Donna PorterIt's a Wonderful World of Plants

Not Just Another Pretty Place


By Donna Porter

gardenWhere do you go when you just want to forget about life for awhile – to relax, to reflect, to walk at a snail’s pace and breath it all in or to spend some passive time with family or friends away from your home?  Perhaps you go to the beach, or shopping, or to a park or for a drive.  Whether we are still of the working class or retired, our lives seem to be so full of physical and mental activity that we forget to stop…. and smell the roses.  Having a refuge – a safe and peaceful place to go – is healthy and essential for our overall happiness and well-being.

Botanical gardens serve this purpose.  There, amongst breathtaking flower displays, scientific plant collections, artistic creations, refreshing water features, meandering walkways and nature, we can inch along at whatever pace we desire, stop, sit, listen, observe and “let go”, at least for the moment, of all and anything that clutters our lives and our minds.  Without spending too much effort on planning and traveling, or too much money on airfare and hotels, or too much time away from your normal routines and schedules, you can be somewhere else at a botanical garden- if only for a couple of hours – and revitalize your mind, body and soul. 

What originated as places to store, propagate and exhibit the exotic plant discoveries of botanists and plant explorers of early centuries, has flourished and evolved into the more interactive botanical gardens of today.  Cleverly defined as “a place where the arts and the sciences intersect”, botanical gardens have also, in the past three decades, expanded their scope of benefits by broadening their horizons to become valuable community centers.  They provide a unique venue for educational, recreational, cultural, therapeutic and scientific activities, along with an array of social opportunities for meeting new people and gathering and socializing with friends and family.  Their offering of hands-on volunteer opportunities – from working in the garden’s gift shop, to leading tours, to propagating new plants – engages people of all ages, from teens to the elderly, and can give focus and re-focus to a life seemingly without purpose. 

Additionally, a garden’s programs such as lectures, workshops, classes and exhibits also provide activities for community members to participate in and to learn new skills, crafts or techniques. Plant festivals, art exhibits and musical concerts add an entertaining and cultural dimension to a garden as well.

Still, the real “work” of botanical gardens remains scientific. They are living plant museums and storehouses for plant collections (live or dried) which are preserved for future generations to utilize and to enjoy. Educating people about plants, and the vital importance of plants to our planet, also remains a top priority at a botanical garden.  They provide alternative, out-door classrooms and innovative teaching tools and methods for local schools, continuing education for adults and intriguing information for visiting tourists about the local flora.  

Do yourself a favor and make an effort to visit, or even participate at, a botanical garden/public garden in the not-so-distant-future.   Whether it is in the city where you live, or in a place you are visiting, it is worth the time and the effort to reward yourself with one of life’s simplest, but valuable pleasures.

Here in Costa Rica there are – currently – three major botanical gardens.  The Wilson Botanical Garden in San Vito de Coto Bruz is a 30 acre garden that is part of the 650 acre Las Cruces Biological Reserve. This garden was started back in the 1960’s by Robert and Catherine Wilson and houses one of the world’s largest collections of palms.  This garden is truly a magical place – especially at night. Modern cabinas are available for rent in the garden (reservations required) so you can enjoy the gardens at your own leisure.  The terrain is gently rolling with well-maintained grass pathways for walking.  It is about a 3.5 hour drive from Quepos.

The Lankester Botanical Garden is a 26 acre garden and is part of the University of Costa Rica.  It is located near Cartago, which is southeast of San Jose. It is known for its world-class collection of orchids and its extensive orchid research. There are over 1000 varieties of orchids all displayed at eye-level for easy viewing. Visiting between Feb – May will ensure that you see plenty of orchids in bloom.  Its terrain is flat, and it too, is about a 3.5 hour drive from Quepos.

The Else Kientzler Botanical Garden is one of my favorites here in Costa Rica.  It is 17 acres of display gardens, themed gardens (such as a Children’s Garden, a Sensory Garden, and a Hibiscus Maze), and collection gardens (Heliconias, Bromeliads, Succulents, Fruit Trees), interspersed with intriguing “natural” sculpture and various water features.   Its terrain is hilly, but there are wide, paved walkways for easy navigation, intertwined with numerous mulched paths.  A roaring river in the lower area of the garden provides a cooling sensation, along with a pond and water plants. Unique chair swings in this lower area are a great spot to relax and savor the moment. This garden is located in North Sarchi, which is about 3 hours from Quepos. 

A botanical garden is not just another pretty place. They exist to serve their communities in a variety of ways, to entertain and to educate distant visitors and to serve their planet as essential facilities for environmental preservation. In North America alone there are over 200 botanical gardens and nearly 500 public gardens (botanical gardens, arboretum, conservatories, horticultural parks) to enjoy. 

Costa Rica will one day add another name to its short list of botanical gardens – here in Quepos – for all of our visitors to the area to enjoy, and all of our residents to reap all of the innumerable benefits from.

Donna is a Horticulturist and has been living and working in Manuel Antonio for 8 years.  She consults, designs, installs and maintains gardens for private homes and hotels and also develops botanical trails. Donna is the founder and was the first Director of the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks and is pursuing the development of a botanical garden in, and for, the Quepos area.   [email protected],  2777-5149