A Garden in the Rough

by Callia Barnard

The Auroville Botanical Gardens were created sixteen years ago with two missions in mind: conservation of forestation, and environmental education for local school children.

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Paul Blanche Faulkner, originally from the UK, moved to Auroville in the 1990s with his knowledge of botany to create a garden on his purchased undeveloped land. An avid seed collector, Faulkner brought species from all around the world to be cultivated in Auroville. Since then, the 50 acres of land have flourished with around 2500 species of plants. The success of the greening of the land is astonishing, considering that when Auroville began as a settlement almost fifty years ago there was nothing but a sandy plateau of barren, undeveloped land. It only rains here an average of thirty days per year, so the gardens must use alternative sources of water for the survival of their plants. Around 30,000 litres of water per day are required to sustain the garden, which raises the question if it is actually sustainable at all, considering the fact that Auroville does not have much access to natural water sources and only sees rain around 8% of the entire year.

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Just under 20 acres of the garden are dedicated solely to the conservation of tropical dry evergreen forest, which was almost extinct thirty five years ago. These kinds of plants have waxy leaves to retain their water as they are used to a dry climate, making them very suitable for Auroville. Another primary focus at the garden is their medicinal section: plants such as aloe, lemongrass, and wheatgrass are used all around the world as alternatives to expensive and damaging medicines. Auroville Botanical Gardens grows a variety of medicinal plants and educate visitors on their healing properties.

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Throughout the practicum, we have constantly been reminded of India’s trash problem. Lack of knowledge on proper waste management, combined with lack of resources for proper waste management, has resulted in the trash we see along the roads. This societal issue has derived and thrived from the fact that the people of India have lost their connection with nature, not giving a second thought before dumping their trash on the street. Auroville Botanical Gardens says “only when we understand the importance of the environment to our society we will work together, more energetically, towards the creation of a sustainable future for both ourselves and the planet.” This vision begins with the education of children.

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Once a week, local school children can come to the gardens for free and spend a full day in nature to rediscover the beauty and vitality of a clean, green space. After a day long of discovering new plant species and playing in mazes, the students are offered an organic meal with local vegetables grown right in these gardens. Hoping to aid the reconnection of humans and nature, the gardens do their best to engage with and spark an interest in the almost seven thousand annual student visitors. This positive message is conveyed in the hopes that this knowledge will stay with these kids, and inspire them to take care of their environment. The education of children has been a constant theme throughout our visit to Auroville, and the education on forestation is essential for the future generation of India if they hope to find solutions to their garbage problem.

Not only do the gardens aid children, but they also provide education for women and school teachers. The gardens are a space for women to come together and share their knowledge with each other on the utilisation of local plants for medicine. Groups of teachers can visit the gardens for training and environmental education. This is a great step towards a society fully aware of environmental factors, as the teachers will pass down their knowledge to the next generation to utilise and build on for a healthier future.

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Though the United States is more regulated in terms of garbage disposal and cultivating green areas for educational and conservational purposes, I have learned how difficult it is to take care of trash in a responsible and effective manner. There are many steps before and after you yourself dispose of something, and they are never given another thought because it’s out of sight. The information I’ve learned while on the practicum have inspired me to be more thoughtful in my consumption choices as well as my efforts to dispose of trash properly. I hope that this sentiment is shared with students all across India to create a green, sustainable future.

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