The iconic dome at the Botanical Gardens in Kingstown. (Internet photo)

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]

A member of CARICOM was wholly responsible for the foundation of the premiere Kew Gardens in England. Indeed, it was also the inspiration, way-station and nursery for the Botanical Gardens in Kingston, Jamaica as well.  This colonial phenomenon attracted global attention, and ultimately led to the later International Columbian Exposition and Agricultural Fairs. Much of the newer tropical plants transplanted to the early Thirteen American Colonies were privately, secretly sent from this CARICOM icon by a British loyalist who was imprisoned by the US War of Independence forces as a pirate, benign prisoner of war. This was the initial nursery of the nascent “breadbasket of the West Indies”.

Pay well-deserved appreciation to the St. Vincent Botanic Gardens, established in the 18th Century, the conceptual invention of Dr. George Young, British naval surgeon in St. Lucia, and St. Vincent.  This was the “cause celebre” that entire naval disturbance popularized in The Mutiny on the Bounty of Captain William Bligh notoriety. The first shipment of such plants finally succeeded in arriving safely in St. Vincent island in 1765. Only by way the good graces of ship Providence. Take that, Mr. Christian Fletcher!

WEY WE GO DO  

As one who is reputedly a direct descendent of two past caretakers of the Kingstown Botanic Gardens, in SVG, I know that the Western Hemisphere’s oldest botanical gardens can actively, efficiently, effectively and pro-actively pay its way.

A much more significantly important issue though, is for the 21st Century botanic gardens to re-vitalise, re-energise and refresh itself, by, two and a half centuries later, re-visiting a contemporary importation of plant species from the original sources-places, Tahiti, the Pacific Isles, East Africa,India — and new source-places, primarily Vietnam and/or Korea.

The Botanic Gardens should transform itself into a Centre of Excellence for Agricultural Education and Research, development of plant species, commercial propagation of species, widening of our flowers and other flora plant and importation, development, ‘archiving’, and sales of seeds, suckers and plantlings — even if some of these activities might of necessity    be positioned or stationed off-campus.

In all these activities, and more, our SVG Botanic Gardens should work in close cooperation with the official Government Agricultural, Forestry, Fishery, Education, Youth, Community Development, and Foreign Trade portfolios.  CARICOM should, for once, pay due attention to this historical heritage of the Western Hemisphere, unknown not adequately recognised as such by the regional organization.

International reputation

Kew Gardens in England and the botanic gardens in Jamaica were transplanted, fed and developed from the breadfruit, Asiatic and other exotic destined mainly for St. Vincent. My family, I am told, had a direct hand transplanting these plants, especially the Breadfruit saplings, by

sloop to the other West Indian islands from the Leewards to Trinidad, plus Guyana.  The “Kingstown/St. Vincent Botanic Gardens, unbelievably, were once temporarily transplanted to St. Lucia.

Enter the Columbian World Fair and Exposition.  Thanks to the West Indies.

In the Kingstown Botanic Gardens, we had forever sealed the agricultural heritage of Tahiti and the Pacific, India, and East Africa with that of the Western Hemisphere, inclusive of St. Vincent, the Windward Islands, the Leeward Islands, Jamaica, Trinidad, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.  It was but a negative of Rudyard Kipling:

East Met West and Forever the Twain Shall Meet.

Strategic Expansion

I suggest that we officially transplant the Kingstown Botanic Garden phenomena to amply suitable locations/spots in Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Prune/Palm Island, Petit St. Vincent, and Union Island. Similarly, we ought complete other substantial transplants of area botanic gardens, initially to all the rural towns — and soonest also to other highly populated villages/townships. This model can be readily replicated through all of the OECS and wider CARICOM.  After 250 years of a globally-significant event in our SVG and West Indian history, this latter is the very least that we can do. Do we have a nation, or don’t we? are we an independent state, or aren’t we? Surely, we can do good things, BIG ONES, on our own?

The conceptualization and development of the Kingstown Botanic Gardens were original and path-breaking. From our pioneering Breadfruit and exotic plants project formed the inspiration and forerunner of Great Britain’s famous Kew Gardens and the botanic gardens in Jamaica. Surely, we can spread the official community botanic gardens ideal and design to our other population centres in SVG?

Forward to our national Agri-educational Centres of Excellence in SVG. No less memorial would be fitting as authentic celebrations of our St. Vincent Botanic Gardens’ 250th Anniversary founding. This from the mouth of a direct descendent of former curators. With due vision and foresight, we may well expand the auspicious celebrations into a CARICOM-wide spectacle.

Transcendent National Goal

With such a serious dearth for national goals and objectives, we ought to take a good look at embracing a full nation-wide community development programme

a more natural agricultural research, agricultural development and  agricultural education orientation. Such programme MUST of necessity be unforced, uncoerced, and non-mandatory. It must be absolutely, completely voluntary.  Guyana’s national agricultural cum community development efforts of a several years ago may well serve as a model for this type orientation.

There should be no parochialism, political partisanship, ideological

subversion, party gimmicks, or self-aggrandisements — if our idealised programme is to work.

Some 250 years after, it would be a clear national shame for us to neglect re-activating our global, yes world-wide, fame and historic mention such at St. Vincent achieved in the 18th Century.

We in CARICOM, the OECS, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) should, at least, officially and/or ceremonially re-visit Tahiti and give our solemn thanks to the Government and descendent peoples of these Pacific Islanders, East Africans and Indians who were our true historic botanical benefactors.

Such a sad occurrence that this historic SVG globally-noticed milestone has reached us without any real attention from the current political directorate.

Our colonial masters were adept at constructing, building and otherwise establishing Governments building, roads and bridges.  Our successor independent directorates have woefully fallen short of even merely maintaining these, though being quick to opportunistically rename them.

Will we be able to say less or more with regards to our historical heritage in the form of the Kingstown Botanic Gardens of SVG and CARICOM?

SVG, OECS, CARICOM – – – this is one area above several others in which we caught the imagination and notice of the whole world – – – in the 1700s and early 1800s. Let us strategically capitalize on this documented case of Vincentian and West Indian excellence.

Quo Vadis, renowned Hairouna, State of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

West India, quo vadis? May we choose wisely and return to our literal national SVG/OECS/CARICOM Roots.

Steve Huggins

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].