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Developing a Small Botanic Garden for a School: a Case Study from Pakistan

Volume 3 Number 4 - June 2000
Amin U. Khan

I was asked to develop a botanic garden in the middle of a school site. Developing a small garden in a semi-arid, subtropical country with no tradition of botanic gardens was a difficult proposition. Fortunately, the desire of the school's management to foster greater interaction of children with plants, in order to make them better citizens, convinced me to work on this project. I worked out a few themes, which would be of interest to the school's students. The work started in 1987; the garden is now well established and the plants are labelled. Although it is a small garden, it has, because of its location, helped to create a lot of activity and interest among the students.

History

In 1948 a plot of 2500 m2 was set aside for growing ornamental and indoor plants. An existing old Ficus religiosa and various Eucalyptus tree species provided shade. In 1964 when the school was upgraded to college status, the plot started to be called a botanic garden. Additional plots were created to grow plants needed for practical work. Unfortunately, in 1972 the College was nationalised, and the area was paved over.

In 1987 it was decided to convert the front lawns of the school into a small botanic garden. Coincidentally it was the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the School and so it was decided to give the garden the name of the place where the School was originally established in 1907 i.e. Danishmandan, (Jullundhar; India).

Planning the Garden

The primary objective for creating the garden was to spread awareness among the students of the diversity of plant life and show the adaptations of plants to different habitats; another aim was to improve the general overall appearance and landscaping of the School, which had deteriorated due to overcrowding in the nationalised portion of the institution (see Box) .

The garden's display area is a roughly triangular area of about 6700m2 with a central pathway. Maximum possible plant diversity was introduced in this small area. In keeping with the existing landscaping, it was decided to duplicate the plants on both sides of the central pathway.

Selection of species for the garden

Evolutionary aspects of taxonomy is emphasised by the following plants in the garden:

  • Pteridophytes: Diplazium esculentum. Nephrolepis biserrata, Pteris vitata, Thelypteris proliferus.
  • Gymnosperms: Cycas revoluta, Pinus roxburgii. Cupressus sempervirens, Araucaria heterophylla
  • 'Living fossils' Ginkgo biloba highlighted their significance in the Plant Kingdom.

Diversity of angiosperms, improvement of the overall outlook, provision of material for practical work, observation of plant processes and horticultural use are demonstrated by in the following way:

Genetic variability. Three species of Hibiscus were planted to introduce students to variation within species: H. rosa-sinesis, H. schizopetalus and H. syriacus.

Plant movement. Mimosa pudica was planted to demonstrate movement by touch (thigmotropism).

Dicotyledons: Magnolia grandiflora, Nandina domestica, Mirabilis jalapa, Firmiana platanifolia, Ficus benjamina, Ficus deltoidea, Duranta verens, Jasminium sambac, Ocimum basilicum, Catharanthus roseus, Rosa indica and Cassia glauca.

Monocotyledons: Crinum asiaticum, Ravenala madagascariensis, Monstera deliciosa, Canna indica, Aspidistra elatior, Chlorophytum comosum and Alpinia speciosa.

Palms: Chamaedorea elegans. Phoenix canariensis, Livistona chinensis, Washingtonia filifera, Rhaphis excelsa, Caryota urens and Roystonia regia.

Grasses: Cyperus alternifolius and Cymbopogon citratus.

Habitat theme: the following three types of plant life-form were introduced to demonstrate adaptation to various habitats:

Xerophytes: Clerodendron splendus, Aporocactus fagelliformus, Cereus peruvianus, Euphordica tirucalli, Pereskia aculeata and Opuntia elongata.

Succulents: Agave sisalanea, Beaucarnia recurvata, Sanseviera cylindrica, S. trifaciata, Cotyledon undulata, Bryophyllum pinnatum and Kalanchoe blossfeldiana.

Hydrophytes: Lemna pohyrrhiza, Pistia stratiotes and Hydrilla verticillata.

The xerophytes; and succulents were planted on small mud mounds, and the hydrophytes were planted in earthen bowls placed around central sprinklers.

Landscaping theme: promoted by highlighting the horticultural significance of different plant species. Several species of plants were used as hedge boundaries , including Cupressus sempervirens and Murraya exotica. Several specimens of Roystonia regia were planted on either side of the central path to transform it into a mini-boulevard.

The atrium of the old school block constructed in 1942 was planted with the following variety of liana: Smilax aspera, Petrea volubilis, Gmelina philippensis, Vallaris solanacrae, Stigmophylon ciliatum, Quisqalis indica, Rosa banksiae, Passiflora minima, Antigonan leptopus, Bougainvillea spectabilis, B. glabra alba and Beaumontia grandiflora.

As far as material was concerned creating a garden was not a great problem. The management section (Abbas manzil) of the school has a large nursery of plants with facilities of propagating variety of species and plenty of compost, both animal and plant.

Conclusion

The central path is an ideal vantage-point for students to observe the diversity of plant life which is replicated on both sides of the triangular garden. At the same time flowers and leaves are available for observing variability and adaptive modification in the plant world, literally at the classroom doorsteps.

The botanic garden and the Liana Atrium are now both well established and are in their 12th year. It has tremendously improved the overall appearance and environment of the School

It has become evident that having a small botanic garden in the School is much more helpful than arranging trips to outside botanic gardens. Arranging trips involves a lot of effort in getting permission and making arrangements. Furthermore, botanic gardens are not widespread in Pakistan. The presence of an on-site botanic garden enables students to make frequent and informal visits. It also brings students closer to nature and enables them to be taught about other related concepts: oxygen replenishment, cooling effects, pollutant absorption, adaptation. It also enables them to develop a general aesthetic regard and respect for plants.