Resuscitation of the culture of ‘Garden City’ will enrich citizens’ quality of life
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IN early May, the International Day of Plant Protection was marked in Guyana, with the Ministry of Agriculture recommitting itself to its aims.  The message of the Day was concerned with food crops and insecticides, but it reminded us of the aesthetic value of plants and trees, as manifested when Georgetown was the “Garden City of the West Indies”.  With the will and modest effort, the City Hall and the Local Government Ministry could fairly quickly regain that happy accolade for the City.  Indeed, the Government has already embarked upon an element of that process with the recent attractive development of the Railway Embankment.

Georgetown, until the 1960s, was deservedly given the worldwide accolade of the “Garden City”.  All of its main streets were lined with trees of various kinds.  For example, Broad Street was lined with cabbage palms; Main Street had Samaan trees; High Street/Avenue of the Republic and Camp Street sported red flamboyant, which were immortalised in Sharples’ memorable watercolours.  Brickdam, the first street of Georgetown dating from the period of Dutch rule, had a variety of rare trees such as golden flamboyants, Ceylon blueberry palms, and cannonballs.  Birds of various colours and songs would always be flitting among the trees.  The trees provided a beauteous milieu and cool shade, and absorbed carbon, and did their part for the health and well-being of the citizens.  In addition, the trees acted as fire-breaks in a largely wooden city, and absorbed an enormous amount of water in a terrain which was below sea level.

In the 1960s, Guyana became independent, and the City Hall and its Council and personnel became working-class with less ability to manage, as had been the pre-Independence Mayors and Councillors who were often important businessmen and professionals.  The City fell into a precipitous decline, and the ‘Garden City’ aspect of it suffered from the trees being neglected, dying without being replaced, or a few even growing to forest trees.  In several streets, a few stragglers of the past have survived, such as the Samaans of Main Street, the few flamboyants of Avenue of the Republic and Camp Street, a few of the Mora trees of Hadfield Street and a number of various species in Brickdam such as the Cannonballs.

Georgetown could still recapture some of its glories of the past, and again become the ‘Garden City’.  The first thing that has to be done is for the City Council to revive the “Friends of Georgetown Committee”, which consisted of professionals and business people who would volunteer to help in advising about the management of the City.  Such persons may be able to inspire the initiative of trimming the remaining trees, planting new ones, extending tree-planting to the newer areas taken into the City, and sometimes even to replant some streets with completely new trees, as in the case of Irving Street, where the Cyclamen Pouis have grown into forest trees, and could all be replaced with gold Pouis. Others like Broad Street, where the Cabbage Palms have all died, could be replanted.  Aluminum plates with botanical and commonly-used names should be attached to the trees.  As in the past, schoolchildren could be brought out to these avenues to do their Biology and Nature Study classes.

The yards of Georgetown, with their front flower gardens and backyard kitchen gardens, were an integral part of the Garden City.  The gardens always had local red and white Roses and Oleanders and Night Jasmines and Mimosas with their attractive perfumes.  Sunflowers were usually planted at the fences, and there were runners like Coralitas, Queen of the Night and perfumed Steponotis.  Queen of Flowers with their various colours were a favourite, as were smaller shrubs like Bachelor’s Buttons, Jump-and-Kiss, African Daisies and Marigolds. The Lanciana Orchid was ubiquitous.  Buttercups and mostly scarlet Bougainvilleas were grown at one corner of the fence.  Today, the flower gardens have disappeared, and, at most, some yards may have some Buttercups and bougainvilleas mostly on the front fence.  Regrettably, local red and white Roses are never seen.  Kitchen gardens had the usual vegetables such as Ochroes, Squash, Carillas, Boras and Same vines running on the fence, Lettuce, Eggplant and Pakchoi in beds, and very often some herbs such as Thyme, Tulsi, Ginger and Pepper.

Some enterprising owners may try Carrots and Radishes, and Passion Fruit, in spite of the uncontrollable way in which its vines run. Every yard had a few fruit trees such as Mangoes, Sapodillas, Coconut, Avocado, Peach, Soursop, Papaw, Bananas, Star Apple, Custard Apple, Sugar Apple, Pear-Guavas, Pomme Rose, Pomegranate and others.  The existence of this plethora of fruit trees in the City encouraged birds to live and nest there, and one always woke up in the mornings with birdsong.

The culture of gardens could again be revived if the Botanic Gardens, NAREI and other agencies were to distribute flower and vegetable seeds at a nominal price, and the extension services of the Ministry of Agriculture be made available to small gardeners as was done in the past.  Also, the Ministries of Local Government and Housing should encourage new land and house-lot owners to grow fruit trees and have gardens.  If this is done, the quality of life of citizens would, accordingly, be greatly enriched.

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