Wilanów citrus collection in the nineteenth century
Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Passage to knowledge

Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Wilanów citrus collection in the nineteenth century Jacek Kuśmierski
Fragment tarasu pałacu w Wilanowie

The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries witnessed great changes in the art of gardening, welcoming the fashionable landscape style. Picturesque layouts imitating natural, albeit slightly idealised, sceneries replaced the geometrical gardens that had been the pride of every residence until then. Intricately designed parterres gave way to broad lawns, charming flowerbeds and decorative flower gardens, so citruses and other orangery pot trees ceased to play a vital role in plant composition. This turn was aptly summed up by the Deputy Pantler, the eponymous character from Ignacy Krasicki’s 1784 novel, who in these sentimental words bids farewell to intricately formed plants: [...] Two greenhouses built to house foreign plants, and I value them more than our old orangeries where we simply stored oranges, lemons, and laurel trees. They were brought out to decorate our gardens in the summer: but even craftily trimmed trees aren't as pleasing to the eye as the natural branchiness [...] As natural sciences developed and Enlightenment’s understanding of nature became dominant, citruses were deprived of their deep mythological symbolism. The prince of Polish poets quoted above states directly in his letters that [...] Golden apples from the gardens of the Hesperides are the stuff of fairytales [...].

Still, many botanical and gardening works on citrus cultivation were published in Poland at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Stanisław Karol Wodzicki gave most attention to citrus plants in the third volume of his handbook “On the Cultivation, Use, Multiplication, and Exploration of Trees...” (“O Chodowaniu, Użytku, Mnożeniu i Poznawaniu Drzew...”) published in Cracow in 1820. Among the most commonly grown and most decorative species he listed: trifoliate oranges (Citrus trifoliata), tangerines called clementines (Citrus nobilis), myrtle-leaved oranges (Citrus myrtifolia), pomelos (Citrus decumana), bergamot oranges (Citrus bergamia), and lumia lemons (Citrus lumia). Other botanists and gardeners also mentioned well-known bitter (Citrus × aurantium) and sweet oranges (Citrus sinensis), key limes (Citrus aurantifolia), common lemons (Citrus limon), and citrons (Citrus medica). Citrus trees were still greatly valued for the wide use of their fruit and leaves in medicine. They were applied for i.a. gastric issues, to fortify the digestive tract, to treat fever, and even to cure neurosis and malaria. The plants were invariably used in the kitchen as well, especially as ingredients of preserves which were extremely popular in Poland: candied peels, lemonade, liqueurs, and cordials. Bergamot, lemon, and orange blossoms were used in perfume making to produce the so-called “head notes” of the famous Eau de Cologne. Michał Czepiński, a well-known Polish gardener, wrote in his “General Gardening” (“Powszechne Ogrodnictwo) from 1869: [...]The elegant silhouette of this tree, the beautiful leaf, the nice shape and smell of the blossom, and the impressive and as much useful fruit all make the lemon and its species the orange the most beautiful ornament of the Earthly sphere [...].

It was still believed that orangeries were an obligatory part of any decent residence. Thanks to the popularization of steel and glass production and emergence of new heating techniques, a new type of building–called greenhouse or hothouse–appeared. The way buildings were heated also changed. Old tile stoves were replaced by special hot-air ducts hidden in floors and leading along the circumference of the interior. Later they were replaced by pipes with hot water from steam boilers. On wintry nights, all glazings were additionally covered with shutters, boards, and mats to protect the interior from losing warmth. Plant storage houses were classified depending on internal temperature: there were cold greenhouses, namely the orangeries and winter gardens (5–10°C), and warm greenhouses, further subdivided into temperate (8–12°C) and hot (12–20°C) greenhouses. Hothouses were used to cultivate new tropical and subtropical species brought from Central and South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Depending on the type of cultivated plants, the buildings were called fighouses, pineapplehouses, orchidhouses, cameliahouses, fernhouses, cactihouses, palmhouses, aquariums, etc. These new facilities caused many a problem for their owners: [...] The amount of glass reflecting sun rays dazzles, the smoke from the chimneys infects the air, the number of people hired to cultivate treibhouse plants disturbs the peace, the source of the greatest pleasure from a garden [...] These were the words with which Franciszek Ksawery Giżycki in the second volume of “On Decorating Country Settlements” (“O Przyozdobieniu Siedlisk Wiejskich”) from 1827 summed up the negative results of building a greenhouse, at the same time advising that it should be situated far from decorative gardens.

