A couple’s cozy coastal hideaway is a garden of delights.
Driving through Gun Bay, passing the rustic Eastern seascape and quaint Caymanian abodes, one could easily overshoot and miss the home of Berna and Steve Cummins.
If you do catch sight of the charming cobalt-blue beach bungalow, however, the pay-off is substantial.
Over the last 18 years, the couple has turned the oceanfront getaway into one of Cayman’s most remarkable beachside gardens.
The couple closed on the property in the same month they were married in September of 1999. The two share a passion for everything home and garden. Steve is a semi-retired entrepreneur and Berna is a businesswoman, philanthropist and avid green thumb; the two spend as many weekends as possible in their cozy coastal hideaway.
“We try to get up here as often as possible,” says Steve, who served up fresh lobster rolls for lunch during our garden tour. “This is where we can relax and slow down. We like that it is casual.”
An evolving oasis
Casual it may be, but the Cummins have invested incredible time and attention in the creation of the meandering coastal garden around their home. Perched 27 feet above sea level, the garden is surrounded by a natural, protective brush of scaevola, a green plant which can be invasive but which Berna says protects the property from beach erosion.
Much has changed since the couple discovered the property.
“The garden had a few plants, mostly bougainvillea, and lots of grape trees,” Berna says. “I started moving and purchasing plants to make it pretty. Even though we are on the beach we are about a mile from the reef and get very little salt spray.”
Between properties here in Cayman and a summer home in Maine, Berna enjoys the challenge of gardening in unique surroundings. Drawing on decades of meticulous experience, she learns her turf quickly and seems to be able to coax everything from the most stubborn shrubs to the most reluctant flowering plants.
“I plant trees and plants that can take the salt and wash them if the spray gets bad,” she says. “I put most of my hibiscus and orchids in pots away from the crabs. I love my garden. When you first enter, it is like an oasis with my plants.”
Welcome to wonderland
A clipped shrub path struck in brick pavers leads the way into the home’s front garden. East End’s rugged beach terrain and blustery ocean beckon out back, but there is much to see in the front garden sections. The front walkway forks in two directions; one path leads to an open lawn dotted with trees for shade and the other to a lush maze of green plants and vivid florals.
Take the latter and you are in for a Technicolor delight. Bright yellow and red hibiscus flowers dip and bob from their lofty perches; peace lilies waft gently; a white orchid hangs in a pot from the apex of a tall tree and tri-colored bougainvillea create a berry-colored gradient on the walk. The entryway ambience is enhanced thanks to the sweet scent of delicate white frangipani.
“Miss Berna”, as she is affectionately called by most, is an experienced gardener. Her passion for all things green was planted by her mother early on in her life.
“I joined the Garden Club as a member in the early eighties. My mother was a member from 1958 and hosted a lot of the monthly meetings as we had a big yard with lots of shade and space for hosting,” she says.
“My parents and my aunt who lived with us were keen gardeners. My dad grew edible things and my mom grew pretty flowers. My dad would sail to Jamaica or Tampa a few times a year and would bring back plants on the boat with him. Of course, my parents shared their fruit, whether it was avocados or citrus, along with tomatoes and cucumbers. We had to help with the gardening and learned the names of our plants.”
Berna’s passion for gardening is evident in her detailed explanation of everything from pot placement to hydration needs for each and every one of her plants. Inside her home, fresh-cut arrangements dot the interior as evidence of her tender and loving care with her flowers, from seed to bloom. Like her mother, Berna displays a real love for lush, fragrant florals.
“My favorite flower is the hibiscus,” she says. “They do not need water when you pick them and only stay open for a day or the hybrid a day and a half. I love to pick them every morning and place them around our living room and kitchen.”
Berna and Steve agree; one of the biggest selling points of the East End property was its incredible and unspoiled white sand beach. At more than 200 feet, this ideal backyard offers ample space for one of the couple’s favorite pastimes – beachcombing with their grandchildren for shells and “horse’s eyes.”
The beach hugs the rear of the property and offers a panoramic view of the Caribbean Sea from all angles. A favorite vista can be enjoyed on the right hand side entrance; from the property’s tall stance above sea level, the ocean is visible from a peaceful shaded grass perch.
As Berna leads the way onto the beach, the walk goes steeply downward. The ocean has pushed the sand up to the East End property at an angle, forming a mound that goes straight into the dense green brush surrounding the property. From the garden, it feels as if you are sitting atop a small beachside mountain.
Room to stargaze
It would not make sense to create such an outdoor paradise without space for family and friends to enjoy it. With more than 1,000 feet of indoor and outdoor entertaining space, the Cummins have plenty of fun times. Steve keeps a fishing boat moored off the property. He loves an early morning excursion with Berna to enjoy watching the Eagle Rays frolic in the Sound or fishing with their sons.
The indoor and outdoor patios are lined with large potted bougainvillea flower plants in varying colors of purple and pink. Meals are rarely taken inside; instead the outdoor patio offers family-style dining and two huge, handmade hammocks for an after-lunch nap.
It is no surprise that Berna and Steve have created so much space for the people they know and love.
“I enjoy sharing my knowledge of gardening and growing as it brings me joy to do so,” Berna says. “It would be selfish to not share as it’s so easy to do so. It makes me happy to know that I helped make a prettier place on earth by sharing our plants and knowledge.”