I’m standing on the verandah of a small wooden house watching a tiny crested hummingbird hovering over the pink flower of a banana. The sweet scent of yellow ylang-ylang flowers drifts from a nearby bush. Soon, the tropical night will fall like a blanket and the sounds of frogs and crickets will fill the air, but, for the moment, the garden below me glows in the last rays of sunlight. The deep-pink orchids, violet bougainvillea, scarlet heliconia and golden ginger lilies are set off by a proliferation of lush, jungle-like foliage.
It’s the foliage that, in a way, brought me to St Rose Nursery in St Georges, Grenada, as it holds an unrivalled collection of multitextured plant material, including philodendrons, ferns, and cordylines, that all play a role in the island’s Chelsea Flower Show exhibits (which have won nine gold medals in recent years). Not that the British owner, dedicated plantsman John Criswick, had any such agenda when he established the nursery 30 years ago. He had simply fallen in love with Grenada.
For many years, nutmeg was Grenada’s most important export. Then, in 2004, the industry was dealt a near-fatal blow when Hurricane Ivan struck. Since then, new trees have been planted and efforts have been made to add value to the available nutmegs.
At the De La Grenade Industry in St Paul’s, one can visit an intriguing herb and spice garden, try nutmeg jelly, nutmeg syrup and a liqueur made to a secret formula given to an ancestor by a Dutch missionary from the Banda Islands in Indonesia, from whence the nutmeg originated.
An even more surprising use of nutmeg is as a pain-relieving spray. Nut-Med, created by Denis Noel, has been a runaway success. At his estate, Balthazar, however, it’s not nutmegs I’ve come to see, but flowers. Mr Noel, like Mr Criswick, is one of the team involved in growing plants for the Chelsea show. The blooms-heliconias, torch ginger lilies-grow in massive clumps on several acres of Mr Noel’s old family plantation, which appears wild and jungle-like.
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At Hope St Andrews, I meet Irvine George, a young orchid specialist, chairman of the Orchid Circle of Grenada, who gets up at 4am to tend his magnificent collections before setting off for his day job with the electricity board. Passionate about his orchids, he’s proud to make a contribution to Chelsea. So is Albert St Bernard, whose extensive Bay Gardens are perhaps the jewel in Grenada’s horticultural crown. In a spectacular setting high in the rainforest at Morne Delice, they contain some 5,000 plants grown in a totally natural setting. The air is cool, and I enjoy my visit all the more for Mr St Bernard’s enthusiastic company.
As we wander up and down the paths strewn with nutmeg shells, he mentions his latest initiative. ‘I want to provide a “virtual tour” by way of hidden cameras for wheelchair users,’ he tells me. ‘Our gardens extend either side of a quiet road, where wheelchairs can venture safely, but the cameras will let them follow us down these paths, too.’
Elsewhere, landscaper Ross Emsley has just opened the Grenada Ornamental Nurseries at Grenville. Set in the L’Esterre Cocoa Plantation, visitors can enjoy a cool drink or watch the girls turning over the drying cocoa beans with their feet, a process known as ‘dancing the cocoa’-chocolate is another of Grenada’s success stories. It may be the ‘food of the gods’, but some of Grenada’s exotic fruits make divine juices and ice creams. ‘Every garden has plenty,’
Anne McIntyre Campbell tells me as she shows me round Smithy’s Garden at Morne Jaloux. Her ‘orchard’ contains mangoes, cooking, eating and ornamental bananas, coconuts, soursops, plums, breadfruit, mangoes, papaya, avocado, tamarinds and calabash trees. The fruits of the calabash aren’t edible, but are hollowed out to form containers. Anne tells me of the tradition by which, if you help a fisherman to bring in his nets, he must offer to fill your calabash with fish-so the bigger the better.