“We can learn much from books, but we canlearn more from the contemplation of Nature,the reason and occasion of all books.”–(Santiago Ramón y Cajal1852-1934, Spanish histologist: Nobel Prizefor medicine 1906)FOR many of us, the Garden of Eden isillusory. In contrast, Else Kientzler BotanicalGarden in Sarchí is a reality and open to thepublic. It’s a place where one can strollthrough 22.5 acres (9 hectares) of beautifullylandscaped grounds, just minutes away fromthe center of the coffee town.An hour’s drive northwest of San José, thegarden, formerly a coffee plantation, featuresapproximately 1,000 plant species fromthroughout the tropics and subtropics. Itsmeditative environment invites visitors tolinger and make use of the opportunities forcontemplation and learning. And those with agreen thumb who plan to construct their owngreen zones are welcome to pick up creativeideas for their landscaping projects.The garden is owned and operated by theGermany-based company InnovaPlant, aworld-renowned leader in the floricultureindustry. It is the brainchild of LudwigKientzler, who heads the Kientzler Group, specializingin the production of high-qualityyoung ornamental plants and cuttings. On theoccasion of the 100th anniversary of this family enterprise,the garden was dedicated to its senior director in2004.IN cooperation with the University of Costa Rica,Lankester Botanical Gardens, and a German landscapearchitect, InnovaPlant was able to create this newattraction, located at the northeastern outskirts ofSarchí. Bordered by the untamed River Trojas, the siteis surrounded by lush tropical vegetation which, accordingto the company, is to be protected at all costs.“With this garden, we aim to preserve nature andwant to please, educate and inform at the same time,”says Thomas Schuster, manager of InnovaPlant deCosta Rica. “The project is also based on the idea ofestablishing a gene pool in a frost-free location forornamental plants originating from our product developmentand breeding programs.”At the garden’s entrance, an adobe-style receptionbuilding overlooks the hibiscus labyrinth, a stimulus tochildren to play hide and seek. An orange-coloredpedestrian bridge, attached to the second floor of thislovingly adorned house, leads into a botanical wonderlandwith plants galore.THE grounds are further enhanced by bridges andterraces woven into a comfortable, picturesque looptrail, with unfolding views of the surrounding highlandsand the adjoining river, providing opportunities fornature observation. Innovative picnic areas beckon visitorsto their “living beds” where they may lounge onrectangular-shaped concrete benches naturally paddedwith overgrown grass.Cactus and succulents contrast with fruit and woodtrees, as well as with the original river vegetation. Inone of the seven sections of the garden, tall Erythrinatrees (a commonly used shade-tree in coffee plantations)form a spectacular grove, playing host tobromeliads and orchids. Reminiscent of the ancientMayan culture, a spiral-shaped fountain adorns thismystical spot.While walking through the large heliconia collection,guests can observe an excellent example of coevolution: the hanging or erect bracts that surroundthe small flowers of these natives tothe tropical Americas attract hummingbirds.The hermits, a special group ofthese astonishing birds, are highly dependenton heliconia flowers for their energy providingnectar, while the flowers needhermits for pollination.IN the midst of all this quiet, uniquebeauty exists a magnificent water garden,where rich foliage of papyri and giantmarantas seem to compete with the showyblooms of water lilies. A pause at thepond’s tranquil banks offers to counterbalancethe propelled, streamlined activitiesof modern life, enriching the human experience.Stressing simple structural form andcolor, the influence of contemporary gardenarchitects such as Terence Conrad,Roberto Burle Marx and Dan Pearson areobvious throughout the site, which is maintainedby 20 landscapers year ‘round.Trees and plants are clearly labeled andmore information panels, as well as aninstructive brochure, are under way.DURING the last eight years, a teamof biologists, taxonomists, contractors andlandscapers have been working closelytogether, making Kientzler’s vision a reality.“In the beginning, it was all clearingthe grounds, cutting coffee bushes andputting up bridges and access trails,”remembers the garden’s manager,Alejandro Barrantes. Trained and skilledas a forestry engineer, Barrantes, a staffmember for six years, enjoys working withplants in a creative way, while at the sametime introducing visitors to the importanceof preserving natural resources.A good portion of the plants displayedhere, were donated by the Ministry ofNatural Resources, Energy and Mines(MINAE). These plants had been illegallyremoved from their natural habitats andconfiscated by the Ministry. Helping preventfurther damage to the Costa Ricanflora and fauna, Barrantes plans to sell reasonablypriced potted plants to visitorsfrom the garden’s nursery.In the coming year, Schuster andBarrantes intend to add more attractions tothis little paradise. Currently projected areboth a garden for the visually impaired,signposted in Braille, as well as a restaurantwith a separate entrance. Further, a“how to do” landscaping program willenable plant lovers to receive helpfulinformation on the formation of their ownprivate garden or hotel grounds.In the search for beauty and serenity,one does not have to be Adam or Eve toenjoy these gardens, as they are availableto all, and an invitation to everyone tospend a few hours among our plant friendswith the long Latin names!For more information, call:(506) 454-4956;The garden is open daily, from8 a.m. to 4 p.m.Admission is $10 for tourists, ¢1,000for residents, ¢800 for group members/senior citizens, and ¢500 for students.Children under age six are free.Getting there: Else KientzlerBotanical garden is accessible via thecompany’s main entrance in SarchíNorte, 800 meters east of EstadioMunicipal Eliécer Pérez Conejo, at righthand side; there is ample parking.