Is any region of the world as bloomingly beautiful as the Caribbean? Lizzie Williams delves into some of our most glorious green spaces
The prestigious Royal Horticultural Society’s annual Chelsea Flower Show is held in London each May when, astonishingly, Barbados will celebrate its 30th consecutive appearance, having won numerous gold and silver medals for its flamboyant floral displays. Grenada, celebrating its 20th Chelsea display in 2018, has won prizes every time.
Our islands have wonderful tropical environments and a variety of habitats supporting colourful and unique flora. The region is a botanical kaleidoscope, with prolific greenery, spectacular orchids, and a vast array of flowering shrubs and stately palms. This luxuriant vegetation flourishes in deep, mountainous forests, around villas and plantation houses, and in just about every backyard.
There are also a number of formal and meticulously kept botanical attractions to visit. So pack a picnic and head to some
of these glorious gardens…
Jardin Botanique de Deshaies, Guadeloupe
• Stroll through a riot of colour in Guadeloupe’s prettiest garden, on the hills above the charming village of Deshaies
• The arboretum has some outstanding specimens, including baobab, banyan, breadfruit and jacaranda trees and some flamboyant, paddle-shaped traveller’s palms
This seven-hectare garden sits on the former home of irreverent French comedian and actor Michel Colluci, also known as Coluche. After his death in 1986, his friend Michel Gaillard, a French landscaper, bought the property and established a public botanical garden that opened in 2001 and is now flourishing with beautiful orchids, bougainvillea, hibiscus and heliconias.
Pathways take visitors through 15 different garden areas including an arboretum, a bamboo forest, an avenue of tree ferns and a large lily pond filled with koi carp and aquatic plants such as water hyacinths and papyrus. Hummingbirds dart around, and children will love the large walk-in aviary, home to some vividly coloured little lorikeets – they will happily perch on outstretched arms as you feed them seeds. The excellent restaurant enjoys a superb view of the garden’s waterfall, as well as over the treetops to the deep bay of Deshaies and the cobalt Caribbean Sea.
• Villers, Deshaies, Basse-Terre; www.jardin-botanique.com
Andromeda Botanic Gardens, Barbados (pictured above)
• Admire the best collection of indigenous and imported tropical plants on Barbados in a dramatic setting on the scenic east coast • Look out for the massive, native bearded fig tree (Ficus citrifolia) – after sighting the island in 1536, the Portuguese referred to it as Los Barbados (‘the bearded ones’) after these trees
This magnificent six-acre garden near the quaint fishing village of Bathsheba features over 600 varieties of flowers, shrubs and trees including orchids, palms, ferns, amaryllis, hibiscus, bougainvillea, begonias, cacti and heliconias. Bursting with colours and fragrances, Andromeda blooms are often used in displays at the Chelsea Flower Show.
The garden was established in 1954 by horticulturist Iris Bannochie on land owned by her family since 1740; she bequeathed it to the Barbados National Trust on her death in 1988. It’s beautifully landscaped, with enchanting pools and waterfalls. It’s also littered with huge limestone boulders; the name Andromeda is derived from the mythical Greek maiden who was chained to a rock to be sacrificed to a sea monster. There are no sea monsters in these gardens, but you may spot creatures such as hummingbirds, butterflies, lizards and even the occasional green monkey or mongoose.
• Foster Hall, Bathsheba, St Joseph; www.andromedabarbados.com
Jardin de Balata, Martinique
• Explore this mature botanical garden and take in the breathtaking views over Martinique’s Fort-de-France Bay and the Pitons du Carbet
• Admire hibiscus, anthurium and porcelain roses in delicate shades, as well as 300 different types of palm tree
A delightful route from the island’s capital Fort-de-France brings you through the Parc Naturel Régional de la Martinique to the Balata Gardens. Surrounded by thick forest and full of blooms and birds, here you’ll understand why Martinique is often dubbed the ‘Isle of Flowers’.
Opened in 1986, Jardin de Balata was created by horticulturist Jean-Philippe Thoze and features about 3,000 varieties of tropical plants from around the world. It only covers three hectares but includes a staggering number of anthuriums, begonias, bromeliads, cycads and heliconias, and palms and bamboos soar up into the sky. Paths wind up and down the gentle hillsides and around ponds full of fish; for fabulous island views, climb up to the Treetop Trail – 15m-high wood and rope bridges suspended between giant mahogany trees. The garden’s Restaurant La Luciole offers excellent lunches with a French and Creole menu.
