Private botanical gardens in Russia: Between noble culture
For centuries, Russia was known as an archetypically agricultural country that has lived off arable
that the attitude of Russian landowners towards plants was purely economic; they concentrated on
improvement of industrial crops important for increasing yields. However, as our research shows, for
quite a few noble private individuals interest towards plants did not stop with crop fields; it was in fact
frequently stimulated by motivations somewhat removed from pragmatism. Garden design and plant
collection became no less important for Russian noblemen than farming. Such a passion became an
aesthetic amateur pastime, a ―scientific experimenting‖, and sometimes a sophisticated formula for
relieving the boredom of the Russian provincial life as well. This makes Russia akin to England, with
its tradition of interplay between agriculture and garden design.
Russia gave birth to a peculiar garden-
collection became a part of noble culture. The historical, socio-cultural, and scientific aspects of Russian
private botanical gardens are the focus of the proposed paper.
(2) Early Initiatives: Monastery and Czars Gardens
Russian gardens, which merit experts’ attention on their own, are of interest in the European context as
well for several reasons. First, as other cultural institutions, classical botanical gardens in Russia were
modeled on those in countries like England, France and Germany. Secondly, they accommodated good
many European botanists, who came to Russia for high professional status and financial prosperity.
Finally, Russian botanical gardens, which possessed a number of unique plants, freely exchanged their
collections with Kew, Paris, Versailles, Vienna, Berlin, etc.
A few words should be said about the history of Russian gardens per se.
For centuries, Russia formed its own culture of garden design, which borrowed from Orthodox
Church tradition. The origin of gardens in Russia dates back to Kiev Russia in the 11–12th centuries,
when Byzantine monks created first gardens in Kiev under the monasteries’ aegis. Inevitable centrepiece
of such a garden would have been an apple tree and other fruit trees, cultivated both for utilitarian and
aesthetic purposes. In the middle ages, monastery gardens appeared in all Russian principalities —
from Kiev to Novgorod and Moscow.
According to Russian horticulturalist and historian of gardens
After the monastery gardens there appeared at first Czarist, and also, of course, boyar
gardens, which were as closely modeled on the monastery ones as possible, and in the
end the locals followed suit, which resulted in the whole of Moscow being adorned with
Institute of the History of Science and Technology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow; email:
See: Headfield, M. Pioneers in Gardening. London, 1955.
For more details on the medieval gardens in Russia, see: Cherny, V.D. ―Typology and Evolution of
Russian Medieval Garden‖ (In Russian). Russian Estate, 2002. 8 (24), pp. 27–40; Vergunov, A. P., Gorokhov,
V.A. Russian Gardens and Parks (In Russian). Moscow, 1988.
Regel, A.E. Decorative Horticulture and Designed Gardens (In Russian). S.–Petersburg, 1896, p. 15.
Thus, the Czarist gardens appeared in the 15–16th centuries; they were closely modeled on the
the second half of the 17th century, first attempts were made to examine European examples of garden
(3) Peter I: Reforms of garden design
However, it was his son Peter (Peter I, nicknamed ―the Great‖, ruled in 1689–1725), who changed the
tradition drastically. In the context of Peter’s reforms the idea of a garden acquired cultural and political
resonance. Peter understood perfectly that the garden was primarily and foremost a place of enlighten-
ment and education. Under Peter’s instructions, gardens and parks were designed to accelerate the
process of ―Europeanization‖ of the country, along with academies, universities and art galleries. The
garden, now full of sculptures, fountains, green labyrinths, and specially designed plants, told the
Russians about European symbolism and mythology, which enabled them to converse with foreigners
on a common cultural ground. The semantics of gardens were of primary importance in Peter’s garden
The idea of a botanical collection was also implemented into the Russian garden during Peter’s
He got involved in every detail of collecting, and gave highly qualified instructions about places to
visit and specimens to bring.