Aleksandra and Stanisław Kostka Potocki, owners of Wilanów since 1799, transformed the local park arrangement into one of the most beautiful English landscape gardens in Poland. Their wide-ranging actions did not spare the plants inside the orangery, which supposedly still held plants dating back to the times of the Saviour of Vienna. The Potocki family certainly understood the power of tradition behind it, as proven by the memorial hoop for King Jan III’s bay tree (Wil.3381) founded by Stanisław Kostka Potocki in 1805. The following text was engraved on three decorative fields of the hoop: “KING JAN III’S BAY TREE SCATHED BY A CANNON BALL DURING THE SIEGE OF WARSAW IN THE YEAR MDCCXCIV [1794]” followed by verses from the poem “On the Bay Tree in Wilanów” (“Na Laur w Wilanowie”) by Józef Lipiński, Polish poet and Potocki’s colleague. Perhaps it was the very same tree, planted during King Jan III’s reign, from which Aleksandra Potocka (née Lubomirska) sent laurel branches that served as decoration for the six volumes of Szymon Bogumił Linde’s “Dictionary of Polish” (“Słownik Języka Polskiego”) during the feast organized by the Society of Friends of Science (TPN) on 5 March 1815 in the English Hotel in Warsaw. The Potocki family sought to honour the memory of the Saviour of Vienna also by maintaining his historic collection of orangery plants. At the same time, they adjusted it to their needs and the current fashion. Undoubtedly, it was Karol Barthel of Wrocław, who was responsible for the Wilanów garden arrangement in 1797–1855, to whom we owe the shape of this collection. He supervised the rearrangement of the entire park so that it adhered to the Potocki family’s vision, and employed the skills he acquired while creating the park of Duchess Izabela Lubomirska in Mokotów. His close cooperation, particularly with Aleksandra Potocka, became the subject of satirical verses. During the feast organized on 3 May 1812 Anna Tyszkiewicz, wife of Aleksander Potocki, recited the following to her mother-in-law: The Lady of Wilanów so fair / Tends keenly to shrubs in her garden / With tenderness, love and care, / But only when with Barthel, the warden. The owners of Wilanów also founded a scholarship for the already-mentioned Michał Czepiński, who served his apprenticeship in the gardens there between 1818 and 1820. Afterwards, he was sent on a five-years-long journey to France, where he studied at famous plant nurseries under Joseph-Bernard and Augustin Baumann in Bollwiller, Simon-Louis Frères in Metz, and Ferdinand Jamin in Bourg la Reine near Paris.

Obręcz na wawrzyn króla Jana III

The most important work carried out by the Potocki family in Wilanów gardens was the rebuilding of the existing Baroque Czartoryski orangery, which was reduced by one third in length on the eastern side, to 74 metres. A decorative four-column Corinthian portico was also added. The materials came from the Warsaw Dominican Observant Church, whose demolition was supervised by Karol Jan Dollinger. Also during this reconstruction, the southern façade gained 19 large French windows called ‘porte-fenêtres’ from French (Fr. porte door, fenêtre window) and mascarons crowning window arches. The work, completed in ca. 1820, was supervised by an outstanding architect of the Classicism period, Chrystian Piotr Aigner, who used his experience from similar construction projects, among others in Olesin near Kurów, Puławy, Zarzecze, and Łańcut. The reconstruction of the Wilanów orangery was most likely carried out based on the concept by Stanisław Kostka Potocki himself, who had earlier been engaged in similar projects in Puławy and Łańcut. A sheet with hand sketches of an unidentified orangery with a bathroom drawn by the count himself before 1821 survived in the National Library (sign. R.4889). Thanks to later sources, we know that the roof of the Wilanów orangery was covered with wood shingle and the windows were equipped with double-folded shutters made of pine wood.

During their times in Wilanów, the Potocki family made significant changes to the over 8,000 sq. m. of gardens situated on the northern side of the residence. Until 1841, many buildings were built here to cultivate exotic plants. Apart from the orangery and the fighouse, there were two greenhouses called ‘trebhauses’, a brick greenhouse, and two pineapplehouses. In the next decade, Aleksandra and August Potocki modernized the entire complex by building waterworks delivering water from the Wilanowskie Lake. The work was supervised by Theodor Schramke, an engineer from Berlin, and completed in 1852. The old stove system in the Orangery was replaced with underfloor heating, and a central fountain with a statue of Triton and two smaller side pools were situated along the main axis of the building. An aquarium, i.e. a special greenhouse in the form of a circular pool with a diameter of seven metres and filled with heated water, was built between the Gardener's House and St. Alexander’s Hospital. In the winter, it was covered with a special structure. A winter garden, called the “Palace Orangery” was established in the southern wing of the Palace. All this construction work resulted in a unique building complex being created in Wilanów to cultivate greenhouse and orangery plants on a total area of 1,800 square metres.

