A new garden is born

Baudeloo-tuinThe city of Ghent has had a botanical garden for well over 200 years. Following Napoleon’s conquest of the Southern Low Countries in 1794, Ghent became the capital of the Scheldt and Lys department. In each departmental capital an ‘école centrale’ was founded. It featured a library, a botanical garden, a natural history collection and instruments. Ghent’s central school was housed in the Baudeloo abbey.

The then botanical garden was opened on 19 July 1797. Plant lovers and friendly gardens helped to establish the collections. André Thouin, curator of the Paris botanical garden, donated lots of greenhouse plants, as well as the first Dahlias to flower in Belgium.

Bernard Coppens (1756-1801) became the first director of the Botanical Garden. He bought part of the collections of the Ename abbey, including two Dwarf palms (Chamaerops humilis) originally presented to the abbey by grand dukes Albrecht and Isabella in 1599.

Vijver BaudelooThe original garden was divided into four sections: a systematic part, an English landscape garden, a section with evergreen trees and an orangery with greenhouses. In a later stage sections with fruit trees, ericaceous plants, a pond and a water basin were added.

In 1802 the garden’s survival was hanging by a thread. Napoleon decided to abolish the central school and to use the buildings as military barracks instead. However, this plan was abandoned following a visit by Napoleon himself and by Joséphine de Beauharnais on 14 July 1803.


City or university?

CataloogIn 1804 the garden was transferred to the city of Ghent, which became responsible for the garden’s maintenance. At that time several important plant collections were present. The garden had also acquired educational importance as it hosted free and public botany classes.

In 1815 the Southern Low Countries were reunited with the Northern provinces. Willem I, the new ruler, displayed a keen interest in the promotion of horticulture and in a performant educational system. As a result, a new university was established in Ghent.

Article 2 of the Royal decree of 1816 linked the professorship in botany to the directorship of the Botanical Garden. This bond remains unaltered to this day!


BankThrough an agreement with the city of Ghent, concluded in 1818, the university received the usufruct of the garden. Following Belgium’s independence in 1830, the city regained responsibility for the garden’s maintenance in 1835.

During the second half of the nineteenth century the garden had become too small to house all the collections. Moreover, the buildings had gradually become derelict. Due to the vicinity of textile factories, the plants often got covered with soot, whereas the permanent smog proved to be a serious hindrance for the plants’ well-being. The search for a new location had become urgent.

Off to a new site

Orangerie 1935The Botanical Garden was eventually relocated on the southern border of the Citadel Park. The removal to the new ‘Botanisch Instituut’ (Botanical Institute) was completed in 1903. The Botanical Garden now consisted of an open air garden, a Victoria greenhouse, a palm house, an orangery and a number of experimental greenhouses.

Towards 1930 these greenhouses no longer met the ever growing requirements. Hence a new set of greenhouses was constructed in 1931-32.

In the early fifties a rock garden was created with the aid of Marshall plan funds. The next decade saw the replacement of the old neogothic and ecclectic botanical institute with a modern steel, glass and concrete highrise building. Today this structure dominates the garden’s scenery.

Overzicht serrecomplexIn 1970 a new Palmarium was inaugurated. The new greenhouse complex, including the three large public greenhouses, was built in the period 1971-72.

The design and creation of the systematic garden started in 1977. The classification which was used at the time is now very much outdated. In order to reflect advances in systematics, the new Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) classification will before long serve as a basis for the new systematic gardens.


Viane, R. and Van den heede, C., red. (2000). 200 jaar Plantentuin Gent. Universitaire Plantentuin Gent, 237 p.