By Veronica Sliva
I’m not much of a beach babe, so those ads for Caribbean destinations, you know the ones with sun worshippers relaxing on white sand beaches sipping cocktails, are lost on the likes of me. But, offer me an island in the sun with lots of greenery and I can’t wait to pack my bags.
On a recent trip to Grenada, the most southerly of the Windward Islands, I found a drop-dead gorgeous tropical paradise I wasn’t expecting. In 2004 the island was devastated by Hurricane Ivan, so I wasn’t optimistic. However, time and again Mother Nature proves that she is in charge. And in only a few years the island’s vegetation is lush and green again. As an addicted gardener, I was delighted to find that the gardens in Grenada have recovered from Ivan too.
My week there was spent avoiding beaches and snooping into some of Grenada’s exquisite gardens. Here are profiles of my favourites:
Jean Renwick’s Sunnyside Garden may well be the most famous private garden in Grenada. It enjoys the distinction of being featured on Britain’s Channel 4 TV series “Gardens of the Caribbean”. Located near the capital of St. George’s, the property was originally designed over 30 years ago by the famous Venezuelan garden designer, Chris Baasch.
Like everything else in Grenada, Sunnyside is on a hill, so the garden has breathtakingly beautiful “borrowed views”. Dozens of types of trees dominate the property including palms, coconut, almond and cashew. Among the many kinds of fruits are common varieties of citrus such as orange, lemon and grapefruit as well as the more unusual “dog’s dumpling” (Morinda citrifolia). Its foul-smelling yellow fruit is used to make noni juice, well known for its health-giving properties. Century-old mahogany trees give shade to many hibiscus hybrids and bromeliads.
But the feature that grabbed my attention most was the giant mounds of moss (at least that’s what they looked like from afar) surrounding a garden shed on the side of the hill. A closer look revealed that the “humps”were in fact a Japanese hummock grass called Zoysia matrella. The humps are hollow so when visitors walk across them, they soon fall through. No harm done though…just wounded pride and lots of laughs from bystanders!
Hyde Park Garden
Hyde Park overlooks the harbour and sits just below the ruins of the historic governor general’s residence. The garden has been in Fay Miller’s family for generations, but had been unoccupied for several years when she and her husband John took it over in late 2000. A walk around Fay’s garden is a real education, as she delights in leading visitors around the property and sharing its history. She points out plants rarely seen outside botanical gardens, such as Portlandia grandiflora, a beauty with a lily-like bloom that was first discovered in Jamaica in 1795. Though it grows well in her hillside garden, Fay has generously given away many cuttings. Alas, the plant has proven very difficult for others trying to grow it elsewhere. Annatto (Bixa orellana), also known as the lipstick tree, grows here, too. It gets its name from the bright red seeds that young ladies used to crush and use to stain their lips. Today it is widely used commercially as a dye.
Anne Campbell’s patch of paradise, known as Smithy’s Garden, lies on a gentle slope 1,000 feet above sea level close to Fort Frederick. It was established in 1954 by “Smithy”, Anne’s mother (hence the name). Today you would never imagine that in 2004 Hurricane Ivan decimated the two-acre property. Besides ornamental flowering and fruit trees (mango, coconut, soursop, bananas, avocado, plums and breadfruit), on the higher levels of the property, Anne’s plant collection includes a variety of bougainvillea, roses, anthuriums and ferns. In the lower garden rainforest plants such as ginger lilies and heliconia flourish.
The extensive collection of orchids scattered throughout Anne’s garden are truly impressive. In fact, one collection takes up her entire front veranda, giving new meaning to the phrase “hanging garden”. The quality of Anne’s orchids is very special and they have played a pivotal role in Grenada taking gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show in London, England. Anne is very proud that she was chosen to supply the orchids for the award-winning displays.
We ended our visit to Smithy’s among the orchids on the veranda sipping a refreshing “sorrel tea” made by Anne. “So easy,” she exclaimed. “Just steep the blossoms of roselle, sweeten and chill.” Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is native to the tropics. The drink has a tart, cranberry-like flavor and is loaded with vitamin C, the perfect beverage for the heat of the day in Fay’s picture-perfect garden.
Veronica Sliva is a freelance garden journalist living in Toronto.