Not far from Costa Rica’s capital city of San Jose is the Botanical Orchid Garden. This little-known garden in La Garita may not see a ton of visitors, but is definitely worth a stop. The small property features hundreds of orchids as well as an array of trees, plants, and exotic birds. With easy-to-navigate paths, the Botanical Orchid Garden offers a chance for the whole family to discover Costa Rica’s tropical fauna. In this post, we’ll share some background on how this garden was established and what it’s like to visit.
History of the Botanical Orchid Garden
The Botanical Orchid Garden was started about 30 years ago on an old coffee plantation in La Garita near Atenas, Costa Rica. As is the case in much of this area of the country, coffee production was the primary use of the property. Along with the coffee, however, the land also had many native trees. It would be these trees that would later help to establish the Botanical Orchid Garden.
After purchasing the property, the current owners kept those old trees and planted many other tropical trees and plants. Being lovers of botany and orchids in particular, their goal was to create a favorable environment for cultivating orchids. In time, their efforts paid off and the gardens became established and ready for orchid production.
What You’ll See
Nearly all of the orchids growing in the Botanical Orchid Garden were laboratory produced. This is consistent with the owners’ goal of conservation. Instead of taking the orchids from the wild, they are created on-site and then allowed to propagate wildly on the property. The gardens also feature plants common to the tropical forest, including Grapefruit, Tiger Claw, Beehive Ginger, Prayer Plant, Cinnamon, and Vanilla. Small signs identify the various species, giving you an opportunity to learn more about the local flora. If you live in Costa Rica or the tropics and are landscaping your own garden, the Botanical Orchid Garden is a fun way to learn about your different options.
As you walk along the paths, you’ll pass through the many greenhouses and nurseries. Descriptive signs tell about the orchid life cycle and how the plants develop from seed to flower. This intricate, prolonged process will give you a whole new appreciation for these seemingly simple flowers.
Orchid Life Cycle
On our visit, we learned that the orchid life cycle starts with germinating the seeds. In nature, an orchid produces pods with thousands of tiny seeds. When the pod breaks open, the seeds fly in the wind and have to land on tree bark with a special symbiotic fungus. That fungus produces a mix of minerals and sugars, which the seeds feed on in order to germinate. To recreate this delicate process in a lab, the Botanical Orchid Garden uses glass flasks with agar jelly to mimic the mineral-sugar mix. After being in the flask for eight to 12 months, the seeds begin to germinate.
After germination, the seedlings are planted in groups called communities to create stable growing conditions. They continue on like this for about a year, before being planted into individual pots. It takes another four to five years for the plants to reach maturity and, finally, flower. As you look around the different greenhouses, you’ll see hundreds of different orchids at various stages of development. Only then will you begin to appreciate the amount of time it takes for an orchid to bloom.
While many of the greenhouses have plants that are not yet mature, the Flower Showroom has stunning orchids blooming in all their glory. The species you will see depends on the time of year, with the peak time for flowering being January through March. On our visit in mid-April, we saw many types of hybrids and also the famed Guaria Morada. This brilliant purple orchid is Costa Rica’s national flower. It is said to represent the beauty of Costa Rica’s people as well as the fragility and elegance of nature.
Facility and Trails
The Botanical Orchid Garden has a short system of paths that weave through the different areas. The greenhouses and nurseries are connected by wide, concrete or rock paths, which make it easy for anyone to get around. Near the greenhouses are a few spacious enclosures with parrots and parakeets from Costa Rica and other parts of Latin America. The garden provides permanent refuge for these birds, which have been rescued and are unable to be released back into the wild. In addition to the rescues, we saw many wild birds flying around. Some species included Blue-Gray Tanagers, wrens, robins, and various types of green parrot. If you’re into birding, the garden is a great place to spend the day.
On the other side of the property is a longer concrete path that winds around a large pond and children’s play area. The play area, with a swing set and slide, is really unique. It’s completely made out of wood and looked to be locally made. If you have kids, they will love it.
The property has a small gift shop where you can take home your very own orchid plant. There is also an on-site restaurant, which overlooks the garden. We weren’t able to try it, because of a private party going on, but the menu looked great and we have heard good things about it.
Visiting the Botanical Orchid Garden
Peak time for flowering is January to March. If you’re not visiting then, it might be worth a call beforehand to see what is in bloom before you make the trip.
Tuesday through Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Foreigners: ₡6,000 (about $12) for adults, ₡3,000 for children (about $6).
Nationals: ₡3,000 (about $6) for adults, ₡2,000 (about $4) for children.
The Botanical Orchid Garden is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon on your way to or from Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose. Not only will this garden inspire your senses with its colorful plants, but you will begin to appreciate just how much work goes into cultivating those gorgeous flowers we call orchids.
Have you ever visited a botanical garden? Where was it and what was it like? (Email subscribers, click here to post your comment online).
Looking for more information to plan your visit to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:
- How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose: After you check out the Botanical Orchid Garden, spend some time exploring downtown San Jose’s cultural sights. Our guide will tell you about the different museums and where you should stay.
- Racing the Clouds at Poas Volcano: Poas is a huge, active crater volcano not far from San Jose. It is another activity that can be easily done on a day trip from San Jose
- Traditional Foods to Try in Costa Rica: Know what to order at a locally owned soda with this guide to the best traditional foods.