About Precedents Masterplan The Gardens Blog Press

Scientific Gardens, also known as Gardens of Knowledge, have always been of interest to the finest scientific and cultural thinkers of every civilisation. Scientific Gardens can be seen as the crystallisation of the scientific thought of the day: details such as the layout of the walks and the choice of landscape reflect contemporary trends in geometry, physics and even philosophy.

Plants brought back from distant voyages of exploration, variations on a given architectural theme, technical innovations in terms of irrigation or protection from inclement weather, every facet of a scientific garden bears an aspect of innovation and learning.

The Portrack Garden in Dumfriesshire, Scotland was created in 1990. The design was inspired by chaos theory, the main principle of which was Chinese geomancy. This garden is based entirely on the most up to date knowledge. Prime examples of science in action in the garden environment is the effort to keep weeds at bay, or in the keeping of bees for the purposes of pollination. However, one of the key products from a garden and still within the scientific community is the development of medicine through plants.

Aspirin, for example, was traditionally extracted from willow bark and Saint John’s wort is currently being pioneered as a treatment for depression. However, although the botanic gardens of today still provide much in the way of the scientific study of plants, there is a great deal of effort being made in creating gardens that will educate the public.

The Scientific Gardens at the King Abdullah International Gardens in Saudi Arabia will contain six defined areas:
  • Aviary
  • Butterfly
  • Physic
  • Sound and Light
  • Discovery
  • Maze
Aviary Garden

There are many species of birds indigenous to Saudi Arabia and literally hundreds more are passing migrants. In the winter birds of prey, including falcons, arrive in the Kingdom. Other seasonal visitors include doves, ducks, geese, the houbara, kingfishers, martins, owls, pipits, quail, swallows, vultures of various types and warblers.

Crows, black kites and, above all, sparrows, encouraged where more plentiful sources of water occur, thrive within the Kingdom. The southern region has the richest bird population of any part of the Kingdom. Eagles, goshawks, linnets, magpies, partridges, thrushes and woodpeckers are amongst the species to be found there at some time of the year.

There are many bird species that do not venture into the Kingdom and the provision of an Aviary would provide the people of Saudi Arabia with the opportunity to come face to face with these birds in a controlled environment.

Some examples of existing parks supporting both exotic and indigenous birds include:

• Jurong Bird Park, Bukit Perepok, Singapore
• BirdWorld, Surrey, UK
• Parrot Jungle Island, Florida, USA

Jurong Bird Park

The park, covering 20.2 hectares was built in 1973 at a cost of $3.5m. While the Park was being built, the Park’s officials urged ambassadors and foreign dignitaries to Singapore to contribute birds for the new park. Soon, birds from all over the world finches, pheasants, herons, mallards, owls, cockatoos began arriving. By opening day, 12 countries, 7 zoos and 40 private donors had contributed birds to the Park. Its collection of more than 9,000 birds from 600 species is among the largest in the world.

The site is broken up with around 16 different zones, including:

• African Wetlands Exhibit
• Pelican Cove
• South East Asia Birds Aviary
• World of Darkness
• Waterfall Aviary


With 10.5 hectares, BirdWorld has the largest collection of its type in the UK. BirdWorld was first opened in 1968, it contains 590 birds from 190 species. This is considered to be a fine collection even though Birdworld itself quotes an estimated 9,000 species of bird in existence around the world.

The site has many different sections, including:

• Topiary Garden
• Penguin Island
• Garden Centre
• Underwater World
• Parrots in flight aviary

Parrot Jungle Island

The park was first created in 1936, covering 8 hectares. However since this time it has moved twice. It is now the home of 1,100 tropical birds and 2,000 varieties of plants and flowers. The park now includes a wider range of animals than the original parrot concept allowed for.

Butterfly Garden

There are 150 species of butterflies and pupae which flourish on the Arabian Peninsula, many of these, including some of the most beautiful, can be found in the mountains and lowlands of the Hejaz and Asir Provinces in the west and southwest of the Kingdom.

