House Gardens in Santa Rosa

Most studies of house gardens focus on areas of high population density. But in Santa Rosa, a village in the Peruvian Amazon where population densities are as low as 1.4 persons/km2, every one of the 46 households has a home garden.

A study of 21 gardens shows the remarkable diversity within and among the garden plots. The majority of the gardens sampled are located near the village center and out of the floodplain that runs close to the village. A few are in the floodplain. Their sizes vary dramatically from 67m2 to 7,322m2. Most gardens fall into the range of 300 to 700 m2, fitting into the usual lots in the village center. Two of the three largest gardens are outside the center of the village. Garden boundaries are not well-defined.

Gardens also differ in appearance. Some are organized in distinct zones, with citrus trees clustered together in one area, for example. Others are mixed, with plants of one species appearing in many places in the garden, in close association with other plant species. Some gardens are weeded; others are not.

Together the 21 gardens contain a total of 168 different plant species. This remarkably high number is comparable to gardens in Java that contain up to 179 species, and are known as the most diversified home gardens on Earth. The total number of species in each garden in Santa Rosa ranges from 18 to 74. The most diverse garden has 74 species.

Nineteen gardens have a guaba tree (Inga edulis), which is the most widely distributed species. Oranges grow in 18 gardens; cocona (Solanum sessiliflorum) and yute (Urena obata) grow in 17; and banana, sacha culantro (Apium sp.) and umari (Poraqueiba sericea) grow in 16.

Families cultivate a variety of species to fulfill their specific needs for food, cash and other interests. For example, an elderly farmer and head of a large household grows mostly food plants, especially fruit trees. A traditional healer grows medicinal plants. Another farmer manages a very large garden (5,622m2) containing 47 plant species, including five tree species used primarily for construction purposes. Most gardeners keep livestock on their plots, particularly chickens and ducks.

Santa Rosa's gardens have gone through many changes. Gardeners identified 86% of their plants as "cultivated," as opposed to volunteer. Many of the plants in the Santa Rosa gardens were not planted by the current owner. Some of the older fruit trees predate the gardens; they were part of the previous swidden-fallow system practiced in the area before the village existed. Other fruit trees may have germinated spontaneously. Garden managers regularly decide the fate of volunteers by selective weeding, a technique used in the gardens and in the surrounding fields. In other words, Santa Rosa's gardens are mosaics of different aged vegetation.

The Tradition Continues

Young Santa Rosinos have not given up the home gardening tradition. A statistical test showed no significant difference in the number of species in the gardens of those over age 40 and those under 40. While young Santa Rosinos have had less time to build up species diversity in their gardens and have on average smaller plots, some are active plant seekers who could rival anyone in the size of the collections within a few years.

Padoch, Christine and de Jong, Wil. 1991. The House Gardens of Santa Rosa: Diversity and Variability in an Amazonian Cropping System. Economic Botany 45 (2) pp. 166-175.