Eötvös Loránd University’s botanical garden – an oasis of peace and quiet in the rough and tumble of District VIII – provides a perfect place to spend an hour or two enjoying a collection of plants from around the world. At present the garden is home to some 7,000 species of flora including 800 varieties of cactus. The collection ranges from more mundane plants like everyday herbs found in any supermarket to exotic and rare tropical plants. The largest plant in the collection is the Roystonea (Royal Palm) – the top of which had to be cut off to prevent it from growing through the roof of the Palm House.
The Palm House contains some of the garden’s most spectacular specimens. It is home to a range of palms, ferns, banana plants and flowers like the beautiful white and yellow Plumeria rubra acutifolia (Frangipani) from Mexico. As the building exactly recreates the climate of the tropics, it can be an uncomfortable and humid experience to walk around.
One of the stars of the garden, albeit only visible for a very short period, is the Victoria amazonica, a variety of South American water lily with huge leaves. It begins blooming at the end of the summer with pineapple-scented flowers 25-35 cm in diameter. Inconveniently, its white flowers appear for just a couple of hours one evening. When they reopen the next morning the flowers turn dark red before quickly wilting. In the autumn the whole plant dies and the seeds have to be re-sown each January. The lily is valued enough to be given its own building – the Victoria House – where it lives in a specially built octagonal pool.
Whatever your interest in the plant world, the garden probably has at least a few examples: indigenous plants, a collection of Mediterranean flora, fruit trees, cypresses, ornamental plants, orchids, cacti and various agricultural plants among them herbs and plants grown to make dyes. It also contains a small Japanese garden complete with pond, goldfish and a small pavilion.
The garden has been more mobile than most. It was founded by Cardinal Péter Pázmány in 1635 in what is now Trnava in Slovakia. It later upped roots and moved, first to Buda and then to a couple of other locations in Pest, before reaching the current site in District VIII in 1847. The original garden on this site was three times larger than the present one, but the development of the neighbouring teaching hospitals left the fairly modest-sized garden you see today.
Cameo in famous novel
The garden’s original pond was the site of an episode in one of Hungarian literature’s best-loved books, and one of the handful known in the English-speaking world, The Paul Street Boys by Ferenc Molnár. The book has coloured the Hungarian public’s perception to the extent that the garden is commonly known as the Füvészkert as it is referred to in the book. Rather unromantically, the literary pond is now the site of a urology clinic.
In general, visitors are not encouraged to touch the flora. But in an interesting reworking of the idea of the petting zoo, a table located in the greenhouse next to the Victoria House specifically invites you to touch the leaves of a range of plants selected for their rather unusual texture.
The shade provided by the numerous trees makes it ideal to sit down on one of the benches and enjoy the feeling of being deceptively far from the bustle of the city beyond its walls. Despite the botanical garden’s attractions, visitors often find themselves almost alone with only the plants to talk to.
District VIII, Illés utca 25.
The entrance is on the corner of Illés utca and Korányi Sándor utca. Nearest metro: Klinikák
Garden opening times: daily 9am-5pm. The glass houses are open 9am-midday and 1pm-4pm.
Entrance: HUF 500 for adults; HUF 250 for students & kids
The small guidebook to the garden is only really of any use if your Hungarian is up to it. However, there is a CD guide for visitors to listen to which can be rented for HUF 500 (HUF 5,000 deposit).
Tel: 314 0535