• Route de Balata, north-west of Fort-de-France; www.jardindebalata.fr
Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens & Mineral Baths, St Lucia
• Experience three attractions in one – gorgeous gardens, an impressive waterfall and historical mineral baths to splash around in • As well as shrubs bursting with brilliant flowers, look out for local fruits and vegetables such as christophine, soursop and dasheen
Covering six acres, this popular attraction is just outside the charming town of Soufrière near the base of the famous Pitons in southern St Lucia. The land was once part of the Soufrière Estate, granted to the Devaux family by King Louis XIV of France in 1713. Joan Devaux established the gardens in 1983 and planted hibiscus, ixora, heliconia and anthurium beneath the existing coconut, banana, cocoa, mahogany and red cedar trees.
Follow the winding path through the gardens to the picturesque Diamond Waterfall plunging 17m into a calm pond below – the mineral-rich water has tinted the surrounding rocks in fantastic yellows, greens and purples. Also enjoy a relaxing dip in the hot spring-fed mineral baths, originally built in 1784 for the French troops to benefit from the therapeutic waters. At the Old Mill Restaurant, the mill and waterwheel date back to 1765 when the estate grew sugar cane.
• Diamond Rd, Soufrière; www.diamondstlucia.com
Orchid World & Tropical Flower Garden, Barbados
• Be bombarded with the visual splendour of beautiful orchids in this six-acre garden in the island’s hilly interior
• More than 30,000 orchids are on display – keep your eyes peeled for rainforest species that seem suspended mid-air from the mahogany trees
Opened in 1998 by renowned horticulturist Richard Coughlan, trained at London’s famed Kew Gardens, this garden displays a wide variety of fragrant orchids in reds, pinks, purples and multi-patterned hybrids. The site was selected for its relatively cool temperatures and abundant rainfall (umbrellas are available).
Enjoy orchids outside from a meandering path that winds its way around craggy outcrops of coral rock, lush shaded gullies and cool ponds. There are also orchids in five hot houses, a café and a gift shop selling orchid-inspired souvenirs. There are panoramic views of the valleys of swaying sugar cane – enjoyed from peaceful benches where you may spot hummingbirds feeding on nectar.
• Between Gun Hill and St John’s Church, Highway 3B, St George; www.orchidworldbarbados.com
Royal Botanic Gardens, Trinidad
• Enjoy a lush green oasis in the centre of Port of Spain and admire ancient giant trees in one of the oldest botanical gardens in the West Indies
• The blossoms of magnolia and African tulip trees are especially pretty, as are the unusual buds of bootlace and cigar trees
Established in 1818 by Governor Ralph Woodford, and currently celebrating its 200th anniversary, this garden is off the Queen’s Park Savannah – Port of Spain’s largest recreational space and centre stage for the Trinidad Carnival. All of this land was once a sugar estate, bought by the town council in 1817, and the 62-acre gardens were laid out a year later. Breadfruit and mango trees, nutmeg and other spices were transported from the St Vincent & the Grenadines Botanical Gardens, while the Governor’s gardener was dispatched overseas to collect more species.
Today it features around 700 trees and many herbaceous, alpine, insectivorous, economic and succulent plants from every continent in the world – about 15% are indigenous to Trinidad & Tobago. Follow the network of gentle shady paths and nice picnic spots, and keep an eye out for tropical birds, butterflies and little lizards as you explore the lush greenery. You’ll also find the President’s House (1876) and a small cemetery where former Governors of Trinidad have been buried since 1819.
• Circular Rd, Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain; +1 868 622 1221
St Vincent & the Grenadines Botanical Gardens, St Vincent
• Wander around one of the oldest botanical gardens in the Western Hemisphere, established in 1765
• Spot the breadfruit tree grown from a seedling brought from Tahiti in 1798 by Captain William Bligh
Just below Government House in Kingstown, these lush 20-acre gardens were created in 1765 by General Robert Melville, British Governor of the Windward Islands, ‘to provide medicinal plants for the military and improve the life and economy of the colony’. Here, botanists studied plants ranging from breadfruit to black pepper. Pick up a guide to explain the commercial uses of mahogany, rubber and teak trees, hibiscus, cinnamon and nutmeg. The rare St Vincent parrot can be seen in the aviaries, and the St Vincent National Museum in the grounds exhibits pre-Columbian Indian, Arawak and Kalinago artefacts.
• Off Leeward Highway, Kingstown; www.botanicalgarden.gov.vc