(Published in Inside Out magazine, Autumn/Winter, 2012)
Tucked away in the Salt Creek community of Grand Cayman is a garden brimming with native species and mature fruit trees.
Indeed, you are almost hard pressed to spy the traditional style West Indian home, hidden from view by the abundance of trees, in this upscale development in the Seven Mile Beach corridor.
But that’s just the way the owners wanted it – a home that seeps into the environment and where the garden takes centre stage.
Designed by local landscaper Sandy Urquhart, Stacey and Mark VanDevelde enlisted the help of Starling Kelly, operations manager for nursery and landscape services at Dart Realty, to help turn their dream garden into reality.
Shielding the front of the house from view – and from the heat of the midday sun – the front garden is filled with a mixture of tropical fruit trees. They yield a bountiful crop for the family and visitors to enjoy, including breadfruit, mangoes, avocadoes, June plums, Malay apples, ackee and bananas.
The trees are up to three decades old, yet just six years ago this plot was a barren piece of land. The mature trees were methodically sourced from nurseries across Cayman and then carefully moved to their new home, a complex task which required the trees to be prepped for the move at least a year in advance.
However, the hard work, time and planning, have been worth it, creating a space that looks just the way nature intended. Indeed, it is a lush space that is peaceful, cool and oh-so-inviting. Filled with chirping Cayman parrots and birdsong, it is Stacey’s favourite spot in which to sit and relax.
The choice to fill the front garden with fruit trees was particularly important to Stacey. She grew up in Cayman and remembers a time before large-scale developments, when the island was rich with native fruit trees yielding year-round fruits for families to enjoy.
“Growing up in the Caribbean, I naturally wanted a garden that had a West Indian feel and utilised plants that were native to Cayman,” she says. “I also loved the idea of having my own fruit trees. Being able to pick your own fruit is wonderful and reflects a truly Caribbean lifestyle.
“My father was a keen gardener. Growing up I remember him out in the garden a lot, so my desire for a garden which can be enjoyed has certainly stemmed from his passion.”
Towards the rear of the garden, evidence of a more structured space starts to reveal itself. A sheer, seven-foot feature wall runs parallel to the driveway, which leads to a garage tucked away to the side of the house.
Built from coral stone sourced locally, it blends seamlessly into its surrounding environment. Adding splashes of colour and interest, the wall is peppered with frangipani and bougainvillea, which grow from carefully placed crevices, creating a clever juxtaposition between soft and hard landscaping.
This mix of soft and hard landscaping is skillfully continued throughout the back garden, which is designed to be an extension of the family’s living space.
Large coral stone boulders, sourced from a quarry at Barkers, not only add texture, but also help hide the garden’s transition from the higher ground where the house sits, down to the water’s edge on North Sound.
Starling says that manoeuvering the boulders into the garden was a complex operation, especially as the garden was being built at the same time as the house.
“We had to work closely with the construction team,” he says. “It took a lot of heavy lifting equipment and careful planning to get them in place and looking the way we wanted them to.”
Filling the garden, and spilling out from the nooks and crannies between the boulders, is a verdant mix of native plants. These have been carefully chosen for their ability to withstand the harsh elements of the canal-front setting and the constant sea breezes.
They include sea grape, coconut tree, pitch apple, silver thatch palm, green buttonwood, plop nut, bay cedar and salt meadows chord.
Stacey’s desire to create a garden using native plants and trees not only means a garden that fits ideally into its surroundings, but also one that requires minimal maintenance.
Adding additional pockets of colour as well as points of interest, planters filled with exotic plants such as orchids, bromeliads and lilies can be found throughout the garden. Their locations have been carefully chosen in order to ensure they are protected from sea spray.
Directly facing the waterfront is a highly salt tolerant green buttonwood hedge, acting as a buffer between the water and the garden. A man-made beach area provides a physical demarcation between the water and the garden. It provides a fun area for the VanDeveldes’ two young children to while away the hours and an ideal place to relax, either on one of the sun loungers, or the hammock whimsically strung up between two coconut trees which sway in the cooling sea breeze.
Metalwork designed by local artist Karoly Szücs, of Artisan Metal Works, is dotted throughout the garden adding fun accents which catch the eye, from railings that look like twisted vines to the bamboo-inspired outdoor shower and an intricate garden gate featuring entwined leaves and foliage.
In the centre of the garden, the inviting infinity pool is a place to cool off and relax. Edged with coral stone, this rectangular pool blends into the rest of the garden and creates a clean line leading directly down to the water below.
The sound of the water constantly flowing over its edge adds a soothing sound to this already tranquil space. Adjacent to the pool is a covered wooden deck area with a BBQ skillfully set into the stonework. It’s the ideal place for entertaining or relaxing.
Every square foot of the garden has been carefully though out to make maximum use of the space. Yet this is more than a breathtaking garden, it’s one which the family can retreat to and a haven to be enjoyed.
This is truly a functional garden.