Suzy YoungA first botanic garden for Laos: enchanting Pha Tad Ke

Starting a new garden from the ground up is daunting even for an experienced gardener in a familiar environment, but imagine being a non-gardener, in a foreign country, on unknown terrain in a totally different climate and contemplating the creation of a 14 hectare botanical garden showcasing the indigenous plants of a country where botany is little studied and new species are still being discovered.

Spectacular views over the Mekong River in Pha tad Ke Botanical Garden, Luang Prabang, Laos

Spectacular views over the Mekong River in Pha tad Ke Botanical Garden, Luang Prabang, Laos

Rik Gadella, once a publisher in Paris, has spent the last 8 years researching, learning, planning, and sometimes tearing his hair out over the logistical, financial and official challenges of this huge project. But now, he is about to open Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden on the north bank of the Mekong in Luang Prabang, Laos, in November 2016. Rik says:

“It has been an immense learning experience. But everything I have encountered has helped convince me that it is a good idea, despite the difficulties.”

Rik began by trying to communicating the very idea of a botanical garden to his staff, who had never heard of such a thing, being rice farmers and gatherers of forest plants, but now they talk excitedly about propagation, irrigation, and preservation of species, proud to be part of such a literally groundbreaking project.

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Laos - steps

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Laos – steps

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Laos - Bamboo walkway

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Laos – Bamboo walkway

The jungle of regrowth which almost obliterated what was once the site of the royal retreat near Luang Prabang, the World Heritage listed former capital of this tiny landlocked country, has given way to an extensive series of medicinal plant gardens, lotus-filled ponds, collections of bamboo and palms and a spectacular forested hill walk to the cliff that looms over the site and the broad Mekong River.

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Laos - Trial plot

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Laos – Trial plot

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden - path

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden – path

A visit to the garden starts with a 15 minute boat ride down the Mekong from the reception centre in town. Guests can wander the winding paths with knowledgeable guides, soaking up the rare natural beauty of the flora of Laos, a country with one of the highest rates of biodiversity in the world. 

Spirithouse in Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden. Laos

Spirithouse in Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden. Laos

The medicinal, spiritual and ceremonial use of plants is a precious heritage that Pad Tad Ke Botanical Garden aims to preserve. Visitors can learn about the ingenious and colourful ethno botany of Laos, a study which encompasses traditions which have been in place for generations among the various ethnic groups who make up the 6.5 million population.

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden Laos - water lily pond

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden Laos – water lily pond

The garden will be a welcome addition to the rich cultural and recreational offerings for tourists coming to Luang Prabang, with its temples, museums and fascinating festivals and crafts.

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Laos - cataloguing the orchids

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Laos – cataloguing the orchids

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden Laos - nursery

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden Laos – nursery

Visitors will enjoy an excellent lunch of local specialties from a menu developed by Seng Luang, chef at the well known Thip Kao Restaurant in Washington DC, USA. There is also a shop featuring locally produced handicrafts, Pha Tad Ke books and publications and a selection of medicinal herbal teas and condiments, which are exclusive to the gardens.

Training by Dr. Leigh Morris, of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Training by Dr. Leigh Morris, of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Future plans include research and educational facilities for study programs in conjunction with a number of universities and other research institutions. There will be a herbarium for the vital work of preserving samples of this country’s often uncatalogued plants, and this is important as botanical knowledge in Laos is not yet well-developed compared to many other countries. 

Training in sustainable agricultural practice is also a focus of programs with the installation of a permaculture demonstration farm at the garden in line with a countrywide effort to stop soil and habitat degradation and increase living conditions of the uphill farmers in Laos.

Ban Chan book presentationLocal people are already benefitting from the venture with ongoing school garden programs, there are possibilities for internships for students and Pha Tad Ke is actively looking to develop collaborations with horticultural education programs internationally. One project has been running in recent years with the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden, supporting horticulture training at Pha Tad Ke.

Pruning trees at Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Laos

Pruning trees at Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Laos

Over ten books have been published and other projects initiated to increase awareness of biodiversity conservation. There are also activities to foster skills in the arts (photography, dance, music) aimed at developing cultural understanding and enthusiasm among young Lao people for maintaining the knowledge of Lao traditions, as most is orally transmitted and could be lost.

Visit the Pha Tad Ke website to learn more. www.pha-tad-ke.com

 

SUPPORT THE WORLD’S NEWEST BOTANICAL GARDEN

As the grand opening creeps closer, Pha Tad Ke is creatively trying to raise funds for its various projects. One of these is a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the building of the ethno-botanic garden. Contributions start as low as US$5 going up to US$1000, with various gifts, discounts and experiences attached to each contribution amount.

The crowdfunding campaign for this hidden treasure of Laos is now ‘live’. The campaign site has loads of great information and photos about this new garden and the people creating it. The campaign will run for a month, so don’t delay. You can be part of Pha Tad Ke’s future!

Contribute to the crowdfunding campaign click HERE.
Find out more about the campaign and gardens click HERE.

Another way you can help the project is pre-order your tickets or tours, at a discounted price, through the crowdfunding campaign by clicking here. Also, ask your friends and family to support the good cause and share on social media. Find Pha Tad Ke on Facebook, twitter and instagram @PTKBotanical.

 

Pha Tad Ke location near Luang Prabang, Laos

Pha Tad Ke location near Luang Prabang, Laos

 

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Suzy Young

About Suzy Young

Suzy Young is a journalist and a gardener who lives and works in Luang Prabang, in northern Laos, where living is not particularly easy, but it is both challenging and fascinating with beautiful people and a rich natural environment. She teaches English to help young people get and keep jobs and to develop their understanding of the world. When not writing or teaching, she explores the countryside or stays home trying to come to grips with tropical gardening and keeping her dogs from digging it all up.

6 thoughts on “A first botanic garden for Laos: enchanting Pha Tad Ke

  1. What a wonderful natural space. Without the traditional formalities of the typical botanic garden, this beautiful garden to me works within the confines of the spirit of its country.
    It really does look like a surreal place to visit without the stuffiness that is so often seen in public spaces.
    I for one, really like the look of it and would love to visit it. I am far more inspired by a place like this than many of the traditional botanic gardens that we so often see in Australia. Many of these need ‘loosening’ up so that the real spirit that is so evident in these pictures can be released.

    • Suzy Young on said:

      Thanks for your comments, Alison. Yes, this is “the real thing”, a non-municipal sort of garden, but one that aims to combine a serious, scientific purpose with a passion for the overwhelming beauty of plants and the very urgent need to preserve and sustain the treasures of this place. Hope to see you in the garden one day! Suzy Young

  2. Louise McDaid on said:

    Thanks Suzy for writing about this amazing project. I’ve spent some lovely times in Luang Prabang and this gives me another reason to want to return, as if I needed another reason, not really. It’s so beautiful in so many ways, the whole feel of the place and its people, and this shows through in the new gardens. I wish it every success with all its endeavours.

  3. Suzy Young on said:

    Thank you, Louise. As you already understand the charm of the place, I am sure we will see you one day in the garden.

  4. GUNASEKARAN on said:

    Well done

    How can I help your Garden, I am a botanical researcher and practitioner

    • Suzy Young on said:

      Thanks for writing. We are going to open soon, but are still in need of support from all those who want to see the garden grow and make a difference. If you look at our website you will find many ways to help from adopting a tree or a garden bench to sponsoring a student. And do come for a visit! Thanks, Suzy Young

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