Auroville Botanical Gardens celebrate its 10th anniversary
Ten years ago, 50 acres of land on the outskirts of Edaiyanchavadi were earmarked for a large real estate development to be called ‘Peaceful City’.
Auroville succeeded in purchasing this vast barren plot, which had first been deforested and then surrounded by barbed wire. The enthusiastic plan to create a ‘living textbook of botany’ was born.
The Auroville Botanical Gardens (AVBG) group intended to create a place to not only promote the conservation of the Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest and biodiversity in general, but to be of educational value. A place where both Auroville residents and the villagers could come.
There are 12 Aurovilians working at the AVBG, along with approximately 20 local workers. Designations range from gardeners to environmental educators. Volunteers also join the team from time to time.
Now, after years of toil, the Botanical Gardens’ achievements are impressive. There is a protected sanctuary of a Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest with many of the constituent fauna returning.
There is an Arboretum, containing over 250 different tropical trees, some of which are threatened with extinction in the natural habitats. A nursery propagates around 50,000 plants a year, including many varieties of indigenous plants that are used in reforestation projects and ecologically- sustainable landscape developments.
Lastly, there is a cactus garden, a seed bank and a maze.
Central to the development is the educational campus which receives school visits 120 days of the year, hosting over 5000 children and their teachers from local government schools. The children come to reconnect with nature. They are taught about the consequences of consumerism on the environment and what they can do in a positive way to protect the ecosystem. Following classroom sessions, the children are given a map on which three walking trails are marked out. Along the way they experience a formal garden, butterfly garden and maze. Recently completed is the new cactus garden which houses what seems like hundreds of weird and wonderful species of cactus.
The maze is ‘amazing’. Kundhavi is a volunteer at the AVBG. She says that when she first came to Auroville, the shrubs demarcating the maze were only about two feet high. Now they are over six feet. The children are given a map of the maze before they enter, along with a list of animals. The aim is for the children to orient their way around the maze using the map and to mark down each animal they find. The ‘animals’ are beautifully painted boards strategically placed in the nooks and crannies.
AVBG has plans to create learning stations, which will be located at various points around the marked walking trails. These stations will demonstrate different aspects of nature and traditional uses of natural resources. The information will be mounted on natural cudapah stone slabs, which are termite-resistant.
They will teach how to utilize natural resources by reviving old techniques and promote understanding and appreciation of the way in which nature is used in daily life. For example, the children will learn how to make brooms from grass and how traditional houses were made from bamboo and leaves and they will get to learn about the life cycles of indigenous wildlife. The main board in the educational campus demonstrates what the area was like when the first Aurovilians arrived and the progress made.
The Botanical Gardens undertakes landscaping projects locally and externally to try and meet running costs but they are still struggling to become self-sustaining. They hope to become so in three years. They have submitted proposals for funding to various sources to help finance their educational programmes. The team has come up with a few new initiatives.
The Botanical Gardens is experimenting with the creation of readymade patio gardens in locally produced terracotta pots for people living in apartments. They also have an extensive range of plants, shrubs and trees which are available for purchase by Aurovilians, along with ready-toplant vegetable seedlings from the Annadana Seed Bank.
Paul, one of the founders of the Botanical Gardens project, is as usual very busy and continues tying up trees as he explains that what he’s most proud of is the way that the Botanical Gardens has become such a collective project, with many Aurovilians participating in its growth. He’s also really happy that they are able to host the children from the villages. Over 100 schools from the surrounding area have come here on day trips. He hopes that the nursery will eventually become the main support for the project so that they can evolve in the way they initially planned.
When I visited, Adhi, Santo and Julia were engaged in transplanting, preparing and carrying around pots, making cuttings and sowing seeds.
“Everyone works hard here, multitasking between fundraising, administration and planting. It’s an ongoing challenge,” says Biggie who first came to Auroville in the mid 1970’s from the South of France. She says that she has always been connected with land and plants, so much so that “they almost go through my body.”
In the future, she tells us, they would also like to encourage local artisans to display their work around the Gardens. An area for sculptures, statues, rocks and bamboo screens would add to the aesthetic look and feel.
Actions definitely speak louder than words at the Botanical Gardens!
Courtesy of AV Today, October 2010