Photo: Alexander Stemp

Each season another gardening story at Alcsút Arboretum

Where beauty still survives tragedy

For those in search for an intriguing day out, I highly recommend visiting the Alcsút Arboretum. This 40-kilometre drive from the city comes with two features: the remains of what was the atmospheric Neoclassic Kastély Portikusz, which translates as Castle Portikus, and the arboretum itself. Although this early 19th-century frontage could resemble a promising Shakespearian stage set, it also exudes an eerie silence relating to its short-lived past. Surrounding this abandonment is the very well-tended 40-hectare arboretum that dates to the same time. This cultivated area is inspired by an English garden aesthetic that delivers botanical splendour all year round.

During the Habsburg reign, this property belonged to the aristocratic founder Lord József Nádor and was built between 1820 and 1827. There he lived with his wife, Princess Hermina, and they both artistically and scientifically designed, created and then maintained this park until his death in 1847. Throughout these times of empire, the imperial dwelling excelled for its classicist fortifications. That was until disaster struck less than a century later.

Placed around the established trees, which clearly represent the Nádors’ time, are other beguiling structures that add to the romantic and sweeping atmosphere. These include various bridges, a Neo-Romanesque chapel that now hosts a permanent exhibition, a pavilion, lake and stables. It’s clear: all the former owners were skilled in land management, which also provided work for the local community. Sheep breeding was another activity. Visitors can sense the meticulous planning and care this locale received then and now, regardless of misfortune.

It’s good to see that something of symbolic magnificence still remains with the actual château front. But beyond this point there is not much more to be said, as it was finally destroyed and abandoned during World War II. The Habsburg owners were forced to move out, leaving everything behind, when Soviet soldiers moved in in 1944.

This abode was not only looted but the bricks and stones were also dismantled and taken away. The last to leave witnessed the library on fire, presumably an act of arson. Only part of the original front facade remains, lately supported from behind by bricked supports. It’s remarkable that the bridges, chapel and so on relatively survived during that precarious time. The palm house is long gone though.

A short while later, this area was nationalised and went under an official protection order. It is now a mature nature reserve, rather than what it was with its former house and history. Horticulture and forestry now lead the way in these immediate grounds.

The Alcsút Arboretum still is the most impressive artistically styled park in all Hungary. The cultured Lord Nádor and his family integrated nearly 300 plant species from all over Europe. Springtime snowdrops were introduced, since when they have repeatedly flourished, bringing much delight to generations of visitors. Each passing season tells a different gardening story. Even during the arboretum’s winter sleep there is much to see. In June thousands of glowing fireflies buzz around during night-time.

Photo: Alcsúti Arborétum

The tree species include various plantains, hazels, tulip-trees, copper beeches, ash, cypresses, firs, Japanese acacias, lindens, maples, oaks, walnuts, sycamores, plum trees, chestnuts, a giant thuya and a Lebanese cedar. A fine row of plantain trees leads for 20 kilometres along a minor road to Etyek, village. Despite obvious misfortune, this specialised and abundant area is at least compensated by a most valuable consortium of garden life and culture.

To get there, either take the M1 Vienna road and turn off at Bicske, or take the M7 Balaton route and turn off at the “34 km” junction later. The arboretum is situated relatively between either end. There is a train service to Bicske, from where you can take a bus or cycle the remaining 10 kilometres.

Lord Nádor’s residence is clearly a loss but his horticultural legacy offers much further study and respectfully lives on. As for what he achieved, this will continue to endure and go beyond any further disasters for much time to come.

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