As we creep toward winter at the same pace that green leaves turn golden, Amsterdam finds itself enjoying a gloriously warm and sunny autumn weekend. So what better way to relive the best memories of summer (and capitalise on a reprieve from rain) than to take ourselves to one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens, Hortus Botanicus.
With a set of parents in town for a week-long stay, it made sense to take the five minute walk east from the Amstel to check out the gardens, which are compact enough to get around fully in a couple of leisurely hours. Plenty of gardens and museums are so large they leave us feeling a bit fatigued halfway through and even a little overwhelmed by the end, so the manageable scale of the Hortus gardens – with its palm house, three climate greenhouse, butterfly house and open gardens – is extremely welcome. We were able to give every bit of it the attention it deserves without knackering the pensioners we took with us.
And while we’re on the subject of ancient things, the Hortus is a staggering 375 years old. It wears maturity well and like its catalogue of floral specimens, the Hortus is presumably getting better with age.
The most contemporary addition to the gardens validates that notion. The impressive three climate greenhouse opened in the early 90s and whilst that makes it over 20 years old already, it’s still recent history for the Hortus. We’re certain the gardens’ Eastern Cape Giant Cycad, which was brought to the Netherlands 300 years ago and acquired by the Hortus in 1850, sees the greenhouse as a tiny speck against its own lifetime.
Each of the greenhouse’s three zones offer distinctly different glimpses at plant life with a subtropical section, desert area and a rainforest to meander through. Two of those zones have overhead walkways that give you the opportunity to pass through the mature canopies and see the impressive landscapes from an all new angle.
The opportunity to clamber around inside a giant glass building can’t fail to instantly turn us into kids again. The palm house is similarly impressive and makes us whip out our cameras to capture its huge exotic contents (aforementioned Cycad included).
And when you’re done, you can rest your non-weary bones at the very pleasant Hortus Cafe and enjoy good quality food and drink, either on the terrace beneath it’s umbrellas, or inside the cafe itself. The building which houses the cafe is a 150-year-old orangery and is every bit as elegant as you’d hope. Our sunny autumn afternoon was the perfect time to visit and we’ll absolutely be back next year to enjoy Hortus Botanicus’ leafy oasis.