of the faculty’s hospitals- the botanical garden traditionally belonged to the medical school as, when the university was first established in the 17th century, the study of natural sciences was subsumed to medicine. The garden’s structures suffered considerable damage during WWII and only returned to their former glory by the 60s, when the area also became protected by law as a natural reserve. As of 2006, the garden belongs to the university as a special educational unit and houses a large number of plants, including such rarities as a Wollemi pine. Which is not really a pine, but belongs to the Araucariaceae family, is native to Australia and was (re)discovered by David Noble in 1994. Besides the relict population of trees found in the Wollemi national park, the most recent fossils of the genus date back to about 20 million years ago, which thus make it a living a fossil.

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