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About Botanic Gardens in General
The history of the establishment of botanic gardens in Hungary dates back to the past century. During journeys taken around Western Europe, members of wealthy noble families had the opportunity to see wonderful parks there, as well as rhododendrons, a Western European novelty of the time. They began to surround their castles with English- or French baroque-style endemic parks. When the intention of decoration was accompanied by a scientific interest in botanic landscaping architecture, a “hortus botanicus” or an “arboretum” was created.
Such a botanist mind was Count István Ambrózy-Migazzi, too, whose goal of life was to create “ever green gardens” amongst Hungary’s natural endowments. He challenged the general abandonment suggested by human conformism, according to which evergreen species cannot be kept alive under Hungary’s climatic conditions. He studied the life conditions of evergreen tree and frutex species and, being aware of such conditions, he associated these plants in a way that they could provide one another all conditions required to survive – above all, a half-shady, humid environment. As he himself wrote, “… in order for evergreen species retain their foliage-leaves or pine-needles, it is essential to protect them from drying winds and winter and spring sunlight.” Winter sunshine stimulates plants for excessive evaporation, while their roots cannot take up sufficient water from the frozen ground. Sunshine in early spring, on the other hand, carry the hazard of starting vegetation before the late-spring frost.
Count Ambrózy established his first botanic garden at Malonya, near Nyitra (20 km to the East). The news of his success went beyond the borders of Europe. When, as a consequence of World War I, he lost his estate at Malonya and had no other choice than to move to the family’s ancient estate of Tana (today Tanakajd, Vas County, Hungary), he decided to create his real masterpiece here in Vas County, after the “rehearsal” at Malonya. The Count purchased an area then called “Jelihálás” situated at the border of Kám village, an area then utilized mainly for grazing, mixed with acacia, ling and birch forests.
Count Ambrózy started working in 1922. The characteristics of the location were really advantageous to fulfil his aims. The area called Kemenes Ridge has a more balanced climate than any other region in Hungary; there is more precipitation, a significant part of which is rain in the vegetation period. The River Rába had spread scale-free gravel in the area, then it had put finer sediments on the gravel layer. Thus, the soil of the area had developed towards the type of sour brown forest soil. The thickness of vegetative soil layers varies from 30 cm to 1 m. From the highland, through the valley of Kaponyás Brook, to the canyon of the Seven Chiefs’ Spring, the changing landscape conditions provide varied climate expositions, light, temperature and humidity conditions, in one word, a special microclimate. The area hosts many different plant associations, and enable new matching plant associations to develop. During his work, Ambrózy planned the location of each plant considering the varied landscape, the local soil and microclimate. There was plenty of vegetation stock available in Tana. Besides, he established a sapling garden and a reproduction plant to grow imported seeds and other plants. In this way, he planted plenty of pines, arbor vitae, yew-trees, holly-trees, cherry-laurels, barberries, spindle-berries, cotoneasters, boxwoods, and so he could create a humid and shaded environment, where he planted dozens of different species of rhododendrons. Furthermore, he planted more than 10 variations of narcissus, ferns, crocuses, lilies, or, collectively, the bulbuil, corny and rooted plants all around, to different parts of the garden.
After ten years of work, Count Ambrózy passed away in 1933, leaving behind a wonderful, 5-hectare botanic garden, though far from being completed.
World War II changed the ownership status of all estates in Hungary. The area was taken over by a state-owned forestry directorate. After a short time of helpless ignorance (the garden being a property with no economic benefits), the park and the area surrounding the Spring of Seven Chiefs was declared to become a national conservation area.
