Italy: The Botanical Garden of Viterbo

A, very unexpected, botanical garden in the heart of Tuscia.

Why visit? 
There are plenty of historical gardens in Northern Lazio: Mannerist parks that were built by aristocrats with too much money and a need to impress. 

The Botanical Garden of Viterbo is different. Linked to the Tuscia University, it's an academic endeavour in the pursuit of botanical knowledge and understanding.

Oh, and did we mention it's also very beautiful?

Just outside Viterbo, spitting distance from two of the region's well-known hot springs. Map. 

IT'S NOT QUITE what you expect. Northern Lazio (or Tuscia, as it's also known) is usually recommended for its expansive late-Renaissance gardens, theatrical exercises in landscaping, all in various states of dilapidation. We should know: we've visited quite a few, and you can find a quick recap of the region's green-fingered aristocrats here.  
This little nook of Viterbo is known as Bullicame, the site of ancient hot springs, where ancient Romans went for wellness therapy, and reviewed by Dante (he gave it five stars!) 

In 1991 Viterbo's Tuscia University created a botanical garden. There are more botanical gardens in Lazio- several Popes were keen gardeners. But, as far as Minor Sights knows, few of them are still used as an academic resource.
Having visited the other gardens of Northern Lazio, most of them hundreds of years old, the contrast is striking. Viterbo's Orto Botanico is maintained with almost Swiss precision, meticulously taken care of by an army of green-thumbed botanists.  
A series of futuristic looking greenhouses gives shelter to tropical and desert plants, and there is a section of dry-looking soil that would not look out of place in the Nevada desert. 
What else is there? Well, there's and excellent collection of succulents (known as piante grasse in Italian, 'fat plants'- not very PC!). There's a butterfly hotel. There's something that looks like the legendary spaghetti tree. And, depending on the season, a large variety of flowers, including flowering cacti.
A fat plant. 
Wait! Is that a Spaghetti tree?
This cactus appeared happy to see us...
The Butterfly House. 
In short, whether you're a tree-hugging plant lover (careful with those cacti!) or just looking for an escape from an overdose of Medieval churches and Baroque palazzi, the Botanical Garden is a wonderful escape, especially on a hot summer day. And when you're garden-ed out, those steaming hot springs are just a short stroll away...

Getting there: 
The Garden's official name is 'Orto Botanico Angelo Rambelli'. 

Viterbo is about an hour and a half north of Rome. There's a bus to the nearby Terme dei Papi, but it's not very frequent... other than that, it's a 30min stroll from Viterbo's city walls. 

Keep in mind the garden is open from Monday to Friday from 9-1230 only, as well as the occasional Sunday. 

Useful links:
Here's the garden's official website.