Is there hope of recovery for the Georgetown Botanic Garden?
By John Warrington
March 9, 2003
Many years ago - almost longer ago than I care to remember (and indeed almost longer ago than I can actually remember) - I developed an intimate acquaintance with the University Botanic Garden at Cambridge, and a long friendship with its director, John Gilmore, a Fellow of Clare College and a taxonomist of monumental repute. The garden was originally founded in 1762 for the benefit of medical students. Eighty years later it moved to its present site at the corner of Trumpington road and Bateman street for the general benefit of university scientists. Its director then was Professor John Henslow who was one of the great influences on Charles Darwin.
Nearly two hundred years later saw great changes in the development of the garden (all aided by a generous bequest by Reginald Cory, a man of coal), which included a winter garden, a limestone rockery and water garden, a scented garden, and a burgeoning interest in places of outstanding scientific interest such as Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, and Buff Wood in Bedfordshire. Both were places of outstanding natural beauty in early spring, full of grasses and marsh plants and violets, anemones and celandines - areas where students spent many fascinating and productive hours. The garden has for a long time been a model of ecological development, horticultural excellence and plant taxonomy.
Cambridge Botanic Garden is in area of very low rainfall - about 21 inches a year - and is an essential teaching arm for undergraduates and graduates who live and study at Cambridge. Here in Guyana the Georgetown Botanic Garden is larger than the one at Cambridge, receiving about five times the annual rainfall. Alas, it has no formal teaching role as far as the University of Guyana is concerned, or as far as the schools in Georgetown is concerned. There is no development of specific collection to support research or the supply of live material for teaching, which is very sad indeed. There is no benefactor (yet?) like Cambridge’s Reginald Cory to make the garden financially independent of the state, which in any event has more pressing calls on the taxpayers’ money.
So alas, a garden that once enjoyed an international scientific reputation now functions only as an amenity for public recreation, and not a very good one at that. One might reasonably ask if there is any hope of a recovery to its former state or whether in fact that is any longer relevant? Ought we instead to be thinking of a garden - independent of the state which can develop ornamental plants and trees in natural situations, and perhaps at the same time still give a service to university and high schools when required? Again I suspect not, if it has to depend on state funding and control. Oh my word, for a Reginald Cory to be waiting on the sidelines.
Developing your own garden
Establish the north point for your sun-sensitive plants (including seedlings and newly-potted plants), and your work area. No sense at all in working in full sunlight and boiling your brain. Once you can face north you know that east is always going to be on your right shoulder. I make this very elementary point because establishing the points of the compass in your garden is a prerequisite for the successful placement of your plants - whether they are to be grown in shade or full sun. Just as important as your work area is the establishment of a place where you and your friends will be able to sit and survey things in a little shade. A shade shelter is an important part of any garden for it is there that the plants of the forest have to be grown and protected from the sun - ferns, Marantas, Calatheas, African Violets, Gloxinias and monsteras, to name but a few. Your work area is very important and should be the place where you centralise seed sowing and potting operations, store all the different sizes of pots and boxes, insecticides, fungicides, tools, stakes, string and so on which will be in regular and occasional use.