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The Tallinn Botanical Garden in Estonia – 40 years old

Volume 3 Number 7 - February 2001

Heldur Sander

The idea of founding a botanical garden in Tallinn first arose in the 1860s. It took almost 100 years for the idea to be realized. On December 1 1961, the Tallinn Botanical Garden was established as a subordinate institution of the Academy of Sciences of Estonia.

The Garden is located in the northeastern part of the city of Tallinn – the garden town of Pirita. It is 9 kilometres from the city center. The area in which the Garden is situated is called 'Kloostrimetsa' (Convent Forest), since it once belonged to the medieval St. Brigitte’s Convent.

The systematic open-air collections were created and opened for the public in 1970; the greenhouse collections were opened in the following year.

In 1995, the Garden was transferred into the ownership of the city of Tallinn. Currently, the Garden has the following departments: Open Area Collections, Tropical and Subtropical Plants, and Environmental Education. At present, the garden covers an area of 109 hectares and has 46 employees. It has been headed by Director Veiko Lõhmus since 2001.

Scientific and Educational Activities

The Garden has a herbarium (with 80,500 sheets) and a library (10,100 items).

The Garden's scientific activity is focused on plant horticulture and plant introduction, and it does extensive work in the area of environmental education. The research and education staff give lectures on botany, ecology, ornamental gardening within the Garden and in colleges, schools and other venues in Tallinn. In 1999, the total audience for these lectures was about 40,000.

Recent exhibitions have included "Exotic Fruits", "Irises", "Fragrant Plants and Spices" and "Days of Orchids".

The Society of Friends of the Garden was founded in 1995. Its members contribute their voluntary efforts with the Garden's educational work.

This work relies heavily on the use of the collections.


The development of the Garden's collections owes much to numerous expeditions. Nearly 50 expeditions to collect material have been organized and plant material has been collected from 30 floristic regions.

In 1999 the total number of taxa in the living plant collections was 7,497. This included 1109 in the Arboretum, 519 in the rose garden, 775 in the rock garden, 843 in the bulb collection, 996 in the succulent house, 440 in the subtropical house and 657 in the tropical house.

Greenhouse plants are displayed in six houses and a seventh greenhouse is used for propagation and testing purposes. The total area under glass is 2,100 m2. There were 1,713 taxa (incl. 239 cultivars) in the greenhouse collections in 1996.

Living Collections at the Tallinn Botanical Garden in Estonia

The Arboretum was started in the spring of 1963. Its area, including roads and water features, now covers 17 ha. It is arranged systematically. Its contents are arranged in individual sections, such as the Main Arboretum, the Heather Garden, the Garden of Ornamental Conifers, and the Rose Garden. There is also the outlying Audaku Experimental Station on the island of Saaremaa off the west coast of Estonia.

The Main Arboretum comprises 1,136 taxa from 157 genera of 54 families. The most-frequently represented taxa are from the following genera: Rosa (71 taxa), Salix (49 taxa), Acer (45 taxa), Lonicera (35 taxa), Spiraea (35 taxa), and Prunus (31 taxa).

The Heather Garden (0.6 ha in area) was planted in 1970 in the shade of a stand of pines and oaks. It holds 79 identified taxa from the following genera: Rhododendron (46 taxa), Vaccinium (13 taxa) and Erica (7 taxa).

In 1989, a new Garden of Ornamental Conifers was founded near the Garden's office building. It features 63 cultivars of ornamental conifers.

There is a collection of wild species of Rosa (71 species), planted since 1980. The Rose Garden consists of a historical display of 355 varieties of hardy outdoor roses from 14 variety groups, as well as the tested varieties of the roses (43 varieties from 5 groups).

Herbaceous Collections

The collection of perennials comprises mountain plants, high-growth perennials, and the genera Astilbe, Iris and Paeonia. It covers a bed area of 4,080 m2 and, to date, holds 1,800 taxa.

The systematic collection of mountain plants totals 769 taxa. The most-represented genera are: Primula (32 taxa), Saxifraga (19 taxa), Sedum (18 taxa), Dianthus (14 taxa), Geranium (15 taxa), Potentilla (13 taxa), Viola (12 taxa), Anemone (12 taxa) and Aster (12 taxa).

The High Growth Perennials are grown on 540 m2 of beds alongside a stone wall. The collection consists of 227 taxa. The Peony beds cover 550 m2 and contain 209 taxa; the Iris beds cover 500 m2 and contain 327 cultivars; and the Astilbes (130 m2) comprises 58 taxa.

Bulbous plants are arranged in eight outdoor display areas. The total number of bulb taxa is about 1,000. Many of the bulbs have been collected from their natural habitats, in particular the low-growth ones, the collection of which embraces 175 taxa. There are 145 lily taxa, 180 of tulips, 157 of daffodils and 80 of crocuses.

The collection of annuals includes 382 taxa. Most of them belong to the families Asteraceae, Brassicaceae and Scrophulariaceae.

The collection of ornamental grasses and sedges was started in 1964. The collection includes 147 taxa from the families Poaceae, Cyperaceae and Juncaceae, of which 123 are annual or perennial grasses.