“The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul.” Thomas More
“When you increase the number of gardens, you increase the number of heavens too!” Mehmet Murat Ildan
I wandered a heavenly space last week, only for an hour or so, at the end of a busy day. It was refreshing to body, mind and soul. I wandered, entranced by the beauty and the magnitude of the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Cairns is a city in far north Queensland. It is part of Australia’s wet tropics and is framed by stunning rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Cairns is a very popular tourist destination.
I fortuitously came across the gardens on my predawn walk and determined to return that afternoon to explore. What better way to spend an afternoon when travelling for work? I did not expect to be so enthralled by the magnificence of the space and of the beauty I discovered there.
I came to learn that the Cairns Botanic Gardens has one of the best tropical plant exhibitions in Australia. The gardens developed, according to early records, in the late 1800’s when a significant quantity of land was set aside for a recreational reserve. Today it has blossomed into several botanic spaces with a diverse plant life that provides visitors with a taste of the wet tropics.
Cairns Botanic Gardens exhibits over 4000 tropical plant species from around the world. Most of the plants throughout the gardens are labelled with both their botanical and commonly used name, which provides interest. There are bromeliads (which I recognised), cycads, epiphytes, ginger plants, lots of flowers and various ferns, along with many native plants, trees and palms. I collected a brochure, one of many, on the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden and took a self-guided walk. It was a truly informative walk; I had no idea plants could be used for so many purposes other than food.
Sharing the space is an arts hub, several neat cafes, an education centre, places for picnics and open space for sprawling on the grass and relaxing. I could have stayed for hours drinking in the uniqueness of the orchids, water lilies, and the carnivorous plants (which are always fascinating) in the conservatory. On my next visit I am keen to explore the Centenary Lakes and the Gondwana Heritage Garden.
Give me a book, a garden to read it in and a cup of tea and I’m as content as can be. I enjoy the beauty of gardens and the functionality of plants. My garden at home isn’t beautiful but it does contain plants that can be cultivated for medicinal and culinary purposes. Herb and plant lore fascinate me. Doing a little research one quickly learns that gardens and the cultivation of plants have been around for thousands of years dating back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Romans, also keen gardeners, were aware of the medicinal properties of plants. Monastic gardens were created around the 8th century and Monks used the beauty of plants and flowers as a celebration of god. Later, what are referred to as psychic gardens, appeared. Basically these were herb gardens designed for academic purposes. The herbs were studied to determine their medicinal properties. The first psychic gardens began to arise in Italy around the 16th and 17th centuries and were often found mostly in the grounds of universities. These were, in essence botanic gardens, though not as we know them today.
Botanic gardens, as we know them today, did not appear until much later. A precursor saw the establishment of gardens, not for the joy or pleasure to be had in the plant itself, but for the nurturing of crops and the commercial advantages to be gained. When international trade became commonplace gardens were established in many countries to try to cultivate new species that were being brought back from expeditions to far off and exotic locations.
In the 19th and 20th centuries gardens for pleasure were created throughout Europe and the British Commonwealth. The scientific programs, previously established in “botanic” gardens, were phased out, though plants continue to be scientifically labelled for our education and enjoyment.
Botanic Gardens Conservation International claims there are currently close to 2000 botanic gardens and arboreta in 148 countries around the world with many more under construction or being planned. I’ve visited only a handful of these in several countries. Which ones have you visited? Did you have a favourite?