Open Gardens in Brno, Czech Republic

By: Yvonne Michie Horn
This item appears on page 45 of the September 2018 issue.

Children passing by the shrine that remains of the monastery — Borromeo Garden, Brno, Czechia. Photos by Yvonne Michie Horn
Think Czech Republic (Czechia) and Prague springs to mind, everyone's mind, as elbow-to-elbow encounters in the city's picturesque Old Town attest. Mention Brno and the reaction is likely to be a scratching of the head. Brno definitely does not spring to mind.

It should. Brno, the Czech Republic's second-largest city (pop. 400,000), is but a 2-hour high-speed train ride from central Prague. Wander Brno's hilly streets and you'll hear nothing but Czech spoken.

Architecture is a Brno treasure, with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's 1930-completed Villa Tugendhat UNESCO-listed. Wandering about, however, you'll come across hundreds of remarkable buildings in the architectural format of Tugendhat's clean, modern, Functionalist, "form follows function" design — even the tram station!

All came about during a 20-year period following World War I when Brno, historical capital of Moravia, stood center stage as one of the Continent's most exciting places to design and build.

Like Prague, Brno claims a city-center castle on its highest hill. Below the castle, shaded paths crisscross through a park of age-old trees, with views of the city at every turn. Toward the bottom of the hill, the site of a former monastery, a path leads into quite a different garden, one as excitingly forward-thinking as Brno's "form follows function" architecture in its day: the Otevrˇená Zahrada, or Open Gardens.

The elements

A little girl visiting rabbits among the farm animals.

The Open Gardens' sole purpose is to inspire and enable protection of the environment while providing an open space for one and all to enjoy. In doing so, it comes under the umbrella of Nadace Partnerství, the Czech Environmental Partnership Association, or EPA, with affiliated foundations in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. In the past two decades, the EPA has partnered with 2,722 projects in the Czech Republic, alone.

Since 2012, the EPA has headquartered in a newly constructed, zero-carbon, completely passive building that serves as an educational center for children and adults. The following year, on the 2½ acres surrounding the educational center, the Open Gardens welcomed their first visitors.

The garden was a lively family place on the day of my blue-sky, puffy-cloud May 2018 visit. With map in hand, I entered the Playful Garden, with its 12 interactive stops focusing on four elements of nature: Sun, Air, Water, Earth. A question is posed at each of the 12 stops, followed by an activity that illustrates the answer.

In Sun, I angled mirrors until finding the correct angle to find what happens when a path of light strikes the leaves of green plants. At a station in Air, while pedaling a bicycle I found how much effort it takes to generate wind. I watched kids in Water as they manipulated a river landscape by using a pump, letting water out of a dam, rerouting conduits. Earth posed, among its thought-provoking questions, 'What is soil and where does it come from?'

Next to Earth, I stopped to take in an example of what the garden calls a "four-field farming system," the practice of rotating crops to avoid soil nutrient depletion.

Other features

Visitors wandering through the Playful Garden.

Farther along, the Borromeo Garden invited quiet reflection. Named for the Sisters of Borromeo, the area is lovingly landscaped in the spirit of the sisters' 1875 monastery garden that flourished there for decades, supplying food and respite for the sisters' school for girls and home for the elderly.

World War II bombings destroyed the monastery, leaving the shrine intact that today centers the Borromeo Garden. Following the war, Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia expelled the sisters from their property; with the partition of the country, it was returned. Today, it is rented by the sisters to the EPA and Open Gardens for one Czech crown a year.

As I continued to explore the acreage, I came across other areas fulfilling the sisters' rental proviso that the garden must benefit families.

Twenty small allotment gardens are made available for Brno residents to rent, one of whom was tending his tomato plants in anticipation of summer harvesting. Another area was devoted to farm animals — rabbits, poultry, sheep.

A café with an outdoor seating area offered healthy food, making a visit to the garden a complete "seed to feed" experience, with the opportunity to mingle with the local population added in. All to be had in the charming downtown center of the Czech Republic's second-largest city.

Paying a visit

A child making his way down a path in the Open Gardens — Brno, Czechia.

The Open Gardens (33 Údolní St., 602 00 Brno, Czechia; phone +420 778 436 469, www.otevrenazahrada.cz) are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 to 6 Saturday and Sunday. (From time to time, the garden may be closed for a special event.) There's no admission charge, but voluntary contributions are welcomed.

In addition to using the entranceway from the castle's parkland, one may also use the Udolini Street entrance.

Email Yvonne Michie Horn at yhorn@sonic.net. Also visit www.thetravelinggardener.com.


In the Open Gardens' Playful Garden, a stationary bicycle helps teach visitors about the generation of wind — Brno, Czechia.