Aburi Botanical Gardens is botanically beautiful but structurally ugly as the lush green scenery does little to complement the deteriorating structure in Ghana’s first botanic garden.
The giant date palm trees lined up along the access road into the garden beckons one to a home of freshness, further enhanced by the cold Aburi weather with its attendant fog which one can almost touch.
That expectation, however, quickly diminishes upon seeing the dilapidated structures which appear to be in dire need of rehabilitation.
When the Select Committee of the House of Commons in London recommended the establishment of a model farm or botanical garden in the then Gold Coast in 1842, it was meant to provide an exhaustive exploration of the agricultural resources of the country with the view to finding suitable economic plants for the European market.
Today, the country has lost that opportunity as the once prestigious garden is now deteriorating fast.
None of the 10 rooms at the Aburi Gardens Guest House is habitable. The roof leaks badly, while its wooden floors are rotting.
The condition of the 25 chalets, five of which have now been given to the Akwapim South District Assembly for their offices, is not different.
The structures cry for fresh paint and some of the rooms have neither sinks nor functioning water closets.
The central administration block which houses the curator in the garden has its fair share of the deterioration.
Parts of glass windows have been shattered, while the main structure appears to lack integrity.
The Curator, Mr Albert Prempeh, told the Daily Graphic that the garden had not had any major rehabilitation until the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) conference in the 1990s.
“Since then, no major work has been done,” he stated
Averagely, 93 people visit the Aburi Gardens daily but the majority of the visitors who would have wished to stay for a day or two are compelled to return as the rooms do not provide any comfort.
The number of visitors to the Aburi Botanical Gardens has been dwindling, Mr Prempeh stated.
With statistics, Mr Prempeh explained that there were, at least, 34,000 visitors in 2012, but the garden recorded about 26,000 visitors last year.
The entry fee for visitors is GH¢2.00 but the money goes directly into the consolidated fund, and managers of the park, the Parks and Gardens, according to Mr Prempeh, are required to write to the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) before any money is released to it for rehabilitation or expansion work.
In 1959, for instance, management of the garden was transferred from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Works and Housing. During the First Republic, however, it became a full ministry- Ministry of Parks and Gardens.
After the fall of the First Republic, it again came under the Ministry of Works and Housing, then finally to the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development.
The management challenges at the Aburi Gardens are further compounded by a meagre government support of GH¢5,000 a month, which, according to Mr Prempeh, is not even released regularly.
Any decision to rehabilitate this garden will come from the MLGRD, he stated.
Documents made available to the Daily Graphic indicated that the greater part of the present Aburi Botanical Gardens was developed by curators W. Growther and W. H. Johnson during whose time the garden assumed much of its present form. Mr Johnson later became the first Director of Agriculture of the then Gold Coast and his intention was that Aburi should be an agricultural station. The hilly town, however, later proved unsuitable due to poor and rocky soil, a damp climate and lack of space for expansion.
Agricultural experiments at the Aburi Botanical Gardens were abandoned in 1928 following a decision to convert it into a real botanic garden.
“It is interesting to note that the garden has been on constant transfer from one ministry to another and this probably accounts for the inability of the administrators to turn it into a first class tourists centre,” a document on the garden stated.
Public-private partnership in the offing
Currently, four companies have shown interest to partner the government in a public-private partnership (PPP) to turn round the fortunes of the garden.
The Akwapim South District Chief Executive, Mr Winston Afari-Djan, whose office is located in the garden, also expressed concern, but expressed optimism that a PPP would help to unleash new life into the garden.
Among others, the Aburi Botanical Gardens has two restaurants, an icecream joint, a gift shop, and chop bar.