Round About Aburi
Continuing our occasional series of little-known
Botanic Gardens, Colin takes time off to visit Aburi, in Ghana.
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Colin Crooks, 230 Lonsdale Aye, London E6 3PW, U.K.
Chamaerops No. 12, published online 23-09-2002
Top: A reclining Cycad has begun to sprout from
Below: The author dwarfed by a Silk Cotton Tree (Ceiba pentandra).
Aburi Gardens, Ghana.
After reading the article about the botanic garden
in Cluj, Rumania in Edition 10 of Chamaerops, I thought it would
be a good idea to continue the theme of smaller and lesser-known
botanic gardens of the world.
As a humble functionary of the Civil Service, I
occasionally work on projects abroad, mainly in West Africa, usually
in Ghana and I always take the opportunity to visit the Aburi Botanic
Gardens near Accra. It is located about 30 miles north of that city
in the mountains some 1600 feet above sea level. There are superb
views from the winding, climbing road with sheer drops on one side.
Its cooler and healthier climate is ideal for people recuperating
after illness, and a sanitorium is also sited in the gardens.
On previous visits, the gardens have been a haven
of coolness and quietness after the heat and hubub of Accra but
on my visit in July - their winter - the weather was decidedly un-African.
In my EPS T-shirt and shorts I was very inappropriately dressed
for the rains and chilly winds. Ghanaians in sweaters and raincoats
pointed and sniggered!
The gardens were founded in 1890 for the 'advancement
of the Gold Coast Colony' with a curator appointed from Kew. Lord
Knutsford, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, took an interest
and helped it to develop. The aims were 'to teach the natives the
most approved methods of planting and preparing their produce for
the home markets'. 44 acres were acquired and divided into plots
for growing economic plants such as rubber, kola, coffee, coconuts,
raffia, cotton, bananas, tobacco and castor oil. A bronze medal
was awarded at the Paris Exhibition in 1900 for cocoa. With the
addition of ornamental plants, it had the same basic layout that
can still be seen today. Since then, botanists from all over the
world have helped in its development as a centre for pleasure and
Ghana is a developing country with grave economic
problems and it is not therefore surprising to find that Aburi gets
by with meagre resources from the Department of Parks and Gardens.
It is a tribute to the staff that the grounds are maintained to
such a high order. That is assuming there are staff - on my four
visits I have never managed to find anybody who works there!
On entering, the visitor is faced with a magnificent
800-foot long avenue of Royal Palms planted at the time of the garden's
creation. One section is devoted to cacti and succulents on a steep
hillside overlooked by a bar. Many is the Star beer I have enjoyed
while watching geckos do their 'press-ups' or lizards wiggle precariously
up the stems of Cereus plants. Strangely, there is an almost complete
absence of birdlife in the Gardens apart from the nasty looking
Hooded Vultures forever circling overhead looking for their grisly
Centre-piece of the gardens are the colossal, awe-inspiring
Silk Cotton trees (Ceiba pentandra, also known as Kapok) towering
over 70 metres high. The largest, named in honour of Lady Knutsford,
is the sole survivor of the original forest that covered the site.
These and other native trees often have their branches festooned
with bromeliads or choked with variegated Swiss cheese plants. There
is a good selection of tropical fruit trees Guava, Mango and Paw-paw
- and vegetables such as Cassava, Yam and Taro. There are good plantings
of Breadfruit and Locust-bean trees and yellow bamboo and splendid
clumps of variegated screw pines underplanted with Canna, coleus
and Setcresea purpurea. Lush and leafy bananas and plantains grow
like weeds everywhere. In a clearing stands a forlorn, rusty Westland
Whirlwind 'helicopter, for the presence of which I have so fur been
unable to obtain a logical explanation.
Several species of palm, mainly native to West Africa,
are grown. These include Raphia hookeri with their huge arching
feather leaves. This and others in the Raphia group are cultivated
extensively in the area where they are of great economic importance.
Most parts of the tree are used. The leaf mid-ribs are used as poles
in house building, the leaves are used as thatching and for making
raffia, the leaf-bases provide brushes, and rope is made from the
fibre. From the fruit, which is sometimes boiled and eaten, comes
oil, and palm wine is made by drilling into the trunk and fermenting
the sap (I've drunk it - it's powerful stuff. After sampling this
lethal brew once in Sierra Leone I fell into an open sewer at the
side of the road!). There are stands of the many-trunked Phoenix
reclinata (Senegal Date Palm) and Elaeis guineensis (Oil Palm) which
is another commercially important palm for providing oil used in
the manufacture of margarine, soap, shampoo, cosmetics etc. Similar
uses are made of copra, dried coconut flesh from the ubiquitous
Cocos nucifera (Coconut Palm).
All in all, a small homely gardens that even a horticultural
philistine would enjoy. Ghana is just developing an infant tourist
industry to exploit its historical slave forts, so if you ever visit
do make an effort and spend a lovely day at Aburi.
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