Pakakuna Gardens: A Sanctuary Garden of Splendor in Ecuador

Even with good directions, those wishing to visit the elusive Pakakuna Gardens sometimes have a hard time finding it. I first heard about the gardens several years ago from friends in Quito. After wandering around looking for it, they finally had to call the owner to come get them. They raved about the place, telling me I absolutely had to go there.

That was two years ago. Occasionally I'd recall my friends' remarks and vow to search out the gardens, but I never got around to making the effort.

No problem. Pakakuna gardens found me. They called to me, not once, but several times. I've been there many times now and each visit is more magical than the previous one. On our last trip, we were privileged to stay in the new home of the owners and learn all about how the gardens evolved.

Leaving Quito via the Pan-American Highway and driving through the arid and rocky ravines that take you north, you'd never suspect that by slightly altering your route you could end up in one of the most verdant and truly magnificent private gardens in all of Ecuador. Hidden from sight only a few miles outside the small town of Checa and conveniently near the new Quito airport, paradise has been restored to a flat, sandy stretch of barren land.

Twenty-eight years ago, starting with a piece of bare earth that had only a few eucalyptus trees along one edge, a young couple -- a Swiss man and his Bolivian wife -- had a vision of what their land in this strikingly beautiful part of Ecuador could become. With hard work and lots of inspiration, Pakakuna Gardens owners, Claus and Maria Elena Egger, laid out their garden, lining irrigation canals with stone, digging ponds, installing irrigation and planting a huge variety of plants.

The result is so natural that you know it's wrought by Nature and God working in concert. Maria Elena provides the human element through a creativity that is Divinely inspired.

She says that she didn't really have a plan for the garden. She simply allowed it to unfold naturally as the years went by.

When she first saw the land it was practically devoid of life. There was no water on the property. She tenderly planted over and over, but each time the plants withered and died.

Eventually she and Claus secured water from the town for drinking and for irrigation. They brought in huge amounts of rich, black soil from the mountains, made berms to collect and hold water and dug ponds. The land burst into new, green life.

Now there is such an abundance of water that Claus refers to the garden as "the place of singing waters." The living liquid dances over waterfalls and murmurs softly through numerous waterways.

Maria Elena gardens by intuition. Her strong inner sense of knowing tells her which spot is best for each plant. A careful observer of nature, her color combinations and startling pairings of diverse plants is nothing short of awesome.

And the results are a joy to behold. I don't see how anyone can resist the charm of this magical place.

The garden beckons to me: through its sublime beauty and upon the winds that whisper through the leaves of the eucalyptus grove, the jacaranda and the magnificent eritrina and ceibo trees. The ceibo, a sacred tree to the Amazonian Indians, entices me with the intoxicating scent of blossoms wafting their fragrance on soft breezes.

Pakakuna Gardens is a soul garden. There is abundant evidence that it has been composed with great love and careful attention. As a result, the plants and trees exude a gentle energy that soothes the weary eye and calms a mind overloaded with the burdens of modern life.

This is a sanctuary of quiet repose. It is a place to meditate, to contemplate nature in all her glory and to realize with wonder what the hands of the Creator and its human stewards have manifested in this far corner of the globe.

Few on earth would know of the garden's existence except through the generosity of its owners/caretakers. They are now ready to share their garden with others who want to make Pakakuna Gardens their home.

Covering 30,000 m2, which is about 7 acres or 3 hectares, the main gardens of Pakakuna Gardens are the focal point in a proposed international village. Here people from all over the world who are ready to slow down their pace of life and literally, "smell the roses," are being invited to make the gardens part of a new, relaxed life style.

Claus has taken care of engineering the garden's bones, its orientation and its infrastructure. He placed misters in the old eucalyptus trees to transform the usually dry landscape into a lush wonderland of orchids, mossy pathways and grassy nooks. Each time I've entered this part of the garden, I feel as if I'm in the midst of a rainforest.

Maria Elena insists that she is not a professional landscaper. I would call her more the garden's muse than a landscaper. She is the garden architect who selected and carefully placed the trees and plants just so, arranging a delightful space in which to wander, to completely lose yourself in a sylvan world of peace.

She says, "Back then, when we first moved here, it was very hard to find plants or seeds. I could only buy one or two of each kind. That's how I came to plant so many different plants all together. I planted more and more and the garden spread out in all directions."

"Over time, I've learned that that's a very healthy thing to do. The plants are very natural and robust.

"We don't have harmful insects. Best of all, the climate changed as we sculpted the landscape."

You can wander through a maze of vegetation that hangs from the trees, rises up to caress you as you pass and invites you to explore deeper into the dark lushness and further from the sunlit lawns. If you answer the call you will find yourself in a fairy land where elves and other wee folk surely dwell.

Here's a picture of me about to enter the magical realm of the eucalyptus grove. The entrance is practically hidden from view because of the dense overhang of luxurious growth.

The primary garden, only one of several planned for Pakakuna Gardens, is comprised of over 500 plants, both endemic and imported, which grace the sinuous curves and border the expansive lawns of this idyllic landscape.

This internationally-recognized garden should be first on the list of must-see places in Ecuador, especially for gardeners and nature lovers.

Villas and homes are now being offered for sale as an international mix of people find that they are unable to resist the garden's charms.

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