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Gardens with Wings — The Royal Botanic Gardens


John Gonsalves

March 16, 2023

The Royal Botanic Gardens were conceived and developed by Trinidad’s first British civilian Governor, Sir Ralph Woodford, shortly after the start of his administration. The sprawling lush grounds span over 61.8 acres (25 hectares) and are home to about 700 trees, including species from every continent of the world, with almost 13 percent of the species being native to the island. These Gardens were originally part of a parcel of land purchased by the Cabildo in 1819, comprising the Hollandaise Estate in St Ann’s which belonged to the heirs of Mme Peschier. Hollandaise was north of the Paradise Estate that was purchased in 1813 for the development of the Queen’s Park Savannah.

Governor Woodford contracted the botanist David Lockhart to design the gardens. The landscaper would introduce several trees from the tropical Far East to Trinidad. Sir Ralph’s world view, was that all the “disorder” in the new colony of Trinidad had to be calmed, structured, ordered and simply made more “civilised”. It was relatively easy to impose this sense of order upon the cityscape. He removed the tropical rainforest in the immediate vicinity of his new government house at St Ann’s, and had a Botanical Garden planted with imported trees. This was a demonstration of the reach and power of colonial control.

Touring the grounds, you may be surprised to find a small portion of land set aside for the burial of leading Government officials and their families. The earliest recorded grave is that of William Souper in 1819. 2010 marks the last recorded burial at the cemetery of Lady Thelma Hochoy, the wife of the first Governor General of Trinidad and Tobago, Sir Solomon Hochoy, who was also laid to rest there in 1983.  Governor Sir George Fitzgerald Hill, renowned for reading the Emancipation Proclamation on August 1, 1834, at the front of what is now the Treasury Building, was also buried there in 1839, alongside his wife, Lady Jane Beresford Hill (1836).

Photo: Botanical Gardens - Stephen Broadbridge

The lush Royal Botanic Gardens were developed to foster Conservation, Education, Research and Recreation. A popular site for walks, picnics and quiet recreation, the gardens are also an excellent location for bird watching, with parrots, parakites, pairs of blue and yellow macaws and woodpeckers among the numerous species regularly seen. A recent project was the establishment of a butterfly garden - Garden with Wings. This garden is designed to educate the public about how they can help feed our native caterpillars, which metamorphosize into the various butterflies and moths. Surprisingly, what many think of as weeds are in fact beautiful indigenous plants which provide nourishment to the butterflies and moths. One of the oldest botanical gardens in the West Indies, the Gardens are open to the public every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.