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Russians take their Botanical Gardens very seriously - there are five in Moscow alone. The largest and most famous is The Russian Academy of Sciences' Main Botanical Gardens, located in the northwest part of the city, and adjoining the All-Russia Exhibition Centre (VVTs, or VDNKh as it is still better known).


This 360-hectare (890-acre) park, which spans the valleys of three small rivers, was officially founded in 1945. Nearby is the sight of the 17th century Apothecaries' Gardens, where medicinal plants were grown to stock the Army's pharmacies and the Grand Prince's palace with drugs.


After World War II, an enormous collection effort brought plants and seeds from all across the Soviet Union and further afield, and the garden is now a botanist's treasure trove, with a rose garden containing 2,500 varieties including an ancient green Bengali rose. There is also an arboretum whose highlight is a glorious oak grove (home to squirrels who are tame to the point of impudence), a delightful Japanese rock garden, and a vast glass-covered orangery with a wide collection from the tropics and sub-tropics including numerous rare orchids and carnivorous plants.


But the Botanical Gardens are not just for experts. Once inside, it's hard to believe that you're close to the centre of Europe's biggest city, and it's a wonderful place to come to get away from the noise and stress of urban living. The gardens change their character and their attractions according to the season, and the enormous greenhouses mean that even in the depths of winter there's plenty to see - although the cost of heating them doesn't bear thinking about.

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