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The Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden

Another highlight of my Oaxaca trip was a visit to the Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden, inside the 16th century complex of the Santo Domingo Cathedral and monastery in the middle of the historic district. It’s a tremendous garden with a unique setting. All of the plants are from Oaxaca and have an ethnobotanic significance for Oaxacans, but it was also laid out with a strong sense of design. All of the paths and many of the plants are laid out with straight lines and ninety degree angles, which is based on traditional Oaxacan design ethos but also made it feel very contemporary. One of the things that most imoressed me about Oaxaca — not just in this garden but running through virtually everything I saw — was how modern the traditional Oaxacan elements feel. My photos are below.

The classiest entrance I’ve ever seen to a garden, more like the entrance for a library than a plant collection.

Apparently there was some vandalism in the past, visitors taking cuttings from valuable succulents, so now you can only visit as part of a tour.

Plant information was given in Spanish common names (there’s an English tour, but also without scientific names) so I didn’t really retain as much info about the plants as I might have liked. That was okay though, because the design moves and the historic backdrop were more interesting to me than the ethnobotanic uses of the plants.

The garden has a number of runnels and acequia elements. I’m not sure if all of them are historic or if some were added during the construction of the garden, but they’re a great feature.

Other elements from the decommisioned water infrastructure.

There are lot of different rock and gravel surfaces used as mulch throughout the garden. I’m not entirely sure what the bifurcation between the red and buff colored rocks above is meant to convey, but overall the gravel mulches add a lot to the presentation of the plants.

Several walls and hallways are made with cactus. Pretty striking. The reflecting pool is a beauty.

There’s a vegetable garden laid out with a stair-step Zapotec motif. I tasted a couple of things unique to Oaxacan cooking but the names didn’t stick.

The garden had a sculpture by Jorge Yazpik. The museum was hosting an exhibition on Yazpik, so I’m not sure if this is in the garden permanently or just there as part of the exhibition. I’ll do a couple of posts about his work at some point but this piece is a pretty reasonable introduction. It looks abstract and somewhat inscrutable from one angle but then becomes suggestive of a prehistoric creature from another. His work is not generally figurative like this, but the zigzag cutouts are a trademark move.

A bonus of the garden is that it can be seen from the art museum overlooking the garden.

One of the best botanical gardens I’ve ever visited.

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