Gardens of the gallery

 

When it came to the design of the
new National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, the gardens were not merely a
postscript to the building. 

Indeed, the aim was to create an
outdoor space that was an attraction in its own right. And, with the design
team of Margaret Barwick and Sandy Urquhart at the helm, in their first
collaboration in the Cayman Islands, the grounds are destined to amaze. 

Margaret is an
internationally-renowned plant expert, whose work includes the design of
Tortola Botanic Park, Cricket Square complex, and many private gardens in
Cayman and throughout the world. Her book, Tropical and Sub-Tropical Trees: An
Encyclopaedia, is an authority in the world of gardening. Sandy, the former landscape
architect for Camana Bay, has designed many public areas in Cayman. He was
recently honoured in the Governor’s Award for Design Excellence, after he was
shortlisted as one of seven outstanding designers for the gardens of the West
Indian Club.   

Before embarking on the design, Sandy and Margaret engaged
in a series of consultations with the National Gallery. It was important to
director Natalie Urquhart that the gardens provide a beautiful setting for the
National Gallery. The design needed to incorporate a flexible events area, a
sculpture garden, and smaller gardens for quiet reflection.  

“Having consulted about the usages
of the site, we decided to approach it as we would a community park, rather
than simply an ornamental setting for the buildings,” says Sandy.  

As Margaret and Sandy are both
long-time advocates for the use of native plants in local garden design, they
incorporated predominantly native, indigenous and endemic flora, allowing the
building to be encircled in its natural habitat while supporting birds,
butterflies and other wildlife. In addition to their natural beauty, many of
these plants require little maintenance.  

“Importantly for the National
Gallery operations budget long-term, these are plants that need little in the
way of fertiliser or pesticide, that have adapted to our cycles of rain and
drought, and are salt-tolerant,” Sandy says. 
 

Many of these plants also have a
great cultural significance, which reflects the National Gallery’s ethos.  

“Ever since the Cayman Islands
were settled, native plants have been used for food, shelter, clothing,
healing, everyday utility, boat-building, livelihood and export,” Sandy
explains. “They are part of the history, culture and identity of the Cayman Islands
and what makes them unique.”  

This culture will be captured in
the National Gallery’s Native Heritage Trail, and accompanying education
booklet, which will weave throughout the three-acre site. 

The central driveway, flanked by
two small lakes, will be lined with native mahogany trees. Further into the
site, there will be native fruit trees, Silver Thatch palm, red birch and a
diverse group of smaller native shrubs. The several small individual gardens in
this front area, each named after a building donor, will be more ornamental. At
the rear of the building, the Deutsche Bank Sculpture Garden will run through
the lower terrace, which will also house several individual gardens and a
multi-purpose area.  Here, families can
picnic on the flat grassy area or visit the developing outdoor permanent
collection, and learn about contemporary sculpture through a variety of
educational programmes. The tree-shaded car park is close by and the gardens
will spill into the parking area to ease access to the gardens and the gallery
itself. 

“In addition to creating an
attractive, educational area, we hope to generate an inherent sense of
community by offering many ways for people to interact with each other in the
spaces between the buildings,” Sandy says. “The design will provide a fitting
framework for Cayman’s cultural heritage at its best, unifying the interior
artwork with the external beauty of our islands.”  

Plants for the garden will be sourced from the Native Plant
Nursery at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, local nurseries, and donations. 
 

The design needed to incorporate a flexible events area, a
sculpture garden, and smaller gardens for quiet reflection
 

Gardens of the Gallery

India Lloyd