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Newsletter February 2014

 

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The Auroville Botanical Garden

Challenges for a natural habitat

The ever-increasing population pressure on forests and other forms of vegetation worldwide is resulting in the creation of botanic islands and natural habitat loss. These are serious challenges that botanical gardens amongst others are trying to address.

As the list of rare and endangered species is growing almost daily, gardens will have to urgently locate seed sources and speed up their conservation programmes. Botanic gardens all over the world will have to take the lead in the conservation of wild species. This is specially true for gardens in the tropics, where plant diversity is highest and habitat destruction alarmingly fast.

Restocking of individual species in their former habitats, and even reconstructing whole plant communities, will be an important means of conserving threatened species in future. It will be the responsibility of botanical gardens to create communities and to safeguard species from extinction.

A re-awakened Dream

Garden workshop in the BG with Aurovilians and guests

The idea of a botanical garden in Auroville has been a dream for a long time, but due to constraints of space the project never came to fulfilment. With the purchase of a new large plot of some 50 acres in the southern part of Auroville's Green Belt, the possibility of realising this dream has been re-awakened.

The size and location, and the prospect for turning this large area between Auroville and Pondicherry into a place of extreme beauty and worth, gives a unique set of circumstances for the project to flourish.

It is envisaged that, when finally complete, the gardens will cover an area of over 150 acres. This size compares favourably with other great botanical gardens of the world, e.g. Kew Gardens in London (200 acres) and Perandanya in Sri Lanka (180 acres).

Four areas

The Botanical Garden will be divided into four main areas:

  • Formal Gardens covering about 10 acres will be a well landscaped area with ornamental plant groups and various small specialist gardens (orchids, ferns, cactuses, medicinal plants), situated around a view towards a lake.

  • The Arboretum, the largest part of the B.G., will cover 80 acres and contain up to 1,500 trees and different species from all over the tropical world having similar climatic conditions to ours. The trees will be spaced widely allowing each to develop to its full potential.

  • Area of infrastructure will cover approximately 10 acres, situated on the western side. This includes various buildings (herbarium, information and environment centre, educational facilities, caretaker's house, laboratory and accommodation for visiting students), nurseries, trial plots and parking.

  • The Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest will be about 45 acres on the eastern side adjoining the Success Sanctuary, providing the public with an opportunity to experience the natural vegetation of this area, something that is near to extinction in the wild.

A green door to India and the world

If all goes to plan at least 2/3 of the gardens will be ready for the public in 7 years time. It is envisioned that the gardens will become an interface for Auroville, India and the rest of the world, and as such the promotion of renewable energy will be an important component.

The Auroville Botanical Garden will be a place where many aspects connected with nature and plant life will be displayed, and where information will be disseminated to influence people's attitude towards the environment and their fellow human beings. The plan to have an Environment Centre in the gardens to communicate Auroville's work in the field of environmental restoration and preservation will contribute to a growing awareness of caring for the Earth.

At present three seasoned Aurovilians are steering the project. As it develops, other people will become involved, either as part of the team, or in consulting roles for various aspects of the infrastructure, the design of specialist gardens or in research.

Of special concern

Water requirements

In the Arboretum and Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest areas the plants will be watered for the first one to two years of their establishment, after which they will survive on rainfall. The water supply from the windmill will meet the requirements for this purpose. Some areas of the formal gardens will require more water to maintain them. Such areas of high water usage will be minimised and confined to enclosed areas e.g. orchid and fern houses where sprinklers and mist-sprayers will also be used to minimise water consumption. It is felt that a lake is essential for the aesthetics of the garden, though it is recognised that this has the potential to lose large amounts of water through evaporation. One possibility would be to dedicate the windmill on the small well to the lake for maintaining the water level, along with collected rainwater.

Energy requirements

The gardens themselves will require little energy for their maintenance compared to the buildings and for extraction of water from the main well. As it is envisioned that the gardens will become an interface for Auroville, India and the rest of the world, it is recognised that the promotion and use of renewable energy is important, bearing in mind that development in these fields should help to provide solutions to the wider problems confronting humanity at the same time.

Interface with the public

The gardens will be open to the public, and it is hoped that many people will be inspired by their visit. It is a place where many aspects connected to plants can be displayed, and where information can be conveyed in such a way as to influence people's attitude to the environment and their fellow human beings. The plan to have an 'environment centre' in the gardens to interpret the role of Auroville's greenwork, and other areas to display local knowledge and skills, will hopefully give those aspects the recognition they deserve.

Project team 

Walter Gastmans, arrived in Auroville 1978, established Shakti Nursery, has run the Index Seminum for 10 years, keeper of the Auroville herbarium, project holder of FRLHT (Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions) for the past 7 years.
Auronevi Pingel, born in Auroville, involved with greenwork since 1990, coordinator of reforestation projects through IDRC Canada at Auroville's 'Aranya' settelement, running a nursery for drought resistant ornamental plants, and building a collection of orchids for the gardens.
Paul Blanchflower, arrived in Auroville 1991, educated at Edinburgh University with B.Sc. in ecology and forestry, project holder of Auro Eco Dat, coordinator of Forest Group plantings since 1996.



 

 

 

Contact: nevi@auroville.org.in

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