Native Roots from the ground up

Living on a small island like Cayman, it is only natural to look overseas for products and services.

But there is one area where it pays to think local – landscaping.

Designing a garden with native plants is essential to Cayman’s culture and environment, and it is also kinder to your wallet.

Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park has developed a native plant nursery to encourage greater use of native plants among residents, a result of concerns about the increasing use of imported species.

The nursery is aimed at raising awareness of the importance and advantages of native plants, as well as making it easier to buy them.

“Native plants used in the correct location should require fewer inputs compared to the use of exotic species,” says John Lawrus, deputy general manager of the Botanic Park. “When native plants are used, costs associated with water usage and the need for fertilisation and pest control should decrease dramatically.”

Native plants are already used to the Caymanian environment and climate. They can flourish even in extreme conditions, survive well in storms and need less water and maintenance than imported species.

“Native plant species supply year-round food and cover to local wildlife populations,” Mr Lawrus says. “Although introduced species may also serve this function, they may not have a naturally occurring predator. The introduced species may directly compete for habitat, spreading aggressively and leading to colonisation.”

The choice to use native plants is also particularly relevant during economic difficulties, as landscaping budgets are often reduced.

By planting native foliage and flowers, the costs associated with landscaping can be lowered, with no import duties or transportation fees from overseas.

Mr Lawrus recommends a variety of native species, including Spanish elm, whitewood, Cayman sage, slingshot, mahogany, duppy bush, cherry, bull thatch palm and broadleaf.

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Sangela Haye, owner of Signature Nursery, is also in favour of using native plants to support Cayman’s ecosystem, and believes they can help local fauna to thrive.

“Cayman’s native plants are much hardier than those imported and for the most part they are more resistant to pests,” she says. “They also grow at a much faster and easier rate because they are accustomed to their surroundings.

“The most important benefit is that we are promoting the use of our native plants, which ensures that our environment is truly Caymanian and no pests, snakes, frogs or snails are imported.”

Although Signature Nursery doesn’t offer a landscaping service at present, the nursery has a virtual reality design service that allows clients to see how native plants would look, with their house or property in the background.

“Most architects and landscape designers are not able to provide this as the native plants are usually not found in their library of pictures,” says Miss Haye.

And she points out that it is important to understand the needs of a plant before adding it to your garden.

“Is it a tree, a shrub, a bush or a ground cover?” she says. “Those are some of the questions you might want to ask before planting it. For example, a seagrape plant makes a lovely hedge but could very well be grown as a shade tree.”

Tom Balon, landscaper and operations manager at Vigoro Nursery, says when considering a garden design, whether using native plants or not, it is important to get it right from the outset.

“An experienced landscaper can or should be able to give you a landscape plan that should provide a good structure and layout for your garden,” he says. “Further to some discussion with the client, he or she should design and choose plants according to the client’s taste, but also importantly according to the exposure, habit, texture, on going maintenance and durability. 

“A well laid-out plan can do many other things for a garden too. Just to name a few, it can actually make it look larger, become a wonderful environment for the family, provide the privacy and shade one may desire as well as increase the value of a property.”

Mr Balon points out that while native plants can be a great choice for landscaping, it is important to remember that they still need caring for.

“There are many other species as resilient and durable too, but for obvious reasons native plants can be used or retained in any garden design. Be careful though, as there are many people that think if they plant entirely native, these plants don’t need any water, care or otherwise,” he says. “They are still plants, and although they can prove extremely tolerant, they still deserve and like some tender loving care.”

Mr Balon suggests using red birch, thatch, tabebuia, sandalwood, ironwood and geiger in a garden or open lot.

For shrub and ground cover, he recommends lantanas, inkberry, purslane, ipomeas, mangroves, rosemary, tecoma, bullhoof and necklace pod.

He urges anyone building a house to get a landscape company to look at the trees and shrubs before the bulldozer moves in.

“If these trees or others are present, there’s a good chance they can remain, or be relocated or incorporated into a design, and save you some money,” he says.

So, whether creating a new garden or landscaping an existing one, now is the time to go native. 

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