Sometimes when gardens have a powerful resonance with natural landscapes – I’m talking about wildlife gardens, very “naturalistic” planting and a lot of woodland gardens – there’s a fine line between it being a garden or countryside that’s been tweaked a bit. This garden teeters delicately right on that line, and on occasions falls off – in places, it’s more rainforest than garden. But then that recognition and respect for the natural beauty of the forest is why St Rose is so special.
The owner, John Criswick, is a consummate plantsman, but one with such sensitivity to his unique surroundings that you can often barely tell where his hand has been. St Rose is perched on a mountainside, in the foothills of the dense rainforest reserve that covers Grenada like a green blanket. Here, foliage is king.
The word ‘jungle’ could have been invented for this garden. The density of the planting is mind-boggling: not only is there no bare earth (the very idea is laughable here) there isn’t enough room for hard landscaping either. We clambered down this steep hillside on a narrow path that would have been a sheep track if we’d been in Yorkshire (though of course quite a lot would have been different if we’d been in Yorkshire.)
It’s practically impossible to get an idea of the scale in photos – probably best to assume that the smallest leaves you’re looking at in these pictures are about half the length of your arm. The biggest are the kind of leaves you can comfortably stand underneath and still not be able to touch the end. Anyway – this gives you something of an idea:
The chap by the pond is slashing down kudzu vine with a machete – kudzu vine is like bindweed on steroids, and entire houses disappear beneath it within a few weeks if it’s left unchecked. They say Grenadian guys are all lovely once you get over the fact that they’re all carrying machetes: this is pretty accurate though it’s hard to concentrate on pleasant small talk while ignoring the murderously sharp knife.
As I said before, this is a garden that’s all about foliage. John uses coloured foliage to spectacular effect, weaving it in to the predominantly green rainforest with aplomb. Here it’s a river of purple cordylines trickling through the green. (By the way – yes those are cordylines. I’d always thought they were sharp, pointy sort of things. Not so: Grenadan cordylines are soft and the leaves are rounded, and most delightful of all, they come in a myriad of colours from green to yellow to purple to stripy. Altogether much, much nicer).
And in case you don’t like purple: how about yellow. This is golden crinum (that clump is waist-high – told you it was hard to capture the scale). This garden more than any other has taught me that you don’t need flowers for things to be colourful.
This is the nursery adjoining the garden. As you can see, there’s a tad more hard landscaping but otherwise it’s still a bit tricky to tell the difference. Look closely, though, and you’ll see this rainforest is in pots.
And there are flowers! All sorts, orchids and gingers and tons of things I hadn’t a hope of recognising – this garden stretches your plant ID skills to the limit and well beyond. These were my absolute favourites: elegant racemes about a foot long, growing across a pergola-like grid so they hung down gracefully. Here’s that flower close up:
We were told it was a Thunbergia, at which I thought, “nah – they’ve got that wrong”. The only Thunbergia I’d ever come across before was Black-eyed Susan, an annual climber with small, single orange flowers – no racemes and not a great deal of elegance, though it’s quite sweet if you like that kind of thing. Then I got back and googled it – well I should have known. The one lesson I learned in Grenada is that everything I think I know is as a grain of sand compared with the beach of stuff I don’t. Thunbergia mysorensis, or Red Glory Vine, is from India, and you can even get plants here – though you need a greenhouse or conservatory to grow them well.
Just before we left, Derek, the head gardener, brought this out. Have you ever seen a flower like it? It’s an aroid of some kind, but nobody knew its Latin name. They did, however, know its common name. Men of a certain age – look away now.
It’s called ‘Old Man’s Balls’. I expect you can see why.
Thanks go to John Criswick for sharing his fabulous garden and nursery with us – it was an unforgettable experience. The garden is open to the public, and the nursery sells rare and unusual plants, trees and palms – it’s stocked half the gardens in Grenada. If you’re ever over that way – don’t, on any account, miss it.