Carl Linnaeus' Garden

If you are planning a trip to Sweden and are interested in gardens and scientific history, an essential place to visit is Carl Linnaeus' botanical garden in Uppsala.

Uppsala on an autumn day.

Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) is the renowned 17th century Swedish botanical scientist, who developed a new classification of the plant kingdom. Based on grouping plants according to their number and arrangement of sexual parts, it is no longer used, however the hierarchy in which he placed them, (species, genus, order, class, kingdom) still is. His method of naming plants and animals called the binary (two names ie. Homo sapiens) nomenclature, is also still used all over the world. Linnaeus' most important works are Systema Naturae (1735) and Species plantarum (1753).

The Fyrisån river goes through the center of Uppsala.

What has this got to do with a garden? Well when Linnaeus became Professor of Medicine at Uppsala University in 1741, the position came with a house and garden. This garden had previously been one of the foremost botanical gardens in Europe in the 17th century but in 1741 was in a poor state, because of a fire that had swept through Uppsala in 1702. Linnaeus got to work and together with Carl Harleman, (the most distinguished architect in Sweden at the time) transformed the botanical garden into the Baroque French style of the period.

Every part of the garden was well thought out and thousands of plants were cultivated. These comprised trees, shrubs, medicinal plants from all over the world (obtained through his international contacts) as well as practical plants, perennials, annuals. Every known species of Swedish tree was planted along the border of the garden. A characteristic of baroque gardens is the parterre which is an ornamental flower garden whose beds and paths are arranged to form a pattern. Linnaeus' garden has five parterres which group plants into spring, autumn, annual, perennial and southern.

Carl Linnaeus' Garden, Uppsala

Sweden has a very cold climate and to preserve the less hardy plants a beautiful orangery was also built, as well as various greenhouses and hotbeds. Linnaeus emphasised that successful horticulture was built on the knowledge of the natural environment of plants and he was ahead of his time in this idea. As a result he built three ponds for plants from different humid environments.

Happily the garden flourished and students flocked to it, to listen to Linnaeus' inspiring lectures and botanical demonstrations. It was not unknown for him to greet them dressed only in his nightshirt for the morning's nature walk. According to Linnaeus 'nature does not wait for powder and wigs'.

Carl Linnaeus' Garden, Uppsala

The main task of the garden then, was as a teaching aid for medical students. They were to learn to identify medicinal plants at the apothecary's (apothecary is the historical name for a person who prepares and sells 'drugs') but also be able to recognise wild medicinal plants. The latter was particularly useful since apothecaries were few and far between in 18th century Sweden. Examples of medicinal plants in the garden included wormwood (against intestinal worm) and horseradish (good for the digestion).

Linnaeus also cultivated many plants for uses other than medicine, such as plants for the dyeing of yarn such as madder root which produces a good red dye. Or woodruff which you could use to protect your clothes against moths. Several fibre plants were also grown, for example lime which produced bast for making rope.

Carl Linnaeus' Garden, Uppsala

Linnaeus also had to keep up his academic reputation so he also planned and used the garden for his academic research. He did this by designing the garden according to his sexual system. For example, in the large perennial parterre, Class I was placed nearest the ponds and Class XXIV (plants without flowers) was nearest the entrance. And because he lived so close he could observe it day and night all year in close detail. He even went out at night and by lamplight made observations for a dissertation on the sleep of plants. Linnaeus' studies in the garden gave rise to a large number of essays and books.
Carl Linnaeus' Garden with view of his house, Uppsala

There were also foreign animals in the garden. They lived partly in the orangery and partly in a house for animals. A great favourite of Linnaeus was a tame raccoon which entertained children and visitors with its pranks. Other animals in his menagerie were guinea pigs, goldfish, peacocks, parrots and various monkeys as well as Swedish animals like cranes and hedgehogs.

So what's the garden like today? Well all the animals have gone. Only the six monkey huts mounted on tall poles remain of them. The orangery is still there but is now used for festivities and for excellent exhibitions on the garden's history. Uppsala University still runs the garden and reconstructs as closely as possible Linnaeus' garden as he planned it. That is, only species known to have been cultivated in the garden in Linnaeus day, about 1,300 species are allowed. The wild tulip, Corydalis nobilis and yellow anemone are the only plants surviving from the 18th century. The spirit of Linnaeus still lives on.

Uppsala University

Linnaeus's garden is an authentic and very attractive baroque garden, (and his house attached to the garden is also great to visit too, as it's full of his original manuscripts and other personal items). If you do get the chance to visit Uppsala, get one of the expert guides to take you around Linnaeus' garden. A very enjoyable thing to do on a sunny day in Sweden.

The Linnaeus Garden Svartbäcksgatan 27, Uppsala.

Read more about Uppsala here.

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