Seminaarinmäki features a sprawling garden that represents a direct link to the history of Finnish gardening instruction. Now Seminary Park is a part of the Botanical Garden of the University of Jyväskylä, which extends to the campus areas of Mattilanniemi and Ylistönrinne. The garden offers a diversity of moods that continue to encourage learning to this day: the name plates at various plants invite people to recognise culturally and historically important species.
An attentive group follows Garden Specialist Hanna Keljo on a walking tour of the Seminaarinmäki campus. Keljo leads the group through the shifting landscape, from the lush hillside of the old school garden at Villa Rana to the Ceremony Square of the main building and further to the spacious Aalto Park.
The park was designed in the 1950s by architect Alvar Aalto and landscape architect Onni Savonlahti, and it was renovated according to landscape architect Gretel Hemgård’s design in the 2010’s.
At the beginning of summer, ‘John Downie’ crab apple trees bloom with white flowers. Next to these, new cherry trees, planted to replace older frost-bitten ones, are growing at good speed.
“To get a better look at the scenery, climb the stairs next to the University Main Building,” Hanna Keljo advises.
In summertime, Aalto Park bursts with bright colour from shrub roses, lilacs, viburnums and cinquefoils. Large perennial plantings at the edge of the campus sport ground are in bloom throughout summer.
From Aalto Park, the route goes by the Teacher Training School towards Moirislampi and the shady, forested ridge of Seminaarinmäki, the park’s highest point. The remains of the old Seminary Park live on here in the form of pines, birches, elms, and small-leaved limes.
Seminary Park was established in the 1880s, and it followed the ideals of a natural landscape garden. With its curved paths, scenery overlooking Lake Jyväsjärvi, and abundant fruit and berry orchards this park was, in the view of many, the most beautiful park in town in the early 20th century.
The original landscape garden has given way to new construction.
In its present form, Seminary Park is a part of the extensive Botanical Garden of the University of Jyväskylä. The Botanical Garden was founded in 1990, and it also encompasses the campus areas in Mattilanniemi and Ylistönrinne, covering an area of 36 hectares.
Gardening instruction started from Seminary Park
Seminary Park is the historic heart of the Botanical Garden. It’s from here that the school garden ideology started to spread at the end of the 19th century.
The Teacher Seminary trained teachers for schools, and when they graduated the new teachers brought along the gardening knowledge as they dispersed around the country.
The abundant school garden yielded produce for sale while providing skills and knowledge in the cultivation of various berries and fruit. At its peak, the garden had over a thousand berry bushes and hundreds of fruit trees.
At present, the large new planting beds in the Villa Rana garden are an echo of the times of the school garden. The planting beds are located at the site of the former greenhouse, and they provide a home to a collection of herbs and perennials donated by Kuokkala Manor.
The garden provides important botanical knowledge
Gardening instruction ended at the University of Jyväskylä in the 1960s, but the garden continues to provide lessons in botany to visitors.
The garden is an excellent place to learn to recognise plant species: The collection of the Botanical Garden includes more than 570 species, nearly 20,000 individual plants. More than a hundred name plates now accompany the plants, identifying traditional species of gardens in Finland.
The Botanical Garden maintains a plant collection, which also forms the living plants collection of the Jyväskylä University Museum.
In different parts of the garden, plants are nurtured with different principles.
In Seminary Park, there are plants that were important garden plants in the era of the old Seminary. Aalto Park favours plants in line with the original design from the 1950s through the 1970s.
The park area in Mattilanniemi features plants that were popular in landscaping in the 1980s. Ylistönrinne is a place for a unique collection of natural plants growing in Central Finland.
Are new plants added to the collections all the time?
“At present, we do not actively increase the collections, but we focus instead on securing the existing collection. We always act according to the developmental needs of each green area. This means that if and when renovation work takes place in the areas, then we also seek to add our collections as much as possible.”
The JYU Botanical Garden differs from other ones in Finland in that its plant collections are located in green areas that are in active use.
