Russia's public gardens mainly date from the reign of Peter the Great during the early 18th century, who brought in designers from Europe to remake many gardens in a more formal, 'English' style. Out of the cities, dacha or rural home gardens in Russia produce 40% of the country's food, and nearly all the fruit and berries. Originally dating from the time of the tsars, dacha gardens have been resurrected in post soviet Russia by the 2003 'Private Garden Plot Act' which gave citizens free land on which to grow food.
Gardens to see and visit in Russia include the historic gardens of St Petersburg and Moscow, gardens surrounding aristocratic estates like Mon Repos Park at Vyborg, city neighborhoods of colourful street art, and also the gardens of several famous creative Russians like Chekov and Tchaikovsky.
Garden Travel Guide to Russia and Ukraine¹
Many of our favourite ornamental plants have originated in Russia – you will often find ‘sibirica‘ or ‘ussuriensis‘ in their species name, such as Scilla sibirica (squill), Iris sibirica and Pyrus ussuriensis (Manchurian pear). Other popular plants that hail from Russia are oriental poppies, Trollius, species tulips, larkspur (Delphinium grandiflorum), Geranium sanguineum, baby’s breath (Gypsophila) Caucasian alder (Alnus subcordata), gentians, crocus and scabious. Many Russian plants came to the notice of European botanists and gardeners during the time of Peter the Great, when several of Europe’s finest landscape designers brought their skills to his various palaces and visited the St Petersburg Botanical Garden.
¹ The Crimean Peninsula is the subject of territorial dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Gardens in towns in the Crimea, such as Yalta, are included under Ukraine in this guide]
Russia’s gardening climate varies from the warm temperate areas of the Caucasus and along the Black Sea (USDA Zone 8 and 9) through Zone 5 in the continental areas and nearer the Atlantic coast. The Arctic influence creates a generally colder climate than that of similar latitudes in the USA. In the eastern Asiatic areas (Siberia) gardening becomes rare in its impossibly cold Zones 1, 2 and even 0.
Russia gardens and gardening
Although many plants from warmer climates can be grown during the short Russian summer, many of them will not over-winter, or even be able to set seed, making meadow gardening difficult with non-native species. Suitable plants must be able to thrive with only a short growing season that’s followed by a long dormant period.
Many of Russia’s rural gardeners use that short growing season to supply their families and communities with home grown produce, with a substantial percentage of the country’s fresh fruit and vegetables being harvested from its dachas (allotment gardens), a legacy of soviet times when food shortages and long shopper queues were common. During the summer months, many Russians commute each weekend to their dacha.
Food cultivation also has a long Russian tradition of reconnecting people to the land, as often featured in the writing of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, both keen gardeners. Popular crops are a wide variety of berries, apples, potatoes, roots crops, onions, herbs, and brassicas like cabbage.
Gardens to visit in Russia
Gardens to visit in St Petersburg:
• Summer Garden of Peter the Great. Commenced in 1714 and laid out in a formal style along the river, including many classical sculptures. Extensively restored 2009-2012.
• St Petersburg Botanical Garden (Aptekarsky Ogorod). Founded as an apothecary’s garden in the early 1700s. Ponds, lakes, greenhouse, woodland trees, perennial beds, palm house.
• Mikailovsky Garden (Michael’s Garden) – adjoins the Russian Museum on the Moika River, restored in 2003. Home of the Imperial Gardens of Russia Festival each June.
• Petrodvorets (Peterhof) – Russia’s ‘Versailles’ and ‘Capital of Fountains’, with a Grand Cascade and many fountains and statues painstakingly restored after widespread damage in WW2. A huge 500 hectare complex
• Pavlovsk Palace on St Petersbug outskirts. Designed in the English landscape style with ornamental temples and lakes.
• Gatchina Palace and Park (45km from St Petersburg) – dating from late 18th century, includes the private garden of Paul I.
• Tsarskoye Selo (Tsar’s Village) in Pushkin (25km south of St Petersburg) – European style landscape gardens surrounding the Catherine Palace and the Alexander Palace, built as a summer retreat
• St Petersburg Tauride Garden – lake, wonderful autumn trees and conifers
• St Petersburg Field of Mars – originally a parade ground it is now where February Revolution heroes are buried. Eternal flame. Strong geometric design.
• The Mosaic Courtyard – a courtyard completely covered with mosaics, tiled sculptures and graffiti. Chaikovskogo Street.
• Several older streets in the pedestrian centre have attractive street plantings, such as Malaya Sadovaya Street in the historic centre
Gardens to visit in Vyborg (130km from St Petersburg)
• Monrepos Park (парка Монрепо) – 35 hectare estate garden around an historic early 19th century house developed by Baron Nicolay. The classical, naturalistic and romantic style garden features granite rock formations, English-style park with sculpture, allées, grotto, ponds and bridges, mature trees, follies and pavilions. Open all year round. Adults 100Rbl, U16 free.
Gardens to visit in Moscow:
• Kuskovo Park and Estate – restored neo-classical garden around aristocratic country estate near Moscow
• Kremlin Gardens (Alexander and Tainitsky Gardens) – mature deciduous trees, conifers (including an oak planted by Uri Gargarin in 1961), fountains, beds filled with colourful annuals during summer, grotto.
• Tchaikovsky State House Museum and Gardens, Klin – 85km northwest of Moscow. Last home of the great composer Tchaikovsky, who was a keen gardener and loved wildflowers and also especially lily-of-the-valley, violets, forget-me-nots and bluebells
Gardens to visit in Ukraine
[Note – there are territorial disputes between Ukraine and Russia over the Crimean peninsula – here they are listed under Ukraine]
Gardens to visit in Kiev
• Hryshko/Gryshko/Grishko (various English spellings) National Botanical Garden (Національний ботанічний сад) – botanical garden of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, founded 1936. 120 hectares of woodland gardens, spectacular conifer collection, views over Kiev
Gardens to visit in Crimea
• Yalta – Chekhov House Museum and Garden – Chekhov’s ‘White House (Dacha)’ was built in 1899 and he loved gardens and gardening, especially roses.
• Nikitsky Botanical Garden (near Yalta) – founded 1812, 1000 hectares, Crimean garden
• Partenit – Paradise Park (or Ayvazovsky Park) – waterfalls, classical sculptures, ancient olive grov
• Vorontsov Palace garden (Воронцовський палац) – 40 hectare park surrounding the historic palace. Designed by German landscape gardener Carolus Keebach in the early 19th century. Formal terraces, large conservatory, amphitheatre and parterre gardens designed to blend into the surrounding native vegetation.
Gardens to visit in Kharkiv (northern Ukraine)
• Kharkiv National University Botanic Garden (Ботанический сад Харьковского национального университета) – founded 1804, 41.9 hectares, both exotics and Ukrainian native plants. Pre-booked guided tour only, open M-F
Private gardens to visit in Russia
Green Arrow (Зеленая Стрела), a Russian centre for landscape design, organises local tours in St Petersburg and Moscow that often include private gardens.
Russia Garden Festivals and Events
International Spring Garden Show (Дом и сад) in Moscow – late March
Imperial Gardens of Russia Festival 10-19 June 2016 in the Mikhailovsky Garden of the Russian Museum. Themed ‘Children: the Flowers of Life’. Sculpture, display gardens, huge flower displays, play areas
Peterhof, St Petersburg : official opening of the fountains season in Peterhof. Every April. Historical costume pageants, multimedia, cannon and military bands.
Peonies in the Northern Capital – Botanical Garden of St Petersburg. June
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