Why do we garden?

 “Sometimes people go to extremes and create eccentric, fantastic, obsessive gardens that linger in one’s memory and become tourist meccas.”  Diane Ackerman, Cultivating Delight

Costa Rica Vista

Why do we Garden?

It has been my passion and pleasure to explore gardens everywhere I go, and I’ve seen the grand, the curious, the serious, and the scary. It is a fantastic opportunity to experience remarkable places. Costa Rica is a country so biologically diverse; you could consider the entire country a garden. However, this visit presented me with a reminder of what a garden is meant to do.  

Flowers by the entry

I visited the Jardin Ecologico Los Navarro and Mariposa House (Navarro Ecological Reserve.) I keep a log of all the gardens I have visited, and my visit here in Costa Rica was garden #900. It is one of my most memorable experiences. Everything I learned about this garden was through translation by our guide Henry. I took notes, asked questions, and the following is as accurate as I can be.

This garden is the creation of Grace Navarro, a retired special education teacher and mother of 4 grown children. She retired seven years ago and began working the 2 hectares (just less than 5 acres) of land she inherited from her father on the steep side of a mountain. She is one of 14 children, and her father’s estate was divided evenly between them. She is dedicated to organic gardening and ecological preservation.

Blue Morpho Butterfly House

She has a small wooden butterfly house and raises Morpho butterflies – the large busy ones that show bright blue when they fly and then close their wings and show only brown on the outside when they land. Costa Rica grows many butterflies for export for butterfly displays all over the world. Grace raises the Morpho to release into the local community to replenish these essential pollinators. In addition to helping the environment, she wants the community’s children to see this incredible creature in the natural setting where they live. She showed us caterpillars munching on leaves and the nursery for the chrysalis.

Salad Greens grow in here away from the chickens

Chickens seem a natural fit for her garden and they are here, but she now grows her lettuces and other greens inside a wooden building to protect them from the hungry fowl.

Trails through the landscape

The garden infrastructure is rough. Only thin yellow rope marks the trail edge. When there are steps, they are surprisingly uneven, some small, then giant steps. Many of the steps are cut into the dirt; the concrete steps were rough. Following Grace on a trail, it abruptly ended where heavy rains had caused a landslide, wiping out a stand of coffee plants. She explained the heavy rains of the winter wiped out the section of the coffee and trails.  Repairing and replanting are out of reach in the near future.

Step Carefully

I took every step cautiously while trying to take it all in. The garden was lush green; flowers growing in old tires transformed into planters, plastic two-liter bottles, and coconut shells used for seedlings.  

Treads turned into Planters

A bromeliad garden features pineapples almost ready to pick. The orchid garden is filled with color. The orchids grew on trees, in crevices, and in pots.

Plastic bottle caps add color to the concrete tabletop

A colorful concrete patio tabletop is embedded with plastic bottle caps. Clearly, nothing goes to waste here.

Coffee Cherries, ripening

She grows organic coffee the traditional way, she shades her coffee plants under leafy banana trees. The coffee cherries, (she grows both red and yellow), are picked by hand. She hires local laborers, many of them her former students. The coffee is sold under her father’s name, Don Cornelio. The family dries, roasts, and bags it. 

The wait for the coffee was worth it!

Our guide, Henry, told us we would be having coffee in the garden. We had started incredibly early that morning and I was ready for a cup when we arrived. We could smell the coffee roasting. The coffee, in very tiny cups, was served three hours after we arrived. 

Lunch, Salads in front, entree wrapped in banana leaf behind

We were the only guests this day and our visit included lunch. Locally sourced ingredients made for a delicious meal including an omelet on a bed of flavorful rice and beans wrapped and served in a banana leaf. We drank hibiscus tea. 

Masks for the Pageant

Grace is committed to protecting the local environment and culture. Using the paper bags left from the concrete used in building the garden hardscape, Grace made giant paper-mâché masks and organized a pageant presenting traditional stories to entertain and educate the children when school groups visit. She is providing entertainment, local employment, and economic development in her community.

I’ve seen the royal Gardens of Versailles, the painterly garden of Giverny, and many more. As I first began my visit at Navarro Ecological reserve, I was thinking, “well, this is not for prime-time garden visiting, really not up to my usual garden visiting standards.”

Beauty is everywhere if we look closely

Grace’s garden brought me back to the purpose of gardening. A garden is a human-made space, rearranging nature for the humans that live on the grounds. In the history of gardening, land could not be given over to adding the beauty of a garden until there were more resources beyond the basic survival needs of the people who live on the land.  Grace, in her generous heart, has very little to work with but grows her garden, creating her tourist destination to share what abundance she has with her community.

Bananas aplenty and pineapple. It takes two years for a pineapple to ripen

Really why do any of us garden? We have a patch of land, and we want to improve it, rearrange it, grow food, attract butterflies, birds, and bees. We want a tree for shade, or fruit, nuts, and flowers. We know the plants will create oxygen, influence cooler temperatures, and beauty. Gardens nurture us, and we grow alongside our plants. 

Why we garden

This humble garden is a seed integral to the environmental impact of the area. Grace Navarro understands the power of a garden and grows plants for food and the support of her family on her small two hectares of ground. Her efforts are lifting the entire community and its environment with her garden. The sign in her garden reads, “Plants and Animals, They are the source of life.” This is the best reason to garden.

Colorful Costa Rica paint patterns on the ox cart

19 thoughts on “Why do we garden?”

  1. What vibrant illuminating colors in this Costa Rican garden!!
    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful environment..

  2. Linda, thanks for another wonderful garden tour through Grace Navarro’s garden. She speaks with her heart as she creates this womb blessing those she shares the fruits of her labors with. We love Costa Rica.

  3. I loved your story of Grace and her garden. If all people would embrace her attitude what a beautiful planet we would become. Thanks Linda for sharing her garden and her story.

  4. Such beautiful garden. It is an amazing how people are so creative. It is interesting to see how people live.
    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Another wonderful visit – thank you Linda for sharing this journey with us = a remarkable and inspiring lady , from whom we all have much to learn so as not to destroy our beautiful planet.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it and yes Grace is making a difference. I think every garden can make a difference.

  6. I love Grace’s humble garden. Thanks for continuing to inspire other by sharing your beautiful garden tales!

  7. Thank you for sharing this horticultural generosity- and more.
    BTW I had no idea it takes 2 years for a pineapple to ripen. But then I learn something each month on your blog

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