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Even at the end of October Pisa is hot and packed with tourists. But the Botanic Gardens were cool and shady, and we had the place to ourselves.


Botanic Gardens, Pisa
A peaceful path in the Botanic Gardens

A Garden of Simples

I’d been wanting to visit these gardens for years. Founded in 1543 as a ‘Garden of Simples’, or medicinal garden, this is one of the oldest botanic gardens in Europe. Although it is now used as a university research facility, some historic features remain: the formal pathways and the shell encrusted facade of the Botanic Institute.

Shell covered building of the Botanic Institute, Pisa
The front of the Botanic Institute is covered in seashells

And the trees. The Ancient Tree Trail is one of the main features of the garden, and some of the trees are very old indeed. We passed a Magnolia planted in 1787 and an oak that was so old it now acted as host to numerous other species. Then there was the 19th century Eastern Plane, described as “the most beautiful tree in the garden”.

Oak tree, Botanic Gardens, Pisa
An old oak plays host to many other species


Eastern Plane tree, Botanic Gardens, Pisa
An Eastern Plane – “the most beautiful tree in the garden”

There were noticeboards everywhere, with information in Italian, English and Braille (including raised pictures of the plants).

Enjoying the Gardens

An artist was hard at work sketching a tall tree and a couple of gardeners toiled away in the distance. We walked slowly, enjoying the solitude and the birdsong. But then we became aware of our unseen companions: midges. It was late in the year, and we had not forseen the need for insect repellent, so they were enjoying a free feast.Undeterred, we carried on past the cacti and aquatic flowers. Some of these plants are almost extinct, and the garden’s curators are working hard to protect them. We ended at the big greenhouse with its vast display of succulents.

Plants at Pisa's Botanic Gardens
The curators are working hard to preserve many different plants


Greenhouse at Pisa's Botanic Gardens
The greenhouse is full of succulents

It would be nice to return in the summer, we thought, when the garden is in full bloom. But we would have to remember the insect repellent!


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