(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 18, 2007. It is re-introduced as part of this weekend's mini-series on public gardens.)
For over 3000 years we have been fascinated and perplexed by the botanical world. Evidence of gardens and plant cultivation has been found in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Many ancient religious rites involved flowers and herbs, both of which were also used for medicinal purposes throughout Europe and the Americas. Gradually the knowledge of which flowers and herbs would be used for what purpose became the purview of monks and religious brotherhoods and the first "gardens for study" evolved around the 8th century. But the first actual known use of a garden for scientific classification and understanding wasn't for another 800 years! The University of Piza is generally acknowledged as the trendsetter - and the rest of the world quickly followed suit.
With the serendipitous development of the Wardian case in the early 1800's, wealthy plant collectors could commission botanical expeditions to the far reaches of the known world, bringing back exotic flowers and plants to grace the newly designed "Palm House" at Kew and The Great Conservatory at Chatsworth, both in England. Soon Italy, Spain and France were also developing ways to display and propagate the myriad of new species that were being brought back from the tropics. From this horticultural explosion of exploration, cultivation and exploitation came the serene, educational and beautiful gardens we know today.
Today's Botanical or Public Gardens offer a variety of activities to attract people from all walks of life to explore their horticultural bounty. Walking tours, classes, lectures, sales, concerts, club meetings even weddings are all available in many areas. Often you will find wildlife, or insect exhibits much like the Hummingbird Banding so recently described in a DG Article by our own Melody Rose. Some Public Gardens decorate up for holidays like Halloween and Christmas, offering corn mazes, pumpkins patches, and holiday music and magic to entertain and delight the public. Many are located on land rich in local history and provide a fascinating look at the past while you are enjoying the sights and smells of herb, rose or tropical gardens. From the formal gardens of Forest Lawn, to the tropical splendor of Kauai; from the playfulness of Denver, to the austere desert reclamation of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia I have learned and enjoyed and been transported by flowers and plants I never knew existed.
The Public Garden here on Kwajalein is no different, just maybe smaller than some other Botanical Gardens. Many of the plants out here in the Pacific are completely new to American eyes, for example Breadfruit or Kamani Trees. Some are merely an unusual variety of a familiar plant such as Shampoo Ginger, or Giant Red Ixora. Our Public Garden is a wonderful place to wander around and familiarize oneself with local flora. Many of the single folks, living in dorm-like bachelor quarters use the Gardens as a place to play in the dirt and watch something grow. We have a propagation area for seed starting and cuttings. Some folks have designed a Zen Garden, while others built an arbor covered with Alamanda for quiet, contemplative moments. There are some Memory Gardens, some Celebration Gardens and a few Just Cuz Gardens. Last Valentine's Day the Gardens were decorated beautifully with lighted pathways and festive tablesettings for a wonderfully romantic dinner al fresco. This December it will be decorated again for a wedding. Our Public Garden is well used, and well loved, and bigger than it seems.
There are Public or Botanical or Community Gardens in so many places, and they have so very much to offer. If you haven't been to one lately, you might think about seeing what's happening in one near you. If you haven't been to one at all, you should find out what you are missing. A world of beauty, history and wonder awaits you. But watch out, you just may find yourself falling in love with a whole new idea of gardening, or a new plant, or a class that sounds fascinating...or....or....or
Please note: The gardens of the Orient and Far East have a history and mystic beauty that deserve an article devoted strictly to them. In no way do I mean to slight their incredible additions to the world of botanical beauty.