One of the lovely things about blogging is you can write about what your editor hasn’t asked you to write about (whether for space reasons or just cos they wanted something else), yet which you’re just bursting to tell someone about.
So – at the risk of making everyone look at my holiday snaps with accompanying stifled yawns and glances at watches – there follows, over the next few posts, just a soupçon from the 250-odd photos I took at the amazing gardens I went to see while I was in Grenada recently. I can’t include all the gardens – there were about ten of them and I wouldn’t inflict that on you – but I’ll pick out a few favourites.
The first is typical of some more formal gardens we went to. A lot were designed by a Venezuelan garden designer called Chris Baasch who seems to have a monopoly on the island’s gardens. Sunnyside, near the capital, St George’s, is a fine example of his work, as well as a tribute to the gardening skills of owner Jean Renwick and her son Randy.
Aloe, scarlet spikes of the red ginger, Alpinia purpurata and mango trees – this is a densely-planted garden of island beds separated by that tropical grass you get that’s a bit coarser than an English lawn. It’s on a hill, like nearly everything in Grenada, so there are views everywhere:
That little pond to the bottom left houses a tropical waterlily, just coming into bloom when we were there.
The copper basin it’s in is about 5ft across – they’re used everywhere on the island for all sorts of things, mainly ponds though. They were used to ‘tread’ cocoa beans to help fermentation, a bit similar to treading grapes – three to a copper and bare feet. Since cocoa beans are slimy and squishy it must have been akin to dancing in the flats of Portsmouth Harbour at low tide. Only warmer.
Allotmenteers – eat your heart out. This is a calabash tree, and those fruits are about the size of a baby’s head. They’re not very tasty, but when dried, cut in half and hollowed out they make handy soup bowls.
This was one you’ll probably recognise: the jade vine, Strongylodon macrobotrys. Here it was quietly strangling a cashew nut tree. They’re heavy and rampant climbers which quickly overcome less thuggish plants but with flowers like that, you can understand Jean’s reluctance to do anything about it.
This is a wierd and wonderful climber, too: it’s the vanilla vine, of vanilla pod fame. Trouble is, it’s not native to Grenada (it comes from a neighbouring Caribbean island – Trinidad, I think) and neither is the single species of bee that pollinates it. So if you want it to produce pods here, you have to get up before 8am and do it yourself with a paintbrush. It’s testament to the obsession with gardening in Grenada that a lot of people do actually do this.
Cute little wendy house, but if you’re wondering how they mow that humpy ol’ lawn, they don’t. That’s because it’s not a lawn: it’s a Japanese hummock grass called Zoysia matrella. The amusing thing – for Jean, anyway – is that those hummocks are entirely hollow, so any visitors happening to think it might be a lawn fall in.
Another Chris Baasch composition: those palms are Travellers’ palms, which I entirely fell in love with while I was on the island. Just look at those architectural stems.
Bromeliads cascading down (up?) a mahogany tree. The bromeliads have little cups of water in their hearts, colonised by insects: the Grenadan government decided they might be breeding places for malarial mosquitos so tried to get Jean to remove them all. You can imagine how well that went down. In the end, they decided the line of least resistance would be the dazzlingly impractical solution of anti-mosquito tablets to place in the centre of each plant. That’s a philodendron scrambling its way up the mahogany tree.
The national tree of Grenada: the Flamboyant tree (Delonix regia). The flowers are bright orange, and you see them dotted all over the hillsides when they’re out. We were there just afterwards, when they were loaded with pods: the kids here use them as musical instruments because the beans inside rattle. They call them “shack-shack” trees for the same reason.
Flamboyant wood is very weak, and if you look at the tree above you’ll see it has a typically hollow stem. Luckily this is an ideal habitat for things like airplants, bromeliads and orchids – and this particularly fine staghorn fern:
I have one of these in my greenhouse at the moment but… well, suffice it to say it doesn’t look much like this!
Thank you to Jean and her irrepressible son Randy (and his alarmingly active koi carp) for their generous and warm hospitality. I can’t hope to do proper justice to their garden here, so either go visit it if you’re ever over Grenada way – it’s open to visitors by appointment – or read on at their own website here.