In 1710s, he invited a number of landscape designers, gardeners and
garden and Gatchina garden. Starting the construction, Peter visited the finest park ensembles of
France (including Versailles), where he examined the details of High Baroque, or French formal style
of garden design, and made his own sketches.
Under Peter’s supervision, new Medical Gardens were set up in the beginning of the 18th century
University Botanical Garden, and Imperial St. Petersburg Botanical Garden (today known as Komarov
In the meantime, due to Peter’s expansionist policy Russia became an empire. The exploration of
new territories had major consequences on the collection work undertaken in Moscow and Petersburg,
and its expansion into the provinces (Voronezh, Tobolsk, and other places where Medical Gardens
appeared). In a way, setting up these gardens reflected the setup of the empire — collecting plants
from remote regions symbolized the unification of the empire.
Thanks to Peter, the construction of gardens became a ―fashion‖ among the court elite. All of
Oranienbaum set up in 1723 by count Menshikov, where oranges were cultivated for the first time in
Russia (which gave Oranienbaum its name).
The second half of the 18
century — the period associated with Catherine II (nicknamed ―the Great‖,
position as one of the leading countries in the garden arrangement. According to reports from the
Historic Garden Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS),
For more detailed discussion, see: Likhachev, D. S. The Poetry of Gardens. On the Semantics of Gardens’
See: Letters and Papers of Peter the Great (In Russian). S.-Petersburg, Moscow–Leningrad. 1900, 1975, 1977.
Dubyago, T. B. Russian Gardens and Parks of Formal Style (In Russian). Leningrad, 1963.
For more details, see: Elina, O. Yu. ―From the Czar’s Gardens to the Experiment Station: Agronomy
2005. Vol. 1–2.
Kocharyants, D. A., Raskin A. G. Gardens and Parks of the Palaces Ensembles of S.-Petersburg and its
in the 18th century 65 gardens were created in Russia (for comparison, 71 were set up in England, 66 —
Reflecting the growing power of the empire, and rapid expansion into the newly colonized territories,
a number of scientific expeditions were undertaken, including the round-the-world ones; they
delivered plants and seeds to Czarist and Medical gardens in Moscow and St. Petersburg. At that time,
Russian gardens turned into unique spaces, which presented specimens from all over the world.
Another reform of Catherine’s rule was the land reform, which resulted in the formation of estate
gentry as a separate class. Estates quickly acquired a representative significance. The flourishing agri-
cultural trade with Western Europe in combination with serf labor brought large profits for estate
(landed) gentry, enabling them to spend enormous funds on luxury items, plants being amongst them.
Botanical collection became part of a noble culture for the Russian estate aristocracy. It served as an
amusement, an amateur scientific pastime, as a formula for enlightenment, and sometimes as a sophis-
ticated means of relieving the boredom.
A few words should be said about the Empress herself, who like Peter, became a supreme patron
expeditions of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences as well as from the best collections of
England, France and Italy. Moreover, in 1794 the first exchange took place: 220 specimens from
Russia (predominantly Siberian species) were sent to Kew garden after an agreement had been achieved
in private correspondence between Catherine and Sir Joseph Banks.
characteristics of science in Russia since the 18th century. This paper argues that at least in botanical
collection amateur initiatives played an important role as well.
In the context of garden development, the second half of the 18th century in Russia was renowned
for the appearance of private botanical gardens.
(5) “Exotic passion” of Prokopy Demidov: Neskuchny Botanical Garden
Neskuchny, probably the first private botanical garden in Russia, belonged to the prominent aristocrat
of Catherine’s era Prokopy Demidov (1729–1786). The Demidovs were a family of wealthy industrialists
and art patrons, who became noblemen under Peter I. In 1756 Prokopy Demidov, who was famous for
his ―eccentricity‖ and ―exotic passions‖, started the construction of the French formal garden in the
most beautiful place on Moskva River.
