By Bianca Silva
The botanical gardens are being renovated in three phases. When the renovation is complete, they are
expected to become one of Grahamstown’s major tourist attractions. A R2,9 million grant is to fund the renovations over the next two and a half years.
The National Botanical Institute and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism through its Poverty Relief Program has supplied the Grounds and Gardens Division with this grant.
Despite some delays, phase one of the renovations has been completed. Mark Hazell, Rhodes University’s grounds and gardens manager, explained that most of the goals for phase one have been met.
Phase two has been awarded tender and renovations for it should start this week or the next. He explained that renovations aim to increase accessibility for all. “In a community garden the broadest number of representatives, fit or unfit, able or disabled, they need to have access” said Hazell.
Whilst the designs for the gardens have been approved, there is heated debate surrounding the locations of the proposed buildings. Hazell sees ongoing funding as a possible future problem.
Hazell envisions phase three to be an interactive experience for visitors. He described the possibility of having a GPS or touch screen which would allow the visitor to tap into information while they walk the garden themselves, without the need of additional staff being present. “A hi-tech garden in an old-tech location,” said Hazell. However he said that this phase three or what might become phase four is probably only a possibility for the far future. “If you don’t dream it, it can’t happen,” he said. The garden has been a 14-year dream for Hazell.
Hazell sees the gardens as an opportunity for environmental education and “cultural, emotional interaction in a neutral place”. He sees the garden as bringing people together.
Students who want to get involved with the garden could host walking tours during festivals, help to put up posters or a group could volunteer to look after an area of the garden. There are also many research opportunities available.
Hazell is in agreement that the renovations are rejuvenations. “A garden reborn, new life, new hope,” he said. The gardens had been deteriorating because of a lack of resources. As Hazell explains it, there is opportunity for improvement, firstly as a community upliftment, poverty relief and skills transferal project and secondly to build on the foundation of the gardens and add colour or decoration.
It is the second oldest garden in Southern Africa, “people appreciate it, it’s tranquil and appealing,” he said. The renovations are hoped to amalgamate educational, social and cultural elements in the garden.
“I think the botanical gardens have so much memories and history for so many people” he said.