A garden sanctuary

A Lantern Hibiscus in the garden of Maxine and Terry Siklenka.
A Lantern Hibiscus in the garden of Maxine and Terry Siklenka.

The old adage that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure is certainly true for one couple creating a new garden in Cayman.

Terry Siklenka and his green-fingered wife Maxine have established a lush oasis almost entirely from plants which were already dumped, destined for the trash heap or were about to be cut down.

“Firstly, I let everyone know we were starting our garden,” says Terry. “After that, I began receiving calls from friends, and friends of friends, asking us to come and dig out a plant they no longer wanted. Over time, I made friends with quite a few local gardeners with lots of plants and cuttings heading to the dump, or if they were throwing anything out, they would call me and drop them off to me instead.

“Most of the plants were dead or near death but we managed to find and save the odd little gem.”

Terry received telephone calls from all over the island inviting him to remove unwanted plants such as coconut trees that CUC wanted cut down to protect power lines.

“I paid to relocate them and the owner was very happy that they didn’t just get thrown away,” he says. “Another gentleman wanted to expand his veggie garden but had palm trees in the way. I got a call and several of us had to dig two large silver thatch palms and a bull palm by hand. They are now relocated in my yard.”

Terry and Maxine joined the Garden Club of Grand Cayman within months of moving to the island in 2012, which also proved a good source of obtaining plants and cuttings as members often swap cuttings.

In addition, Terry has acquired plants from the Native Plant Nursery at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Vigoro nursery and from the classified sales website Ecay.

A Travellers Palm always makes a grand gesture.
A Travellers Palm always makes a grand gesture.

Mystery gardens

Oftentimes, Terry didn’t even know what kind of “rescued” plants he was putting in the ground and simply waited to see, if it survived, what it turned out to be.

“For this reason we created two small gardens that are our mystery gardens,” he explains.

The garden provides plenty of seating and shade for guests to enjoy.
The garden provides plenty of seating and shade for guests to enjoy.

“These areas are fun to watch, as many times we were not sure what would come up until it started to grow or flower. At this point we would look it up and identify the plant, find out the best conditions for it and then re-locate it.”

These plants are moved to a different areas in the yard to suit requirements such as height and space needed for them to thrive.

Some of the best examples of small “treasures” that have grown successfully include the sweetly scented ylang ylang tree which is a main component of Chanel Nº 5 perfume, and a Java plum which has lots of small purple fruits that taste like currants and make great juice and smoothies.

Other surprises include dragon fruit plants, a Hong Kong orchid tree that started off as a stick in the ground, and an African tulip tree which was a branch that Terry treated with rooting powder and is now more than 10 feet tall with stunning red tulip-style flowers.

Prior to moving to Cayman, Terry and Maxine lived in Canada where they had a small fruit hobby farm but this is their first attempt at cultivating plants in the tropics.

And when they bought their Patrick’s Island home in December 2013, the only landscaping on the property was a couple of large Bismark palms at the front and a few Christmas palms dotted about on the half-acre lot.

A Greek urn, actually a water feature,  adds character in the outdoor space.
A Greek urn, actually a water feature,
adds character in the outdoor space.

“I guess the advantage was that Maxine and I had a clean slate to work with,” Terry reflects.

“It is an ever-evolving garden as we learn what plants go where, the conditions they need and then moving them, as they grow, for space.”

Local plants

For the most part, Terry has found that indigenous Caribbean plants, and particularly those native to Cayman, are the most successful in his garden.

“We need to make sure we are looking after the native plants, some of which are originally found only in the Cayman Islands and are endangered,” he says. “These plants are acclimatized to the soil and pests and most don’t need to be watered like imported plants.”

Native greenery is interspersed with local and exotic blooms for dashes of vibrancy and color including a few orchids, Sumatra and Canna lilies, gingers, bird of paradise, bougainvillea, night jasmine and hibiscus.

Terry and Maxine do have help for regular maintenance but they worked on every aspect of the garden themselves, including the design as well as trimming, moving and relocating plants.

An Ixora plant in vibrant coral.
An Ixora plant in vibrant coral.

“It’s a great, healthy lifestyle and very rewarding, not to mention cost-efficient,” Terry points out. “When we sit in the garden surrounded by all the delightful plants, and it is so wonderfully peaceful, the love and labor we put into it is all worth it. Oh, and picking your own fruit doesn’t get any better than that.”

Terry’s tips

To create a gorgeous garden without spending a fortune, Terry suggests the following approach:

  • Plan it out and take your time.
  • Make it a labor of love, not a chore.
  • Share cuttings with other gardeners.
  • Join the Garden Club of Grand Cayman.
  • Buy plants from nursery and charity sales.
  • Grow native plants which have low maintenance and water requirements and are pest resistant.