Written by Donna Dawson
The first thing I did once I got settled into my seat on LIAT Airlines from Trinidad to Grenada was pull the airline magazine out of the pocket. I get inspiration reading the airline magazines and since I hadn’t been on LIAT before was excited at the anticipation of the golden nuggets I would find tucked inside.
What I first read really made me think. It was a quote from George Washington. “True friendship is like a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation”.
How these words rang true. As I sat in my seat for the thirty minute flight I thought of Grenada and the shocks it had withstood with not one but two hurricanes. I was headed there to meet up with some garden journalists who had been invited by Grenada Board of Tourism to visit, well gardens on this wonderful island that is only 28 miles long and 14 miles wide.
It sounds a bit cliché when you hear over and over again how friendly the people are here, but if you have the experience of visiting Grenada you will know these words ring true.
When we visited Fay and John Miller of Hyde Park Garden, the greeting was genuine. Not only were they happy to show us around but after the tour we sat and chatted with them and were delighted by many stories. Their hearts are in this garden, it holds many memories as this was the land that Fay grew up on. Each plant had a story. When Ivan hit, it changed things but not the passion. They like the others just got up and at it and put their memories back into the soil. She can tell you the name of just about all of the plants and the year it arrived into her garden because this was her family home.
They are all her friends. Of special note it is the Portlandia Grandiflora, first discovered in Jamaica in 1795. She told us that many times she has given cuttings away only to find that they do not live. They are most happy here as they spill down the hill. She also tells us that she can tell when the day is drawing to a close just by looking at the Flamboyant tree – this is where all the birds come to sleep at night. The sunsets are pure inspiration.
Living in a tropical country is a blessing as what was destroyed quickly came back again and new plants showed up courtesy of the birds.
Denis Noel from Balthazar Estate showed us around his plantation and as we walked through this tropical rain forest paradise it was ‘look up’ all the time. Heleconia at 8 to 10 feet high surrounded us and when he cut the flowers to show us what they looked like I can see why he has changed his focus on what used to be nutmeg and bananas to tropical flowers. They were perfect and in great demand because of it. Denis also supplies the flowers for the Chelsea Flower Show each year. As we continue along he is cutting flowers and telling us about them and at the end of the tour we see them all floating in a big metal pot – they are having a good drink of water – and from there they are given to us to enjoy while we are here, or if they were for Chelsea, they would be lovingly packaged up to be shipped.
Anne Campbell, owner of Smithy’s Garden has another gem of a garden waiting for you to discover. Her garden is a labour of love and it shows in the layout and placement of her plant material. She has a very enviable collection of Vanda orchids with their little faces welcoming you to your visit. They are happy here. We discover that there is one orchid that will not bloom until May and this special orchid sees the flowers headed to Chelsea.
Three acres to explore and with Anne taking you through, you discover all sorts of plants and their stories. We are looking at a shrub and she tells us that it is very naughty because it has not bloomed for her since Hurricane Ivan. She tells us that to get gingers and bananas to bloom, sprinkle some salt around the base of the plant. There is also the washing machine hose that is hidden underground and runs directly down the hill to the nutmeg tree because she is always thirsty. There is an old garden and a new garden and an orchard dripping with fruit.
After our visit we sat down on her veranda for a glass of sorrel juice. Anne keeps a bag of the roselles from the Hibiscus sabdariffa to make the juice and when needed boils them up, strains and sweetens with sugar for the most incredible refreshing drink served over ice. It is their Christmas drink and for the adults a wee bit of rum is added. It would also make a wonderful palate cleanser during a multi course meal served as a sorbet.
Anne is a floral designer as well and is kept quite busy with weddings.
John Criswick, who runs St. Rose Nursery & Garden is the consummate plantsman. He grows plants because he loves everything about them. No visit would be complete without a visit to a nursery but this is more than a nursery. Here in the tropical forest you cannot tell where the nursery ends and the forest begins. John has supplied just about everyone in Grenada too. I spotted a rose that had the most exquisite fragrance, called Sweet Surrender, an All America Selection. A must for any rose garden and the bougainvillea in colours of tangerine to hot pink…to die for.
This is also a nursery where you will find the correct names for the plants because John is also a supplier of material for the Grenada display at the Chelsea Flower Show as I discovered five years ago when here with Suzanne Gaywood, the head designer. I well remember her looking at some exquisite piece of bamboo with black bands that John had cut to show her and her reaction was to make sure she had some sent for the display.
John has a heart of gold and I expect that those who we met that are giving Suzanne their best treasures are one of the reasons they have won Gold medals for so many years now. Suzanne was just given an MBE for her ‘Services to Tourism and Horticulture’. I am proud to have known her since 2005 and celebrate with her each year when I take my tour groups to see the Grenada Display at the Chelsea Flower Show. Putting a display like this together requires excellent plant material and dedicated and talented volunteers. Grenada should be extremely proud of the many Gold Medals they have won over the years. Those in the garden industry know that Chelsea is the ‘must attend’ show of the year where quality is extremely important.
Another garden that we visited left us all so happy inside…it was the garden of Gemma Flemming. She is nothing short of a fireball. So excited and happy to be in her garden showing us around and proud to tell us of what they have accomplished in the community. We spent quality time with her before she headed off to deliver an order of fresh produce to a local restaurant that she grows in her vegetable garden. Grenada being an island needs more growers like Gemma to insure top quality product. Wonderful to think that the vegetables we are eating on the island have come from local growers.
Her tropical garden is around her home, surrounding her with what she loves – her plants. From the moment you arrive you are thrown into plant heaven. Orchids greet you and Gemma tells us there is a local flower show soon and which plants will be the lucky ones to be shown. It’s held only every two years so there is much excitement and of course we are heart broken that we will not be there to see it.
Around the corner of her home and down a grass slope to the garden, but first a stop to see a stunning Allanmanda in a most unusual color. Everyone was trying to figure out what color it might be. Then past the nursery you head down a path that takes you further in to Gemma’s world. A world of palms, ferns, around a pond and up through a pathway leading to a whimsical little dollhouse that you can go into. I think the grandchildren would love this as well as the swing that is nearby on a platform where they swing in the garden or just sit and look at the bright coleus underneath. Peace and solitude. Back up to the house to sit on her veranda enjoying a cool glass of passionflower juice and munch on dried pieces of starfruit, both made by her of course. Then she was off to make that delivery.
There is a special relationship that these gardeners have – they have planted the seeds of friendship. Every garden lover who visits these gardens and garden keepers goes away with a deeper understanding of the people of Grenada and a fuller heart for knowing them.
This was a very short trip, but as Simon Stiel, the new Tourism Director said to us, ‘short trips just want to make you come back for more….” Oh how it does. Grenada is a very special place to visit, come experience it for yourself and not just the gardens, there is so much more!