The green heart of our faculty
My name is “Groen” (which becomes “Green” in English), and I am a green-fingered staff member. This may or may not be a coincidence, but gardening is my passion.
I grew up in the countryside surrounded by a large garden and green fields. My interest in nature and plants started when I was very young. There were no video games then, and hardly any TV programs for kids. So I spend a lot of time playing outside. Had I not become a (neuro/bio)psychologist, I would have certainly become a biologist with a speciality in botany. That’s why I now want to tell you about the “green heart” of our faculty: De Oude Hortus, according to Google Maps.
The name isn’t accidental.
“Our faculty has the unique privilege of being situated around an ancient botanical garden (hortus botanicus), which was founded in 1626 by the pharmacist and botanist Henricus Munting (1583-1658).”
Herbs were grown back then for medicinal and research purposes. That’s why it made sense for the pharmacy to be supported by a botanical laboratory. Munting’s passion was for collecting strange and rare plants, such as different varieties of tulips. Three generations of Munting had cared for the garden, when it was finally sold to the province of Groningen in 1691 because of money worries (see Hans Andreas for a more detailed history).
The garden nowadays contains several monumental trees that are over 100 years old. The oldest is a weeping beech (“treurbeuk” in Dutch) that was planted in 1876. It is located next to the Munting building and can be viewed from both sides thanks to a specially-designed glass wall on Nieuwe Kijk in ‘t Jatstraat. Another eye-catching tree is the Ginkgo Biloba (a Japanese nut tree) that was planted in 1896; especially beautiful at this time of year, its leaves are a spectacular bright yellow, matching the autumnal colours of the Gadourek building behind it. My own favourite tree is the Magnolia next to the bicycle shed, which flowers in April/May, because of its beautiful tulip-like white and pink blossoms.
What moreover makes this garden special are the so-called “stinzenplanten” that have been thriving here for decades. These are usually planted from bulbs, and flower in early spring (De Warande). Just like Munting’s tulips. In the old days, these bulbs were collected from foreign countries (mostly central Europe and Asia) and planted around land houses (“stinzen”), vicarages and farm houses, and then are allowed to spread naturally. These flowering “stinzenplanten” then impart an early spring bouquet, when the trees are still leafless. They also explain the garden’s onion-like smell in April/May, as the Allium Ursinum (“daslook” in Dutch) is in-season at that time of the year.
Of course, there is much more to discover. For instance, there’s a brief walking tour that starts at the water lily fountain in the back of the garden and runs to the weeping beech. You can find this tour described in a leaflet that can be picked-up at the Porter’s Desk of the Heymans building (or download it from the faculty intranet). If you really want to get to know the garden, though, I recommend repeating the tour every few months: as each season brings new discoveries.
“Even if you’re not botanically-inclined, it might still be worthwhile to do some exploring in the garden.”
A recent literature review summarizes an abundant body of literature showing that this “ecotherapy” reduces stress and negative emotions (Summers and Vivian, 2018). Being physically active in nature positively affects physical as well as mental health. Interestingly, in Japan this has been incorporated in the national public health program, where “forest bathing” (just being in the presence of trees) is promoted as a therapy. So, if you feel stressed out, you have a good excuse to take a walk in our garden. Ecosystem services, such as a garden like ours, can therefore be regarded very meaningful and important for human health and are worth preserving and maintaining. You are also stepping into our faculty’s history.
The garden served a botanical function until 1966. At that time, the growing demands of the university began to increase in pressure. There was even a risk of losing its monumental character. Luckily, adjustments to the building plans were made to retain the garden’s botanical origins. This resulted in the glass wall in the Munting building, providing a street view of the weeping beech, and in the highrise extension of the Heymans building to form the Heymans Wing (instead of a new building in the back of the garden).
At present, advice about the future of the garden is provided by the “Tuinwerkgroep” (Garden workgroup). Membership consists of several “green-fingered” faculty (including myself) and staff-members from facility services, as well as volunteers from the neighbourhood. This recently resulted in a new garden plan that will give the Oude Hortus a makeover in phases over the coming years. This plan protects that the garden’s botanical and historical character (e.g. by planting characteristic plants and trees), while also ensuring that people can keep enjoying it (e.g. by creating a new path and placing more benches). The map of this plan is hanging in the corridor next to the Porter’s Desk of the Heymans building (and is also available through the faculty intranet).
But of course before any major changes can happen in the garden, we will have to wait until the construction on the Heymans building is finished. Note, though, that the architects’ design provides several garden-oriented views. So the two projects should complement each other nicely. But until that time, I hope you will enjoy your strolls through the garden as much as I do.
Livny, E. (2016). The Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’ is scientifically proven to improve your health. Retrieved from: https://qz.com/804022/health-benefits-japanese-forest-bathing/
Summers, J.K. & Vivian, D.N. (2018). Ecotherapy – A Forgotten Ecosystem Service: A Review. Frontiers in Psychology, 9 (1389). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01389