March 26, 2006 – Some taxi drivers call the St. George Village Botanical Garden St. Croix's best kept secret. However, if the 16 acres of paths with over 1,500 native and exotic species of plants to view in and around the restored buildings of a 19th century Danish sugar cane plantation isn't known to many visitors, it is certainly known to locals.
The 1,500 varieties of plants in the garden include bromeliads, cactus and succulents, orchids, and ornamental ferns.
Lesley Hoffman, administrative director at the botanical garden, says about 50 weddings take place there every year. She says it is a favorite spot for brides who grew up on the island and return home for their special celebration.
Located just off the Queen Mary Highway, near island center, the St. George Village Botanical Garden is also a favorite for its special events each year, including the recent Flower and Fine Art Festival, held the second weekend in March, and the forthcoming Mango Melee on the Fourth of July weekend.
Hoffman calls the Melee "a celebration of tropical fruits." She says it is a fun time when kids and adults can learn what fruits they can grow in their own gardens and how those fruits can be used.
The garden got its start in 1976, when the land was gifted to the St. Croix Garden Club. Hoffman says that a lot of work had to be done to make the place what it is now. She says, "It was nothing but overgrown ruins then."
She emphasizes that it was volunteers who deserved the credit for rehabilitating the gardens, and mentioned some who have been working at the gardens for decades, including Darline Ward Clark, 93, and Gladys Orr and Virginia Hall, who are still youngsters in their 80s.
A board of governors oversees the upkeep and functions at the St. George Botanical Gardens, headed by board president Gary Bourdon. And the full-time paid staff includes only Hoffman and David Hamada, horticulture director.
Hoffman says, "He takes care of the plants, I take care of every thing else."
There are also some part time workers at the gates and as groundskeepers.
The botanical garden has had many supporters in the community that help keep it going. The board has a program called "Adopt a Spot," in which for $500 someone can adopt a spot and have it taken care of. Plans are in works to do more outreach in that program. Presently 25 of a possible 40 spots have been adopted.
The focus over the last year has been getting a new visitors center open, and that focus came to fruition this weekend with the grand opening of the Bodine Visitor Center and Museum Store on Sunday.
Dick and Peggy Bodine have funded the visitor center, which is dedicated it to the memory of Dick's late wife Virginia Shannon Bodine, who agreed to fund the project before her death.
"We are so happy to see this long-awaited building complete," Dick Bodine said. Peggy Bodine, who is a SGVBG board member, said, "It is such a beautiful addition to our wonderful grounds and it will provide a whole new experience for everyone who comes to the garden."
Hoffman said that focus will now be shifting toward the plant collections and getting more plaques up identifying plants for visitors.
The gardens' mission includes education, as well as conservation and preservation of both the historical and living collections, and hosts an Eco Fair each April. The fair generally attracts about 2,000 students. Schools can also make arrangements to bring students for tours.
The garden has a library housed in a post-emancipation workers' cottage, which was restored in the early 1980s. It holds about 500 volumes, some specialized reference materials covering Caribbean flora and history.
The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The retail nursery is open on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and for special sales.
Buildings on the site that have been restored or stabilized are the workers' cottages, the field overseer's house, the plantation supervisor's house, the blacksmith shop, animal pens and parts of the old rum factory.
Artifacts ranging from pre-Columbian through the plantation era are on display.
Admission is $6 for adults, $1 for children under 12.
For more information, call 692-2874.
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