In these years, fortunately, forestry politics set the objective to carry out experiments with exotic evergreen and deciduous tree species with the purpose of finding species that could make up habitats under our environmental conditions, ones that would produce wood volumes larger than Hungarian tree species, and ones that are more resistant to pests. In their infancy though, but forest aesthetics, arrangement of species, and environmental protection of forestry politics. The forestry directorate took this opportunity and addressed a request to the chief forestry authority of the time to continue the plantation of exotic species in the Ambrózy Garden assigned to be managed by the forestry directorate, but doing so with a dual aim: to continuing the realization of Ambrózy’s plans regarding the plant collections of the park, and to implement new plans at the back of the garden, an area then still nearly intact. The new idea was to present forest associations from all parts of the world, e.g. from America, the Balkanese region, the Caucasian area, China, and Japan, all of them similar to Hungary’s climatic conditions, by creating landscape zones according to local landscape characteristics, and with the purpose of disseminating scientific knowledge. The third objective set was in accordance with Ambrózy’s intentions: the regeneration of the beech forest habitat in the Canyon of the Seven Chiefs’ Spring. As a result, 70 hectares had become a nature conservation area by 1959. (Today’s total natural conservation area of 106.6 hectares consist of the botanic garden and the surroundings of Ambrózy’s tomb, 75.1 hectares, , as well as the service facilities of the botanic garden.)
As a result of this development, numerous species of conifers and frondiferous, plenty of evergreen and deciduous frutex, more than a hundred different species of planetoid-bulboil, corny and rooted plants were planted. In order to provide humidity, small ponds were made along the Kaponyás Brook, walking paths were constructed, shelters, benches and information signs were placed around the park, to the great satisfaction of park visitors.
Wandering around the Botanic Garden
Different sections of the botanic garden are:
- Park (a collection of firs, birch, heath and rhododendron)
- Scotch pine forest with undergrowth.
– Landscape zones
In spite of the variety of these different sections, the whole area is characterized by being a set of collections.
The park section. It spreads from the main entrance to the glade. (Glade: a straight path bordering areas). The surroundings of the entrance mainly hosts a collection of conifers.
North-West of the entrance, the area surrounding the Ambrózy Statue is the oldest part of the garden; here we can find the original and later extended collection of rhododendrons. Each of the collections interrelate with the others.
The pine collection starts right at the entrance.
The first trees to the right are the Atlas-cedars. Looking between their branches covered with tiny bunches of needles, one can catch a sight of their solid cones of the size of an egg.
Left of the entrance, the Chinese stingy fir is one of the main attractions. Behind it, the cryptomeria is the tree species comprising the line of trees which, according to a Japanese legend, was planted by a poor man along the road to the Nikko Mountain, where his beloved Emperor was to be taken to be buried. The poor man could not afford a lantern, with which the other people expressed their gratitude. Japanese cypresses are the pride of Hungarian parks.
Walking along the main walking path for about 15 to 20 metres, one can see the park’s varied picture, generally characteristic of it. In the neighbourhood of junipers looking like short and thick columns, one can see Japanese rhododendron bushes, the blooms of which are different tones of yellow. With their similarly yellow blooms, the broom reminds the visitor of the original ling-juniper-birch–heath plant association of the former “Jelihálás”. On the ground around us, there are five different species of savine bushes: the sweet little Pfitzer junipers, cade junipers with its springs ends barely sticking out of the grass, the dwarf juniper, the tamariscus-leaved version of salvine, and the more brushed-up-looking and taller Fitzer’s Chinese juniper.
Now, let us continue our walk in the part of the garden situated behind the Atlas-cedars, a section dominated by a pine collection. Resisting the temptation of being attracted by the Ambrózy Statue and the rhododendron collection around it, let us walk left and right along the park’s paths – it is really worth it. Let us go and find the Oregon fake cypress with its branch ends of gold colour in the springtime, the tulip-tree, the balsam tree with its enormous, bushy-looking and marble-coloured coniferous species, the witch-hazel pine, the Himalayan silk-pine and the long three-needle western bull-pine, the giant of the Rocky Mountains. The Eastern spruce amazes us with its tiny pine-needles. Its branch ends, including the pine-needles, measure barely one centimetre in width. We can also find a few of the round-topped version of the slimmest and most beautiful arbor vitae, the Malonya arbor vitae, selected in Malonya in the early 20th century; since then, this species has become widespread all around the world. Many of the stems originally planted died with the time. Meanwhile, we found the small, round fake cypress, too.