The best natural habitats for butterflies in Saudi Arabia are the southwestern mountain wadis, which have a relatively wide variety of green vegetation and flowers,especially after good winter rains. Such locations have the largest number of species. It is not uncommon to see around twenty different species in particularly productive habitats. As butterflies are heavily dependent on flowers and caterpillar food plants, these sites are also very rich in natural flora. Some of the best areas of all are in the verdant wadis beneath the towering escarpment mountains, west of Abha in Asir. The rich wadis and surrounding hill sides are home to the exciting Acraeas and Charaxes butterflies.

Acraeas are attractive butterflies with rich tawny wings with black spots and wing borders. In some ways superficially resembling the fritillaries of more temperate climates, such as Europe.

Butterflies in Saudi Arabia can sometimes be seen feeding in the moist sediments near water, supplementing their regular diet with additional minerals. Some species, such as Charaxes rarely feed on flower nectar, preferring rotting fruit or meat.

As long as favourable habitats remain, or arise temporarily, the gorgeous butterflies to be found in western Saudi Arabia will continue to provide strong interest and enjoyment for keen butterfly watchers.

Given this variety of butterfly species within Saudi Arabia as abundant as they are, the King Abdullah International Gardens has the potential to provide a natural garden environment for butterflies as well as a purpose built sanctuary with a microclimate suitable for those butterflies incapable of survival in this environment. Some examples of butterfly gardens from around the world include:

• Butterfly World, Florida, USA
• Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Cairns, Australia
• The Butterfly Pavilion, Westminster, Colorado

Butterfly World

This environment was first created by Ronald Boender,
initially a hobby, he created a small butterfly garden to analyse the behaviours of butterflies. By 1988 Butterfly Garden, as the tourist attraction and research facility that it is today was opened. It contains 5,000 butterflies, of 150 different species, however, only as many as 50 species can be seen at any one time due to seasonal change.

Butterfly World contains:

• Wings of the World Aviary
• Secret Garden
• Tropical Rainforest
• Paradise Adventure Aviary
• Butterfly Farm
• Laboratory and Research buildings

Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Cairns, Australia

The sanctuary was first opened in 1987, and is now the home for 1,500 tropical butterflies. The aviary itself is a 3,666 m3 rainforest environment as all of the butterflies are naturally occurring in this habitat.

This butterfly aviary was the largest of its kind in the world at the time it was built, however today; it has been surpassed and is now the largest in the southern hemisphere. There is an onsite laboratory dedicated to the research of the butterflies and the early development of pupae, through the varying stages of growth before becoming butterflies.

The Butterfly Pavilion

The Butterfly Pavilion is a 30,000 sq ft facility, covering five acres Westminster, Colorado. It took many years of research to determine how to provide the conservatory climate and year round sources of nectar from flowering plants needed by the butterflies. Now, more than 1,200 individual butterflies (from up to 260 different species) fly free in the tropical environment, controlled and maintained to average 80 degrees and 70% humidity.

Physic Garden

Early herbal / physic gardens were created by physicians and students of medicine, to grow plants having medicinal or pharmaceutical properties. In contrast, the first botanical gardens were devoted to broader studies of plants, including those of both economic and horticultural significance.

A basic definition for a physic garden is “a garden maintained for the study and cultivation of plants for medicinal purposes.”

Examples of modern physic gardens include:

- Chelsea Physic Garden
- University of British Columbia
- The Kindersley Centre

Chelsea Physic Garden, London, UK

Founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, the Chelsea Physic Garden was considered to be one of the worlds most richly stocked botanic gardens, however by todays standards it is a centre developed for its natural medicinal education than the research and study of plants in general, hence its confirmed status as a physic garden.

This said, it does continue to research the properties, origins and conservation of over 5000 species and all this in the relatively small space of 1.4 hectares. The garden has developed a major role in public education and focuses largely on society’s renewed interest in natural medicine.

