Sunday, November 8, 2009

Summer Travels - Part 8: Gülhane Park in Istanbul

The "Park of the House of Roses" is a large park adjacent to the grounds of the Topkapı Palace. It used to be a part of the palace grounds proper until - at least according to Wikipedia - it was converted into a public park in 1912. Until a few years ago the park was apparently in a rather derelict state but recently it has undergone extensive renovations and it is now once again a beautiful green oasis. Most of the park consists of a beautiful grove of massive oriental plane trees (Platanus orientalis), with large beds of annuals for color. This past summer these were mostly planted with wax begonias (Begonia semperflorens) but I would imagine that planting schemes very from year to year.

However, the park also honors its name with a large rose garden which extends along the edge of the grove. The roses are by and large tea and floribunda hybrids and were flowering beautiful despite the heat on the scorching hot July day of our visit. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the rose garden is a section that appears to have been planted fairly recently and which seems to be meant to imitate classical Ottoman flower garden models. It is a bit difficult to see in the pictures, but this part of the garden essentially consists of a square covered with white marble. The roses grow in beds cut out of the marble in a geometric pattern. Apart from roses, four columnar cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) mark the corners of the square. On the whole, the design is reminiscent of the gardens sometimes depicted Turkish, Persian, and Indian miniature painting. Perhaps that is where whoever designed this garden found some of his or her inspiration.

I another part of the rose garden there was a long border of standard hybrid tea roses, underplanted with a sea of scarlet sage (Salvia splendens). While I tried in vain to take a decent picture of that border, I could not help but be jealous of Istanbul's mild Mediterranean climate and the resulting ease with which such horticultural extravagances can be obtained and maintained there. In my native southern Germany, too, people hardly find anything special about the flood of roses in all shapes and sizes that adorns their gardens from late spring until late fall. In Michigan, however, almost any rose presents a challenge, hybrid teas are a constant battle, and standard roses are all but impossible. They appear to do better here in Massachusetts, though, so perhaps one day I will have a plot of my own here - or somewhere else altogether - and can try my luck once again...

To return to Gülhane Park, however, I would just add that I highly recommend giving it a look, regardless of whether one loves roses and old plane trees as much I do. Considering that it lies right next to Istanbul's biggest tourist attractions - Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque - it is amazing that the park nevertheless retains a relatively quiet and serene atmosphere. Finding it is easy; the tram stop is appropriately named after the park, and the massive Ottoman gate leading into the park is hard to miss.

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