As we approach the statue, the frutex are getting thicker: the yellow rhododendron with its wonderful fragrance, the cherry-laurel, the Japanese laurel-heath, the flourishing laurel-heath, etc. The holm oak can be found close to the Statue. From the left, the branches of a oriental hornbeam are stretching towards the Statue. When standing in front of the Statue and if we are lucky, the tiger lilies and the little myrtle.
Special attention should be paid to the main attraction of the botanic garden, the rhododendrons. Rhododendrons belong to the family of “Ericaceae”. It originates from high mountains in cooler regions, such as from the Atlantic areas of North-America, the West of China, the Himalayas, Japan and the Caucasian Mountains. Their Hungarian names “havasszépe” (the Beauty of Snowy Lands), or Snow rose also refer to their origin. However, since they have nothing to do with roses, we prefer the name “havasszépe”. Rhododendrons came to Europe through England. They were barely known back in the 17th century. The first species introduced in horticulture in 1656 was “Rhododendron hirsutum”. In the 18th century, it was also only a few species from America and the Caucasian Mountains that could be planted in Western-European gardens. By the early 19th century the number of rhododendron species introduced in horticulture had grown to 40. Hooker’s expedition to the Himalayas resulted in a further 30 species. Hooker sent the collected seeds to the Royal English Botanic Garden, where his father grew the novelties to everyone’s greatest surprise. England’s increasing influence in the Far East, as well as the progressive research in the family of rhododendrons have resulted in the fact that more than 800 species and over 8000 taxons (species, sorts, variations) of these species are known today.
Today, there are more than 300 taxons in the Jeli Botanic Garden, and the number of actual plants is several thousands.
One wild species of the evergreen rhododendrons is the Katawba Rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense). Its name comes from that of an already extinct Native American tribe. Its large, light purple blooms can be seen in its blossom in June. Many of its colour variations and hybrids are known. The Georgian rhododendron originating from the Caucasian Mountains was named after Smirnov, a Russian physician (Rhododendron smirnowii); it is a wild species as well. Being in blossom after mid-May, its blooms are warm cyclamen-coloured. Its young growth and the back of its leaves have a white, thick, wool-like surface. With its low bush, the Rhododendron „Wilgen’s Ruby” hybrid has big, purple blooms. The fire-red Rhododendron “Baden Baden” and the Rhododendron „Scarlet Wonder” hybrids are low-bushed, spreading evergreens. The Rhododendron mucronatum grows big, white, lovely-smelling blooms.
The leafless bushes of the deciduous Kurume Rhododendron (Rhododendron obtusum var. kaempferi) are completely covered by their orange, pink or red blooms.
Lately, the Laboratory for Growth of tissue cultures at Szombathely Forestry Corporation has been producing allied offspring’s in sterile cultures, by means of vegetative micro-reproduction. The colour of the blooms of plants thus produced is identical to that of the blooms of the selected bush.
During our walk, we have come across the tomb of an unknown Hungarian soldier; the tomb is embraced by a Katawba Rhododendron.
Scotch Pine Forest with Undergrowth
Broadly speaking, our Scotch pine forest covers the area between the botanic garden and the landscape zones, and serves the purpose of providing a transition between the two areas. It is an area with plenty of walking paths. The ground of the forest along both sides of the walking paths is planted with rhododendrons and other frutex. Here we can find Japanese laurels, in laurels with their broad leaves, haws with their wrinkled leaves and other frutex.
The first “landscape zone”, the Caucasian Mountains, is situated in the North-West of the Scotch pine forest, here bordered in straight lines. Going from the North to the South, these are the habitats of Bornmüller silver fir, Eastern spruces and Caucasian silver fir.
Walking on the main walking path, past the oldest part of the Scotch pine stand, we first reach the Balkan zone. On the right of the main walking path, we can find patches of Balkanese white pine, Serbian spruce, Greek silver fir, black spruce, one after the other in line.