Wilanowskie ogrodnictwo na fragmencie planu sytuacyjnego

The impressive complex accommodated one of the largest plant collections in Warsaw at the time. Inventories from 1856 and 1857 list a total of 771 species and varieties in over 7,200 plant specimens. Aleksandra and August Potocki acquired real botanical rarities for Wilanów. The specimens they purchased were brought to Europe from remote parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia, Australia, Southern Africa, or tropical regions of America. Among them, there were: edible pineapples (Ananas comosus), Japanese camellias (Camellia japonica), Indian azaleas (Rhododendron indicum), and evergreen cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens). The Potocki family also gathered an impressive collection of ericas (Erica sp.), pelargoniums (Pelargonium sp.), and garden dahlias (Dahlia hybr.). There were also real botanical curiosities, such as Stanhopea wardii, an orchid species from tropical America, and Western-Australian Banksia attenuata with unique candle-resembling inflorescences. Yet of all these specimens, the famous royal victoria (Victoria amazonica) attracted most attention with its impressive size–leaves with diameters exceeding two metres and flowers reaching almost 45 centimetres in diameter. It was cultivated in the aquarium mentioned above, built specifically for this plant.

However, the core of the Potocki family’s collection was still constituted by the magnificent orangery trees growing in buckets made of pine wood bound in iron hoops with two handles for transportation purposes. These included 56 specimens of bitter orange (Citrus × aurantium), 51 pomelos (Citrus maxima), two mandarin oranges (Citrus reticulata), five citrons (Citrus medica), nine laurels (Laurus nobilis) and 22 pomegranates (Punica granatum). Each plant had an individual number, proving their outstanding value as collection items. There were also eight lemons (Citrus limon), three myrtle-leaved oranges (Citrus myrtifolia), and two sweet oranges (Citrus sinensis). Some sources suggest that the Wilanów collection included pomegranate trees imported by Queen Marie Casimire, and mulberries and citrus trees introduced to Wilanów by King Jan III. The plants were given special care under the supervision of the garden inspector. The list of 1856 gardening instructions opens with notes on the cultivation of orangery plants: […] 1. With utmost care oversee all greenhouse Plants in the Orangery and other greenhouses, and place them by Types and Species in open air in the summer, and in the greenhouses in the wintertime. / 2. Water and replant Oranges, Lemons, and all types of trees in large wooden buckets only in personal attendance and having personally made sure it is required. […]

The orangery collection of the Potocki family was displayed in the most representative parts of the gardens, accentuating Palace entrances and embellishing the decorative lawns unfolding in Palace surroundings. The plants were transported to the garden on low-wheel carts drawn by horses. The trees also decorated the area around the tent displayed near the orangery, King Jan III’s spoil of the Battle of Vienna, which legends of the time said had belonged to Kara Mustafa himself. One could sit there on porcelain stools and enjoy the garden atmosphere. In order to upkeep the concept of commemorating King Jan III, Aleksandra and August Potocki planned to decorate the orangery with Latin inscriptions about the victorious king, accompanied by laurels and palms symbolizing his reign: Transtulit hue Oriens laurus, palmasque virentes,/ Ut seri carpant hinc laurea serta Nepotes or another version Hic virides laurus, et palmas gloria plantat / Ut seri carpant victricia serta nepotes. These inscriptions came most likely from Andrzej Chryzostom Załuski’s “Epistolae historico-familiares: Acta Johannis Tertii usque ad obitum ejus exlusivè Continens” from 1710 or Jakub Kazimierz Rubinkowski’s “On the Victorious Triumphs of King Jan…(“Janina Zwycięskich Tryumfow…) , published in 1739. This incredibly precious collection was often displayed to the public during exhibitions held at the orangery, as well as garden and agricultural-industrial expositions organized in Warsaw in the second half of the nineteenth century. Wilanów greenhouses faced competition from the Botanical Garden, the Saxon Garden, the Royal Łazienki Park, the Frascati gardens, and the plant nurseries of the Ulrichs and the Hoser brothers. The efforts of Countess Aleksandra Potocka were often appreciated and awarded with prizes and medals, proving that Wilanów was one of the most dynamic gardening centres in nineteenth-century Warsaw.

Translated by Katarzyna Bartkowiak

This article has been written as part of the “Citri et Aurea” project carried out in cooperation with the Uffizi Gallery – the Boboli Gardens in Florence, under the patronage of the European Route of Historic Gardens.

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