The Hanbury Botanical Gardens (GBH) are botanical gardens. GBH have a prevailing character of acclimatization, that means that they host many plants belonging to different climates that have been or are gradually adapted to the Mediterranean climate, together with plants from different other countries and spontaneous of the place.
GBH are not simple gardens or public gardens. Unlike other gardens where the perception of aesthetic, formal or chromatic aspects is most appreciated, GBH privilege, while seeking harmony in the landscape, respect for the naturalness of the life and reproductive cycles of the plants.
Contrary to what is often believed, love for the garden (or gardening) does not always coincide with respect and love for plants. For these reasons, in the GBH the completion of the reproductive cycle of plants is favored even when this leads to not always pleasant visions of dry or rotting parts. In other gardens there is a tendency to replace or hide the faded or dry plant, which is still alive. The completion of the cycle leads to the production of seeds, which are collected and exchanged with other vegetable gardens and botanical gardens around the world, contributing to the conservation of biodiversity. In the case of botanical gardens, recreational use and aesthetic appearance are often sacrificed to preserve genetic diversity.
The removal of the leaves, sheaths and dry inflorescences that persist in nature for more or less long on plants is a risky act for the health of the plants themselves. In the case of palm trees, the prevalent opinion is that it is preferable to let these dry parts spontaneously fall because they protect the apical meristem ("heart of the palm") from the elements and because the tools used for removal easily transmit agents of disease ( mycosis, bacteriosis). The "pruning" of the palms is therefore limited to cases where the fall of leaves and other dry parts represents a danger for the safety of visitors.
For some plants the drying of the foliage is due to conditions of water stress accentuated by changed climatic conditions: the last decade has already seen at least 3 vintages (2003, 2004, 2009) with significantly more arid summers. It is a phenomenon widespread in different regions respect to which we hope for a progressive adaptation of the species.
The age of several specimens of the garden is quite advanced and fungal diseases have long spread so that is almost impossible to eradicate them or counteract; currently these diseases are being investigated and in the meantime replacement implants of the sick specimens are provided; an imposing global replacement or disinfestation of the soil may also be necessary, almost impossible to achieve without the total closure of the gardens for a few years.
Keeping in mind what has already been expressed above, there are several reasons that justify the parched appearance of some specimens. For example, in the summer some aloes seem to curl up, but this also occurs in nature. The visitors should then take the opportunity to appreciate and deepen their knowledge on the ability of some plants to survive in very arid climates, becoming flourishing again as soon as the water becomes available again.
The summer conditions of the GBH, not exactly pleasant, already existed in the time of the Hanbury’s, so much so that Thomas, the founder, used to close the garden to the public in order not to show the state in which it was pouring during the drought period.
Moreover, most plants are quite well suited to a climate with two arid periods (a more pronounced in summer and a shorter in winter). Finally, water is a resource that tends to be scarce even for drinking use and a more eco-sustainable orientation of gardening is that of xeroscaping where plants that survive by intrinsic characteristics or adaptation to reduced water availability are preferred. The scarcity of water also affects the possibility of absorption of mineral nutrients and in GBH the use of fertilizers is limited to exceptional cases.
The reasons are manifold:
1. Weeding should be done exclusively by hand and the scarce availability of resources and staff prevents weeding all the flower beds; alternatively the mowing, although occasionally practiced where possible, still ends up favoring a few really invasive species.
2. Not even chemical or mechanical weeding, repeated several times, would guarantee the eradication of the most invasive species. In some cases, errors of this type have been made, the negative results of which are still visible to the east, in the lower part of the GBH.
3. Many spontaneous plants are not invasive plants and contribute to enrich biodiversity.
4. The flowering of some invasive species, such as Oxalis, contribute to reviving GBH in certain periods.
5. Sometimes the presence of a spontaneous and composite herbaceous layer helps to maintain a moist layer of soil, also favorable to cultivated plants.
This recurring question-affirmation does not have a solid foundation, it is based on an in-depth historical knowledge and is "urban legend" or pure slander.
It has already been said that the Hanbury’s also closed the gardens in the summer because they were not very pleasant. At the time of Thomas Hanbury certainly the large trees that can be admired today did not exist; at the time, most of them were at most 40 years old and there were no such over 100 years old individuals. It cannot be forgotten that the intentions of the founder were above all to acclimatize and experiment with the introduction of a very large number of species, rather than to produce valuable landscape paintings; between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century therefore the GBH were above all an efficient company complex of nurseries and crops, rich in species and including a stable, chicken coop and mills. Subsequently, between the two world wars, the garden underwent profound transformations so that for several periods some sectors had the appearance of construction sites full of activity. Only at the end of these works new avenues and sections that modified the original systems could be observed. During the Second World War the Italian and German military occupation, the minings and bombings had almost completely destroyed the heritage of the gardens. In the 1950s, the Touring guide reports that only with difficulty a daredevil visitor could venture from the entrance to the Roman road. In the 1960s, after the purchase by the Italian state, it took three years to reach (simply reach) the beach from the main access.
Yet, in the 1970s, gardeners had to pay attention, when hoeing, to possible explosive devices that still lay in the ground.
In addition to all this, we must consider the different financial and personnel resources that Thomas Hanbury enjoyed. In GBH, 40 to 60 gardeners worked from sunrise to sunset; when there was a need, a hundred men were called workforce from neighboring countries, to complete large works in a short time, with daily wages for just the days needed. Even today some parts of the GBH (the lower part to the west) are subject to interventions that tend to restore spaces that can be visited according to the original project, but the current number of gardeners is only just over 10 units.
Ultimately the answer lies in another answer. Are you sure it was so? The memories of writers (for example Nico Orengo) who visited the GBH before and after the state acquisition did not reveal any substantial deterioration and, in general, appreciated the most recent conditions of the GBH themselves.
Because the protection and enhancement of the cultural heritage of the GBH require a careful management, and an extremely expensive continuous maintenance. The resources made available by the University (with over 20 people employed, mostly gardeners or technicians), by the Ministry of Education, University and Research, as well as contributions from the Region and other bodies are not sufficient. The GBH budgets are public, available on request, and the contribution of the entrance tickets covers only a very small percentage of the expenses, varying annually around 5-10% of these.
Because by applying an entrance fee, a fairly adequate control and selection of the people who enter is carried out, preventing GBH from being prey to anyone who wants to use an heritage of exceptional cultural, environmental and landscape value for improper purposes.
Because a public good has a value for everyone and each of us is called to contribute to its protection, even more so if we are lucky enough to benefit from its services.