New Botanical Garden in Sarchí Aims to Preserve
Nature, Educate, Inform. . . and Delight Visitors

By Gaby Kyriss
Special to The TicoTimes

For many of us, the Garden of Eden is illusory. In contrast, Else Kientzler Botanical Garden in Sarchí is a reality and open to the public. It's a place where one can stroll through 22.5 acres (9 hectares) of beautifully landscaped grounds, just minutes away from the center of the coffee town.

An hour's drive northwest of San José , the garden, formerly a coffee plantation, features approximately 1,000 plant species from throughout the tropics and subtropics. Its meditative environment invites visitors to linger and make use of the opportunities for contemplation and learning. And those with a green thumb who plan to construct their own green zones are welcome to pick up creative ideas for their landscaping projects.

The garden is owned and operated by the Germany-based company InnovaPlant, a world-renowned leader in the floriculture industry. It is the brainchild of Ludwig Kientzler, who heads the Kientzler Group, specializing in the production of high-quality young ornamental plants and cuttings. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of this family enterprise, the garden was dedicated to its senior director in 2004.

In cooperation with the University of Costa Rica , Lankester Botanical Gardens , and a German landscape architect, InnovaPlant was able to create this new attraction, located at the northeastern outskirts of Sarchí. Bordered by the untamed River Trojas, the site is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation which, according to the company, is to be protected at all costs.

“With this garden, we aim to preserve nature and want to please, educate and inform at the same time,” says Thomas Schuster, manager of InnovaPlant de Costa Rica. “The project is also based on the idea of establishing a gene pool in a frost-free location for ornamental plants originating from our product development and breeding programs.”

At the garden's entrance, an adobe-style reception building overlooks the hibiscus labyrinth, a stimulus to children to play hide and seek. An orange-colored pedestrian bridge, attached to the second floor of this lovingly adorned house, leads into a botanical wonderland with plants galore.

The grounds are further enhanced by bridges and terraces woven into a comfortable, picturesque loop trail, with unfolding views of the surrounding highlands and the adjoining river, providing opportunities for nature observation. Innovative picnic areas beckon visitors to their “living beds” where they may lounge on rectangular-shaped concrete benches naturally padded with overgrown grass.

Cactus and succulents contrast with fruit and wood trees, as well as with the original river vegetation. In one of the seven sections of the garden, tall Erythrina trees (a commonly used shade-tree in coffee plantations) form a spectacular grove, playing host to bromeliads and orchids. Reminiscent of the ancient Mayan culture, a spiral-shaped fountain adorns this mystical spot.

While walking through the large heliconia collection, guests can observe an excellent example of coevolution: the hanging or erect bracts that surround the small flowers of these natives to the tropical Americas attract hummingbirds. The hermits, a special group of these astonishing birds, are highly dependent on heliconia flowers for their energy-providing nectar, while the flowers need hermits for pollination.

In the midst of all this quiet, unique beauty exists a magnificent water garden, where rich foliage of papyri and giant marantas seem to compete with the showy blooms of water lilies. A pause at the pond's tranquil banks offers to counterbalance the propelled, streamlined activities of modern life, enriching the human experience.

Stressing simple structural form and color, the influence of contemporary garden architects such as Terence Conrad, Roberto Burle Marx and Dan Pearson are obvious throughout the site, which is maintained by 20 landscapers year ‘round. Trees and plants are clearly labeled and more information panels, as well as an instructive brochure, are under way.

During the last eight years, a team of biologists, taxonomists, contractors and landscapers have been working closely together, making Kientzler's vision a reality.

“In the beginning, it was all clearing the grounds, cutting coffee bushes and putting up bridges and access trails,” remembers the garden's manager, Alejandro Barrantes. Trained and skilled as a forestry engineer, Barrantes, a staff member for six years, enjoys working with plants in a creative way, while at the same time introducing visitors to the importance of preserving natural resources.

A good portion of the plants displayed here, were donated by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mines (MINAE). These plants had been illegally removed from their natural habitats and confiscated by the Ministry. Helping prevent further damage to the Costa Rican flora and fauna, Barrantes plans to sell reasonably priced potted plants to visitors from the garden's nursery.

In the coming year, Schuster and Barrantes intend to add more attractions to this little paradise. Currently projected are both a garden for the visually impaired, signposted in Braille, as well as a restaurant with a separate entrance. Further, a “how to do” landscaping program will enable plant lovers to receive helpful information on the formation of their own private garden or hotel grounds.

In the search for beauty and serenity, one does not have to be Adam or Eve to enjoy these gardens, as they are available to all, and an invitation to everyone to spend a few hours among our plant friends with the long Latin names!

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