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Botany Manor review

Botany Manor review
Pascal Tekaia avatar image

A cozy, relaxing horticultural experience with a protagonist sure to grow on you

I was born with absolutely no green whatsoever on either of my thumbs. Plants are anathema to me. Everything I touch inevitably dries up and turns into kindling. (I was also born with two left feet, but that’s neither here nor there.) Luckily, being botanically inclined is not a prerequisite qualification to make one’s way through Balloon Studios’ lovely floral adventure Botany Manor. Its peaceful vibes and satisfying sleuthing can be enjoyed by just about anyone with a penchant for relaxing brain teasers and make for a marvelous time that’s short enough that one can just about squeeze it in before an afternoon cup of tea or two.

The year is 1890. We find ourselves in the English countryside, in Somerset, where lifelong botanical enthusiast Arabella Greene has just returned from abroad to her family’s sprawling estate. Lady Arabella is here to complete work on “Forgotten Flora,” a botanical field guide she plans to fill with accounts of some of the planet’s most esoteric and elusive plants. As a letter from her publisher informs us, she is to finish the herbarium and submit it back to them in order to be considered for publication. But doing so will require her to do some research (and the player to solve a number of puzzles) first.

For the most part, each of Botany Manor’s five chapters plays out the same way: Arabella will earmark several pages in her herbarium for completion, depending on how many plants you must research to finish the chapter (with a total of twelve across the whole game). It is then up to you to comb the house, gardens, and grounds in free-roaming first person via keyboard/mouse or gamepad in search of documents, letters, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, and other evidence that will provide some hints for how to grow each individual type of flower. 

No plant just comes with straightforward one-stop-shopping instructions, and figuring out the link between various clues is an enjoyable experience. For example, a poster may clue you in on what genus a certain flower belongs to, while a nearby postcard from a friend may reveal its geographical habitat, which must be considered in conjunction with a chart found on a chalkboard that details what soil temperatures can be found in different locales around the world. Only by drawing the correct connections and conclusions will your little green buddies be able to thrive. 

Since you aren’t just growing flowers for the fun of it, but actively pursuing research for Arabella’s book, you’ll not only uncover these clues but must also assign each one to the herbarium page it pertains to. This is handled through a simple point-and-click mechanic where empty slots on each page can be filled in by choosing from a list of all currently assembled documents. This sounds a lot harder than it is in practice, since pages are fully completed on a chapter by chapter basis, so you’ll never be overwhelmed by too many options. Once all correct clues for a particular plant have been selected, they will lock into place and the page can be considered “complete.”

Of course, finding clues is all well and good, but making progress also requires going beyond the academic act of research to physically cultivating each plant. Throughout the eponymous estate, you’ll need to be on the lookout for the seeds necessary to grow each plant, after which you must seek out one of a number of potting stations – workbenches stocked with flowerpots, potting soil, a seed repository, and a watering can. Only then can you get to work on meeting each flower’s special requirements in a variety of ways. For example, one plant may only grow at certain times of day or during specific seasons, or respond to particular acoustic sounds or specific soil pH levels. It’s up to you to meet these criteria or find clever workarounds in order to “trick” the flowers to dance to the tune of your watering can.

Now, solving interesting puzzles and tinkering with plants may not sound like the most narratively riveting adventure, but Botany Manor has you covered there, too. Arabella Greene is a unique protagonist – it’s not often we get to take up the mantle of a woman belonging to nineteenth-century England’s upper crust, and even more rare to see one in the sunset years of her life, looking back on the decades and reflecting on her trials and triumphs. In addition to discovering clues related to Lady Arabella’s plant research, the manor grounds are also littered with notes, letters, and journal entries of a more personal nature, establishing her character and painting a picture of her life in an intimate yet unobtrusive manner. 

Botany Manor

Botany Manor
Genre: Drama
Presentation: Realtime 3D
Theme: Nature
Perspective: First-Person
Graphic Style: Illustrated realism
Gameplay: Research, Simulation
Control: Direct Control
Game Length: Short (1-5 hours)
Difficulty: Low

Over time we learn about a youth spent indulging the overbearing efforts of Arabella’s kin to find her a suitor that would let her fit into the accepted standard of a doting wife and homemaker. We cheer her on as she recounts her pursuit of her scientific passion for botany, and empathize with the bitter injustice of being rebuffed by her contemporaries when attempting to enter the serious, male-dominated world of academics. And eventually we can rejoice when, during the game’s post-credits coda, we get closure and see for ourselves how Arabella finally found a way to pursue her passions in a manner of her own choosing, even if late in life. Despite learning about Arabella’s storied past entirely through second-hand sources, she feels like a well fleshed-out character, and one I highly enjoyed getting to know over the course of my four or so hours with the game.

