Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Botanical Garden At The Wilhelma Zoo

This time of year is tough weather wise. Days are more apt to be gray and dreary than they are sun filled, trees are still barren and a few select flowers may have begun to tentatively pop up from the ground. Come March I find myself in desperate need of a pick-me-up and this past weekend I found just that in Stuttgart, Germany (of all places). I spent the day at the Wilhelma Zoo and Botanical Garden and experienced the boost of spring I so desperately needed.

Prickly garden
Now the zoo was nice, much nicer in fact than many zoos I have visited, but it was the arboretums and greenhouses that really make this zoo so special. Located on the outskirts of Stuttgart, and like many European zoos and botanical gardens, and sharing a similar history with Berlin's zoo, this zoo's grounds were originally designed as a private royal retreat for Swabian King Wilhelm I. The buildings and grounds were designed with a Moorish style, which was popular with royal families during the mid 19th Century. The grounds encompass 70 acres, contains original gardens and structures as well as new ones and has numerous glass houses which hold the lush greenhouses and tropical gardens. It is the only zoo and botanical garden in Germany and welcomes over 2.1 million visitors each year.

Visiting in March, the grounds were well manicured but lacked the vivid colors and lush foliage that summer blooms would bring. But all was not lost. By stepping inside one of the many indoor tropical glass houses, I was greeted with the warmth, humidity and lush colors that I was looking for. While I don't have a green thumb--a black thumb is more like it--I've always been a fan of greenhouses of all kinds. Whether it is the greenhouses with budding seedlings found at your local garden shop or elaborate arboretums at botanical gardens, there is something about the earthy smell and steamy humidity that just relaxes my body and my soul. And the steamy and lush glass houses at this botanical garden were no exception.

Strolling through the azaleas

Bloom ready to burst open
We wandered from one glass house to another taking in the greenery and flowers. There was the glass house which while still warm was more arid. This one was home to amazing prickly cacti and hearty aloe plants. More tropical environments contained soaring palm trees and plants more reminiscent of the tropics rather than Germany. There were tiny ponds, moss covered expanses and even a citrus grove complete with lemons and oranges. An entire house filled with blooming azalea bushes reminded me of our old azalea filled neighborhood back in Norfolk. I had forgotten how much the bright pinks and reds filled me with cheer, Then there was the Amazon house, located in the lower "new" glass house. Here we found not only giant snakes and a crocodile but the birds and plants that go along with the environment.

Yes, the color is real

All of this was a wee bit of welcome paradise that was just what I needed to drive away the late winter blues. And judging but the manicured grounds and carefully pruned trees outside of the glass houses, I can only imagine how beautiful the entire grounds must be in the midst of summer. I dare say that they warrant a return trip to Stuttgart.

Lush foliage and steamy temperatures provides a brief respite from the
raw weather outside

If you go:
Wilhelma Zoo & Botanical Garden
Wilhelmaplatz 13
70376 Stuttgart, Germany
+49 711 54020
16 Euro for adults, 8 Euro children, ages 6 and under are free
Open daily from 08:15; closing times vary throughout the year

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