World-renowned horticulturalist Michael Ferrero brings a wealth of plant knowledge with him to Cayman from around the globe.
He is the new deputy manager of the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park and the general manager of the attraction’s nursery.
Michael specialises in worldwide tropical palms and ornamental tropical plants, having worked in several continents and five countries.
Originally from Australia, he served his horticultural internship at Flecker Botanic Gardens (now Cairns Botanic Garden) from 1993 to 1997 after switching careers from plans to become a lawyer.
“I realised then, in those formative years, that I wanted to devote my life to studying, collecting and growing and writing about tropical plants, always in a public garden setting,” he says.
“I made it a point to travel and live abroad, to study and collect and grow as many of the world’s tropical plants as I can in my life, and my career path is very much governed by that desire and is what steers me even now towards fulfilling that quest.”
While in Cairns, Michael was involved in research projects in nearby Papua New Guinea concerning native palms, contributing to several publications on this subject.
From there, he was recruited to Thailand to manage and oversee the creation of the world’s largest private palm collection at Nong Nooch Tropical Botanic Gardens, not far from the resort town of Pattaya.
“I headed up their collection’s nursery department as the curator of palms and, over the last phase of my tenure, extended my interest into the world of tropical flowering trees and shrubs, ornamental vines, and certain categories of ornamental tropical plants such as Crotons, Cordylines, Dracaenas, Marantas (Prayer Plants), Bougainvilleas, Cannas, Oleanders and Plumeria,” he says.
“I have written many articles about same and have been invited to speak and demonstrate my knowledge of such at worldwide conferences and international workshops dealing with my expertise in those specific groups of tropical plants.”
Although he planned to spend just three or four years in Thailand, Michael remained until 2007 when he was invited to work for a private corporation called Sahayog Hortica in Calcutta, India.
He spent more than six months travelling around the country, culminating in him co-producing and co-authoring a book called “Palms in India” published under the Sahayog label.
“From India I was invited over to Southern Africa in 2008, where I freelanced in private horticultural projects for a number of years, based on independent contracts I made in South East Asia, and my work spread throughout the tropical eastern African countries, starting out from Kenya then onto Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa/Botswana and Namibia,” he recalls.
“Also at this time I was exposed to the Arab Emirates and so undertook contracts for supplying plant materials to their various park planting and garden projects being undertaken in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
“The peak year of my travel (worldwide) for my work was in 2009, wherein I clocked up 21 countries.”
From the Middle East, Michael decided to try his luck in the New World tropics and began working in the Caribbean islands, including Cuba, and eventually focusing on Brazil.
“It was during one of my Brazilian sojourns that my attention was brought to this position at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park becoming available and, seeing as it places me directly within the realm of the New World tropics (and my current phase of interest), I took it,” he explains.
Having already learnt five languages Michael was also delighted to settle in an English-speaking country where he cites the local people and the visitors as his favourite aspect of Cayman so far.
Since August last year when he joined the team at the Botanic Park headed by John Lawrus, Michael has been involved in the development of the new cactus and xerophytic plants display garden.
He is also working on the re-development of the car park and entranceway, various phases of development within the colour gardens precinct, a re-working of the Caymanian traditional (ground provisions) display garden and the adjacent discovery garden, which is under development.
“I hope to implement new projects within the park and install new garden displays, based on the varied experiences I have gained from my earlier places of work and the countries I have worked in,” he says. “And to bring a level of tropical horticulture to our public’s attention, that has not been witnessed on this island nation before.
“Once the Caymanian public (and this extends to our visitors too) sees what is going on in here, as far as new developments within the park are concerned, they will gain new ideas and be inspired in ways, using tropical plants, that they may never have thought was possible.”
While a lot of Cayman’s vegetation is similar to the flora he encountered in Cuba and other islands in the region, Michael delights in the ways in which it is seen locally.
“As far as seeing exotic plants displayed and being grown around the island of Grand Cayman, I have to say they, too, are all very familiar to me, but I do see novel things and certainly new ways and means that local folks have adapted their own style of island gardening to accommodate them, and that always impresses me,” he says.
Michael now intends to put down roots and make Cayman his home for the next few years, during which time he hopes to help instill a sense of pride amongst Caymanians and visitors to the Botanic Park.
He also hopes they will be inspired by the Botanic Park to create gardens of their own.
“I hope my work creates a new precedent for tropical plants’ horticulture on this island, for those up and coming gardeners of the future to follow on from,” he says.