The city's trees Editorial
Stabroek News
October 12, 2001

Preserving the look of our capital city, and beautifying its avenues are not things which we have taken very seriously since independence. Georgetown did not acquire its original reputation as the 'Garden City' for nothing; as nineteenth century photographs taken from vantage points like the lighthouse demonstrate, it was once full of trees and spacious back yards. Most of the spacious back yards have now gone, however, while the tree population has become seriously depleted. The fruit trees, in particular, disappeared along with the back yards, but the municipal worthies of an earlier era also planted trees along the main streets, some of which have died and have not been replaced.

The historian James Rodway says that the first attempt at lining a street with trees was made by an R M Jones, who planted an avenue of cabbage palms in Brickdam in the 1830s. However, sketches of Cummingsburg and Main Street in the 1830s show some well?developed ornamental palms there too. Since this area was intended as a kind of upmarket zone, the trees may have been included in the original development plans.

Rodway states that the first public effort at street beautification was a line of fiddle trees in Commerce street, and that at some time after that, attempts were made to give Main Street a face lift. In the case of the latter, it was not trees which were decided on, but oleander bushes, which eventually succumbed to the depredations of the donkey boys, who broke off the stems for switches.

The laying out of the Promenade Gardens in 1853 gave a boost to ornamental planting in the capital, because many new varieties of trees were imported as a consequence. Systematic attempts to improve the look of Georgetown's main streets, however, followed the advent of the Botanical Garden towards the end of the nineteenth century, and the appointment of the irascible George Jenman as its Superintendant.

Jenman's first effort at street planting was in Vlissengen Road, and some of his samaans set down in 1881 are still standing. It might be noted that they continue to lean owing to exposure to the wind, a tendency that even the resourceful Mr Jenman and his head gardener, Mr Waby, were unable to correct. The surviving samaans in Main Street date back to 1888, and also owe their existence to Jenman.

The other streets he worked on included Carmichael street, Waterloo street, Camp street, Thomas Street, East Street, Regent Street, High Street, Brickdam and Croal Street. According to Rodway, the Mayor was so impressed with Jenman's efforts, not just where the street?planting exercise was concerned, but also in relation to the improvements to the Promenade Gardens, that he was presented with a silver inkstand.

The amicable relationship between Jenman and the authorities was not to last. He quarrelled with them first over their refusal to allow him to lay out a public garden in front of Stabroek Market - with the wisdom of hindsight we know that that was a mistake of some magnitude - and then over their decision when Georgetown was first electrified to allow the electricity cables to be run above ground. He thought that the cables should be underground both for aesthetic reasons, and so as not to conflict with the tree-planting exercise.

Since Jenman's time there have been one or two half-hearted efforts at street planting - the one in lower Regent Street comes immediately to mind - but no systematic attempt to restore the city to its former beauty. An avenue of handsome trees can redeem even the drabbest of thoroughfares, and in this environmentally conscious era trees have acquired additional significance.

When the powers that be eventually get around to studying the Greater Georgetown Plan, one hopes that they will not forget the aesthetic value of trees when making their decisions about the future of the city, so its sylvan appearance can be restored.