If we go back historically to the origins of botanical gardens, we discover that they emerged at the dawn of modernity, when the introduction to Europe of exotic species from America and Africa began first, then from the East and Oceania. These plant species required a careful process of acclimatization and testing for their incorporation under cultivation in the gardens of Europe.
During the period of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, around 1770, the agronomist Don Martín Altolaguirre, in his farm in Recoleta, cultivated exotic plants and carried out agricultural experiences with Manuel Belgrano and Hipólito Vieytes, among others. The introduction of linen and hemp as textiles is due to them. His brother, the Franciscan Francisco de Altolaguirre, brought different species from his trips to Spain, among which the first olive plants introduced in Buenos Aires stand out.
The first “Agricultural Practical School” that the country had was created during the government of General Martín Rodríguez on August 7, 1823 in Recoleta. The studies lasted two years, and young people between 16 and 20 years old could access it.
During the mayorship of Don Torcuato de Alvear, the Botanical Garden of the South was founded. Located in the current neighborhood of Parque Patricios, it was inaugurated in 1884, west of the current Plaza España. It was the first municipal nursery of plants intended for the beautification of the city's public walks. It comprised an approximate area of five blocks, with eight greenhouses (four cold and four hot), a large conservatory shadehouse and several gazebos that housed a wide variety of ornamental plants, with floral and indoor plants being grown on a large scale, as well as palm trees and packaged shrubs. whose purpose was to form the official ornaments. This nursery developed its activities until 1960 when it became part of Plaza España, in the Constitución neighborhood.
In 1874, Sarmiento presented to the National Congress the project to create on the land called “Palermo de San Benito”: a public walk that would be called Parque 3 de Febrero. The law was promulgated on June 27, 1874 with number 658, which in its article 5 says verbatim: “The 3 de Febrero Park will contain more than the exotic plants and trees, for ornament or utility, specimens of part of our flora. may it be due to its rarity, application to industry, or beauty worthy of study, propagation and cultivation.”
On February 22, 1892, the then General Director of Public Walks of the Capital, the landscape architect Carlos Thays, submitted to the Municipal Administration, in charge of Francisco Bollini, a project (File No. 2661-D-1892), in which which exposed the need for the creation of a Botanical Garden of Acclimatization, which would equally serve scientific, recreational and landscape objectives. “…Desiring that the layout of the garden itself constitute elements of instruction, I arranged the layout so that the three styles adopted in landscape architecture would be represented, that is, the symmetrical, the mixed and the picturesque style,” in the words of the man himself. Carlos Thays.
In this project, it was advised that the most appropriate place to form this garden was the land located on Santa Fe Street at the height of Parque 3 de Febrero, where the National Department of Agriculture operated, “in order - it was expressed - to carry out in those plantations that could no longer have a location in the Municipal Nursery because they were full.” He pointed out the advantages that the transfer of the land would bring since it offered the possibility of “formation of a Botanical Garden of Acclimatization near the promenades of the capital and, above all, of Palermo and the Zoological Garden, thus constituting, with our plant collections, a set of which the visit would be, at the same time, a distraction and a powerful element of instruction for the Buenos Aires population.” Said the naturalist Cristóbal M. Hicken, in whose memory the School of Gardeners was named. “…A botanical garden is not just another park within the recreational gardens of a city. The botanical garden must have the characteristics of a museum, since it is an archive of a plant collection and must also have the characteristics of a laboratory, as it serves for study..
After six years of work, in 1898, the Garden was opened to the public on September 7, 1898, with an area of 77,649.69 square meters. Located in what is currently the Palermo neighborhood, it occupies the perimeter of eight blocks delimited by Avenida Santa Fe, Syrian Arab Republic, Avenida Las Heras and Plaza Italia. Its main entrance is located on Av. Santa Fé 3951.
Between 1882 and 1894 it was the headquarters of the National Department of Agriculture and from 1894 to 1896, the National Historical Museum. It was in August of this year, 1896, when the Nation transferred it to the City to formalize the offices of the Directorate of Public Walks, two years before the opening of the Botanical Garden. Currently, in this central building, there is the headquarters of the library with more than a thousand titles and the botanical garden museum.
There is a main greenhouse within the property, acquired in 1897 to be incorporated into the Garden, it is made of an iron structure with ornaments and a superimposed glass dome. It is a beautiful exponent of French Art Nouveau from the late 19th century, and was exhibited at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889.
References and Photographs:
Fotografía De Roberto Fiadone: “Los primeros fríos de Miguel Blay”. - Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blay_Fabregas,_los_primeros_frios_2.jpg
The main building of the Botanical Garden was designed by the Military Engineer of Polish origin Jordan Wysocki, who arrived summoned by the then President of the Nation Domingo F. Sarmiento, to materialize the large urban park that he had planned. The “central building”, as it is known today, was built by Mr. Pedro Serechetti following Wysocki's symmetrical and simple project. The project had been presented in 1881 and construction was carried out the same year.
