Jardim Botanico in Rio de Janeiro is a botanical garden in the south zone of urban Rio de Janeiro that was formed over 200 years ago in 1808 and opened to the public in 1822. The garden spreads over 50 hectares and originally intended for the cultivation of imported spices, it now contains over 6000 species of indigenous and foreign plants and trees which includes over 900 varieties of palm trees. The famed 750 metre long avenue of royal palms leading from the entrance to the gardens is simply impressive. The formally cultivated garden is less than 50% of the parkland, with the rest of the land taken up by forest land, all of which lies within the heart of urban Rio and was designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1992.
Flora and fauna
The garden includes cacti, orchids, bromeliads, spices and herbs and other rare Brazilian plants, whilst the park itself is home to about 140 bird species such as the toucan, guan and the endangered white-necked hawk, as well as to capuchin monkeys and marmosets. My first visit to the garden was so memorable that, every time I visit Rio de Janeiro, I always end up making my way to the Jardim Botanico for a bit of rejuvenation and tranquillity. It seems to be many miles away from the urban world of tall buildings and traffic jams that are sometimes found in Rio. The fact that it is open every day of the week means that this type of tranquillity is accessible all the time.
A walk down the avenue of royal palms seen in the photograph above is impressive, yet intimate. The garden is a place where it seems like a lot of effort has been made to ensure that the buildings that are dotted around the garden – the Orchidarium, Research centre, and others – carefully fit in with the cultivated landscape yet manage to give off the feeling of a garden that has evolved organically. There are very few formally ordered aspects, apart from the avenue of royal palms that is set out in a straight line. Most of the paved pathways that wind their way amongst the trees, forest undergrowth, and the few roads that link the different buildings are simple and make shorter connections between the buildings.
Water elements also flow in a seemingly natural way across the garden although it is obvious that this have been carefully channelled around the space. The palms, bamboo trees and other trees blend in with each other and with the water course-ways; accentuating the relaxing experience in the garden, and people on average spend more than 2 hours strolling and exploring the various collections of orchids, herbs and plants.
The architecture within the garden
The few buildings within the garden are simple tropical buildings with conical or pitched roofs which sit unpretentiously within the garden or blend in almost unnoticeably. The Orchidarium houses a lovely collection of over 300 Brazilian and exotic orchids which delight with the bursts of purples, delicate and bright pinks as well as the rich green colours of foliage and demonstrates how the architectural language of the building does not need to overwhelm nature; but fits in with it.
I find the indoor and outdoor gardens tranquil and uplifting at the same time, and I often spend up to an hour and a half there, oblivious of the urban traffic that lies just outside the garden’s main gate.
Of all the displays and the natural setting of the rare plants, trees and palms, my favourite part of the experience is how the water course-ways wind through the garden and the forest-like effect of the garden itself. The orchids and bromeliads are also impressive with their colours and huge size.
Bringing greenery into cities
Surely, there is a way of bringing a little bit of nature into every neighbourhood, housing development and even to tiny balconies of urban flats. The contrasting shades of greens inside the glasshouse with its small water pathway in the middle of the greenery as seen in the picture below is a refreshing sight and can be replicated in a moderately sized garden/terrace in any town/city. Architects, landscape designers, planners and property developers need to strive to provide access to nature and open areas as much as possible as these contribute to our sense of wellbeing in as much as they provide an environmental benefit by absorbing CO2 gas. They also serve as a place for children to run around and enjoy themselves. Town planners as ‘custodians’ of planning laws and guidelines have a key role to play in ensuring that we do not allow commercial requirements to subsume the need for access to natural landscapes, parks and open spaces. Even the least exotic garden or open space can provide some of the advantages outlined above and their absence affect us all.