1980, Soo Tasker, Student Exchange, Leiden University Botanic Garden

Student Exchange to Leiden University Botanic Garden

1st to 20th September, 1980

By Soo Tasker

The city of Leiden is quite small, built inside a protective moat or singel, and dissected by many canals. It is a University town, rather like Oxford, full of many old and beautiful buildings most of which belong to the University.

The Botanic Garden of the University, the Hortus Botanicus, was founded on April 13th 1587 making it one of the oldest in Europe. It was laid out by Clusius (Charles de I’Ecluse) and some of his original plantings still remain. Since this time the garden has been enlarged several times, it now covers approximately 30 acres.

There are 19 glasshouses, mostly built in the 1930s, including a Victorian water-lily house and a Phytotron for the propagation and cultivation of tropical ferns. There is also an Orangery, which is still used as such; temperate plants are housed in it in the winter and moved outside in the summer.

The garden is composed of landscaped arboretum (the moat of the city forms the boundary on one side) with a rock garden, herb garden, systematic beds, rosarium, lily-pond, and the ‘voortuin’ the decorative entrance area. The Clusius garden is a replica of the original botanic garden, with beds of herbs and bulbs, paths of crushed cockle shells and a collection of bees in wicker bee-hives.

On my arrival in Leiden I was met by Mr. Bruinsma, the Curator, and his assistant, Miss Teune, with kindness befitting a visiting dignitary rather than a humble student. I stayed in the University Observatory, a picturesque domed building, and was able to have any meals I wanted at the nearby student ‘mensa’ or restaurant; everything was most comfortable and convenient.

During my first week I worked in the Clusius garden; in the second week I worked in the Seed Department, collecting and cleaning seeds, and in the third week I worked in the glasshouses. Although only a few of the 15 staff spoke English we got along very well, they were all extremely pleasant and anxious that I should have interesting work to do.

I spent a day at the Rijksherbarium; founded in 1829 and mostly concerned with the Malaysian Flora. There are 25 botanists and just over three million dried specimens; also a good collection of old books, and seed catalogues since the early 1800s. The Botanic Garden Archives hold a large collection of photographs and slides, as well as the plant records system.

During my stay at Leiden Mr. Bruinsma took me to visit the Botanic Gardens of Utrecht and the Vry University of Amsterdam, and to the flower market and experimental station at Aaismeer. At the weekends I visited Boskoop, Groningen Botanic Garden, Nijmegen, Delft, Rotterdam, Breda and Middelburg.

In all it was a most interesting and successful exchange; I should like to thank Mr. Pemberton and Mr. Simmons for arranging it for me, and the Kew Guild for helping to finance my visit.


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