Jan HintzeCosta Rican gardens

Part of my trip to Central and South America a few weeks ago involved a quick trip to Costa Rica. We (a group who were attending the Heliconia Society International conference, being held in Panama) were to visit the OTS Wilson Botanic Garden, which was established some fifty years ago on a small piece of land in the extreme south of Costa Rica, close to the Panamanian border.

Wilson Botanic Park

Wilson Botanic Park

Wilson Botanic Park

Bob and Catherine Wilson, ex-patriate Americans, built up the garden with their collections of plants of Costa Rica as well as those from others in the central American region. It is now run by the Organisation for Tropical Research, and its area has expanded greatly. OTS has other stations throughout Costa Rica, but this one, named Las Cruces, at SanVito, concentrates on conservation biology, with emphasis on reclaiming abandoned farmland, in this case coffee plantations. There are basic research facilities as well as accommodation for visitors and resident students. When we were there, the students were mostly preoccupied with finishing and writing up their research projects, since the end of the academic year was approaching, and theses, and field work had to be finalised.

Wilson Botanic Park

The visit was really interesting, particularly since I had been there some ten years ago, and the gardens were somewhat neglected, although the original plans by Burle Marx, the great Brazilian landscape designer, were visible. I was glad to see that the gardens had been substantially improved and maintained, and some of us provided assistance by checking plant labels, which were often misplaced or incorrect, largely due to the fact that the plants had grown away from the label. Apart from Burle Marx’s contribution, the major attraction of the garden is the huge collection of palms – it is the second largest, world wide – and most impressive; there was also many heliconias, gingers, calatheas and aroids, something for everyone, in fact.

Heliconia lingulata, grown to perfection

Heliconia lingulata, grown to perfection

As part of this trip, which was by road, across the border from Panama, we also visited a garden, built by a private person, which happened, fortunately to be more or less on the way to Wilson. This garden has been designed to take advantage of the site, which has a fairly steep slope leading to the entrance way, but the other side of the hill is a cliff, and the house is built at the top of the hill.

Heliconia xanthovillosa, one of the most sought after heliconias – & it’s easy to see why

Heliconia vellerigera, another interesting furry pendular heliconia – very variable in both colour & the amount of fur!

The owner has amassed an amazing collection of heliconias and some gingers, together with many other plants. The whole is beautifully maintained, and a pleasure to see. It doesn’t often happen that visitors have a chance to see the results of years of plant collecting, put together in such a effective way, with each plant able to show its beauty, and be part of a coordinated whole.

Heliconia stilesii – another beautiful pendular

Here are some photos from both gardens, and more on my travels, later. Unfortunately, my camera died after the visit to the private garden, so the Wilson photos are courtesy Ian Moor and his Horizons Unlimited blog post about his travels in Costa Rica.

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Jan Hintze

About Jan Hintze

Jan is a professional flower grower, horticulturist & consultant, specialising in tropical plants including fruit and vegetable production and cut flowers. Darwin, Northern Territory

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