Oslo is a city spoiled with an abundance of beautiful parks. It rarely takes more than a few minutes walk from your door to arrive at the nearest green space. We all have our favourites, each imagining that this particular place is just a little bit more mine than the others. In Grunerløkka borough there are many to choose from. Lazy summer days in Sofienbergpark, Sunday markets in Birkelunden or people-watching in Olaf Ryes square. (Translation by Cressi Downing)
But if we were to rank our parks, not only those in Grunerløkka – but all of Oslo, there is a good chance that the Botanical Garden would get the top spot. A bit unfair really, since it’s not even a park. No the big, green mound between Grunerløkka and Tøyen is part of the Museum of Natural History, a garden and much more. It has a collection of more than 5000 plants, both outside and indoors. Everything has been catalogued for scientific purposes, preservation and education. This is the Botanical Gardens’ foremost function, one it has been fulfilling for more than 200 years!
Back in 1812 the last king of Denmark-Norway, Frederik VI gave Tøyen Manor to the newly founded Royal Frederik University under the condition that the surrounding garden would be transformed into a botanical garden. It opened in 1814 and is thus the oldest of its kind in Norway. A century later the museum buildings were finally finished. Since 2011 these are known collectively as Collett’s house, Brøgger’s house and Lid’s house. The first two house the zoological and geological collections. Lid’s house has Norway’s largest herbarium and also provides offices for the scientists working at the museum. For the moment, Brøgger’s house is closed for renovation so highlights from the geological collections are on display in Collett’s house.
Throughout the year there are plenty of events at the Museum of Natural History. Free guided tours around the garden during the summer months, the monthly breakfast meeting series “Coffee and Climate” and the Farmers market are just a small selection.
This contributes to the record numbers that the Museum of Natural History experienced last year, 133.000 visitors! And those are just the people who come to see the various exhibitions. If we were to include all those who come to jog, walk their dog or just stroll under the mighty trees, we could multiply that number by six!
It is clear both tourists and locals realise what a gem this really is.
Night at the Museum
For a place with so much history and traditions the museum retains its ability to reinvent itself. I’m shown around Collett’s house by Karenina Kriszat, head of communications at the museum. She has invited me to the premiere of one of the new happenings; Night at the Museum. In short the concept is simply to turn off the lights, distribute flashlights at the entrance and limit the visitors to 100 at a time.
And it sure does work! To say that the T-Rex is a bit more frightening through the shimmer of a flashlight is an understatement. Surprising sound effects add to the experience and throughout the dark halls parents are jumping and children are running around joyfully.
Karenina says that last year’s record numbers were reached by October this year so it’s obvious they’re doing something right!
Wine & Science
A few weeks later I’m fortunate enough to attend the immensely popular lecture “Wine & Science” which sold out in just a few hours.
Tonight’s theme is “The Secret Life of Plants” and it’s taking place in the venerable Tøyen Manor.
In Oslo’s oldest wooden building (in its original location) are gathered some 70 guests of all ages. A glass of wine is served on arrival and we’re told that there are three speakers tonight. Two from the Museum of Natural History and one invited guest from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. This guest, Siri Fjellheim, is given the honour of starting the show. Her field of science is grass and it doesn’t take long until the entire audience shares her view that this is the world’s most important plant.
Next up is Andreas Løvold, resident gardener at the botanical garden. He’s not a physical therapist for trees but his theme is how important movement is for plants and if you tie support poles to your apple trees, they will eventually become lazy and obnoxious. He finishes by saying that plants have a subconscious awareness about themselves and I’m convinced his brain is at least three times the size of mine.
Marit Grønbech is the last speaker of the night and she teaches us all the sneaky tricks plants play on insects to get them to do what they want. Orchids are specialists at this and the photos she shows add an aesthetic dimension between all the laughter. And of course the insects are fooled every time.
The evening is summed up by zoologist Peter Bøckmann who tries to convince the audience that animals are cooler than plants. He is not very successful.
This was the fourth “Wine & Science” this year and it sold out faster than ever. If you’re interested in coming to the next one, sign up to the museum’s newsletter or follow them on Facebook. I will certainly do my best to see this again!
Christmas is fast approaching and as always there are Christmas markets all over the city.
The Botanical Garden is no exception and, on a Saturday in late November the yard of the old outbuilding is full of stalls, stands and people. Home-made mittens, geological stone-samples and woodcarvings are just some of the products on sale. For the youngest visitors it’s probably the ride in the horse-drawn carriage that’s most enticing. To accentuate the botanical dimension of the venue, in the Victoria house there is an exhibition about all the various spices and flowers associated with the season. Although snow hasn’t fallen yet, there is no lack of Christmas spirit here!
Something for everyone
With close to a hundred different events throughout the year, there is always something going on in the museum and botanical garden. From commemorating the moon-landing to an insect’s perspective on International Women’s Day, there is certainly something for everyone.
Next year there will be even more to see and do with the addition of a new Climate house. A new arena for learning about the science of climate change, more necessary than ever.
But it’s not necessary to participate in organized activities to enjoy this place. It calms the spirit just to wander around Oslo’s prettiest garden or explore the rainforest in the Victoria House. Maybe clamber around in the mountain garden or learn about which plants the old Vikings used. You can face exotic animals from all over the world or jump in a time machine and travel back to the age of the dinosaurs!
The inviting green mound on Oslo’s eastside welcomes children of all ages. It’s good at it, it has done so for more than 200 years!
Website for Naturhistorisk museum, UiO