In schools/colleges/wherever possible!

A very inspiring article and an editorial in the world’s famous science journal, Nature! On what? On the role of botanical gardens in restoring the biodiversity in a world of declining biodiversity! How wonderful!

So, science teachers, botanists, professionals and amateurs! Take heart and go ahead in taking an interest in our botanical gardens, reserved forests and visit the famous gardens, near and far!

Bangalore has its famous botanical gardens; the Lalbagh is a veritable store house for rare trees and plants. So too elsewhere.

The immediate provocation for this editorial is the news that Bangalore university campus has the distinction of having the region’s first bio-diversity park on a campus. Spread over 1,500 acres, it has more than 200 indigenous plant species which is an open lab! The park seems to have been laid out in 27 quadrants etc.

Now, botanical gardens have always been repositories of knowledge as well as of cuttings. The world’s larger gardens, the Italian gardens are justly famous and they make for a thorough life-enhancing study, as well as the Moghul gardens in India, Iran and elsewhere. For true garden lovers, botanists, this is a perennial source of inspiration and light. In Lal Baugh it there is some very rare tree specimen and as a result of the farsighted gift by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, we have now the British interest in the subject and that saw some rare species brought from  Kew and other famed gardens.

Now there are so many innovations. Hybrid heritage is one. A heritage garden brings with it the joys of aesthetics, exploration and education as much as academic study.

Plant taxonomy is a science, discovering, sorting and whole-organism biology, study of ecosystem of the various plants; the world’s larger gardens enable us to do these things and much more. Among the world famous gardens Kew Gardens, outside London is the most sought after by tourists as well as experts. Founded in 1759, this has a budget of 14 million dollars, famous for its palm house, designed in 1840s.ten-storey pagoda, built in 1762 which is a big draw with visitors. The current man, Peter Crane, director of Kew Gardens is” very neat and tidy”, writes a correspondent with a touch of irony, just a small man, decorative in ink stain on his cuff! He walks the 129 hectares of land these days with a “bit of preemptory nostalgia”!

He says: “I don’t think, once you’ve been here, you ever really get rid of the infection”. He doesn’t want to leave the job, it looks! “We have planted literally millions of bulbs in my time here” says he. In the lake outside the Palm House, moorhens and huge white-headed geese float about!

In the spring, carpets of bluebells, daffodils and crocuses are around every turn. In the corner of the garden are the research labs, a recent paper from which reported that two species of palm trees had diverged despite sharing the same habitat! New York Botanical Gardens will provide a site for genomics as well as for picnics. USA, the universities in particular seem to have lots of botanical gardens and also lot of budget for different research agendas. New York Botanical Gardens seem to be entering into genomics research with a 23 million dollar Pfizer Research Centre. The Missouri Botanical Garden in Saint Louis, founded in 1859 has a budget of 9.4 million. It is famous for its Climatron geodesic dome and free concerts on Wednesdays every summer. This is a 32 hectare spread, its director, Peter Raven, is described funnily as” with an egg-shaped head and an engaging smile, he has lived in a corner of the garden-like a religious vicar in his vicarage-since 1971!However,his status, among often things, is his best selling textbook for undergraduates! So, he has an influence beyond the gardens! “Botanical gardens have always been scholarly enterprises” he says, but the Missouri garden is an aesthetic one, “managing neatly to be attractive even in the harsh winters in the US Midwest”

“The Japanese garden, for example, looks best in the snow, its distinctive lines highlighted with white”. On the paths, school kids in khakis are punching each other! “Under the Osage orange trees are nets to keep large green fruit from bonking people on the head”! In this garden, says its PR lady, like others, everything is emblazoned with the name of some donor or other. Some science research in the gardens is funded by a similarly direct route, which means no peer-reviewed proposals and very little red tape! Just a thank you note!

How all so simple and natural and free from all bureaucratic restrictions! We in India have to learn so many things.
Let us start with amateur botanical gardens in all large campuses. Start with the large autonomous and old collages with ample spaces!

Herbariums are the trend. How to save plants when habitats are changed, plants go extinct. How sad! So many such threatened species are preserved with so much attention and responsibility in the Missouri herbarium. Jim Solomon, the one in charge, “feels anxious and stressed” over his responsibilities but what a great service to mankind! One species, a maple specimen, we are told, was collected in 1892 and it now looks as if it has just now been caught, just seconds ago!

Let us bring in the study of various disciplines through the botanical gardens and let us start with the mission of saving and enhancing our biodiversity capacities and capabilities!
Gardens, botanical gardens in particular, play a functional role in our struggle; it is yes, now a struggle, to understand environmental change and hopefully we get some positive gains to save the environment. Apart from anything else, gardens in schools and colleges, universities, however big or small, play an inspirational role. Let us learn to walk, amble through, fields and gardens, strolling the natural environment, we promote environmentalism; we allow nature run its course through our actual lifestyles. That is the greatest education experience!

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