The botanical garden of Padova (Orto Botanico di Padova) is one of the most extensive, beautiful, and historic gardens in the world. Originally founded in 1545 for university students to cultivate medicinal plants, the current garden is a UNESCO Heritage Site with around 7000 plants and 3500 species. The garden is described as 'the origin of all the botanical gardens in the world, a cradle of science and scientific exchange, serving as the basis for the understanding of the relationship between nature and culture.'
The garden has been a site of scientific inspiration and innovation for many centuries. Certain plants, such as potato, sesame, lilac, and sunflower, were first introduced to Italy and Europe via the garden. Medicinal plants, which contributed to developments in medicine, chemistry, and ethnopharmacology, have been grown in the garden for five centuries. Today visitors can follow exhibition trails showcasing thousands of plant specimens; attend educational hands-on workshops; and visit the new (2014) Garden of Biodiversity, a 3.7-acre eco-sustainable garden.
There are a number of exhibits to visit in the Old Garden, which is organised into themed collections presented in geometric shapes divided by walking paths. These plants include medicinal, poisonous, rare and endangered, aromatic, alpine rockery, pools of aquatic plants, and plants introduced into Europe by the garden. These collections are exhibited alongside historical trees, including: Oriental Plane (1680); Ginkgo Biloba (1750); Southern Magnolia (1786); Himalayan Cedar (1828); and Goethe's Palm (1585), which is said to have inspired Goethe to write the theories on nature in Metamorphosis of Plants.
Source of an anti-malarial drug in the Medicinal Plants garden
The Garden of Biodiversity is located in a solar active building which is connected to the Old Garden via a walking path. The greenhouse is divided into 5 zones: tropical, sub-humid tropical, temperate, Mediterranean, and arid. Here visitors can also find educational workshops and sensory experiences for visitors with visual impairments.
A piece titled 'Radici al ventro, testa nella terra' (Roots to the wind, Head in the ground) by Michele de Lucchi in remembrance of Storm Vaia is on display in the garden until January 2020. Storm Vaia damaged around 40,000 hectares of forest in the Eastern Alps in October 2018. The piece is constructed of wood from trees damaged in the storm. The artistic vision hopes to convey to visitors that 'every tree means life and hope for the future.'
Clearly, the best time to visit the garden is in spring, summer, or early autumn when the weather is optimal and the garden is open every day until late in the evening. The garden is large - on my visit we spent over an hour just viewing the medicinal plants - so if you're short on time a guided tour (for only 5 euros per individual) is a good way to maximize the experience. Note that the tours are only available in Italian for the moment.