The University Gardens

The Museum Garden is 125 years old this year

The Museum Garden is 125 years old and the University Museum celebrated this on 11 June. Principal Margareth Hagen and museum director Kari Loe Hjelle planted a Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch) on the occasion of the anniversary.

Rektor og museumsdirektør planter gulbjørk
Principal Margareth Hagen and museum director Kari Loe Hjelle planted a Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch)
Berit Gehrke

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The Museum Garden is not grand, but it has a charm of its own. It is the most beautiful and rich park we have here in Bergen.This year, the listed garden turns 125 years old, and is celebrated, among other things, with a garden party on 11 June.

When the museum garden was officially opened in 1898, a full 33 years had passed since the museum building itself was completed. That was because the construction of side wings was prioritized before the surrounding park facility. For several decades, the area around the museum was just a construction site with a stretch of marsh and what is described as a rather foul-smelling stream. When the garden was finally laid out, director Jørgen Brunchorst was concerned that it should reflect the new systematizations of the plant kingdom that had just been published by German botanists. This was the height of the Enlightenment, and Brunchorst ensured that the various plant groups were placed in order along the fence according to kinship. With today's knowledge of genetics, we know that this is not entirely true, but it is still possible to see remnants of the old divisions in the garden. Among other things, there are rhododendrons along the fence that Brunchorst brought from his mother's garden at the end of the 19th century.

Several generations of students have been taught botany by walking through the systems in the museum garden. But Professor Knut Fægri later distanced himself from that method. He wasn't too happy to teach according to the "telephone directory", as he said. Today you can see traces of several different garden styles represented in the museum garden. The oldest parts of the garden, towards the University Library in the north-west, have a romantic, English style. This part is characterized by lawn areas with winding paths and round, organic shapes, often called Bronchorst's heart and kidneys. The plants stand individually, planted in the grass. There is a big contrast between this part and the more geometric garden by the ponds. 

The water garden, in front of the balustrade, is more like a classic Renaissance garden. Rolf Nordhagen, who managed the museum garden in the interwar period, created this part of the garden based on inspiration from a castle garden in Holland. He collaborated with city gardener Georg Rosenkilde, who designed the garden, while he himself kept to the professional side. Up against the museum building at the back is a so-called stone garden which was very modern in the 1920s, and in front of the gardener's residence you will find the kitchen garden which is full of useful plants.

The greenhouse, or plant house as it is called, was built in 1901 by the Bergen businessman Conrad Mohr. He bought it as a building kit in Germany and equipped Brunchorst with a generous travel case so that he could travel around Europe to buy plants. In photos of the construction, you can see that everything happened at the same time, and the palm trees and ferns were already in place before the building was completed. In order to get extra buzz around the opening, Brunchorst combined it with the unveiling of Armauer Hansen's bust in the garden, again on Armauer Hansen's 60th birthday - with the jubilee on the first bench. He invited the entire Bergen citizenry in addition to international guests. It is a Bergen tradition to do it that way. The same was done when the museum itself was opened. They then arranged a large fisheries exhibition at the same time with guests from far and wide, even though the building was strictly speaking not quite finished yet.

Throughout the 125 years the museum garden has existed, both the university community and the city's population have used the park extensively. There have been swarms on the benches in the wee hours, and many important conversations have been taken while walking between the trees and bushes in the garden.

In the 1950s, the newspapers wrote about rascals who took up residence and caused mischief in the park. There were large groups of children on Nygårdshøyden at the time, and they must have broken some branches and stepped on the beds. The result was that some of the gates to the parks were locked. Today, the park is fortunately open to everyone, even rakers. The park is, for better or for worse, open and accessible to anyone. There is no limit to what the museum garden can be used for.