There is no accurate data concerning scientific staff and management of Neskuchny garden. No
gardeners were working in Neskuchny, but no names. Demidov also mentioned the places from which
he was getting specimens, botanical gardens in Vienna and Paris among them.
Academician of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences Peter-Simon Pallas. Second scientist
was an Adjunct of Botany in the Academy George Steller (member of famous Vitas Bering Kamchatka
expedition). Pallas, who first met Demidov sometime around 1770, probably delivered some specimens
to Neskuchny from the Academy’s expeditions to the central regions of Russia, Volga, and Southern
For the details of the ICOMOS data, see: Mikulina, E. M. The History of Garden Design. Doctoral theses.
For the details, see: Elina, ―From the Czar’s Gardens…‖, pp. 18–21.
See: Catherine II. Assays and Memoirs (In Russian). Moscow, 1990. P. 167; Carter, H. B. ―Sir Joseph
Banks and the plants collection from Kew sent to the Empress Catherine II of Russian, 1795‖. Bull. Brit. Mus.
Nat. History. 1974. Vol. 4, № 5.
On Demidov family, see: Golovshchikov, K. D. The Demidovs Noble Family (In Russian). Yaroslavl’,
For the details, see: Family Line of the Demidovs, and Correspondence of Prokopy Demidov (In Russian).
Siberia in 1768–1774.
And, Demidov, in his turn, handed over to Pallas seeds from Neskuchny and some
herbaria sheets for Pallas’ famous herbarium (according to some sources, Pallas was keeping his
herbarium in Neskuchny). When speaking about Neskuchny in 1781, Pallas asserted, ―This garden not
only has no equal in Russia, but is also comparable to many famous botanical gardens in other
countries in terms of rarity of the plants‖.
In the same year, Pallas published ―A catalogue for plants
garden collection included 4363 species. The herbarium of Neskuchny possessed around 4500 species
from Europe, Asia, North and South Americas. It was granted to the Moscow University after Demidov’s
death and was partly destroyed during Moscow fire in 1812.
Neskuchny was not Demidov’s only experiment in constructing a botanical garden. In 1740s, a
stayed in Solikamsk on his way back from the Kamchatka expedition, used this garden to plant the
dying collection of Kamchatka and Aleut islands species (about 80), which he was carrying for the
Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Steller’s specimens formed the base of the collection. It
is known that Carl Linne, who was interested in Siberia flora, received seeds sent from Solikamsk by
Demidov’s brother Nikita, also an amateur botanist, one of Voltaire’s correspondents from Russia.
The academician Ivan Lepekhin, who visited Solikamsk garden in 1771, counted 422 species there,
including the palm Caryota urens and other exotic plants.
Following the death of its owner in 1786, Neskuchny garden gradually began to decline. Some
University); the Pallas herbarium was transferred to Gorenki — another private botanical garden to be
(6) Gorenki: Garden of new design and scientific enterprise
Gorenki was the most famous private botanical garden that had ever existed in Russia. Enormous
Gorenki estate of around 730 hectares belonged to the prominent family line of Razumovsky counts.
the break of the 19th century. He invited architects and garden designers to built the palace and set up
a decorative park laid out in the English landscape style. Furthermore, 42 hothouses were constructed
— the main one, the Palm Glasshouse, was 12m high. In 1809, the only Russian vanilla tree bloomed
in Gorenki Glasshouse. The palace housed an extensive botanical library, collection of seeds, and
large herbarium. The construction of Gorenki cost Razumovsky more than one million rubles (an
enormous sum of money in those days).
―Inside the great Gorenki palace, among czarist luxury, he
account, ―you would be simply astonished that a private individual could have amassed such a treasure
Zelenetsky, N. M. ―Pallas, his Life, Scientific Activity, and Role in the Research of Russian Flora‖ (In
Cited from: Aleksandrov, L. P., Nekrasova V. L. Neskuchny Garden and its Plants (In Russian). Moscow,
See: Golovkin, B. N. The History of Introduction of Plants in the Botanical Gardens (In Russian).
