Oman Botanic Garden

January 8 – Oman
(Written by Felicia Yu and photos by Ashby Leavell)

One wouldn’t think that such a good time could be had in a garden that so far consists of a nursery, one planted habitat area, a variety of half-constructed buildings, and acres (excuse me—hectares) of untamed Omani desert landscape. But then, one wouldn’t be that well acquainted with the Longwood Graduate Fellows, would one?

We spent the greater part of Saturday at the still-under-construction Oman Botanic Garden, the only such in the country and the largest in the region. Sarah Kneebone, head of education and interpretation, met us and kicked off an organized tour of all the operations of the garden that are up and running, plus some that are not, from seed collection and processing to propagation and planting, finishing with a brief overview of the garden’s communication and interpretation plans.

Khalid, in charge of marketing, shows us the model of the finished garden.

We were immediately impressed by the high level of professionalism and planning that has gone into this project since its inception by the Sultan in 2006. The Oman Botanic Garden aims to be world-class, a regional leader in sustainability, a center for the research and conservation of Oman’s native flora, and a place for the Omani people to learn about their natural and cultural heritage. With the financial and political support of the Sultan and a close partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to supply taxonomic expertise, OBG is well on its way.

Leila, the head field botanist, shows us some of the seeds filed away for future planting.

Among the many exciting features to be built in the garden by the time of its opening in 2014: a set of three enclosed biomes displaying all three seasons of Southern Oman’s tropical rainforests simultaneously; a heritage village representing traditional Omani agricultural practices and plant lore, complete with opportunities for visitors to participate in traditional crafts as well as observe them; a research center with accommodations for visiting scholars; and separate interpretation centers for each of the different habitats to be planted.

The native landscape. 80% of the OBG’s property will be kept as a nature reserve.

Built elements aside, OBG will eventually display all of the more than 1200 native species, ranging from rainforests in the south to gravel deserts around the capitol, Muscat. On our walk through the nursery facilities, it was all we could do not to stop at every different species to examine it and record its name. The horticultural staff at OBG is careful to document exactly how they grow and propagate the plants since nearly all are new to cultivation, with new species still being discovered during field seed collections.

Adenium obesum awaiting planting time, once the habitat area to which they belong is ready for landscaping.

In brief, we had a blast. After such a thorough, thoughtful tour of such an amazing project, we’ve come away with great expectations for the future of the Oman Botanic Garden, and we’ve definitely marked it on our mental lists of places to return to one day.

The ones who made it across the border, and OBG staff, including Khalid, Sarah, Leila, and horticulturist Ismail.

International Experience 2011 – a sneek peek

Photo courtesy of Dallas Stribley

The countdown is on. The first year fellows and Longwood staff members Matt Taylor and Pandora Young will be departing in January for…the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and India! Planning the trip has been a monumental task. When deciding to aim for India during our first dinner together this summer, none of us could have predicted what planning the trip would involve.

We have plumbed the depths of our contacts from prior jobs and internships and successfully connected with staff members at botanic gardens, research centers, and attractions throughout India, Oman and the U.A.E. We experienced particular difficulties in establishing connections, as Indian gardens are particular in that they follow strict parameters in terms of botanical information sharing. Partnering with other countries is rare.

The remains of an itinerary planning meeting, courtesy of Felicia Yu

We worked diligently to prioritize gardens and forge connections with each institution. At least a few times, each of us has waited until late at night to call staff at Indian gardens as they were just arriving to work. When we struggled to receive confirmation from institutions, we sent dozens of formal request letters and packets of LGP information via Fedex. James, our fearless leader, has spent countless hours with agents crafting an intricate travel plan. Our final product is complete with overnight trains, planning around kite festivals in New Delhi, meetings with officials at the U.A.E, sunrise at the Taj Mahal, and adventures into the Himalayas.

We will hit the ground running in Dubai, and make our weary way to the new Oman Botanic Garden. We will then travel to Abu Dhabi to meet with staff from Botanic Garden Conservation International, BGCI, at the Al Ain Wildlife Park.

Our first stop in India will be at Thiruvananthapuram, aka Trivandrum, to explore the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute. From there we will take planes, trains, and automobiles through Mysore, Bangalore, New Delhi, Agra, Chandigarh, and Shimla. Stay tuned.

Al Ain Wildife Park, courtesy of Arabian Travel

Shimla, India.  Located in the Northwest Himalayas and home to the Viceregal Lodge and gardens.. Photo courtesy of My Himachal. (We are hoping it doesn’t look like this in Shimla by the time we get there…)