Sunday, May 10, 2009

A taste of the Caribbean: St Rose Nursery

Sometimes when gardens have a powerful resonance with natural landscapes - I'm talking about wildlife gardens, very "naturalistic" planting and a lot of woodland gardens - there's a fine line between it being a garden or countryside that's been tweaked a bit. This garden teeters delicately right on that line, and on occasions falls off - in places, it's more rainforest than garden. But then that recognition and respect for the natural beauty of the forest is why St Rose is so special.

The owner, John Criswick, is a consummate plantsman, but one with such sensitivity to his unique surroundings that you can often barely tell where his hand has been. St Rose is perched on a mountainside, in the foothills of the dense rainforest reserve that covers Grenada like a green blanket. Here, foliage is king.

The word 'jungle' could have been invented for this garden. The density of the planting is mind-boggling: not only is there no bare earth (the very idea is laughable here) there isn't enough room for hard landscaping either. We clambered down this steep hillside on a narrow path that would have been a sheep track if we'd been in Yorkshire (though of course quite a lot would have been different if we'd been in Yorkshire.)

It's practically impossible to get an idea of the scale in photos - probably best to assume that the smallest leaves you're looking at in these pictures are about half the length of your arm. The biggest are the kind of leaves you can comfortably stand underneath and still not be able to touch the end. Anyway - this gives you something of an idea:

The chap by the pond is slashing down kudzu vine with a machete - kudzu vine is like bindweed on steroids, and entire houses disappear beneath it within a few weeks if it's left unchecked. They say Grenadian guys are all lovely once you get over the fact that they're all carrying machetes: this is pretty accurate though it's hard to concentrate on pleasant small talk while ignoring the murderously sharp knife.

As I said before, this is a garden that's all about foliage. John uses coloured foliage to spectacular effect, weaving it in to the predominantly green rainforest with aplomb. Here it's a river of purple cordylines trickling through the green. (By the way - yes those are cordylines. I'd always thought they were sharp, pointy sort of things. Not so: Grenadan cordylines are soft and the leaves are rounded, and most delightful of all, they come in a myriad of colours from green to yellow to purple to stripy. Altogether much, much nicer).

And in case you don't like purple: how about yellow. This is golden crinum (that clump is waist-high - told you it was hard to capture the scale). This garden more than any other has taught me that you don't need flowers for things to be colourful.

This is the nursery adjoining the garden. As you can see, there's a tad more hard landscaping but otherwise it's still a bit tricky to tell the difference. Look closely, though, and you'll see this rainforest is in pots.

And there are flowers! All sorts, orchids and gingers and tons of things I hadn't a hope of recognising - this garden stretches your plant ID skills to the limit and well beyond. These were my absolute favourites: elegant racemes about a foot long, growing across a pergola-like grid so they hung down gracefully. Here's that flower close up:

We were told it was a Thunbergia, at which I thought, "nah - they've got that wrong". The only Thunbergia I'd ever come across before was Black-eyed Susan, an annual climber with small, single orange flowers - no racemes and not a great deal of elegance, though it's quite sweet if you like that kind of thing. Then I got back and googled it - well I should have known. The one lesson I learned in Grenada is that everything I think I know is as a grain of sand compared with the beach of stuff I don't. Thunbergia mysorensis, or Red Glory Vine, is from India, and you can even get plants here - though you need a greenhouse or conservatory to grow them well.

Just before we left, Derek, the head gardener, brought this out. Have you ever seen a flower like it? It's an aroid of some kind, but nobody knew its Latin name. They did, however, know its common name. Men of a certain age - look away now.
It's called 'Old Man's Balls'. I expect you can see why.

Thanks go to John Criswick for sharing his fabulous garden and nursery with us - it was an unforgettable experience. The garden is open to the public, and the nursery sells rare and unusual plants, trees and palms - it's stocked half the gardens in Grenada. If you're ever over that way - don't, on any account, miss it.


DefinitiveCaribbean said...

Old Man's Balls indeed...lovely!

Some great shots there...I've not made it to St Rose Nurseries yet but it's next on my list...

Did you see any greenhouses rebuilt? Do you know the cost of a tour or the contact details for the guides?

Thanks - Alexander

The Constant Gardener said...

thanks DC :D aren't you lucky spending your time wandering around the islands. I'm just spending my time scheming how to get back there at the moment - sadly our plot to matchmake one of our party with a Grenadian boyfriend so we could come back and visit her didn't work.

Didn't see any greenhouses - not intact, anyway. Hurricane Ivan did for most of them.

Details of how you can visit St Rose are here: (just scroll down till you find it). They give the price of an unguided tour as US$6.00 per person, or free if you buy a plant!

DefinitiveCaribbean said...

Great, thanks - I'll check it out...Useful for the travel guide I write...

Best - Alexander

Plant Mad Nige said...

What a wonderful place! You are lucky to have been. Just my kind of garden.

The Old Man's Balls is Aristolochia gigantea - a native of the 'W'indies and interesting, I'd say, rather than pretty. A lot of the aristolochias smell nasty and in Europe, where the species are far less dramatic, they are also known as birthwort, presumably because they have a medicinal use, probably connected with the Doctrine of Signatures.

Grenadans are wonderfully direct, in their nomenclature. I blush to think what they call that lovely pea family climber Clitoria ternatea!

The Constant Gardener said...

As ever, I am in awe, Nigel. How do you know this stuff?

Thanks for identifying it for me - didn't smell any nasty niffs but it would have been singularly appropriate, given the common name, if I had.

I detect someone with previous acquaintance with Grenadians. Wonderfully direct in all sorts of ways - not just the nomenclature. I have eye-watering memories of some extremely direct conversations. Brilliant fun and hugely entertaining: they made me feel positively stuffy by comparison.

The Constant Gardener said...

little addition - the website address I gave above isn't quite the right one. Try this one:

and you get to find out what they're up to this year, too :D

DefinitiveCaribbean said...

We've just been at WTM this year and found out that Suzanne Gaywood will be hosting some garden tours on Grenada in the New Year...The packages will be sorted by Just Grenada and the local agent will be Caribbean Horizons...I'll come back in a bit when we have a confirmed itinerary...maybe that will be your excuse to get out there again!

Best - Alexander

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