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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Local 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.
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!
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.