On the left of the path, there is a table with benches around it to provide an opportunity for a short break. From here, we can take three directions. There is a signboard indicating each direction. Walking away parallel with the table to the North, we can enter the valley of Kaponyás Brook, where the Balkan zone ends and the zone of Asia Minor starts, and features yew-trees on the left of the road, then the patches of Caucasian silver fir and silver firs of Asia Minor will follow. Walking on along the path we can see the landscape zone of China, then that of the Himalayas, the former on both sides of the path, the latter more to the East. The most interesting species of the China patch are the deciduous Chinese mammoth-tree. Thought being already extinct, the species was found again in China in 1947, and its seeds were sent to all parts of the world. With its excellent ability to adjust and rapid growth, this species has become one of the most successful plants in our gardens. Here we can meet again the Chinese stingy pine and cast a glance at the blue-coned silver fir.
In the Himalayan zone, the Himalayan cedar, whose fresh growth is hanging like icicles, and the Himalayan silk fir are something worth looking for.
China ends at the lake. And here starts Japan. What we see at first is the small fan-bamboo. Next to it, there is the stick-reed. Crossing the dam, we can find plants typical of a Japanese landscape: the Japanese cypress (Cryptomeria japonica) and its variations called „Compacta” and „Elegans”, the small-sized fake cypress, the palm-shaped maple, the Japanese lily-tree, the Japanese lime-tree, etc.
Walking on from the lake to the North along the Kaponyás Brook, we can find a moor land- plant association. From here, all along the brook valley, ferns grow. Among them, the species that has the fastest growth is the eagle-fern.
After this point, the valley of the Kaponyás Brook is the “Mississippi Valley”. Let us, however, interrupt this line now. Climbing up from the pond to the steep elevation surrounding the Spring of the Seven Chiefs, we are already walking through the forest of the “Rocky Mountains”. Its landscape zone surrounds the Spring of the Seven Chiefs on three sides. What we can find here, one after the other, are the giant silver firs, the silver firs, the black-fond pines, the red-coned silver firs, the balsam firs and the backberries.
The ancient beech forest association in the canyon of the Spring of the Seven Chiefs again has a totally different atmosphere, and provides perfect recreation after a tiring walk. Beech trees are mixed with birch-trees and alders here. A tall, hollow beech tree was named after Ambrózy. From this tree, stairs lead up to the ridge, where we find the Giants’ Forest with its amazing atmosphere, in the strictest sense of the word. The trunks of the mammoth-trees, having reached diameters of 40 to 60 centimetres, have grown tall, and their soft, brown bark is peeling in stripes. Together with the giant arbor vitae planted in association, they form a densely growing, dark forest. This is already the zone of the Rocky Mountains at its best.
Walking along the giants to the North along the ridge, we will soon get to a wooden belvedere. Next to the belvedere, let us notice the seaside mammoth-trees with their leaves looking like those of yew-trees. From the belvedere, we can get a clear view on the landscape zones of the Mississippi Valley and that of the Appalachia Mountains, located along the valley of the Kaponyás Brook and East thereof, respectively. Who takes the effort to observe these two landscape zones close-up should look for the following tree species in the Mississippi Valley, walking from the North to the South: Moor-cypress, Lyquidambar styraciflua with its corky trunk looking like that of maples, tulip-trees, pin oaks, lily-trees with their yellow-green blooms, as well as honey-locusts.
The vegetation composing the landscape zone of the Appalachia Mountains, from the North to the South, are as follows: the Canadian hamlocks, the white pines, the red oaks, the white birches, the Canadian long-needled pine and the white oaks.
Walking back from the Spring of the Seven Chiefs along the main walking path, we can observe a third section of the Rocky Mountains, with the green Douglas-pines, the Jeffrey-pines, the Columbian white pines, the silver firs, the black spruces, the silver firs of the Rocky Mountains, the noble silver firs with their green and blue foliage, as well as the bluish silver firs.
Our trip will continue through a pure Oregon fake cypress stand.
After the Oregon fake cypresses, the mixed stand of Canadian hemlock pines red oaks will follow. Walking on, a mixed forest stand of Greek white pines and Caucasian silver pines will be located on our left, whereas, on our right, first a mixed stand of Balkanese yellow pines can be seen, and soon we will reach the table surrounded by benches.