The whole island of Grenada feels like a garden. The air is laden with the scent of spices, while floriferous shrubs and trees line many of its roads. With fertile soil and a warm, moist climate, conditions are ideal for horticulture, and in numerous nurseries gardeners are now preparing for the most important event of their year, the Chelsea Flower Show.
Grenada has won nine gold medals for its garden at Chelsea and would, of course, like to cap this with a 10th this year. As well as showcasing the prowess of its horticulturalists, the Chelsea exhibit acts as a showcase for tourism on Grenada, raising the island’s profile but also making clear that it has something special to offer gardening enthusiasts as well as those interested simply in beaches and rum punch. Many of the same gardens and nurseries that supply plants to Chelsea are open to visitors, and so I set out on a tour of them as they get ready for the show.
My first call was to the Balthazar Estate, originally a plantation belonging to the grandparents of horticulturalist and businessman Denis Noel. Amid tangles of vegetation and rainbow-coloured flowers, I kept coming across the eerie ruins of the old house and its outbuildings. Yet the estate is still extremely productive. I was impressed by curiously-shaped purple banana flowers; by Torch Ginger the scarlet flower of which weighs several pounds and is the same size as a baby’s head; and by exotic yellow, gold and red heliconias with their vivid lobster-claw flowers – one of which, the dangly “Sexy Pink”, was admired by the Queen at last year’s show.
In the offices at Balthazar are pictures of the Queen alongside the team of gardeners behind Grenada’s Chelsea entry as well as Suzanne Gaywood, a Grenadian living in the UK who masterminds the operation. In November, Gaywood will be leading two week-long organised tours of Grenada’s gardens. Visits can also be arranged through Anne McIntyre-Campbell, whose Smithy’s Garden is full to bursting with vivid Snap Dragons, clouds of pink and purple bougainvillea and an “orchard” of mangoes, papaya, breadfruits, tamarind and coconuts.
As well as flowers, quantities of foliage are needed at Chelsea. Some 60 boxes are supplied by John Criswick, an Englishman who 30 years ago established the St Rose’s Nursery, my next stop. Here, an unrivalled collection of multi-textured plant material is cultivated, such as giant philodendrons, ferns and cordylines in shades of green, yellow and magenta.
At De La Grenade Industries in St Paul’s, the emphasis is on spices. In the new Nutmeg Garden I saw cinnamon, vanilla and turmeric growing together with less familiar plants such as dasheen, of which both the tuber and the spinach-like leaves known as callalou play a role in local cooking. I was also able to purchase the signature product, a nutmeg liqueur made to a secret formula.
The list of gardens and flower farms to visit goes on and on. At Gem Rose Eden, a smaller garden created by Gemma Flemming, roses scent the air as you make your way down to a little pool. At Hyde Park Garden, Fay Miller grows palms, cycads, crotons, bougainvilleas and other exotics in an exquisitely maintained garden. After her sunset tour you can enjoy wine and sandwiches while admiring the magnificent views over the harbour.
For those not fortunate enough to experience Grenada first hand, there is always Chelsea. This year Gaywood’s team will create a pavilion covered with exotic rainforest plants, which should go some way to evoking this magical island.
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show (www.rhs.org.uk) runs from May 22-26. For details of Gaywood’s tour see www.individualholidaysgardentours.com; for McIntyre-Campbell’s day tours see www.caribbeanhorizons.com