Joan Ebanks’s garden provides rejuvenation for the Monetary Authority employee after illness and bereavement.

'Welcome to my Garden' garden plaque“I like gardening – it’s a place where I find myself when I need to lose myself.”

That quote by American writer Alice Sebold rings true for West Bay resident Joan Ebanks.

Her quaint and colorful garden has been a path to well-being, a sanctuary from the daily stresses of life. It has also been therapeutic.

Joan is a three-time breast cancer survivor. First diagnosed in 2004, the cancer returned in 2015 and most recently in June 2018. She’s been through chemotherapy and radiation, two lumpectomies and had a breast removed.

“To get my mind off my sickness, I just focused on the garden,” she says. “It really helped me to heal.”

Joan Ebanks.
Joan Ebanks.

Joan, an administrative assistant at the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, says she’s had a passion for gardening since her childhood days in Jamaica. Her family moved to Cayman in 1972 when she was 10.

While Joan has always had a green thumb, her interest in gardening blossomed after the devastation of Hurricane Ivan in September of 2004, which heavily damaged her home and garden.

The powerful storm hit just shortly after she began chemo treatments, and she found solace in tending to plants and creating her own green oasis.

Connecting with nature

Gardening not only took her mind off her illness, but helped her to relax, meditate and connect with nature.

“When I come out here and see a plant bloom or watch the birds, frogs and iguanas, I focus on that,” she says. “When you’re out here, you don’t have time to think about anything else.”

Joan’s sanctuary.
Joan’s sanctuary.

She and her husband, Michael Ebanks, a flooring installer and contractor, designed the green space which features cobblestone pathways.

Most of the area is lined with river rocks, rather than grass. They built a koi pond, with a wooden bridge, and have several other water features. A variety of ornaments and sculptures is dotted throughout the greenery, with angels, frogs and Buddhas as favorite choices. There are several bird baths and feeders as well.

The garden is a mix of beds, planters, pots and hanging plants, with a shady pergola and seating area serving as the centerpiece.

“Every morning we have breakfast here and listen to the water and watch the birds,” says Joan.

Neighborhood sanctuary

The couple also created serene seating areas throughout the garden to while away an afternoon.

Indeed, the garden is a welcoming space not only for their family – four grown children, two grandchildren and one great grandchild – but their friends and neighbors as well.

Neighbors come by to sit in the garden and relax, read a book, admire the greenery or visit with Joan and others. One time, a visitor found it so inviting and peaceful, his afternoon visit stretched until midnight.

And that’s just fine with Joan. “I love entertaining, and I love when people visit me,” she says.

Joan spends a good many hours in her garden watering and caring for her plants. She chose many low-maintenance varieties for ease of care, with a fondness for desert roses.

On weekends, she spends more than six hours out in the garden each day.

“On weekdays, I spend two hours out here after work because I have to de-stress,” she says. “And if I don’t go to a nursery once a week, I get depressed.”

This interest in gardening was inspired by Joan’s mother, as well as her late sister, Marcia Donaldson. Her sister was killed in 2015 when she was struck by a drunk driver while jogging along the road in South Sound.

“My sister loved plants,” she says. “She had 500 orchids. Since she died, I started orchids myself – it reminds me of her.”

Growing together

Gardening is a shared interest for Joan and Michael.

“It’s something we enjoy doing together,” says Joan. “We work well together,”
Michael tends to a small cactus patch in the back of the home, and they have installed solar LED lighting to extend the time they can enjoy in their outdoor living space.

Joan tends to the koi, which swim to her when she comes out to feed them in the morning.
“They feed from my hand,” she says. “They’re so amazing. They’re like my children.”

Joan says during her journey with cancer, she found encouragement and support from her husband (“he’s been my rock”), children, friends and family. Her garden – and prayers – also helped her through it.

“I feel wonderful now,” she says. “The garden helps. It relaxes me, and I enjoy doing it. It’s my passion.”