Flower paradise on the Crimean coast
Yuri Plugatar
Director of the Nikitsky Botanic Garden, Head of the Department of Dendrology, Floriculture and Landscape Architecture at the NBG-NSC, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Agriculture, Member of the Presidential Council on Science and Education, Honored Worker of Science and Technology of the Republic of Crimea, Head of the RAS Department for Cooperation with Scientific Organizations of the Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol.

Flower paradise on the Crimean coast

Magnificent flowerbeds and breakthrough scientific technologies are cultivated in the Nikitsky Botanic Garden.

For many visitors, the Nikitsky Botanic Garden, one of the oldest scientific institutions with a worldwide reputation, is more likely associated with a beautiful flower garden and a park, where one can see a real dance of tulips, roses and chrysanthemums. However, right from the first day, it contributed to the accelerated development of the agriculture in the South of Russia. For more than two centuries, its scientists have been successfully carrying out large-scale work on the introduction, acclimatization, selection of fruit trees, ornamental, essential oil plants and medicinal herbs. Understanding how important the Garden’s contribution and researches were, even the fascist invaders zealously guarded the territory of the Garden during the Great Patriotic War, and then, hastily leaving the peninsula, took all of its herbarium collections along with them.

Ironically, the Nikitsky Garden that survived the most difficult times for the country, in the recent decades was funded far inferior to need, with whatever funds remained, and was hardly able to survive on its old reserves, developments and experience, and equipment. Today, the Garden is experiencing its renaissance. We talked with Yuri Plugatar, Director of the Nikitsky Botanic Garden – the National Scientific Center (NBG-NSC) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, about the tasks facing his team and their immediate prospects.

– Please tell us in more details about the scientific goals that are set for the NBG team today.

– The goals are really large-scale ones. I set forth my vision of the NBG development in my presentation at the meeting of the Council on Science and Education under the President of Russia, and my point of view won support. First of all, we are talking about the in-depth research in the field of genetics.
In addition, we have a rich collection of fruit tree cultures, and now we are working to ensure that agricultural producers could use our cultivars in their activities. The development of the agriculture, fruit-farming, viticulture should be on a scientific basis. Our varieties are definitely better than foreign ones, they are more resistant to all adverse effects. We learned how to get a crop in almost any weather and are ready to share our experience.

The Federal State Budgetary Institution of Science ‘Nikitsky Botanic Garden - National Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor is the largest treasury of species and varieties of the southern fruit trees in Russia. It is one of the oldest research institutions in Russia and it was founded in 1812. It became world-famous thanks to its unique Arboretum (a park for the study of trees) where in the over 40-hectare parks​​, above 2,000 species of trees and shrubs are represented. The modern structure of the Garden includes the Department of dendrology, floriculture and landscape architecture, Department of fruit crops, Department of environmental protection, State natural conservation area ‘Cape Mart’yan’, Department of biology of the plant development, biotechnology and biosafety, Department of industrial crops and biologically active substances, Information technologies department, Laboratory of Entomology and Phytopathology, Laboratory of Agroecology, and the Laboratory of Flora and Vegetation.

New opportunities that could only have been dreamed of earlier, opened up at the end of 2014, when in difficult competition we won a grant from the Russian Science Foundation - ₽665 mn for four years, which envisages co-financing by the Republic of Crimea in the amount of 25% of this sum. We purchased new modern equipment, received decent funding for our fundamental scientific research, and tripled the salaries of our employees. Thanks to the funds received, the laboratory facilities of biotechnologies and genetic engineering have been built, allowing the research in these advanced areas and reaching the world levels. The work we do is based on sound approaches. The implementation of the results of these studies is ensured by the close connection of science and production, the motto ‘Through science into life!’ is now more relevant for us than ever. In parallel with our scientific research, we immediately began our tremendous work to reconstruct and re-create our powerful greenhouse farms to grow flowers and industrial crops; with the support of the republican authorities, we renovated the facilities and re-created resources of both the Garden itself and its branches.

Our large friendly team was literally given a second wind. There appeared a real chance to return the former glory to the NBG, and not only preserve, but also increase our wealth - over 11,000 varieties of fruit trees and 9,000 plants for industrial use.

We want not only the Crimea, but also the South of Russia to develop on the basis of our achievements and research results, and all this, as a whole, should work for the country’s benefit.

Christian Steven, the first Director of the Imperial Nikitsky Botanic Garden, dreamed about this, and we are his faithful followers. Recently, we invited the cities of the Crimea to create their own unique images based on the decorative floriculture. The city halls readily agreed: Alushta has chosen the rose as its symbol, Yalta - the cannes, Gurzuf - the lavender, Koreiz - the tulip, other cities are still being choosing their flower symbols. Now we are actively working on the implementation of this project.

– Running the world-famous scientific institution that is over two centuries old is a real challenge for a strong personality. How do you feel the scale of what you do?

– I сan put it this way: it is not difficult to lead a team of creative, enthusiastic people, because there is no need to make them do their work. The world of our institution is sort of a fairy-tale; here, without exaggeration, there are a lot of various marvels, which, in turn, form no less marvelous people who have devoted their lives to work at the Nikitsky Garden. Therefore, I see my task as a leader as follows: to be fair and take all my decisions so that the NBG-NSC could develop for the benefit of our country.

– How do you see the future of Crimea in terms of cultivating certain botanical species here, is it necessary to change anything in the established long-standing practice?

