Austrian Gardens: Sachertortes, Butterflies and a Garden of Earthly Delights.

Vienna, Austria. Land of Mozart, of chocolate cake layered with apricot jam and decadent frosting and of leaping Lipizzaner stallions that almost seem to give the tale of Pegasus credence. But would one expect a greenhouse complemented by free flying butterflies and tropical vegetation in the heart of this multi-dimensional city?

Dating back to 1809 when Napoleon destroyed the bastions to make way for an Imperial Garden, the grounds have only been open to the public since 1919. Inside, the Mozart Memorial created by Victor Tilgner in 1896 holds a place of honour. Prior to World War II, when it was seriously damaged, the sculpture stood in Albertina Platz. After restoration, in 1953 it was moved to the Burggarten, which is what the gardens are known as today. Other statues of note are those of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and Emperor Francis I.

The Imperial Tropical Butterfly House or Schmetterlinghaus is located inside a 128 metre long greenhouse with foundations that date back to 1822. Part of the original city wall was incorporated into the structure. In 1901 the structure was replaced when the Jugendstil palmhouse was built by Friedrich Ohman. After a ten year refurbishment started in 1988, the building, now housing the Palmenhaus restaurant and the Imperial Tropical Butterfly House has become one of Vienna’s most popular attractions. Hundreds of free-flying butterflies flutter all around in a brilliantly created rain forest environment complete with waterfalls, hollow trees and tropical plants such as the Bird of Paradise and fragrant ginger. Step outside the greenhouse to an area near the restaurant and suddenly you are in a miniature Japanese tea garden, complete with koi pond and bamboo plantings. The Burggarten is only 200 meters from the opera house in the city center, easily reached by subway. The station to look for is Karlsplatz/Oper. If that little taste of Japanese tranquillity has you searching for more of the same, there is Setagaya Park to be explored. Located in the 19th District of Vienna and reachable by bus 10A or Tram 37, this park’s 4000 square metres was designed by Ken Nakajima in 1992. Vienna’s Dobling district shares Twin City status with the Setagaya district of Tokyo. Visitors are greeted by a poem set in stone and are encouraged to follow the pathways that wind through Japanese maples, ornamental cherry trees, azaleas, waterfalls and stone sculptures.

The grounds also feature a Japanese tea house and a stone lantern of the Yukimi style. As a gesture of respect for the elderly, who are cherished in Japanese culture, the gardens were located near a retirement home. From gardens created with the help of man we now go to those of the natural variety. Perhaps the Vienna Woods is not technically a garden, but it is 1,000 square kilometres of Alpine forest, vineyards and plant life all connected by a network of hiking and biking trails. The Vienna Woods stretch all the way from the north western edge of the city to the southern boundary.

If you are energetic, you can hike up one of Vienna’s landmark mountains, Kahlenberg or Leopoldberg and see this age old Austrian city from a different perspective. Just don’t forget to pack the chocolate layer Sachertorte in your picnic lunch.


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