Belize Botanic Gardens by Judy duPlooy
Just before Christmas in 1987 my husband, Ken and I loaded our dog and 5 daughters into our Suburban leaving our home just outside of Charleston, SC and headed for Belize . After an adventurous six-week road trip through Mexico (try this with two teenagers, a preteen and two preschoolers, all girls) brought us to San Ignacio in Belize’s Cayo District. Here the duPlooy story, Belize Version, starts.
We arrived in the midst of the rainy season driving on mostly unpaved roads. After getting stuck in the mud four times on the same day we took this as a sign that this was the place for us. At this point we’d been in Belize for 3 Days. Some of our new “friends” told us about a farm for sale just out of town so off we went. The farm was located on the Macal River and, after looking at the house, we walked down to the river where we were overwhelmed by the facing limestone bluffs and an actual beach. Without hesitation we set off to look for the owner where we signed a contract on the spot, ignoring the fact that the farm had no water or electricity.re thrilled. They had the beautiful river in which toand rolling hills to explore.
We then announced to our daughters, who ranged in age from 4-16, that we had just bought a
farm. The three younger girls were thrilled. They had the beautiful river in which to frolic and
rolling hills to explore. When they saw the beach and the 20-ft rock from which they could
jump into the river, the little girls shouted with glee. When they found out that we weren’t
kidding about the lack of running water and electricity, the two teenagers shouted, but not with
outed with glee. When they found out that we weren’t kidding about the lack of e weren’t kidding about the lack of running water and electricity, the two teenagers shouted, but not with glee.
We moved in on March 7, 1988 and started building our lodge. We opened our first six rooms on December 26, 1988.
Belize Botanic Gardens 1993 to 1997
In 1993 we purchased an adjacent farm consisting of 45 Acres and immediately started planting orchids and palms that we’d collected in the ensuing 5 years, as well as close to 100 varieties of tropical fruits not commonly grown in Belize. Since Belize had no Botanic Gardens at that time, in 1997, Belize Botanic Gardens was registered with the Government of Belize as a non-profit organization. Despite battling heart disease for many years Ken continued planting and planning until his death in August 2001.
Skipping a few years and lots of stores let’s see what’s happening now. Over the years our farm became, with extensive plantings, a Jungle Lodge with 21 rooms.. In 2018 I sold the lodge and “retired” jungle large was sold with the idea of my being able to devote more time to running Belize Botanic Gardens.
In 2012 we were awarded a grant from the European Union to provide horticulture training for unemployed Belizeans. This resulted in 79 of our 109 students gaining the job skills necessary to obtain gainful employment.
Since the sale of the lodge in 2018, new structures have been added to the gardens including an 8-bedroom, 4-bath guest house and re-work our existing Visitors’ Center to complement our Study Abroad in Belize program for international students.
Presently we are working on our “Gardens To Go” project where we have given 15 families soil, seeds or seedlings and a short course on growing vegetables to help them grow some of their own food. We are monitoring their progress to collect data on how best for people to grow some of their own food in this time of rising costs.
Since Belize Botanic Gardens is located in a rather remote area, we do not get anywhere near the visitor numbers that better-located gardens do. Services in addition to garden entrances and tours, student visits and international student groups, include landscaping consultation, along with plant sales, soil amendments, soils and a small health food store in the nearby San Ignacio Town.
Since the onset of Covid-19 in early 2020, it has been difficult to maintain the gardens. We have just managed to survive via a few visitors, sales of our coconut fibre and soil mixes, etc.
Fortunately, we have not had to lay-off staff.
Belize Botanic Gardens is ready to host faculty-led student groups again and our experienced staff can assist with learning opportunities in plant-related studies.
Belize Botanic Gardens is one of the few totally organic gardens in the world.
Building the Lodge & Garden
When we first arrived on the property the only existing buildings were a farm house, where we lived until we could build more suitable accommodations and a tool shed, which later was converted into the lodge’s main office.
Within a week of purchasing the property, Ken hired a crew of workers and the planting and building began. Despite setbacks, wailing and strong differences of opinion, duPlooy’s Jungle Lodge opened 9 months later with 6 guest rooms and dining room & bar.
From the beginning the decision was made to have an organic property and the battle to control pests by natural means was on … until we noted that with minimal intervention on our part, not many plants were being lost.
Over the years, additions such as running water, refrigeration, tables & chairs and proper sized stoves have added much to the place. The most noteworthy change has been in the property itself.
At the time of purchase, a few citrus were the only trees on the property. Everything else had been cleared away by the previous owner for farming and raising cattle.
When I look around now it is hard to imagine this. Since 1987 there have been hundreds of trees planted. Thanks to the lush tropical climate in Belize, many of the trees look like they have been around for many decades.
After selling the Lodge in 2018, I moved into a small house tucked away at the far end of the Garden. Today I enjoy and am grateful for having the time to devote to developing BBG and to make it the best Garden it can be. And it doesn’t get any better than this … having a botanic garden for a front yard.