Wilanów Orangery collection in exhibitions over the second half of 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 Orangery collection in exhibitions over the second half of the nineteenth century Jacek Kuśmierski
Wystawa ogrodnicza w Warszawie

In Wilanów, the versatile gardening activity of the Potocki family had two fundamental dimensions: expanding the Palace and park arrangement in landscape style, and gathering an outstanding collection of exotic plants. Here, particularly distinguished was Aleksandra née Potocka, who beautified the gardens in cooperation with prominent architects: Bolesław Podczaszyński, Henryk Marconi, and Franciszek Maria Lanci. She also hired some of the best garden inspectors, such as Karol Barthel, Tytus Zbranicki, Franciszek Pelda, and Gustav Lassé. Together with her husband, August Potocki, she modernized the Wilanów gardens by building waterworks and new glasshouses, and renovating the existing ones. Thanks to proper technical background and excellent staff, Wilanów was well set to become a model gardening centre. However, Aleksandra’s patronage did not stop at Wilanów; she also financially supported craft education with donations to the Middle School of Gardening in Nowogrodzka Street in Warsaw. In 1873, she funded a scholarship for Edmund Jankowski, one of the most important Polish gardeners of the nineteenth century, which enabled him to travel to the School of Tree Cultivation in Paris (L'Ecole d'Arboriculture et d'Horticulture de la Ville de Paris). Upon return, he dedicated one of his most important publications to his benefactress: “Flowers of Our Gardens” (“Kwiaty naszych ogrodów”) was published in 1877 and reprinted many times. Countess Aleksandra Potocka also funded two silver cups for winners of the industrial and agricultural exhibition organized in Ujazdowskie Fields in 1874. She was one of the co-founders of the Warsaw Gardening Society and took active part in its activity.

Aleksandra Potocka was particularly interested in gardening and agricultural-industrial exhibitions organized in Warsaw. On the one hand, these events provided opportunities for giving charity to various public benefit institutions. On the other hand, Aleksandra could use these events to display her achievements in gardening, the finesse of her gardeners, and the size of her plant collection. The plant collection was displayed to the public at exhibitions organized in the Wilanów orangery, for instance, in 1852 and 1853. Wilanów and Natolin also participated in contests during other exhibitions in Warsaw, competing against i.a. the Botanical Garden, the Saxon Garden, the Royal Łazienki Park, Zamoyskis’ gardens, the Frascati gardens, and the botanical companies of the Ulrichs, the Hoser brothers, and the Bardet brothers. The efforts of Countess Aleksandra Potocka were often appreciated and awarded with prizes and medals, proving that Wilanów stood high as a gardening centre in nineteenth-century Warsaw.

The first flower, fruit, and garden crop exhibition was organized in Warsaw between 23 and 30 September 1847 in the vestibule of the Artificial Mineral Water Institute by the Saxon Garden. Many greenhouse plants, as well as fruit (among others melons, pineapples, and watermelons) were sent from Wilanów. The event was held again two years later, and the specimens presented by Aleksandra and August Potocki amazed the audience. The front page of “Gazeta Warszawska” reported: [...] Plentiful greenhouses in Wilanów, under the supervision of mister Wyżykowski, next to the wonderful trees from the Botanical Garden, are a display of rareness, diversity, and beauty. White Stanhopea Wardii flowers, of which there are perhaps several in Europe and certainly only one here, or the blossoming heather, are more captivating even than the rare collection of coniferous trees or the jagged-leaf oak. Such a tasteful selection, such affluence and beauty of plants can only be achieved with great love and ducal wealth [...] Apart from the orchid (Stanhopea wardii), the reporters also admired coniferous plants, in particular the swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum). In 1850, the flower, plant, and garden crop exhibition for the benefit of the Morally Neglected Children Institute was held at the Ostrogski Castle in Ordynacka Street. This time the famous Wilanów greenhouses presented unique varieties of tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium), celosia (Celosia sp.), commonly called cockscomb, and several rare species, such as Echites, lofos (Lophospermum)cuphea (Cuphea × purpurea), and calathea (Calathea lutea).

