Botanical Orchid Garden a Blooming Haven

August 14, 2009

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The narrow, nameless road leads south downa slight hill, past a field of thick vegetation on the left. When the road wrapsleft around a corner, the buzz of the traffic on the busy Alajuela road thattook you there dissipates and is replaced by the songs of parakeets and macaws.It seems alien to hear such profound, clamorous calls within such a shortdistance from the bustle of a city, but that is the intention of the BotanicalOrchid Garden: to distract from the rush of the daily grind and remind you ofthe splendors of nature.

“We hope it will be like turning on a switch,”says Marianela Salas, the administrative manager at the garden. “We hope the gardenwill remind people of the beauty of nature and the importance of conserving it.Our goal is to turn people onto the idea of appreciating nature and remindingthem to enjoy its beauty.”

Salas, the daughter of owner Claudio Salas,says her family has spent more than 36 years developing the garden, whichopened to the public two and a half years ago. Their patient efforts areevident upon entering.

Just through the backdoor of the cottage thatleads visitors to the garden, a community of exotic birds awaits to greetguests. Perched in large cages along a winding sidewalk canopied by toweringtrees and vegetation, the birds – scarlet macaws, yellow-naped and red-loredparrots, crimson-fronted parakeets and cockatoos – may greet you with an “Hola” or a even a more forward “Te amo.” Though each bird possesses a distincttalent and tenor among the orchestra of calls, it is the yellow-naped parrotthat upstages its peers. The yellow-naped called Jolie has a vocabulary of morethan 400 words and sings “La Cucaracha” on request, though it suffers from a bit of stage fright thisparticular morning.

Past the birds, the sidewalk leads into rowsof flowers and tailored hedges. The variety of flowers is as innumerable as thebees and hummingbirds that enjoy their nectars. Beyond the flowers, the sidewalkcomes to a cul-de-sac and the jewels of the tour, the orchids, take thespotlight.

The orchids, Salas informs, arediscernible by the visibility of their thin, bending, chalk-like roots. Theyappear like the fingers of a skeleton, and twist and hang below the uniqueflower they provide for. Salas says that of the approximately 25,000 orchids inthe world, 1,500 are found in Costa Rica. The ideal combination of heavyrainfall, humidity and warm temperatures allows orchids to grow naturally inmoist areas, such as near lakes, ponds or swamps.

“Thousands and thousands of things mustoccur for an orchid to grow,” Salas says. “Typically their seeds grow on thetrunks of tress, meaning that thousands of seeds don’t find the correctenvironment to survive. … This is why they are one of the rarest flowers in theworld.”

Salas explains the creation process of orchidsin a transparent greenhouse full of potted orchids demonstrating each stage ofthe plant’s development. The greenhouse serves as a laboratory of sorts, andgives visitors a visual sequence of the cultivation process of the preciousflower, from jarred samples of seeds and soil to budding flowers to the plantat full maturation, standing about three feet tall and crowned with itsexpansive blooms.

The sidewalk then leads to another tiled greenhouse.Here, the end result of cultivation is on display, with dozens of orchid varietiesand colors lining the sidewalk that horseshoes through the greenhouse. Guests areencouraged to smell the orchids and enjoy the splendor of the unique flowers, withthe background sounds of soothing music and the gentle running of water into a smallpond filled with koi.

If the orchid room succeeds in creating thesensation of serenity, the remainder of the tour does well to maintain it. The sidewalkleads from the greenhouse and wraps under the shadow of giant bamboo andsprawling rain trees. Tiger plants flank the sidewalk and butterflies loiteramong their flowers. Eventually you come across a gathering of circularboulders that serve as chairs, begging a communal lunch, rest or meditation.

The final trail of the tour takes youunder archways made of thin, winding, stiff orchid roots, with orchids lookingdown upon you from the overhangs. Salas says those who pass under the archwaywill receive good luck for the rest of their lives. The jury is still out on thisproclamation, but after a few hours spent at the Botanical Orchid Garden, youmay leave feeling like luck is on your side.

 

Getting There, Rates, Info

From San José, take the Inter-AmericanHighway west past the airport and continue for 12 km. Take the Jacó exit andturn left, continuing for 3 km. At La Fiesta del Maíz restaurant, take a leftand go 800 meters. The Botanical Orchid Garden is on the left.

Entry to the garden, open Tuesday toSunday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., costs $12 for adults and $6 for kids 5 to 12.Tours are offered in English and Spanish, and food and drink is availableonsite at the Vanilla Café. Pure Nature Tours (2293-1100) offers a package thatincludes transportation to and from the garden, a guided tour and lunch for $31per adult or $25 per child.

For more information about the garden,call 2487- 8095 or visit www.orchidgardencr.com.

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