Worth More Than Gold
WHEN QUEEN Isabella of Spain asked Christopher Columbus to describe the island of Jamaica, the famed explorer is said to have struggled to find words to do its beauty justice. In attempting to describe Jamaica's terrain, Columbus is said to have resorted to fashioning hills and valleys out of table napkins as a way of explaining Jamaica's varied terrain that includes numerous sandy beaches, rivers and mountain peaks. To Columbus, the island, although lacking in gold, was "otherwise a paradise and worth more than gold." (Walker, 1992, p. 247). The island's ecosystem embraces tropical, sub-tropical and temperate plants. Indeed, a large proportion of Jamaica's flora and fauna can be found nowhere else in the world. Research has indicated that although the native vegetation of the island was almost all forest, with some marshland interspersed, today Jamaica has more than 3,000 different kinds of native flowering plants, of which 1,000 are endemic and over 200 of which are different species of orchids. For this reason, Jamaica is considered a horticultural par adise.
Europeans have long been fascinated by these various flora and fauna. Even Columbus himself got carried away and misidentified a few species here and there. Most botanical gardens were established in the 19th century, although the Bath Botanical Garden was developed by the government as early as 1779. These gardens helped to encourage the introduction of plants from around the world. It also helped encourage the exportation of Jamaican plants to various locations including Britain's famous Kew Gardens. The British Museum of Natural History was in fact founded with a collection of Jamaican plants (many of which were new to science) made by Sir Hans Sloane while he was in Jamaica in the late 1680s serving as physician to the governor.
Hope Gardens, or the Royal Botanical Gardens, Hope, were formerly part of major Richard Hope's Estate. One of the English officers who helped capture Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, Hope was granted a huge parcel of land as a reward. At one time Hope Estate extended from the sea to the hills in Newcastle. In the 17th and 18th centuries Hope was a sugar estate one of the first where water (from the Hope River) was used to turn estate mills. The Hope Aqueduct (which can still be seen at Hope Gardens, Mona Heights and Mona Road) was built for that purpose. In 1766 Richard Elletson Hope arranged for Kingston to be supplied with water from his estate, but after his death, his wife remarried a British Duke and cancelled the water concession. Kingston lost its water supply. In the 1840s the duke's son sold the city of Kingston 234 acres of the estate bordering on the Hope River. Kingston's water was eventually drawn from this land as part of a publicly owned system.
The 200 acres of Hope Estate land that eventually became Hope Gardens (and one of Jamaica's few public parks) in the late 1870s-early 1880s includes a Palm Avenue where sago palms are among the oldest living trees, a cacti garden, a bougainvillea walk, a maze, a forest and lily pond. Other attractions include a zoo, a lake, a fountain, military band concerts and even a poet's corner. There is also what remains of Coconut Park. When Queen Elizabeth II came to Jamaica in 1953, the gardens were officially renamed the Royal Botanical Gardens. The Gardens have been undergoing repairs since 1996.
These gardens, along with Fern Gully in St. Ann and Holland Bamboo Grove in St. Elizabeth, are maintained by the Ministry of Agriculture's Public Gardens Division (927-1257). They are used regularly in photo shoots and to provide educational programmes designed to expose students to general gardening practice. Crop management and botanical information can be obtained on request and some plants are also available for commercial sale.
RIVER GARDEN AND MUSEUM
HILL ORCHID SANCTUARY
PARK FISHING AND WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Cundall, F. (1914). Historic Jamaica. (London: the West India Commission
for the Institute of Jamaica). Jamaica Tourist Board Jamaican
Gardens Booklet (2000). Ministry of Agriculture Public Gardens Division.
A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted March 18, 2002
Copyright 2001. Produced by Go-Jamaica.com