Regardless of the harsh realities of a woman’s lot in life in those days, Arabella is a spirited, joyful protagonist, her character matching Botany Manor’s rich and vibrant presentation with its warm color palette. The entire game takes place over the course of one warm, sunny English afternoon, with pristine azure skies and not a single cloud in sight. (You know, the kind of day the country is so famous for?) I’ll admit that during the first chapter, I was a little concerned about the subdued, bleached-out graphics, which, frankly, made everything look rather ugly and diluted. But this turned out to be an intentional decision, locking us into a fog-shrouded greenhouse in order to show how certain flowers can have an actual impact on the environment. Cultivating the Windmill Wort required to finish that initial chapter had the added effect of dispelling the blanket of fog and restoring vivid color to the world as we leave the greenhouse and set foot onto the greater manor grounds.

The happy-go-lucky atmosphere is further underscored by a lovely soundtrack, though it frequently gives way to stretches of the calming sounds of nature: birds twittering, crickets chirping, the splash of a fountain and the thunder of a nearby beach. Exploration is often accompanied by ethereal, light-hearted instrumental pieces that express the serenity we’re meant to indulge in. There’s a beautiful melody that accompanies each flower’s successful growth. A standout for me, however, came in the form of the jaunty tune that marks the beginning of each new chapter, when a jingle signals that a courier has dropped off one of the different items needed at the gatehouse located at the end of the driveway. As you hurry out of the manor across the property, this joyous piece makes it easy to imagine Arabella, practically bouncing along the path in eager anticipation, full of life and glee even in her advanced age, and it’s hard not to crack an approving smile in return. In the absence of voice acting, or even other characters to interact with, it’s moments like these that helped make Arabella come to life in my imagination.

There are a few areas in which I do feel the game comes up a little short, or at least some facets I think would have been worth expanding upon. One small nitpick is that I would have dearly liked for documents to be readable in some sort of in-game archive once discovered. The most obvious reason for this is to streamline puzzle solving a little further, for those times when specific details need to be gleaned from charts or tables that can’t be easily committed to memory. This would also help the process of deciding which clues to assign to the various herbarium pages, and since the game already keeps track of the documents you’ve discovered, making them readable from that same menu would have been an easy addition.

Secondly – and I admit it’s a much larger ask – would be some sort of culminating puzzle at the end in which the flowers you’ve cultivated throughout, and the knowledge you’ve gained during your research, would play some sort of climactic role that would provide a nice final hurdle. Call it, in essence, the puzzle game equivalent of a final boss. Barring this, it still would have been nice to see more of the individual flowers play a role in shaping your surroundings, but this is rarely the case. Apart from the fog-dispensing Windmill Wort, I can only think of one other example where growing a particular flower was actually instrumental in unlocking a previously inaccessible part of the manor. In most cases, each flower cultivated is a puzzle that exists unto itself in a vacuum. 

None of this lessens the enjoyment of proceeding through the individual puzzles, but it does rob them of further potential staying power when considering the experience as a whole. As it stands, I’d actually say that some of my favorite puzzle moments were the small handful of times I was solving one related to the manor itself, searching for secret doors and the means to open them, completely divorced of any botanical elements whatsoever.

Final Verdict

Even without this small wish list of things I would have preferred to see implemented, Botany Manor packs a powerful punch as an exploration of its protagonist’s life, coupled with some engaging and well-designed puzzles along the way that even the most gardening-averse in real life can master. Best of all, it manages to deliver all of this with a gentle, light touch, with beautiful sights and sounds you can relax to even as you solve its conundrums. It’s not the most aggressively difficult puzzler out there, nor is it the longest, but it certainly makes a great case for quality over quantity. It seems like a true passion project that reminds us that, sometimes, it’s important to slow down in our busy lives to stop and smell the roses.

Hot take


With a lovely presentation and a knack for couching its gameplay as a relaxing experience, Botany Manor invites you to come on in for the plant-based puzzling but stay for the engaging story of a life well lived.


  • Unseen protagonist becomes a real person as you learn about her life
  • Sights and sounds of Botany Manor make it a sheer joy to explore
  • Puzzles, botanical and otherwise, are fun and creative, with just the right amount of challenge
  • Does not outstay its welcome


  • Documents don’t include an option to easily review them later
  • Most of the plant-based puzzles have no impact on the larger environment

Pascal played Botany Manor on PC using a review code provided by the game's publisher. 


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