Leaving Massandra Palace and wandering back down the hillside the way we came, we then picked up another bus and headed down the road a mile or two for a visit to the Nikitsky Botanical Gardens. Admission is cheap, about two and a half bucks U.S., and it gets you into the largest collection of plants, trees, flowers, shrubs, hedges, cacti and all things botanical you’re ever likely to encounter, fifty-thousand species gathered from around the world and encompassing an amazing eleven square kilometers tumbling down a gently sloped hillside almost to the Black Sea coastline. Founded in 1812, Nikitsky Botanical Gardens is a combination of scientific research institute and tourist attraction, run by the Ukrainian Academy of Agrarian Sciences.
(Inside the entrance to Nikitsky Botanical Gardens)
To say you could easily get lost in there among the dozens of maze-like paths, or that you couldn’t possibly see it all in one day, is understatment of the highest magnitude. The sheer amount of green stuff in this place is mind-boggling, to the point I don’t see how the caretakers could even catalog or keep track of everything they have.
Tourist to Botanical Garden worker: “Hey, where are the frimpong trees located?”
Botanical Garden Worker: “Yes, frimpong trees are located here.”
Tourist: “Yeah, but where exactly?”
B.G.W.: “Uh, perhaps you try, um, over thataway,” points vaguely eastward. “Towards, um, other side of world, just past horizon. Walking quickly, you will maybe be there by sunset.”
B.G.W. gives non-commital shrug.
It’s big. We’ll leave it at that.
(Is it just me or does that look like Porky Pig on the wall)
(A view of the Black Sea from inside Nikitsky Gardens)
(An immense variety of trees are found in Nikitsky Gardens)
(Sunshine and lots of green stuff. It’s good)
When we visited Nikitsky, we entered on our own without benefit of guide. However, one of our favorite tactics when roaming through such a location is to glom onto the back end of a guided tour group for a while and listen in to see if the guide has anything useful or interesting to say about the place. It’s easy enough to do, especially if it’s a large group, and no one seems to notice or care, so for us it’s a no harm, no foul situation. Since the guides are speaking in Russian or Ukrainian, my wife does the listening while I wander around taking photos and doing my best not to break any rules, which isn’t always easy when you can’t read the signage. If someone of authority starts barking at you, my advice, and the tactic I always fall back on, is to smile and say one simple sentence of Russian.
“Ya ni panemayu.”
Which means, of course, “I don’t understand.” They will probably bark a little more and assume “Stupid American tourist,” you walk away and everybody’s happy.
(In Ukrainian these are called Margaritka, a beautiful name for beautiful flowers)
(Nice tree. I have no idea what it’s called)
(Golden sunshine on golden blossoms)
The one thing I couldn’t figure out about this place, and never got a satisfactory answer to, is how they manage to grow and maintain such an amazing variety of healthy, thriving plants from so many varied climates and regions of the world. The southern Crimean coast is a moderate Mediterranean environment, not too hot or cold with a fair amount of rainfall, so I can understand how a lot of flora would do okay here if it’s not from some extreme climatic zone. But other than the cactus and desert stuff, which is kept in a climate-controlled greenhouse, everything is outside. I mean, they have plants and trees here from the Pacific Northwest that look better than the ones in my yard, for crying out loud. Then again, I never met a plant yet I couldn’t kill, whether from outright neglect or sheer botanical ineptitude. Maybe I can hire some of these guys to come and do an extreme yard makeover for me.
(Greek columns Sure, why not)
(Lenin and some other dude glowering at the flowers)
(This place is huge)
All in all, the Nikitsky Botanical Gardens are a delightful oasis of greenery, a place to relax, stroll at your leisure, and soak in the silence broken only by birdsong. Well, maybe there’s the occasional chatter of other visitors and sometimes the shriek of schoolchildren on a field trip, but it’s still a mighty peaceful place. Sit awhile on one of the many benches scattered throughout the grounds and see as much or as little as you want during your time there. Spend a day, spend an hour, you’ll surely come away refreshed and in a better frame of mind than when you entered.
(Taking a well deserved break after a long, beautiful walk in the gardens)
Coming soon: Livadiya Palace