Officially opened in 1998, the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca (or ethnobotanic garden), was designed by Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo as an alternative to the government’s plan to develop the site into a luxury hotel and car park. Located behind the Santo Domingo Cultural Centre the garden was originally part of the church grounds until it was occupied by the Mexican army and used as both a rubbish dump and shooting range. In 1994 the army was finally ousted and the site was excavated and developed according to Toledo’s plan. The garden was officially opened in 1988.
The result is a beautiful garden that showcases the diverse range of flora that is native to Oaxaca, the most bio-diverse region in Mexico. Called an ethnobotanical garden because of the focus on relationship between the people and the plants, all the trees and plants featured in the garden are from Oaxaca and were specially brought in from other sites around the city. Each one has a story. There is a ‘rescue’ area where you can see agave and cactus that have been saved from development projects in other parts of Oaxaca, a collection of medicinal plants, and a variety of traditional foods.
The garden is deliberately void of signage as Toledo did not want to ruin the aesthetic of the garden. As a result, in order to fully enjoy and understand the gardens access is by guided tour only. Self guided audio tours are currently in development and should be available soon.
The tours are two hours long and available in English (details below). Our guide, Diego, was very knowledgable and provided a lot of really interesting information about the history and management of the garden as well as stories about the plants themselves. All the trees and plants are watered manually and the garden has a system of water collection from part of the Santo Domingo roof to help manage the water supply. We were able to crush some some cochineal to see the red colour used to dye traditional textiles and wash our hands using a natural tree soap.
The garden also features a beautiful library and regularly host talks, conferences and workshops. In June 2014 the garden will be hosting a photographic exhibition that will show the site before, during and after development into the garden.
The Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca is located behind the Santo Domingo Cultural Centre and the entrance is on the corner of Reforma and Constitución.
Tours in English run for two hours and are conducted on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11am. The cost is $100.
Tours in Spanish are daily at 10am, 12pm and 5pm and run for one hour. The cost is $50.