See: Ibid.; Yurkin, The Demidovs — Scientists, Engineers, Organizers…
On Razumovsky, see: Vasil’chikov, A.
A. Razumovskie Family Line (In Russian). In 3 Vols. Vol. 2. St.
On the history of Gorenki Garden, see, for example: Nekrasova, V. L. ―Gorenki Botanical Garden (to the
Vol. 3, pp. 330–350; ―The Description of Botanical Garden of Count Razumovsky in Gorenki near Moscow‖ (In
Russian). Journal of Horticulture. 1859. Vol. VIII, pp. 123–133; Bondarenko, I. Gorenki (In Russian). Starye
Gody.1911. № 12, pp. 69–70.
Virel’, F. F. Memoirs of F. Vigel’(In Russian). Moscow, 1892. Vol. 3, p. 83.
trove of Nature from all the countries of the world in such a short period of time‖.
count was merely a ―private patron‖, who hired botanists to collect plants and seeds for Gorenki.
Friedrich Christian Stephan, another German, the professor of Medical School in Moscow and
director of its Medical Garden, was officially in charge of Gorenki in 1798–1803. Over this period, he
had formed the basis of the collection. In Gorenki Stephan also conducted the research in taxonomy, in
particular, he described the new genus Biebersteinia.
In 1804, the position of director was taken over by a young Russian graduate of Koenigsberg and
Leipzig universities Ivan Redovsky. Redovsky had established contacts with European botanical
gardens, which enabled him to expand the Gorenki collection significantly. The first catalogue, which
included 2846 species, appeared in 1803 under his name. In 1805, Redovsky received the position of
the Adjunct of Botany in the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Next year he was sent to
the Russian embassy in China as a ―naturalist‖. Redovsky never actually made it to China, and instead
spent two years traveling in Siberia, engaged in collecting of plants and herbs. Throughout his long
journey, he sent specimens to Gorenki.
After Redovsky’s death in 1809 the Gorenki garden was headed by Eriedrich-Ernst-Ludwig von
Tausher, Helm, and others delivered specimens to Gorenki. Under Fisher’s supervision, special expeditions
were launched, equipped by Razumovsky for plant hunting. For example, botanist Helm traveled over
Orenburg steppes, the Ural Mountains, and Dauria gathering plants and seeds for Gorenki. The garden
also acquired material brought by Russian travelers from Himalaya, Japan, Brazil and Alaska. Likewise,
via Langsdorf, Razumovsky came into possession of seeds gathered during the round-the-world
expedition of Ivan Krusenstern. According to data from the 1812 catalogue, Gorenki collection contained
8036 species. The collection of Siberian and Far Eastern plants was regarded as one of the best in the
world. Scientific research with the Gorenki collection also reached its peak under Fisher. Fisher, who
himself was interested primarily in Siberian plants, described a number of species together with
taxonomist Mayer. Many botanists from the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, Moscow and
St. Petersburg Universities, visited Gorenki to conduct research in plant taxonomy and morphology.
In 1809 Razumovsky and his associates founded the first botanical society in Russia — La Societe
as well as leading botanists of the time: florist G. F. Hoffmann, professor of Botany in Erlangen,
Gettingen and Moscow, author of ―Flora Germanica‖; student of Carl Linne, Swedish botanist Karl
Thunberg; President of Carolina-Leopoldina Johann Christian Schreber; director of Berlin Botanical
Garden Karl-Ludwig Vildenov; Alexander von Humboldt, and many others. The Society composed a
Charter according to which one of the aims was to ―extend the usefulness of the activities of the
Gorenki botanists… and distribute them by means of establishing very close links with botanists from
all around the world‖.
The members of the society also decided that a magazine should be published.
all the papers ready for print were published in the ―Works of MOIP‖.
