The Hortus botanicus has been the Leiden University academic garden since 1590; since 1594 it has maintained collections of living plants for research and teaching, and these are now also to promote conservation. The Hortus is part of the Faculty of Science. It is the oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands, and one of the oldest in Western Europe. From the very first days the Hortus was open for both scientists and students and for visitors who came to look at the plants and enjoy the garden. The Hortus has, therefore, an educational role; it is actually the oldest museum in the Netherlands.
The Hortus is a green treasure chamber for the benefit and enjoyment of many. Since 1590 the garden has been facilitating national and international research into plants. We own a valuable scientific collection of well-documented, well-managed plants; it is the only one of its kind in the whole world and could never be assembled again. There is a particular focus on the tropical Asian region, and the collection of bulbs is another focus of special attention. When at all possible the Hortus has species that have been collected in the wild, because these are the most valuable for research. The collections are always available for teaching and research.
The garden, as a peaceful green space in the historical academic heart of Leiden, also attracts many visitors, for whom we organise a wide range of exhibitions and activities. The garden also plays a major social role for the university community; personnel and students meet each other and relax there. Students forge a bond with the Hortus which often endures for the rest of their lives; educational and recreational visits are followed by graduation parties, weddings, baby photos on the leaves of the Giant Water Lily, and walks or exhibition visits – first with their children and then with their grandchildren. Hortus staff share their knowledge of plants and their experience in propagation and plant care with researchers and plant-lovers and garden visitors, in an approachable and hospitable manner.
If we, as a long-established garden, are also to have a purpose in the future it is important that we should: • Share our passion for plants – their diversity and social relevance – with a contemporary approach • Keep both our knowledge and the collection up to date for research and teaching • Pass on new knowledge about plants to the public • Concern ourselves with problems surrounding nature and the environment
Developments in biological research shed new light upon the evolution of plants, their genetic diversity and the influence of genetic factors. These developments lead to better classification within the plant kingdom, or help us to better understand the distribution of plant species throughout the world. We display this new knowledge in the Hortus, and our collections are available for modern techniques such as DNA investigation. The environment and individual plant and animal species are under threat, from climate change, for instance. Knowledge of plants is indispensable for targeted policies on nature, and the Hortus has a role to play in this field. While nature is under increasing pressure the importance of ecosystem services, such as food supply and provision of substances with medicinal properties, continues to be better recognised. Plants make a substantial contribution to this field, a fact that can be stressed by the Hortus.