Botanic Gardens, Gardens, Landscape History

Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden: Helsinki

June 25, 2014


I have just returned from a trip to Finland and Estonia. While traveling I received notification that Landscape Notes was awarded the prestigious 2014 Silver Media Award of Achievement from the Garden Writers Association for best overall site. While both thrilled and humbled to be recognized for my work, I am also challenged by one of the judges’ comments to consider ways to make my articles easier to skim and expand my use of social media. Can videos be far behind?

While I do tend to get lost in reading about the places I explore, limitations do occur when the places that intrigue me are not well documented or, even more frustrating when I arrive, camera in hand, find that there is a truck erecting an event tent in the main forecourt, thunder clouds threaten or as in the case of the Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden in Helsinki, the site I wish to photograph is under construction and/or restoration as the garden staff cheerfully informs in the sign below.


Botanic Gardens in historic cities are a particular interest of mine and, timing aside, Helsinki’s Botanic Garden, located in the city’s core just minutes from the Central Rail Station, provided an excellent example of how a Botanic Garden can be integrated into a dense urban neighborhood.

Many of the earliest Botanic Gardens were similarly sited in Italian cities and dedicated solely to the academic study of medicinal plants.  Developed by Universities in Pisa (1543), Padua (1545), Florence (1545) and Bologna (1547) these “Physic” gardens provided the prototype for similar endeavors throughout central Europe, most often in academic settings (such as Oxford in 1621), until the age of exploration and international trade shifted their focus to newly discovered plant species, public entertainment and education.


Plan of Turku Botanic Garden

Associated with the University of Finland, the Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden is considered the country’s oldest scientific garden. It was founded in 1678 in Turku by Peter Kalm (1716-1779), a naturalist, botanist and agricultural economist. A student of Carl Linnaeus, Kalm traveled widely throughout North America where he befriended both Benjamin Franklin and John Bartram. Linnaeus named the native american species Kalmia (laurel) in his honor. The map above, of the Botanic Garden at Turku, is attributed to Kalm’s tenure.

Following a devastating fire the garden was relocated to Helsinki in 1829 and sited within a municipal park designed by architect Carl Ludvig Engel as a “walking area for the denizens of Helsinki.” Engel’s park design included formal tree-lined promenades and a landscaped garden with a winding path system in the English romantic style.

1881 Unknown artist swan lake in K park

Kaisaniemi Park

Similar design elements are visible in the Botanic Garden’s plan which has two distinct areas including formal gardens and an arboretum. According to sources, the plan was designed by Franz Faldermann, head gardener at the Saint Petersburg Botanic garden.

In the 1837 map below, by C.W. Glyden, the decade-old Botanic Garden is located in the upper right hand corner of the Kaisaniemi Park with its formal and informal path systems clearly visible.


The 1837 map can be compared to the plan below of the garden today.  Consistent with the original plan, the formal design elements are contrasted with the informal path system of the arboretum. Principal structures remain sited along a main axis with a forecourt and visitor services provided at the entrance to the glasshouses directly accessible from a tree-lined avenue.


The first glasshouse was erected in the garden in 1832. A series of structures followed with the beautiful, existing wrought iron buildings  designed by architect Gustaf Nystrom from 1889 to 1896.  Damaged during the Continuation War (1941-1944) they were rebuilt in the 1950’s and restored from 1996-1998.


A central feature of the gardens, the ten interconnected glasshouses are open year round and contain 800 species of plants originating  within the same longitude as Finland. A cross-section of environments is represented including the Mediterranean forest, African savannah and desert, South African rain forest and species representative of Australia.

Although I visited in June, when the light is at its longest arc, I imagined how wonderful these glasshouses would be to visit during a dark and snowy winter afternoon. To read more about the glasshouses and their salubrious effects during the winter months visit:


A goal of the original garden was to support a collection of all of the species in Finland as well as those that would thrive within its climatic conditions.  Today, the garden is divided into a series of outdoor spaces that include the french formal garden (under restoration), designed in the 1830’s “to reveal the secrets of the classification system of flowering plants” and compliment the glasshouses.

To see a plan of the garden detailing the location of individual plant species visit:


The reflecting pool contains this bronze sculpture of a pair of rather daunting eagles. I have been unable to locate information about the artist or divine their significance and date of installation.


In 1884, a rock garden with plants from torrid environments, the first of its kind in Finland, was established.


A more recent addition is a sensory garden designed to stimulate vision, smell and touch. Rare and fragile species that barely survive the harsh climatic conditions in Finland are planted close by.





The arboretum surrounding the garden offers a contrast to the urban environment in which the garden is sited providing cooling shade from the long summer days and a habitat for diverse species. When I visited the rhododendrons and azaleas were in bloom.




Affiliated with the Finnish Museum of Natural History Helsinki’s Botanic Garden maintains 2,800 species of plants for use in research as well as education.  The outdoor garden is just over four hectares in size (approximately ten acres) and is one of Helsinki’s most popular visitor attractions.  Open year round the grounds are accessible free of charge.  There is a modest admission fee to the glasshouses which also host exhibits.


The garden has a small seasonal cafe.  It also has a series of educational facilities including a herbarium used for research and accessible by arrangement.



As I mentioned earlier the garden is being restored and much of it was under construction and/or restoration. I was unsuccessful in obtaining information about the plans for the project although I did learn that the work is being undertaken by landscape architect, Gretel Hemgard, designer of the Botanic Garden in Kumpula.


And finally a word about the word LUOMUS.  You may have noticed that it is prominently featured on the sign informing visitors that the garden is under construction.

Its literal translation (according to Google) is creation and it is the name through which the Finnish Museum of Natural History, Kaisaniemi and Kumpula Botanic Gardens are identified as interconnected research and educational institutions through the University of Finland.  The Natural History Museum is also conveniently located in the city, within walking distance of the garden.



Copyright © 2014 Patrice Todisco  — All Rights Reserved 






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No Comments

  • Reply Gallivanta June 27, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Congratulations on your award! But why do we need to skim your posts?????

    • Reply Patrice Todisco June 28, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      Thanks! When writing a blog there is a delicate balance between text and images. Sometimes I get a bit carried away as I research a piece. Less is (or can be) more!

  • Reply Maunu Häyrynen October 5, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Thanks for an interesting blog. The reason you may have had trouble in locating info on “Luomus” might be that it seems to be available mostly in Finnish. At least you can get an idea about Gretel HemgÃ¥rd’s new design, based on the concept of evolutionary tree.

    • Reply Patrice Todisco October 6, 2014 at 6:48 pm

      Thank you for sending me the link containing the plan with the new layout of the gardens. I was unable to connect with the director on my visit and had limited success locating the plan. Keep me posted as construction evolves.

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