The healing gardens

The holistic and humanitarian approach to healthcare by heart specialist Dr. Devi Shetty goes beyond the walls of his new hospital in East End.

Health City Cayman Islands, which is a joint venture between Dr. Shetty’s Narayana Health in India and Ascension Health in the U.S., is an ambitious development that has flourishing gardens to complement the facilities inside the high-tech building.

“We knew that our building design was based on function first and so we would need lush landscaping to really accentuate the healing and Caribbean-feel for visitors,” explains Ryan Smith, construction and facility manager at the hospital.

Dr. Shetty previously founded Health City in Bangalore, India, with the mission of delivering expert healthcare, regardless of income.

Adopting the same principles for his first international venture, the initial phase of Health City Cayman Islands opened in 2014 to provide top-quality, low-cost healthcare, focusing on heart surgeries and orthopedic procedures.

Currently operating with 140-beds, the complex will expand to a 2,000-bed hospital system with an adjoining hotel for patients to stay before and after their procedure, and for their families. Other future plans include a medical university and an assisted-living community.

Ryan says they wanted to create an integrated landscape design for the entire life of the development, using the hospital as the catalyst.

Margaret Barwick 


It was Health City Cayman Islands project director, Gene Thompson – a landscape enthusiast – who directed Ryan to engage the services of veteran landscape designer Margaret Barwick.

Laid out as a series of gardens circling the hospital building, Margaret has interpreted the landscape vision and brought it to life, working with Kurl Knight of Landmark Landscaping, and his team, on the installation of all the gardens.

Her design-brief included creating an uplifting environment for the patients, incorporating native flora in what is a relatively untouched area of dry woodland, integrating practical elements such as food for the kitchen, providing secluded rest areas, reflecting the Indian element in both the design and content, and installing walking/jogging paths.

The individual areas Margaret has designed include the East Garden, West Garden, Kitchen Garden, Medicinal Garden and The Sanctuary.

The East and West gardens are in front of the hospital and comprise large, undulating, colorful borders of shrubs and perennials flanked by lawns to the rear and the roadside, and dotted with palms and small trees.

A meandering, wheelchair-friendly path runs from the entrance, through the plantings, to the east or west sides to connect with similar paths throughout the gardens, doubling as a running track.

Kitchen Garden

And while Health City is renowned for its state-of-the-art healthcare, the facility’s food is also second-to-none with Chef Vidyadhara  Shetty from Blue Cilantro restaurant on West Bay Road in charge of the kitchens.

Patients and staff are offered a choice of Indian, Continental and Caribbean cuisines to tempt their palates, with fruit and vegetables from the Kitchen Garden on hand for the freshly prepared dishes.

“At this time, the area near the kitchen is planted with basic crops and fruit trees including bananas, papayas, sugar cane, cassava, pumpkins etc. as well as breadfruit, mangos, custard apples, limes, star fruit, star apple, curry leaf, avocado and soursop,” says Margaret.
There are also three Acai palms (that can be harvested for their “hearts”) and, eventually, there will be a large area for seasonal crops such as tomatoes, peppers, lettuces and spinach.

Medicinal Garden

Additionally, the hospital anticipates utilizing the plants grown in the Medicinal Garden, which is being looked after by Ryan’s wife Betsy, who has studied alternative medicines.

“The plants won’t be immediately incorporated into the healthcare program as our hospital is a tertiary care facility, while the remedies the plants have are on a more primary care side,” Ryan explains.


“We do anticipate that integrative medicine practices, championed by Betsy, will make their way to the island’s primary care physicians and that these plants can be used as an integral part of care plans.

“We would love for the Health City Medicinal Garden to be the first used in these practices. This will take a bit of mindset change among our local primary physicians, but the research is overwhelming that they work and reduce/help the need for pharmaceuticals.”

Margaret has incorporated a mixture of Indian and Caymanian plants used in traditional medicine.

“It seemed fitting to include such a garden, particularly as this is an Indian hospital and India is so famous for its Ayurvedic medicine which encompasses many herbal remedies,” she says.

The Sanctuary, meanwhile, provides an area for quiet contemplation with two garden seats and a fishpond set amidst an exotic oasis.

And patients who are recovering from surgery can also enjoy the gardens from the privacy of their beds, thanks to big windows in the hospital.

“This two-storied building was planted on all sides with tall-growing trees and palms which would attract parrots and other birds by their fruit,” Margaret explains.

“Thus the patients would be able to enjoy this activity from their beds.”

Native plants
Native planting was central to the landscaping not only from an environmental aspect as they are already adapted to the climate and often require little watering, but also from an aesthetic viewpoint.

“Naturalistic plantings of island flora will make patients feel relaxed and minimize the stress already associated with major surgeries,” states part of the design brief.

Plans are also in place to start a nursery on-site to propagate plants for future phases.

To help minimize the environmental impact of the hospital development, felled trees have been mulched and top soil will be made from excavated peat, rain water is collected in the gutters and gray water used for irrigation.

Health City has also been working with the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, and the Cayman Islands Orchid Society, to recover orchids from felled trees so they can be replanted on-site or in the Botanic Park.

“We feel that active discussions with groups such as these in our community are the most productive way to develop responsibly while meeting the ultimate humanitarian goal of the hospital which is to help remove the connection of affluence to quality specialty healthcare in the world,” says Ryan.

Health City is one of Margaret’s final projects as she is semi-retiring to France, although she will return to Cayman to undertake future phases of the hospital’s landscaping.

“Because of (horticulturalist) Michael Ferrero’s interest in this project whilst he was working at the Botanic Park and (general manager) John Lawrus’s encouragement, we were able to add many unusual and rare tree species to our plantings,” she says.

“That has resulted in making the contents of these gardens a serious asset to our islands.” 



Entrance to Health City