Elaine Young’s garden is more to her than a collection of plants.

It is a place of relaxation, reflection, and where she keeps her mind and body in tune. In fact, she refers to it as her gym, saying “gardening is like aerobics.”

The land where her home and garden sit was full of fruit trees when it was bought in 2003.

Photos: Stephen Clarke

Hurricane Ivan soon laid waste to that, leaving the plot nearly empty. “We were left with one soursop tree,” Elaine laments.

She re-cultivated the land, planting around the parameters, before building the house in 2008, and since then her garden has been an ongoing project.

Now it is a lush and densely populated space, where winding gravel pathways lead visitors through beautiful foliage with homemade signs identifying collections of plants.

Benches under overhanging trees provide shelter from the sun and a place to rest, recoup and schmooze, with cats visiting on their daily prowl of the neighbourhood.

Beautiful blooms

Flowering plants bring an array of colour to the garden. Vibrant red anthuriums and heliconias, pink pentas, white crepe myrtle and the main feature – an astounding number of orchids.

Varieties range from Arandas and Grammatophyllum to Mokaras and Vandas, and, of course, include Cayman’s endemic national flower, the wild banana orchid.

Each orchid species has particular blooming seasons, bringing colour to the garden at various times of the year. They also have different preferences when it comes to their care.

“Encylias hail from the Caribbean region and are hardy, loving sun and heat,” explains Elaine. “They are perfect for the novice orchid grower.” Many of them hang from wooden and terracotta baskets in a variety of colours.

Brassavola nodosa are another hardy orchid in the garden. “They like moisture,” Elaine says, “so I have them placed near the fountains and ferns.” Hanging tendrils of Spanish moss also provide moisture for many of the orchids.

It is this specific knowledge that Elaine, a keen Garden Club of Grand Cayman member, says is the key to gardening.

“Know your plants… know what they like and where they’re from… then you can get to a stage where you can just ignore and enjoy,” she says.

At the rear of the garden sits the orchid nursery that is packed to the rafters with young plants, awaiting their turn in the garden.

Orchids are epiphytes, using larger trees for physical support. When the nursery orchids graduate to the main garden, Elaine’s preferred method of attaching them to the trees is with stockings, which are strong yet stretchy and won’t damage the orchids or the tree as they grow.

“I have been collecting orchids for a long time… since the early ’80s” says Elaine. “That’s many years of flourishing, deaths, replacement and so on.”

The array of orchids contrasts beautifully with lush yet less colourful foliage in the garden.

Silver thatch and fiddle leaf plumeria populate Elaine’s ‘Cayman wild things corner’, while leaf of life and duppy bush, named due to its ghostly white glow under the moon, sit nearby.

Fruit trees are also dotted around the garden, offering shade to those meandering along the garden paths, and providing food for visiting wildlife.

Traditional Caribbean fruits such as Julie mango, grapefruit and lime share the garden with more surprising fruits such as Egyptian figs and Muscador grape, which many may think are impossible to nurture here.

“When someone says you can’t grow something, I take it as a challenge,” says Elaine, whose lush and diverse garden is full of the successful outcomes of these challenges. “A lot of the time it will work. You just need the right area, the right pot, the right potting soil.”