While I love walking among the greenery and fresh air of the parklands and gardens of the world, I am not overly interested by the names and biological characteristics of each plant. However tucked away in a small Mauritian town and named for the bitter tasting grapefruit, Pamplemousses hosts an exceptional botanical gardens sure to capture anybody’s attention. Sadly many visitors don’t escape their beach resort to visit this superb gardens. A couple of hours wandering the wondrous Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Gardens (or Jardins de Pamplemousses to its friends) in the north of Mauritius from the tongue-twisting name of the first Prime Minister, uncovers a fascinating array of tropical botanical treasures that should spark interest in anybody. The garden started in 1770 and is the oldest botanical gardens in the southern hemisphere.
Following the palm-lined path from the wrought iron entrance gates, unusual trees abound. The Bleeding Tree dribbles crimson sap while the nearby grove of unusual Talipot Palms tower twenty metres into the air, flaunting its huge fan-tailed fronds. They flower just once after forty or fifty years in a stellar display of tens of millions of blossoms and then die. Sadly (or fortunately) none are in their full floral glory. The Fish Poison Tree is so potent that some Indian Ocean islanders grind the seeds and add it to water to stun fish, making for easy capture.
The gentle aroma of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg fills the humid air from the Spice Corner (the origins of the gardens in an attempt to locally produce these valuable 18th century commodities).
A grand white marble obelisk commemorates those who generously donated their efforts to the gardens is coupled with a memorable quote: “The gift of a useful plant is more precious to me than the discovery of a gold mine, and a longer lasting monument than a pyramid”.
The highlight of the gardens is the central lily pond. Like giant green footprints well over a metre wide, the lily pads span the lake. Starting as shrivelled emerald balls, they literally unfurl before your eyes, fully expanding in a couple of hours. Supposedly they hold the weight of a small child but responsible parents aren’t willing to test the theory. Remarkably the lily flowers, bloom white, turn pink on day two and die while elegant lotus flowers float graciously across the pond.
Every corner of the gardens has surprises. A tiny animal area includes lumbering giant tortoises that thrive on the rich grasses. Small islands in the garden’s largest lake, dense in luxuriant vegetation are left to grow wild, palms and trees fighting for every square inch of this fertile area.
A garden memorial of author Bernardin de Saint-Pierre commemorates Mauritius’s greatest tale of love. An imaginary tomb recalls the tragic drowning of Virginie who modestly refused to remove her cumbersome dress as her ship sinks while Paul, her lover swims ashore. He dies a few years later of a broken heart for the loss of the love of his life.
Escape your resort and visit in the earlier morning to avoid the worst of the humidity, the well-maintained gardens make for an attractive and peaceful stroll experiencing an unusual variety and curious oddities of warm-weather plants. Take an inexpensive guide to get the most of this botanical wonderland hidden away on this mercurial African island.
Photo Credits: flowering Talipot