As visitors file in and out of the ongoing flower show at Fort Kochi Veli, a weather-beaten structure keeps watch at one side – just as it has for more than 300 years.
A lone pillar standing near the venue of the flower show is all that remains of the residential palace of Hendrik van Rheede, Dutch governor of the Malabar in the 1670s.
“This structure is more than 300 years old,” says a man leaning against a nearby building smoking a cigarette.
Van Rheede is the man who put together a team to produce Hortus Malabaricus, one of the earliest comprehensive catalogue of plants found in Kerala. “His interest in local flora was mainly commercial,” says researcher K.S. Manilal.
Leading van Rheede’s team of experts was Itty Achuthan Vaidyar, a renowned medicine man at the time. The Vaidyar and others collected 741 plants from different parts of the Malabar and prepared a garden of these plants near the governor’s residence so his illustrators could make detailed drawings of the plants.
The Fort Kochi Veli ground, the venue of the flower show, is believed to have been a part of van Rheede’s garden. “The local name for the bus stop near Veli is ‘Odatha padi.’ ‘Odatha’ is the Malayalam version of Hortus, which means ‘garden’ in Latin,” says Professor Manilal. The ground is also called Commodore Odatha, a worn-down version of the people’s name for van Rheede – Commodore Hortus.
The corporation and other authorities seem to be unaware of the story behind the lone pillar. Not much has been done to preserve the structure. It is riddled with roots of trees long dead and looks as if it could crumble into dust at any moment.