The origins of the Argotti Gardens go back to the early 18th century and were laid out as two private gardens. One belonged to Knight Don Emmanuel Pinto and the other to the Bailiff Ignatius de Argote et Guzman. When Pinto was elected Grand Master of the Order in 1740, de Argote purchased Pinto’s part, annexed it to his own garden and built his summer residence here where it still exists.
In 1800, the British governor appointed a Carmelite friar as Malta’s ﬁrst professor of natural history. He assembled the plants in Floriana’s Mall Gardens and ﬁve years later were moved to the site of the present Argotti Gardens.
The private section, known as The Argotti Herbarium and the University Botanic Gardens, is administered by the Department of Agriculture but it has also been entrusted to the University of Malta since 1855 interrupted by a 23 year period starting in 1973. The University keeps a dedicated botanical section which is used for educational purposes as well as housing a specialist selection of plants.
In this respect, Argotti’s past has been greatly associated with Maltese medical and surgical history. Medicinal herbs are said to have been grown here since the Maltese Islands’ rule by the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. At some time after the war, an anatomical laboratory was also temporarily set up in one of the back rooms.
There are two main sections to these gardens, the public and private sections. Argote’s summer residence was in the latter part near the entrance.
The gardens have a rich collection of trees and shrubs from oaks to oleanders and potted plants, especially cacti. The huge Ficus trees have become a landmark in the garden with their entwined roots fused together. The gardens also hold a variety of water features – fountains and ponds.
The private section, run by the University of Malta, has a number of Maltese indigenous and endemic plants. Foreign plants mostly of tropical origin are hosted in the greenhouses. The herbarium houses marine plants, fungi and a laboratory. The old summerhouse of Bailiff de Argote has been converted into an exhibition hall, museum of garden history and plant science, plant pressing equipment, gardening maps and records.
Near the entrance gate there is a curious grotto, a nympheum, embellished with coloured stones, red corals, sea shells, and a decorated ﬂoor. It originally formed part of Bailiff Argote’s villa on the site.
The nice fountain in the large open space in the centre of the garden formerly adorned Ìnien is-Sultan (the Sultan’s Garden) near Victoria Gate in Valletta. From the spacious terrace of Argotti one can admire a splendid view of Marsamxett harbour, distant towns and the countryside.
Source: Din L-Art Helwa