Architect Sian Seys-Evans, right, discusses plans for the J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens with officials from the Town and Country Planning Department and the Department of Disaster Management on Friday at Queen Elizabeth II Park. (Photo: GENEVIEVE GLATSKY)

Residents were invited to contribute to the redesign of the J.R. O’Neal Botanic Gardens on Friday at Queen Elizabeth II Park during a day-long public meeting.

The 2.87-acre garden was declared a National Park in 1979 to preserve its diverse array of plants for conservation, education, tourism and recreation, but it was badly damaged in the 2017 hurricanes.

On Friday officials from the National Parks Trust and other stakeholders presented ideas for the design stage, touching on topics including conservation, climate change resiliency, energy efficiency, eco-tourism, and botanic garden trends and best practices.

Sian Seys-Evans, an architect with OBMI, said several schoolchildren came by to contribute their input, with one child favouring palm trees and another suggesting that the park mirror Kew Gardens in the United Kingdom.

Much of the discussion, she said, centred around reconfiguring the entrance to a more pedestrian-friendly location and connecting the park to different spaces around Road Town.

Other ideas included turning Station Avenue into a one-way street and creating an additional pedestrian lane, as well as plotting smaller areas of the garden around Road Town to “encourage people to walk through the town and have mini-experiences.”

Lynda Varlack, acting director of the NPT, said the restoration is being funded in part by a $500,000 grant from the Recovery and Development Agency, but that her agency is seeking additional sponsors to develop a “world-class” garden.

She said the partners are trying to make the gardens both as environmentally responsible and as educational as possible.

The turnout

Ms. Varlack admitted she was disappointed in the low turnout at the meeting, but she was impressed by the passion of those who did attend.

Workshops during the day focused on different considerations for the park. For instance, one focused on making the gardens financially feasible, while another looked at the balance between the educational and recreational aspects of the facility.

“It needs to be not just a place of recreation but also a spot for learning and really servicing the schools and the education system, and the students who have come up through that should be able to see the garden and the wider Virgin Islands as their research lab,” she said. “It’s a living laboratory that we’re in. And we have interest from persons from around the world that want to come here and study things. Our students need to be afforded that opportunity and to be inspired to do so, so that they can become the future of environmental managers.”