After seven years of preparations, the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR opened to the public last month. The jungle of regrowth which almost obliterated the garden has given way to an extensive series of medicinal plants, lotus-filled ponds, bamboo and palm trees and a spectacular forested hill walk to the cliff that looms over the Mekong River.
The Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, with support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), organised several training events on green horticulture, ecology for tour guides and field botany between September 2016 to January 2017. This enabled the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden to build the staff's capacity to develop and implement short practical training courses for students and the general public. A Horticulture Manual was also developed.
A visit to the garden starts with a 15-minute boat ride from the centre of town. Guests can wander the winding paths in the garden with knowledgeable guides, while soaking up the rare natural beauty of the flora of Lao PDR, one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.
The medicinal, spiritual and ceremonial use of plants is a precious heritage that Pad Tad Ke Botanical Garden aims to preserve.The garden is also a pleasant addition to the many cultural and recreational tourist attractions, such as temples, museums, festivals and crafts, in Luang Prabang.
Visitors to the garden can also enjoy an excellent lunch of local specialities from a menu developed by Seng Luang, a well-known chef from the Thip Kao Restaurant in Washington DC, USA. There is also a shop that sells locally produced handicrafts, books and publications, and a wide selection of medicinal herbal teas and condiments, which are exclusive to the gardens.
Future plans for the garden include research and educational facilities for study programs to be conducted in collaboration with a number of universities and other research institutions. There will also be an herbarium to preserve samples of the country’s often uncatalogued plants. This is important as botanical knowledge in Laos is not as well-developed in comparison to other countries.
Providing training in sustainable agricultural practice is also a focus of the numerous educational programmes available. In line with a countrywide effort to stop soil and habitat degradation and improve the living conditions of uphill farmers in Laos, a permaculture demonstration farm has been installed in the garden to provide education opportunities.
Local people are already benefitting from the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden’s on-going school garden programs; many internship opportunities are available for students and the garden is actively looking to develop collaborations with horticultural education programs internationally. In recent years, the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden has offered their support in providing horticulture training at Pha Tad Ke.
The garden has published over ten books and initiated projects 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, in an attempt to keep Lao traditions alive.
Visit the Pha Tad Ke website to learn more.
This article was contributed by Suzy Young from Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden.
Founded in 2000, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a global leader in enabling civil society to participate in and benefit from conserving some of the world’s most critical ecosystems by providing grants for organisations to help protect biodiversity hotspots, Earth’s most biologically rich yet threatened areas. CEPF is a joint initiative of l'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank.