THE BOTANICAL GARDEN OF BRERA: A HAVEN OF NATURE AND CULTURE IN THE URBAN HEART OF MILAN.
Colossal, centuries-old trees with unusually shaped trunks, fragrant rose gardens, brightly coloured hortensias, medicinal plants, native and exotic species, like the two large Ginkgo Biloba which are some of the oldest in Europe: in the old centre of Milan, more renowned as the fashion capital, is a sanctuary where nature and culture are guaranteed to regenerate the soul. There are around 300 species of plants and shrubs dotted over 5000 square metres: these are the figures of the Botanical Garden of Brera, a green space open 7 days a week and today also a popular venue for appointments, guided tours and events organised by scholars, young artists and prominent designers alike.
This verdant leafy gem, which is densely ‘populated’ with plants, herbs and flowers and has been rescued from the ravages of time and neglect, is located in a district of the city which was historically a popular haunt for artists and writers in the 19th and 20th centuries. It still attracts students and art lovers and a more educated and discreet set; and when Milan welcomes the movers and shakers of the world of design and fashion, the Botanical Garden of Brera becomes an exclusive location for events and inaugurations “d’essai”, offering an out of the ordinary backdrop. In fact, the Garden is magically set between the Brera Art Gallery, the famous headquarters of the newspaper Corriere della Sera, the nearby Strehler Theatre and the churches of St. Mark and St. Simpliciano. Once again nature, fashion and design are connected and complementary.
There is greenery everywhere, almost covering the walls of the historically important building that overlooks the garden. While the flora is undisputedly beautiful, what really strikes visitors is the impression that time has stood still here, making it the ideal place for them to catch their breath for a moment, surrounded by nature. Flowerbeds abound and there are numerous species of medicinal plants from various families; different sections of the Garden are dedicated to different themes, with plants that are used for food, textiles and paper or plants from environments with special climatic conditions, such as Mediterranean plants and plants found in dry or humid habitats. The species cultivated in the Garden are organised methodically: plants are grouped into families or the species they belong to. There is no shortage of rare trees or trees in need of preservation to help teach about biodiversity and heighten awareness of the need to protect it, and there are also plants native to Lombardy, such as the Carthusian Pink and the Royal fern. Every season reserves emotions and surprises for visitors to this open-air living museum, surprises that are well worth discovering. Workshops are organised for young and older children where they can actively learn more about the scientific aspects of the Garden; throughout the year, groups of school children can always be found in the Garden on special trips aimed at nurturing their love of nature, discovering the secrets of plants and learning about their history and biodiversity.
The Botanical Garden boasts a long history: as early as the 1300s the Humiliati, and then the Jesuits, came here to meditate and grow plants. In 1774 it became a Botanical Garden, thanks to Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and her campaign to update the city and establish institutes of research and training. In the second half of the eighteenth century, the Brera Palace, which owned the Garden, became a lively cultural centre in Milan promoting art, literature and science. It was a place of higher learning in pharmacy and medicine for many years, thanks to the interest in medicinal plants that were grown there. After a series of ups and downs, in 1935 the Garden became part of the University of Milan which still manages it today. It was reopened to the public in 2001, thanks to the passion and research of the Department of Biosciences of the University. During the restoration work, the original layout of the Garden emerged, with two elliptical ponds, an arboretum and closely laid flowerbeds.