Wystawa ogrodnicza w budynku byłej Ujeżdżalni przy ulicy Królewskiej w Warszawie

At the beginning of May 1852, the construction of a new water system in Wilanów came to a close. The system consisted of a steam machine located in the neo-Gothic pump station, pipes, as well as fountains and pools situated in different parts of the gardens. The work was supervised by Theodor Schramke, an engineer from Berlin. Thanks to this investment it was possible to built, among others, a special round pool with heated water for the cultivation of the famous royal victoria (Victoria amazonica). This investment was celebrated with a special plant exhibition organized by Aleksandra and August Potocki on 17–19 May 1852. The exhibition was curated by Franciszek Pelda, a gardener from Czech Prague, then inspector of Wilanów gardens. Making full use of the spring season and the abundance of blossoming flowers, Pelda prepared breath-taking compositions which stunned the visitors with a multitude of colours and fragrances. The most outstanding were the blossoming flowerbeds of exotic shrubs, such as Indian azaleas (Rhododendron simsii) and yellow azaleas (Rhododendron luteum), camelias (Camellia sp.), and tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa). They were accompanied by decorative cinerarias (Pericallis × hybrida), wallflowers (Cheiranthus sp.), ericas (Erica sp.), heaths (Epacris sp.), slipperworts (Calceolaria sp.), butterfly flowers (Schizanthus pinnatus), penny blacks (Nemophila discoidalis), and popular wild pansies (Viola tricolor), hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis), tulips (Tulipa sp.), and alpine forget-me-nots (Myosotis alpestris). There were also some botanical curiosities, like acacias (including Acacia longifolia), Indian mallows (Abutilon venosum), and carobs (Ceratonia siliqua) with their large pods called St. John’s bread. The core of the exhibition was formed by centuries-old laurel trees (Laurus nobilis), olive trees (Olea europaea) with ripe fruit, and orange trees (Citrus sp.). Also notable were the pomegranate trees (Punica granatum) and the Mediterranean buckthorns (Rhamnus alaternus) estimated to be 200 years old! A reporter from “Gazeta Warszawska” mentioned that the Wilanów greenhouses also held a pitcher plant (Nepenthes distillatoria) which had eventually not been displayed at the exhibition because it had [...] just been sent in and was much weakened by the journey [...] Along with the specimen in the Botanical Garden, the Wilanów plant was one of the only two pitchers in Warsaw at the time.

The next flower exhibition was organized by Franciszek Pelda at the Wilanów Orangery between 18 and 22 May 1853, during the indulgence on St. Boniface’s Day in Czerniaków. Following the request of Ksawery Pusłowski, Vice-president of the Warsaw Charity Association, Aleksandra and August Potocki donated the ticket profits to the Orphans Department. Fund were raised by Orphan Department patrons, including Duchess Julia Drucka-Lubecka, Duchess Zeneida Hołyńska, Countess Ermancja Uruska, Baroness Maria Kobylińska, and Ludwika Minter née Czarnecka. The exhibition attracted thousands of visitors, among them the Viceroy of the Kingdom of Poland Iwan Paskiewicz himself, who–just like other invited guests–placed his donation on a silver tray given to King Jan III by the citizens of Cracow after the victorious Battle of Vienna (today part of the Wilanów collection, inv. no. Wil.500). On entering the orangery through the Korynthian portico, the guests could admire three impressive fountains–the larger central one with a diameter of four metres and two smaller ones on the sides. To the left of the entrance, there was a double row of laurel trees (Laurus nobilis) interspersed with orange and lemon trees, buckthorns, olive trees, and acacias leading to the statue of Bacchus by German sculptor August Kiss. The composition was decorated with blue fivespots (Nemophila maculata), pink drooping catchflies (Silene pendula), and alpine forget-me-nots (Myosotis alpestris). Further on, cypresses (Cupressus sp.) made an excellent dark-coloured background for the multicolour tree (Rhododendron arboretum) and Indian rhododendrons (Rhododendron simsii), Japanese camellias (Camellia japonica), tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa), Provence roses (Rosa × centifolia), and acacias, including the interesting paradox acacia (Acacia paradoxa), with thorns growing out of stipules. On the bottom level grew the yellow-blossoming stonecrops (Sedum sp.), alpine forget-me-nots (Myosotis alpestris), and pennie blacks (Nemophila discoidalis) in a variety with characteristic deep crimson, nearly black flowers. On the opposite side, there was a double row of coniferous trees led by a house pine (Araucaria excelsa) and an Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica). These impressive plants were accompanied by a reddish camellia, windflowers (Anemone sp.), striped gillyflowers Matthiola sp.), and a flowerbed of double tulips.

