A collection of 32 unspoiled islands and cays in the secluded Southern Caribbean, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (“SVG”) is celebrating the 250th year anniversary of its treasured Botanical Gardens, the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. The Gardens, which have experienced a significant increase in visitors in recent years, is a premier tourist attraction within SVG. To commemorate the anniversary milestone, the St. Vincent National Parks, Rivers and Beaches Authority has kicked off a series of celebratory events in 2015, highlighting the wider historical significance of the Botanical Gardens as a plant propagation and conservation garden. Providing guidance on the celebrations is a committee of distinguished Vincentians who will contribute their skills and experience over the coming year.
“While there are countless sites within SVG that have unblemished natural beauty and ‘feel good’ tranquility, our beloved Botanical Gardens are exceptionally important primarily because they feature various aspects of our country’s heritage and history,” said Glen Beache, CEO of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority. “The Gardens remain an intrinsic part of our culture, our people, and the beauty that makes up our nation. We hope visitors will make it a priority on their list of ‘must visit’ SVG attractions.”
In February 2012, preparations for the restoration of the Botanical Gardens site were first unveiled as part of the 250th anniversary tribute, and SVG authorities plan to partner with stakeholders to continue developing the site. Following a commemorative event held on January 23, 2015 (featuring a parade from Kingstown to the Botanical Garden along with a symbolic reenactment ceremony of the handing over of the breadfruit plant brought to St. Vincent by Captain Bligh), the National Parks, Rivers and Beaches Authority is hosting a series of events with a designated activity for locals and visitors each month throughout 2015. Activities range from a “National Hero’s Day” tree planting event and a “Botanical Treasure Hunt” for children to a “Regional Floral Competition” and a “Labor Day Free Entry” event with plant sale, local crafts and art exhibition in the curator’s home, and much more.
Located on the northern outskirts of Kingstown, St. Vincent, the Botanical Gardens consist of peaceful, lush, rich green and colorful gardens, home to a wealth of tropical plants, flowers, trees and birds. Promoting the conservation of rare species, the Botanical Gardens’ aviaries are where visitors can see the beautiful St. Vincent Parrot (Amazona guildingii), the national bird.
The Gardens were created in 1765 by General Robert Melville, Governor of the British Caribbean islands, as a plant breeding center and to provide medicinal plants for the military and improve the life and economy of the colony. Melville ordered that six acres of land previously designated for military use be set aside for the Gardens. This marked the beginning of the St. Vincent Botanical Garden, which eventually expanded to 20 acres. The Garden was to serve as a repository for all useful plants that could grow on St. Vincent but also, in contrast to the botanic gardens at Kew, Oxford, Cambridge, and European botanic gardens at the time, as a nursery for plants to be distributed around St. Vincent and to other islands.
The Botanical Gardens are also famous for being the destination of Captain William Bligh’s second visit to the Caribbean in 1798 (his first ended in the infamous mutiny on the Bounty), where he introduced breadfruit to the island, which today is the country’s national dish (roasted breadfruit and fried jackfish).