Having a garden by the sea on the south shore of Grand Cayman is a challenge. The salt air and the sand are permanent problems that daunt all but the most determined of green-fingered enthusiasts.
However, one couple has designed and created a flourishing oasis thanks to patience, trial and error since they began planting in 2008 at the same time as building their beachside house.
“We’ve had to experiment with what would do well front-line by the sea and have come up with a fairly good variety of plants that can take the heavy salt,” explains the lady owner, who is a member of the Garden Club of Grand Cayman.
Fruit trees and less-tolerant vegetation have been planted away from the shoreline, at the back of the house, which provides some shield from the harsh elements.
“The sand is more of a challenge then the salt air as nutrients leach out very easily,” says the owner. “Another challenge is the crabs constantly digging under the plants, but the biggest challenge of all is the ‘husband with chainsaw’. Earlier this week, he trimmed a palm tree and reduced a beautiful five-foot symmetrical cactus to a two-foot ugly stump.”
If they find that plants are not thriving they simply move them to another location.
“We relocate what doesn’t work until we find the right spot and reluctantly use crab bait but I have not found a solution to the ‘husband with chainsaw’,” the owner jokes.
It’s the couple’s first garden in the Cayman Islands and the initial design was created in conjunction with East End Garden & Gifts as a “no-grass” concept.
“We looked at it as our experimental garden,” says the owner. “Some things worked and some did not work out very well and were changed.”
The garden spans around 1.75 acres, half on the seaside and half across the main Bodden Town to East End road that splits the property.
It’s mainly the area by the sea that has been developed, with the area across the road featuring only a pond, cacti and citrus plantings.
Although there are no formal demarcations, the owners refer to the different sections as the seaside or beach area, fruit tree area (although some have spread elsewhere), orchid shade house and pergolas, with the xerophitic – or cactus area – across street.
Plants that do well in the garden include fruit trees and cacti as well as orchids, with both native and imported plants featured in mix.
“The native plants are generally easier and require less water and other maintenance, but I like the variety that mixing them together can give,” says the owner. “Just recently, we’ve developed more of an appreciation for bromeliads and have started to grow more of them.
“And the pink-flowered ceiba tree is such a treat when in bloom and it is totally covered in pink lily-like flowers. Of course its thorny trunk stands out as unique even when there are no flowers.
“Orchids have to be mentioned too. Mostly I grow cattleya and vanda types along with the standard dendrobiums, etc. I particularly like the orchids because there is so much variety. In fact there are more species of orchids than any other plant, although I have only a very small percentage of the more-or-less 24,000 species.”
And there are plants galore in this seaside garden with the owner giving many away.
“I hate to waste, so cuttings and seeds often get planted,” says the owner. “I usually trade plants started this way with friends, or put them in the Garden Club/Pink Ladies sales, but sometimes I get carried away and have far more than I can give away.”
Despite the often-arid conditions, the garden has three water features.
There’s a large pond across the street, containing fish, which birds flock round. A tiny pond by the pergola has just water lilies in it and the small rectangular pond outside the dining room windows contains decorative glass balls.
“It has sun in the summer and none all winter long,” explains the owner. “We’ve found that this extreme change required constant re-stocking with water plants, so we have opted for a very contemporary glass approach.”
The couple can be found working in the garden most days in the early morning and then relaxing on the screened deck overlooking the sea in the afternoons.
“The beauty and fragrance of some of the flowers is amazing and the fruit is delicious,” says the owner. “The garden is productive and yet relaxing, providing exercise without the hassle and monotony of a gym.
“In Cayman, gardening can be year-round provided you are up and out early in the summer, and things grow so fast that if you make a mistake in pruning (short of taking off the entire top of a cactus) you won’t be able to tell in a couple weeks.”
While neither of the couple are professional or trained gardeners, they say the hobby is in their blood.
“No proper training or courses for either of us, but lots of reading both in books and the Internet,” says one of the owners. “When something looks interesting, we research it. We’ve both been gardening since we were kids. It’s exciting to watch things grow – and you can bury your mistakes.
“With both of us, if you scratch the surface, you’ll find a farmer underneath. We are happiest working in our garden.”