Monday, August 3, 2009

A Botanic Garden in Istanbul! İstanbul'da bir Botanik Bahçesi!

I remember once when I was about 5, looking everywhere for my superball. It was my favorite toy. I'd just seen it a little earlier, and I was looking everywhere...under the couch, behind all the chairs, in my room, in the hall. I asked my mom if she'd seen it. "Yes, I did see it!" she said. "Where?" "Oh, I think you'll find it soon enough," she said. A couple of minutes later, I started pestering her again to tell me where it was. "It's very close to you!" she said. When I couldn't stand it any longer and was about to get whiny, she said "take a look in your hand."
It was there. And no, I was not a head-start drug user!

Beş yaşı civarındayken en sevdiğim oyuncağım olan "super top"umu arıyordum. Koltukların arakasında, yatak odamda, koridorda, her yerde arıyordum ama nafile... Anneme gördün mü diye sorduğumda, gülümseyerek "evet, senin de çok yakında bulacağını zannediyorum" dedi. Aramaya devam ettim, yine bulamayınca anneme mızmız etmeye başlayınca sırıtarak "eline baksana" dedi. Oradaymış. Ve o küçük yaşta narkotik kullanmaya başladığımı zannetmeyin...! Sonuçta bazen çok aradığımız şeyler burnumuzun altındayken nedense farkına varmıyoruz. Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanik Bahçesi ise tam öyle bir vaka...İstanbul'da yaşadığım dokuz yıl boyunca otobüste bilmem kaç kez oradan geçmişim, ama varlığının bile farkına varmadım! Onların ayrıntılı web sitesinde burada yazdığım bütün bilgileri bulabildiğinize göre (hem de tembel olduğum için) bütün yazımı Türkçeye çevirmeyeceğim. Fakat hiç gitmediyseniz, hiç zaman kaybetmeden bu bahçeyi ziyaret etmenizi kesinlikle tavsiye ediyorum!

The point is, sometimes something you wish you had can be right under your nose and for some reason you just find out very late. Such was the case when, almost two months ago now, I learned that Istanbul had a botanic garden! I did know about one at Istanbul University but it is famously unkept and neglected; this one is a real jewel in a very unexpected place. As a matter of fact, I've gone right by it on the bus to Kozyatağı, and never even noticed it! And since it took me so long to find out about it, I think it's only appropriate that my post about it is late as well.

I actually was not out looking for botanic gardens; a gardening friend of mine invited me to a lunch by a group called İmece Evi. İmece is Turkish for a traditional village work party. In the old days, and sometimes still today, certain jobs like boiling, drying and pounding bulgur, making dry lavash for winter, food for weddings, etc. are easier to do as a group effort and all the women or men of the village will pitch in. The İmece Evi group has a communal village in the Kazdağı area, where they grow organic produce, learn to live naturally and sell the products of their (joint) labor. They are also planning to begin restoring and farming in an old abandoned village in the mountains near Izmir. The lunch was at the Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanic Garden in the unlikely area of Ataşehir, Istanbul. I say "unlikely" because...well, look at this! If anyone doubts the resourcefulness of the Turks, this should be enough to set them straight:

The garden is literally surrounded and bi-/tri-/quadrisected by freeway. And I have to admit that when I first heard there was a botanic garden there, I was not expecting anything very impressive; the entrance to the garden off the freeway did little to make me any more optimistic.

Sometimes it's really nice to be wrong though. In Istanbul, where there seem to be about 20 plants available in most nurseries, there were truly interesting things growing along the path up into the garden, Verbascums, rare Centaureas, Salvias and more. With over 75 species, Turkey is the center of distribution of the genus Verbascum, or mulleins. But even though there are some dandies here, they are ubiquitously seen as weeds, and even among those interested in flower gardening, it would be a rare gardener who would actually plant one! So I was thrilled to see this specimen, a Vebascum I saw in the wild near Selçuk, site of the ancient city of Ephesus. It's a truly beautiful thing with its white fur and half-appressed leaves up the flowering stem.

But the really amazing thing to me was that even though the garden was in some of the bleakest concrete high-rise sprawl of Istanbul, they had done a beautiful job of hiding it. The garden is divided by the highways into five "islands." From the main garden there is an overpass into a large picnic area which is also nicely planted. Another beautifully planned section is accessed via a drainage tunnel that runs underneath the highway. They have camouflaged this so well (see the first picture above) that you really have no idea the highway is there, and the walls of the tunnel on either side are outfitted with lighted panels explaining different aspects of plant evolution, adaptation and survival strategies.

In addition to the purely ornamental plantings, there are plantings representing a variety of habitats throughout Turkey, where local plants with specialized soil needs thrive. To the left is a beautiful scarlet Glaucium that was growing in a bed devoted to the salt plains near the Salt Lake (Tuz Gölü) in Central Anatolia.

The garden was first planted by Mr. Nihat Gökyiğit, not as a botanic garden at all, but rather with a double purpose: as a memororial to his wife Nezahat as well as an attempt to repair the land that had been degraded as a result of freeway construction. Over time it grew, and was declared a botanic garden in April 2003. It is now a member of the International Association of Botanic Gardens, and operates its own foundation.

Below is a spectacular Delphinium species native to the volcanic steppe soils of Anatolia.

Though many who visit it undoubtedly see it as simply another place to have a picnic (and in Turkey, a picnic means a grill, a gas canister to make tea and lots of meat smoke!), and a picnic area has been opened, accessed by an overpass, the hope is that people who come for the green space will also explore the rest of the garden and become more aware of Turkey's incredible plant diversity and the need for protecting it. To the right is a poster about an endangered species of Centaurea which grows in the area of Konya. And of course the plant is being grown in the garden; below are some of its unopened flower buds.

The garden has a herbarium, propagation areas and classrooms with courses and workshops on urban gardening, composting and botanical illustration. It also has an ever growing botanical library, and puts out a quarterly gardening magazine, the only one I'm aware of in Turkey which is really devoted to plants instead of "expensive crap you can buy to stick in your garden!"

In addition to the two planted islands and the picnic area, there are two more islands which are not open to the public. The reason is that although they belong to the garden, the only access to them is by dashing across the busy freeway! One of them has been allowed to develop completely naturally, as a living museum of plant life in the Istanbul area.

You can find further photographs of the garden on its home page under the "Album" header in the English section, as well as on this site.


Dylan said...

Very interesting! What a jewel you found there. I'm already emailing the info to my other friends in Istanbul :-)

Nonsequitur said...


willisjw said...

Thanks for the post. Unfortunately this is our last day in Istanbul but this is exactly what I had been looking for. Next we need directions on how to get out there. My guess is that taxi is probably the only solution if you don't have a car...

Sazji said...

Sorry for the late replies to comments. Willisjw, you're right there is no public transportation directly to the garden but you can take a bus to Ataşehir and then take a taxi.

The Garden Wanderer said...

I found your post while searching for gardens to visit in Turkey - very interesting. Do you have any other recommendations for gardens to visit in Istanbul, Izmir and Antalya area? I'll be spending two weeks in Turkey starting Saturday and would love to get a taste of Turkish gardening perspectives. Thank you, Wanda.