The Belfast Botanic Gardens
were founded in 1828 by the Belfast Botanical and Horticultural
Society. They were originally intended to be devoted exclusively to the study of plants,
but public interest and the need for funds led to their being opened to the public, at
first only on certain days and subject to an admission charge. The grounds became a place
for an assortment of outdoor activities and eventually became an entertainment venue, and
these goings-on continue to the present day. The Gardens became a public park in 1895,
when they were purchased by the Belfast Corporation, the predecessor of the present-day
Belfast City Council.
Posted at the Stranmillis Road entrance to the Botanic Gardens is a statue of Lord Kelvin,
the famous 19th Century mathematical physicist and engineer (well, famous to physicists and
physics students anyway). Lord Kelvin's connection to the Botanic Gardens is tenuous –
basically, they were both born in the same city, within a few years of each other (Kelvin
was born in 1824). Kelvin only lived in Belfast until he was nine years old, and he never
seemed to have much interest in botany, specializing in the physical sciences. He spent
the bulk of his career across the water in Glasgow, Scotland. In fact, the "Kelvin" in his
title (his actual name was William Thomson) came from the name of a river that flowed by
his laboratory at the University of Glasgow. Nevertheless, Kelvin's statue occupies a
position of honor in the Belfast Botanic Gardens. Directly behind it are two fast-growing
imports from California, a coastal redwood tree and a giant sequoia tree.
Lord Kelvin Statue and Trees
There are two structures of interest in the Gardens. The first, just down
a path from the Kelvin statue, is called the Palm House. A palm house is a
structure for the preservation of tropical and subtropical plants in regions
whose climates will not support such plants. Palm houses made of cast iron
and glass came into vogue in the Victorian era, and this one, built from
1839-1840, was one of the first. It was designed by Charles Lanyon (yes, the
same Lanyon who designed the main building at Queen's University) and was
built by a man named Richard Turner. Turner went on to build similar but
larger glasshouses at Kew Gardens in London and at the Irish National Botanic
Gardens in Dublin.
Flowers and Palm House
Flowers Near Palm House
We walked through the Palm House, admiring the many plants that had been crammed into it.
Bob and Nella in Palm House
Palms in Palm House
Plants in Palm House
Assorted Plants Under Central Dome
Wooden Sculpture Hiding in Plants
From the Palm House we continued into the Gardens, passing by a large grassy area with
groups and families picnicking. Kids were kicking balls around, in apparent defiance
of a warning sign. But it's possible they weren't keeping score, which would
technically mean that there weren't any "ball games" going on.
"No Ball Games"
Beyond the grassy area was a large rose garden, where we spent some more
time wandering around.
Bob and Nella in Rose Garden
Nella Climbing Embankment
Bob and Nella and Rose Garden
Heading back toward the entrance to the Gardens, we stumbled across the second
structure of interest in the Gardens, the Tropical Ravine. This building, which
opened in 1889, contains a large variety of tropical plants (orchids, ferns, banana
trees, etc.). It is set up as a ravine with water features, with an elevated
walkway around it. It is advertised as the only such structure in Europe. Its
plants seemed quite happy in their artificial environment. This was both good and
bad – happy plants are healthy plants, and this may have been a pretty good
approximation of what a real tropical ravine might look like. But the ravine was
pretty overgrown, making it difficult to concentrate on or even find individual
plants one might be interested in. Since our visit the management has closed the
Ravine (starting in November 2015) for a major renovation, to alleviate the
excessive bushiness and generally update the presentation, and also to fix some
structural problems and to make the Ravine's operation more energy efficient.
It's scheduled to reopen in early 2017.
Tropical Ravine Sign
Nella in Tropical Ravine
Flower in Tropical Ravine
Plants in Tropical Ravine
Having had our fill of the Botanic Gardens, the next place we wanted to visit
was Titanic Belfast, a museum situated where the famous ocean liner was built.
As this was at the harbor (or harbour), and we were nowhere near the harbour,
we got back on the bus and returned to the city center (or centre). We found
some lunch and then looked for another bus which would connect the city centre
with the harbour.