Botan­i­cal gar­dens

Places of rest and tran­quil­ity

Daily Dispatch - - Front Page - BRETT M BEN­NETT Brett M Ben­nett is As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor of His­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg. – The Con­ver­sa­tion (https://the­con­ver­sa­tion.com)

Botan­i­cal gar­dens play an im­por­tant role in shap­ing na­tional at­ti­tudes and en­cour­ag­ing bet­ter hu­man con­nect­ed­ness to na­ture.

They of­fer ed­u­ca­tion and re­search op­por­tu­ni­ties that are crit­i­cal to plant con­ser­va­tion.

Vis­it­ing a gar­den can re­lieve stress and help give peo­ple a sense of place that ex­tends to the wider re­gion.

Schol­ars from a va­ri­ety of dis­ci­plines have been work­ing to un­der­stand the his­to­ries, im­pact and mean­ings of gar­dens to im­prove con­ser­va­tion out­comes and to build strong com­mu­ni­ties.

By learn­ing about suc­cess­ful gar­den­ing [and con­ser­va­tion] ini­tia­tives, th­ese in­sights can be ap­plied to re­gions lag­ging be­hind in terms of de­vel­op­ing botanic gar­dens.

There’s an un­even dis­tri­bu­tion in the world’s botanic gar­dens – an im­bal­ance based on the le­ga­cies of Euro­pean empire. And a sig­nif­i­cant amount of re­search has fo­cused on gar­dens in for­mer Bri­tish colonies.

Th­ese in­clude the “who’s who” of botanic gar­dens: Kew Gar­dens in Lon­don, Kirsten­bosch in Cape Town, Sin­ga­pore Botanic Gar­dens, Royal Syd­ney Botan­i­cal Gar­den, to name a few.

Botanic gar­dens have changed con­sid­er­ably from their colo­nial ori­gins. Back then most fo­cused on eco­nomic botany and grow­ing at­trac­tive plants. Only a few gar­dens, such as Kirsten­bosch, fo­cused on na­tive veg­e­ta­tion.

A global change be­gan in SA and Aus­tralia in the 1960s. Govern­ments in both coun­tries cre­ated in­dige­nous gar­dens in re­sponse to the end of Bri­tish in­flu­ence and the rise of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism.

The in­dige­nous gar­dens also en­cour­aged peo­ple to en­gage in in­dige­nous knowl­edge and cul­tures. Th­ese trends in both SA and Aus­tralia paved the way for other coun­tries.

The founders of colo­nial gar­dens be­lieved in a phi­los­o­phy I de­fine as “eco­log­i­cal lib­er­al­ism” be­cause its lib­eral val­ues fo­cus on the free move­ment of peo­ple as well as plants.

Set­tlers be­lieved it was ac­cept­able to im­port species into a new coun­try, so long as they did not be­come overly nox­ious to farm­ers try­ing to recre­ate Euro­pean agri­cul­ture.

A ma­jor shift in at­ti­tudes hap­pened in the 1960s and 1970s.

Gar­dens cre­ated since the mid-1960s tended to high­light in­dige­nous species found lo­cally or in the re­gion, or na­tive flora found in the coun­try.

In the 1960s, South Africa cre­ated a na­tional sys­tem of in­dige­nous botanic gar­dens.

In 1965, Western Aus­tralia cre­ated Aus­tralia’s most sig­nif­i­cant re­gional in­dige­nous botanic gar­den in Perth, and the Can­berra Botanic Gar­dens, a na­tive gar­den, opened in 1967.

Why did Aus­tralia and South African res­i­dents em­brace gar­dens dur­ing this pe­riod?

Sci­en­tists be­lieve that th­ese gar­dens were cre­ated to high­light the flo­ral di­ver­sity of th­ese re­gions. This is true to a point, but this view was held by a rel­a­tively small num­ber of botan­i­cal en­thu­si­asts.

We must re­mem­ber that as late as the 1960s, the Western Aus­tralian govern­ment sup­ported a mas­sive ex­pan­sion of wheat farms in the most di­verse flo­ral re­gion of Aus­tralia.

Most his­to­ri­ans have fo­cused on en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and na­tion­al­ism as the main causes for the grow­ing cel­e­bra­tion of plants.

While partly ac­cu­rate, it does not make sense un­less we recog­nise that hu­man val­u­a­tion of na­ture also changed be­cause of the era of de­coloni­sa­tion.

SA’s de­ci­sion to leave the Com­mon­wealth in 1961 be­cause of its apartheid poli­cies, and Aus­tralia’s “aban­don­ment” by Bri­tain in the mid-1960s to early 1970s cre­ated a pro­found po­lit­i­cal and iden­tity vac­uum.

To en­cour­age stronger na­tional and re­gional iden­tity, govern­ment gar­dens pi­o­neered the grow­ing of in­dige­nous plants.

When droughts hit Western Aus­tralia in the late 1970s and in SA in the early 1980s, peo­ple could buy seed and plants from th­ese gar­dens.

A grow­ing aware­ness of ecol­ogy opened the door for white mi­grants in Aus­tralia to recog­nise the knowl­edge of in­dige­nous peo­ples who acted as en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ards.

To­day, gar­dens em­pha­sise in­dige­nous knowl­edge and her­itage.

The end­ing of apartheid in 1994 fi­nally al­lowed for SA’s botan­i­cal gar­dens to be racially de­colonised.

The South African Na­tional Bio­di­ver­sity In­sti­tute, which runs na­tional gar­dens, now plays a key role in trans­for­ma­tion.

Botan­i­cal gar­dens not only help to pre­serve na­ture, they also help to build strong, healthy com­mu­ni­ties.

Pic­ture: HALDEN KROG

TREE TOP VIEW: The ‘Boom­slang’ tree canopy walk­way at Kirsten­bosch Botan­i­cal Gar­dens in Cape Town. The aerial walk­way reaches about 12m above the ground and runs for 130m through the En­chanted For­est.

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