The Gorenki garden existed only until the mid 1820s. After the death of Razumovsky in 1822, the
collection was no longer kept in proper condition. Thanks to Fisher, who at that time became a
Director of the Imperial St. Petersburg Botanical Garden, the most valuable plants, herbarium and the
library were transferred to Petersburg; several plants ended up in Moscow University Garden. The re-
mainder was sold to private individuals, primarily Moscow region landowners. However, one can detect
a moment of ―revenge‖ in this tragic outcome: in 1811, as the Minister for People’s Enlightenment,
Razumovsky issued a decree to sell of the Academy of Sciences’ Botanical Garden — in the light of
its ―excessive expenses‖ and ―failure to acquire any particular use.‖ The reason for Razumovsky’s
Svin’in, P. Home Objects of Note, Published by Pavel Svin’in (In Russian). Moscow, 1823. Vol. 3, p. 129.
Stephan, F. ―Description de deux noveaux genues des plantes‖. Mem. Soc. Nat. Moscou. 1806.
See: Nekrasova, ―Gorenki Botanical Garden…‖
Ibid., p. 344.
decision may have been his own garden: having invested colossal sums into his passion, Razumovsky
Ol’gino, probably the last private botanical collection in Russia, stood out from the rest. It was created
by professional botanists, who were at the same time patrons, managers, and collectors. Petersburg
botanist Olga Fedchenko together with her son, also a botanist, created the Ol’gino garden in 1895 in
their family estate near Moscow. Fedchenko was the second female member-correspondent of the
Academy of Sciences in the country. A private garden gave an opportunity to extend her research.
Fedchenko herself brought plants and seeds from numerous expeditions to Caucasus, Crimea, South
Urals, Turkestan, West Tien Shan, and Pamirs. She also exchanged plants with a number of botanists
and botanical gardens, including Vienna, Berlin, Geneva, Paris, and Kew. She wrote the classical
treatises ―Conspectus florae Turkestanicae‖, ―Flora Pamirica‖, and others, and was the best specialists
in Turkestan flora in the world. Many specimens, planted in Olgino, served for Fedchenko’s taxonomic
research, in particularly, of genuses Eremurus and Iris. Eremurus olgae Rgl. and more than 40 other
species were named after Olga Fedchenko. This garden was destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1921, and
Fedchenko’s collection died.
The full list of private botanical gardens is presented in the chart.
1740s – 1760s
Rich in Siberian
1756 – 1790s
– – –
1790s – 1805
Count F. Pototsky
– – – – – –
1796 – 1820s
F. C. Steven,
Apr. 9000 sp. Rich
in Siberian species
1820s – 1860s
Second half of
the 19th century
Rich in Asian and
Second half of
the 19th century
1896 – 1921
Rich in Turkestan
See: Bobrov, E. G. ―Garden in Gorenki and the Last Years of the Academy of Sciences’ Botanical Garden‖
(In Russian). From Medical Garden to Botanical Institute. Moscow–Leningrad, 1957, pp. 25–31.
For the details on Ol’gino garden, see: Val’kova, O. A. Olga Aleksandrovna Fedchenko. Moscow, 2006.
Now it is possible to outline some common characteristics, as well as differences between the above-
mentioned gardens. Private gardens in Russia were set up in the estates of Russian gentry, in line with
the noble cultural tradition, which united amateur and professional approaches. If early gardens
existed thanks to amateur patrons, who invested in their own scientific passion and hired professionals
to collect plants and conduct research, the later gardens became self-patronizing institutions, where
scientists themselves were both patrons and clients. The management of some private gardens was
quite successful, and teams of collectors and researchers were professional enough to create famous
botanical institutions, which competed with the state ones. Constant exchange of samples — and
scientists — with European botanical centers took place. This enabled a number of Russian botanists,
both local and foreign by birth, to improve their socio-economic status. This allowed them to create
unique collections, which later became valuable part of the Russian state botanical resources.