In its four corners it has short towers that give it the appearance of an English castle and it is covered on the outside with reddish bricks. The façade, enveloping and continuous, is a faithful exponent of brick architecture of high manufacturing quality. Thays lived in this main building with his family from 1892 to 1898.
Due to its special temperature and humidity conditions, it houses collections of subtropical species from around the world, with special emphasis on the bromeliaceae family, endemic to America; the fern group (with its various families) and some monocotyledonous species. It has a central landscaped sector, under the dome, and two rectangular wings separated into sectors. Its rockery decorations inside are characteristic, which have been recovered and planted with ferns and creeping or hanging species in 2012.
There are also two styles of gardens. The first is the Roman Garden, which is a space inspired by the Roman gardens of the early Christian Era and the texts of Pliny. Created by Carlos Thays, its objective was to illustrate the most widespread garden styles in the history of landscape. Characteristics are the symmetry of the design, the use of marble and statues, the typical plants of Mediterranean gardens (boxwood, cypress, laurel, rose bushes, acanthus), as well as the art of topiary (artificial and decorative pruning), characteristic of that epoch.
The second is the French Garden. This was inspired by the French gardens of the 18th century, it attempts to represent a space in the garden of Versailles (Paris), whose author was Le Notre. The central fountain, the symmetrical layout with floral motifs, closed by characteristic boxwood beds stand out. It includes statuary, represented by Greco-Roman sculptures, in this case reproductions of Venus, mythological goddess of beauty, love and fertility and Mercury, God of commerce.
The Botanical Garden also has 27 works of art including sculptures, busts and monuments. Of note are: The first Fríos, by the Catalan Miguel Blay y Fábregas; Sagunto, from Querol and Subirats; Figure of a woman, Saturnalia, in patinated bronze, by Ernesto Biondi, a replica of the famous Luperca (or Capitoline Wolf), a replica of the Diana of Versailles - the original corresponds to the ancient Greek artist Leochares -, a beautiful marble sculpture of a naked girl called Ondina del Plata, a work by Lucio Correa Morales, who is located in the middle of a pond (or small fountain-lagoon) called La Primavera at the northern entrance to the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden; and The Message of Mercury, a neoclassical work by Ricardo Celma and Eduardo Lloreda, which replaces a destroyed sculptural representation of such a deity. Also notable are a sculpture that represents the goddess Venus - a replica of the Aphrodite of Cnidus -; as well as a small patinated bronze sculpture representing Flora.
A set that forms a circle of sculptures in white marble represents the 2nd, 4th and 5th movements of the famous Pastoral Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, these sculptures due to Leone Tommasi are called, respectively, after the names of the aforementioned movements of said symphony: Scene by the Riverbank, The Tempest and Song of the Shepherds, this set is completed with a sculpture called The Awakening of Nature, the work of Juan de Pari.
In the Garden there is also a monument donated for the Centennial of Argentina (1910) by the Austro-Hungarian Empire consisting of a type of obelisk topped by an armillary sphere.
In the management following that of Thays, that of Benito Carrasco (between 1914 and 1916), the School of Gardeners, the libraries specialized in botanical topics and the Photography office were incorporated.
In 1937 it was named after its founder, "Carlos Thays". And in April 1996 it was declared a National Historical Monument by decree No. 366 of the National Executive Branch.
On November 30, 2009 it was renamed "Carlos Thays Botanical Garden Operational Directorate" (Decree 1079/09 of B.O. 3303).
Thays' criteria had always pointed towards the instructive, so he conceived the Botanical Garden with six phytogeographic sectors: five containing species from each continent and one dedicated only to what is native to Argentina. In each sector the plant specimens are systematically arranged, according to the taxonomic classification.
Within the perimeter of the Garden is the Cristóbal María Hicken Municipal Gardening School, dependent on the Ministry of Education of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires.
Since its inception, the Botanical Garden's mission has been to promote knowledge and appreciation of the plant world, its importance and value, thus contributing to the conservation of biodiversity and its sustainable use.
Under this mission, it is necessary to highlight that it was in the area of the Botanical Garden and thanks to Carlos Thays that the industrial germination system of yerba mate was rediscovered, which had been lost since the expulsion of the Jesuits. Thays investigated seed germination methods. This had already been stated by the naturalist Aimé Bonpland, who had lived in the Jesuit missions, but his studies had been lost. In 1895 he received the first yerba mate seeds and plant segments. The segments did not prosper, but he managed to make the seeds germinate by subjecting them to prolonged immersion in high-temperature water. Due to the success achieved, the Directorate of Agriculture and Livestock of the Argentine Nation confirmed the effectiveness of the Thays system and disseminated it in the Northwest region of the country. Thus generating a fundamental step for the industrial production of yerba mate in our country.
Without a doubt, for the inhabitants and visitors of this city, the Carlos Thays Botanical Garden is a walk that cannot be missed. A place that fills us with history, beauty and nature in the middle of this great city of Buenos Aires.