Swords into Plowshares

6 Jul

oaxaca 2010 06 19 JE 004

Soon after arriving in Oaxaca we toured the new ethnobotanical garden at the Dominican church and former monastery of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca. We saw giant magueys and agaves; flor de mayo (frangipani) trees whose waxy white flowers have a lovely citrus smell; cycads – the ancient gymnosperms that look like palm trees; teocintle, ancestor grass of corn, born here in Central Mexico; ceiba, the Mayan tree at the center of the universe; copal trees; palo mulato trees with delicate papery green and reddish-brown bark; giant cactus of many shapes including a wallful of climbing pitahaya cactus and an ancient cactus variety from before the time that cactus lost its leaves. A place of beautiful plants, wondrous to walk among.

Here’s how the garden came to be, if I understood the guide’s Spanish explanation. The garden is on the site of a Dominican church and monastery built during the 1500s.  Later, the site was taken over by the Army and nearly destroyed. The grounds where the garden is now were a cavalry practice and barracks, there was a jail in the former monastery, and the interior of the church was trashed. In the 1990s, the need for the Army to move south to Chiapas provided a pretext to sell the whole complex to a powerful US chain to create an expensive hotel and conference center. But Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo got wind of the plan and convinced the government instead to restore the church, put a museum of Oaxacan cultures in the former monastery, and create the ethnobotanical garden. This is just one of the many things he has done for the city. How wonderful that artists are among Oaxaca’s greatest leaders.

I’ve been back to the garden several times, and hope to highlight some of the plants in future posts.

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2 Responses to “Swords into Plowshares”

  1. Crystal Elliott July 7, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    Wow! Sounds like you’re having an amazing time. I wish we were there! Please post more pictures : )

    • juditjardinera July 7, 2010 at 7:00 pm #

      Yes, it’s just great. You and Donald will have to visit Oaxaca when Evie is a bit older.

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