“At the moment, it seems we will get new planting areas in Ylistönrinne,” says Keljo, “and so we can also add more plants to our collection. I am currently working on the plans for these areas.”
Different moods in Mattilanniemi and Ylistönrinne
The park area in Mattilanniemi features plants that were popular in urban landscaping in the 1980s. Some plants have been selected for the park also for experimental and research purposes: Which species and varieties are successful at Central Finland’s latitude and in urban environments?
The park in Mattilanniemi has been built in phases since 1984. There are altogether over 250 species and varieties in the park, nearly half of the species of the Botanical Garden.
In addition to some rare specimens, the tree species include Siberian firs, Serbian spruces, limes, rowans, and Norway and Amur maples. The shrub collection includes meadowsweets, sweetberry Honeysuckles, many smaller conifer plants, hydrangeas, and an assortment of various shrubby cinquefoils, and mock-oranges. In the park , you can also admire showy plantings of big perennials, ligularia and hostas. As far as we know, the area also features the northernmost harvest-yielding common walnuts (Juglans regia) in Finland.
The theme of the Ylistönrinne garden is grove vegetation. The area is located next to a natural grove-type forest. Domestic grove plants grow in between the buildings of the Department of Mathematics and Science, including such species as fern, lily-of-the-valley, baneberry, speedwell, yellow iris, cowslip, European White Elm and wych elm, buckthorn, juniper, and hazel.
Most plants were planted there in the 1990s.
New goals for the garden
The Botanical Garden of the University of Jyväskylä has also set new goals for gardening and the treatment of natural surroundings.
“In the garden, we follow the principles of sustainable development,” Keljo says. “The area includes several deadwood sites and meadows to promote the diversity of plant and insect species.”
There are also new meadows in different parts of the campus area. Among them is the slope behind the Library Building, which is worth visiting in summer.
“There is an absolutely gorgeous meadow with daisies, brown knapweeds, and mulleins. In connection with the slope, there is also a dynamic shrub planting with multiple species as well as a deadwood fence.”
Gardener’s tips for a tour
The Seminaarinmäki campus is included in the RKY register for nationally significant built cultural environments, which is maintained by the Finnish Heritage Agency. In 2022, Seminaarinmäki became the first site in the Nordic Countries to receive the European Heritage Label granted by the European Commission.
Keljo works is a coordinator in Jyväskylä University Museum. She has an MA in landscape research, and has trained as a landscape designer and gardener. She has also studied art history, museology and museum work.
When the renovation and refurbishment of the Seminaarinmäki garden started in the early 2010s, Keljo was involved as a gardener.
How does it feel to work in such a culturally and historically significant place?
“Absolutely meaningful and inspiring,” Keljo says. “Work on cultural environments has always been close to my heart, and it has been wonderful to return to Seminaarinmäki.”
Hanna Keljo’s six tips for the Botanical Garden (numbers in the map):
1. Villa Rana garden (2)
“In spring when bird cherries are in bloom and in mid-summer when old peonies are blooming. You can even take a nap in a hammock under the shade of the garden’s apple trees!”
2. For people interested in traditional perennials (8)
“The planting area at the Gardener’s House, and in the small lilac arbour next to the house there are perennials with name plates for easy introduction.”
3. ‘Oppio’ Chinese crab apple trees (Malus prunifolia) (9)
“In front of the O building, you can find these unique plants specific to the University and the Botanical Garden. Read more about them on our website.”
4. Aalto Park (4 and 5)
“In early summer when the ‘John Downie’ crab apple trees are blossoming and from mid-summer when shrub roses are in bloom.”
5. A flower meadow
“Behind the old hospital premises of Pitkäkatu (the walking path by Köyhälampi towards Hippos) there is a fine and large flower meadow! It is most gorgeous around Midsummer when the cranesbills are blooming.”
6. Inner courtyards in Mattilanniemi
“There you can find attractive cool and shady corners with fountains, which provide a nice getaway for taking a break on a hot sunny day while also admiring the hosta, hydrangea and ligularia collections. And if you wish, you can also take a swim in the nearby lake.”
Read more from in the Botanical Garden’s website
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