Flowers for Muscovites


If you visited the USSR any time during the 1970’s or 1980’s you will have been witness to the drab, colourless life of the country. Clothes were drab and badly made, shops hardly existed and what they contained was hardly worth the effort of shopping. Public spaces were just as drab as the private spaces. Broken fountains, stumps of trees lining the boulevards and no flowers. Was Moscow completely devoid of flowers?

Memory suggests that this was the case but there must have been some flowers in the Alexander Garden, near Pushkin’s statue and perhaps in the Kremlin. Living in a city in western Europe, London, Amsterdam, Paris you see gardens, window-boxes and parks full of flowers. The contract between these cities and Moscow could not have been starker. Now that Spring has finally arrived in London we can begin to enjoy the amazing variety of flowers and trees coming into blossom. Since 1991 Moscow has also been brightened up in spring-time by blossom but where do you find it?

Nicolas Ollivant In Russia: October 1997-January 2000 with EBRD, May 2003-November 2010 with Cushman & Wakefield

Nicolas Ollivant
In Russia: October 1997-January 2000 with EBRD, May 2003-November 2010 with Cushman & Wakefield

The City Administration has done a certain amount to clean up the depressing courtyards between apartment buildings but mostly these courtyards are full of trees. The Administration has also introduced flower boxes on some of the main thoroughfares. But where do you go to see a regular garden? This is one of the greatest differences between Moscow and London, the absence of small gardens. However, in Moscow they can be found. In Soviet times the areas around churches and within the territory of monasteries were used for parking, for depositing building materials or for rubbish. Since the small areas around churches and within monasteries have been given back to the Church there has been a dramatic change in Moscow.

A visit to Novospassky Monastery (Krestyanskaya Pl.) would in the past have revealed no more than dusty spaces and heaps of coal and, in the 1970’s, drunks transported there by the police to recover from the night before. Since the return of the monastery to the Orthodox Church these spaces have been transformed into a beautiful garden and orchard. The same is true of Sretenskiy (on Bolshaya Lubyanka) and Rozhdestvenskiy (on ul. Rozhdestvenka). The great baroque church of Clement Pope of Rome (Klimentovsky per.) has recovered its garden and reconstructed its gateway. Even small churches such as the church of the Ascension on Bolshaya Nikitskaya opposite the Conservatoire and the church of the Assumption/Dormition on Gazetniy per. have small but well-kept gardens.

Seeing this transformation of parts of the Moscow landscape was one of the joys of Spring in Moscow. In a small way, the restoration of monastery and church gardens has symbolized the positive changes taking place in Russia. Of course in some cases, such as the Zachatievsky monastery (on Ostozhenka) the revival of the garden was accompanied by the rebuilding of a great church. In London it is easy to take for granted the huge variety of parks, gardens and squares. This would never happen in Moscow where even small changes have great significance. Was the lack of gardens in Moscow during Soviet times a deliberate policy or just a by-product of life in a totalitarian state? In any case, the horticultural changes that have taken place over the last 20 years are quite remarkable.