– Due to the closure of the Crimean Canal, certain difficulties appeared, so now we are somewhat limited in expanding the number of plant cultures and their varieties. Nevertheless, there are good prospects for the development of essential oil-bearing plants. The possibilities of their cultivation in the Crimea were studied about 150 years ago, we have new promising varieties in our collection, and our selective breeding of plants has given excellent results. We are ready to provide all possible assistance to agricultural producers who are interested in them, including preparing ‘ready-to-use’ planting material for them.

It should be borne in mind that there is a great variety of  soil conditions on the peninsula, and therefore only scientists can tell what can grow on a particular piece of land and what cannot. We have an agroecological map of literally every piece of the Crimean land, and we can provide interested parties with relevant business plans and technological maps for gardening. With our help, risks are minimized to a guaranteed level. Science is ready to accompany the whole process from the beginning to obtaining the result.

Our long-term studies have shown that for industrial purposes, the growing of apples, pears, peaches, cherries, plums, quinces and walnuts is most promising, so we have developed a program for increasing the fruit plantations area in the Crimea by 2 times. The viticulture - traditional for Crimea - should not go unnoticed, our colleagues from the All-Russian National Research Institute of Viticulture and Winemaking ‘Magarach’, Russian Academy of Sciences, are engaged in this.

– That is, what the NSG headed by you is engaged in, can without hesitation be attributed to the import substitution so important at the current stage of the history of Russia?

– Certainly! Generally speaking, today the NBG-NSC has enormous significance for the Crimea and the South of Russia. I am sure that the researches started in our laboratories will give very important, without exaggeration, fundamental results that will serve the people of Russia for centuries. So, in our work there is also a certain sacral meaning - serving the Motherland!

By the way, there were other cases in the history of the NBG, when in 1976, oilseeds were damaged by severe frosts in Europe. The Crimean selection of olives, the most frost-resistant and resistant to various weather conditions, saved the European olive industry at that time. From the Garden, the new varieties came that have successfully taken root in Europe.

– There is another project within the framework of the Russian Science Foundation grant, which we have not talked about, the Rose Garden. You plan that it will have about 2,000 varieties, and you have received 400 only as a ‘legacy’ from the previous leadership. How do you manage to recover the lost?

– Thanks to the agreements concluded, numerous business trips, campaigns announced, we have already collected over a thousand varieties of roses in our collection. Their number is constantly growing, the work continues. In this new garden, we decided to show all the checkered - full of romance and secrets - past of this culture selection. Over 15,000 rose bushes from different garden groups will be planted in the new exhibition-and-collection rose garden. In fact, the new rose garden is a genetic bank of valuable species, forms and varieties of roses for the introduction and selection-and-genetic research to create highly decorative domestic varieties of garden roses having economically valuable qualities and also resistance to diseases, suitable for the climate conditions of the southern Russia. 
It has another special appeal - fragrant varieties of roses will be selected here, which are actively used to heal people using aerophitotherapy, as the aroma of roses has healing qualities. Our scientists have already achieved that some varieties of roses will bloom from March to December. They also cultivate the most fashionable, as well as heat- and drought-resistant varieties that are immune to diseases.

For three years now, a new tour has been offered in the Nikitsky Garden - a tour of the five main sites of the rose garden exhibition, where 465 best varieties of roses from the NBG-NSC collection are presented, including 35 varieties selected by our scientists, as well as the unique rose, “Countess Vorontsova”, bred by the second Director of the Garden, Baron Nikolai von Hartwiss in 1828. This is the first domestic variety, a real masterpiece, named after the Countess Elizabeth Ksaverievna Vorontsova, to whom Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin dedicated his poems ... 

– Recently, a dangerous enemy of nature has appeared, and its name is ‘elite building’. Has the NBG avoided this fate?

– Probably, our worldwide famous name having a long history scared ‘effective investors’ a little bit. Therefore, no serious conflicts of the interests because of the territory have arisen, and we feel the support of the authorities in this issue. Another thing is that the southern coast of the Crimea is in itself an attractive place for many areas of human activity. For example, its unique air, filled with odors and a healing component of the endemic plants, is very attractive for the healthcare industry. And this means that something should be built. The main thing is to have a balanced and delicate approach to the issue. Recreational centers are required, but their environmental footprint should be very small and without extremes.

– Today, the attitude towards science and serious fundamental research in Russia is changing. How do you see the Crimea in the context of using its scientific potential?

– The Crimea is represented in various fields, its potential is huge, it should work for Russia, and we are a good example of this. Another thing is that scientific results are most pronounced only where the science infrastructure is well organized. It is no secret that after graduation the universities, we went to work primarily where housing was provided. If we now have the opportunity to provide apartments, then we will be able to attract the most valuable personnel to our scientific work, and this, we can say, is half the battle. I am sure, we will be able to obtain our brilliant results in the interaction with the most famous scientific centers in the country at the intersection of researches, and we are already co-operating with several of them. 

– Each person has, probably, his or her own plant, a healing one, let's call it ‘doctor-garden’. But does the Director of the NBG-NSC Yury Plugatar have his own plant?

– A very difficult question ... My Ph.D. thesis was devoted to oaks, the doctoral thesis examined the local ecosystem as a whole. Probably, I do not have one, because sometimes I want to sit under a cedar tree, or think about something in the silence of a yew-tree or under an oak, I like tulips and chrysanthemums ... It’s more correct to answer this way: the state of my mind and mood at some point take me to this or that plant.