Highlights of the garden include:

The “Garden of World Medicine” highlights plants used medicinally by the North American Indians, the Maori from New Zealand, Australian Aboriginals, Chinese and many other cultures. This is not a garden of proven medical remedies, instead one that looks at the uses of plants for medicinal purposes within each culture concerned and their own views about what constitutes healing.

The Pharmaceutical Garden is a display of plants yielding therapeutic compounds of proven value in current medicinal practice and are in world-wide use today.

The University of British Columbia, Physic Gardens

A part of the university’s botanical garden, the Physic Garden claims to be “where modern day medicine and ancient healing herbs meet”. It was established at its current site in 1968. The entire botanic garden covers 44 hectares of which the Physic Garden is just a small part. Using a formal design it encompasses the healing plants that provided medicine long before the Greek and Roman Empires, such as cornflowers, yarrow, hollyhock and hyacinth - used traditionally for as far back as 50,000 B.C. - foxglove, which provides the heart remedies, digitoxin and digoxin, and periwinkle, used to help alleviate leukemia.

Within beautiful circular paths are the traditional medicinal herbs and flowers from England’s Medieval, Tudor and Elizabethan periods. These plants were used to deal with illnesses such as “violent blood,” and “angry snake bite”.

The Sibbald Physic Garden, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Scotland

Due to the size of the garden it was impossible to construct a full scale Physic Garden therefore designs were drawn up to put in place a modern interpretation, which would reflect the importance of plants to mankind throughout the ages. Plants were initially selected from the writings of four different eras. The garden was laid out in four beds accordingly:

• The Early Herbalists
• The 16th & 17th Century
• The 18th & 19th Century
• The 20th & 21st Century

Sound and Light Garden

Light is being used increasingly in the art of sculptures and architecture, in recent years there has been a trend to use these techniques within gardens. Some examples of this are as follows:

Freemont Street, Las Vegas, USA
The Fremont Street Experience is a street in the centre of Las Vegas which has been converted to a pedestrian precinct by building a long glass arch between the buildings from one side of the street to the other. Four blocks have been roofed over, a distance of about a third of a mile. Attached to the underside of the arch is a canopy of over two million lights, arranged to form a giant screen. Every hour throughout the evening there is a brief spectacular show.

Bellevue Botanical Gardens

The 500,000 or so lights are bundled together by hundreds of volunteers to create 3 dimensional flowers, shrubs, vines and animals. Volunteers design new flowers for the display each year, allowing this exhibit to continue to grow.

The Hidden Gardens, Glasgow, Scotland

The Hidden Gardens is Scotland’s first permanent public garden for the 21st century. The Hidden Gardens are the result of a two year consultation and design process that have seen the transformation of a derelict industrial site on Glasgow’s south side into a tranquil and inspirational
haven. In 2003, a temporary display called ‘The Festival of Light’ was created showcasing some spectacular displays of modern light sculptures.

Kernilien, Brittany, France

This design sits on a large traffic roundabout. It is a channel of light that cleaves through the inner surfaces of parallel rows of granite blocks. The light comes from ‘brilliant white’ optical fibres creating a “magical, sensual aura”.

During the day the sunlight reflects brightly from the polished granite blocks and through the twilight hours there is a gentle transition from the reflection of these blocks fading to the gradually increasing river of white light penetrating the enclosing darkness.

The Lightning Field, New Mexico, USA

This is an art display created by Walter de Maria in 1974. Covering an area of 1km by 1.6km, hundreds of steel poles have been planted at regular intervals. The poles act as conductors during thunderstorms, attracting lightning, sometimes for minutes at a time, creating spectacular displays of light and dark.

It is possible that the lightning could create fulgurites (petrified lightning) where the heat from the lightning, channelled by the steel rod, makes contact with the sand and turns it into a type of glass.