The centre of the exhibition was occupied by a round fountain crowned with a Triton blowing out water, i.e. a statue by the afore-mentioned August Kiss. The pool encircled with alpine forget-me-nots (Myosotis alpestris) and exotic ferns was, on one side, surrounded by a semi-circular double line of evergreen cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) in several variants, enclosed by two acacia trees (Acacia longifolia). The arch was filled with blossoming ericas (Erica sp.), airplants (Tillandsia sp.), and the so-called fuchsia heaths (Epacris longiflora). On the opposite side there was a spectacular grove of coniferous plants, including tall araucarias (Araucaria heterophylla, Araucaria cunninghamii), horoecas Pseudopanax crassifolius), and Japanese cedars (Cryptomeria japonica) surrounded by eleutheros (Eleutherococcus trifoliatus), and podocarpus (Podocarpus sp.). Behind stood the four-sided pyramid crowned by an orange tree on top and Douglas’ meadowfoams (Limnanthes douglasii) and white gillyflowers (Matthiola sp.) at the base. Its walls were filled with blue and purple cinerarias (Pericallis × hybrida). The centrepiece of this exhibition part was the Banksia attenuata with its unique blossoms resembling candles, displayed in the midst of butterfly flowers (Schizanthus pinnatus) and carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus).

A visitor could follow the alley of olive trees, rhododendrons (Rhododendron arboretum, Rhododendron grande, Rhododendron simsii), camellias, and acacias (Acacia longifolia) leading them to a plaster replica of a sculpture by sculptor Hermann Knaur, a genius of old German architecture. The entire composition was crowned by aged laurels, myrtles, oranges, acacias, and other exotic trees and shrubs interspersed with flowerbeds of tulips, hyacinths, narcissi, stocks, cyclamens, buttercups, and slipper flowers (Calceolaria sp.). Additionally, produce from Wilanów greenhouses was displayed by the smaller pool: cauliflowers, potatoes, beans, cucumbers, asparagus, and Italian hemp. A “Gazeta Warszawska” journalist who gave account of the exhibition was extremely impressed by the presented plants: [...] Absolute charm, as if you were transmitted to some blissful bank, beckoned to a new life by a loving enchantress handing you a magical potion that would transform your earthly nature. […]

Świadectwo przyznania ogrodom Willanów i Natolin medalu złotego małego za najpiękniejszy i najliczniejszy dobór liściastych i kwiatowych szklarni zimnej

After the death of her husband in 1867, Countess Aleksandra Potocka continued to take active part in various exhibitions organized in Warsaw, like the industrial and agricultural exhibitions in Ujazdowskie Fields in 1874 and 1885, or the exhibitions organized by the Warsaw Gardening Society and the Museum of Industry and Agriculture. She was quite successful there. At the 1881 general gardening exhibition organized by the Industrial and Agricultural Museum in Dolina Szwajcarska (“Swiss Valley”) gardens, the Countess received thanks from the jury for [...] all the orangery and greenhouse plants displayed, and their perfected cultivation [...]. The jurors showed particular appreciation for the grand aloe vera plants (Aloe purpurea), ferns (Cyathea medullaris), bush flaxes (Cordyline indivisa), ponytail palms (Beaucarnea recurvata), European fan palms (Chamaerops humilis), and dragos (Dracaena draco). At the 1885 gardening exhibition, the Countess received the grand gold medal for the most beautiful and ample selection of greenhouse plants. There she presented: the so-called lily-of-the-valley trees (Clethra arborea), evergreen cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens, pyramidalis, elegans), myrtles, Eugenias, horoekas (Pseudopanax crassifolius), Himalayan cedars (Cedrus deodara), evergreen dogwoods (Cornus capitata), mock oranges (Pittosporum tobira), citrons (Citrus medica), bitter oranges (Citrus × aurantium), rhododendrons, and many more. She had great success at the gardening exhibition in the Orangery of the Royal Łazienki Park in July 1886, winning as many as six awards for summer fruit, gesneriads, begonias, impatiens, stocks, and cockscombs.

After Aleksandra Potocka’s death in 1892, the Wilanów residence was inherited by Ksawery Władysław Branicki. Known for his botanical passion and collection of harvest yields, he certainly appreciated Wilanów's rich gardening traditions. Gardening remained a popular subject of competitions and exhibitions until the 1920s. At the General Gardening Exhibition organized in September 1895 in Bagatela Street, Wilanów won as many as 13 medals, including the gold minor medal for the most beautiful and ample selection of deciduous plants and flowers cultivated in a cold greenhouse, two silver minor medals for fruit trees in buckets and the selection of coniferous glasshouse plants, and two bronze medals for Araceae and ferns. In 1900, the Fruit Exhibition jurors awarded Ksawery Branicki with the grand silver medal for presented fruits, especially peaches. Wilanów garden inspector Stanisław Górski and Aleksander Pajączkowski from Natolin were among the gardeners and plant growers who received diplomas of recognition for orcharding achievements. At a gardening exhibition in September 1922, Wilanów gardening was represented by Areca bakeri palms and kentias (Howea forsteriana), as well as various decorative greenhouse plants, such as dwarf bananas (Musa Cavendish), screwpines (Pandanus veitchii), caladiums (Caladium sp.), and several specimens of grand orchids (Stanhopea oculata).

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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