Beautifying the city

Stabroek News
July 28, 2000

At the point where the Seawall road meets the Kitty Public road, JB Singh road and Carifesta avenue, a riot of colour greets the eye. There, on a triangle of waste ground, a profusion of unabashedly garish kanen flowers stand to attention, planted, one must presume, by none other than the municipal authorities. Given the current state of Georgetown, it is an uplifting sight. But why only at this point, one wonders. Once upon a time flowers brightened various avenues in the capital adding a polychromatic dimension to an already graceful and pleasing urban environment, and reinforcing the 'garden' image.

Some of this former 'garden city' quality is irrecoverable, of course, for the simple reason that so many of the back yards which conferred that green and spacious look are now covered with houses. But there are still some avenues (bar the mall which has been desecrated almost beyond redemption) and tree-lined streets to give us a reminder of the way things were, and the kanen flowers in Kitty to give us an inkling of the way things could be.

From the earliest times, Georgetown's yards provided homes for fruit trees and sometimes palm trees, but according to nineteenth century historian, James Rodway, the first attempt at lining a public thoroughfare with trees was a private endeavour. A certain R M Jones planted an avenue of cabbage palms in Brickdam in the 1830s, at about the same time as he created another avenue at Houston, which was later to become the terminus for Georgetown's tram line, and a great promenading spot for the denizens of the capital.

Later a line of fiddlewood trees was set down in Commerce street and the first attempt to give Main street a facelift was undertaken. Where the walkway now runs there once flowed a canal, and it was on either side of this that oleanders were planted. This first effort was none too successful. In Rodway's words: "every donkey boy seemed to find them convenient for switches and the flowers, when they succeeded in coming out, were ruthlessly broken off."

The great era of Georgetown beautification, however, came at the end of the nineteenth century, and is particularly associated with the first Superintendant of the Botanic Garden, the temperamental G S Jenman. He warmed up in 1881 with the Vlissengen road avenue, where he planted saman seedlings which had been raised in Head Gardener Waby's house. Owing to their exposure to the wind, however, they grew at an angle, and despite efforts to correct this, to this day they display a tendency to lean.

Jenman then turned his attention to other streets, beginning in 1888. Main, Carmichael, Waterloo, Camp, Thomas, East, Regent, High and Croal streets, Brickdam and the law courts were all the beneficiaries of his green touch. The Superintendant also busied himself in the Promenade Gardens, among other places, and the Mayor of the time was so impressed with his work that the City Council presented him with the gift of a silver inkstand.

Jenman's contribution came to an abrupt end in 1892, when he fell out with the authorities firstly over their refusal to allow him to lay out a garden in front of Stabroek market (more's the pity), and secondly because with the advent of electricity they would not agree to lay the cables underground. His sense of aesthetics was deeply offended by the notion of overhead cables, in addition to which he considered that they would conflict with the tree planting campaign. While through regular lopping, the trees have arrived at an uneasy modus vivendi with the cables, it is not a solution with which Jenman would have been altogether happy.

In recent times there have been private efforts to beautify small areas of the city, sometimes at very considerable expense. Revolution square and Camp street come immediately to mind, although there is currently reported to be an exercise underway in Hadfield street as well. If the success of the annual flower show run by the Horticultural Society and the proliferation of plant shops are anything to go by, there is a revival of public interest in the plant world. While there has been the occasional tree-planting campaign in more recent times, there has not been an equivalent flower-planting campaign. Even if the inner world is all gloom, at least the outer world could be brightened by some banks of kanen flowers or whatever in the avenues around the city.

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