SAILORS’ HIKES BY CHRIS DOYLE
Take a Walk on the Wild Side:
Montreal Gardens, St. Vincent
Given the excessive fertility of the wet tropical climate, it is surprising that there are not more public gardens on the larger islands of the Lesser Antilles.
The good ones we have include Jardin de Balata in Martinique, Jardin Botanique de Deshaies in Guadeloupe, the Botanical Garden of Nevis, and the National Botanical Garden on St. Vincent. By far the best at this time, in my opinion, is the seven-acre Montreal Gardens in St. Vincent. At EC$10 per person to visit, it is also a bargain.
These gardens lie at the head of the Mesopotamia Valley, a rich agricultural area, where it is tucked close to the central mountain range, which adds drama to many a view. The gardens are beautifully designed with winding paths, bridges, steps, a tunnel and a river. I been visiting and loved this garden for many years. It was lovely in the early years, but this year it seems to have reached its apogee and I was completely blown away on my most recent visit by its intense exuberant wildness.
Gardening is a matter of controlling and orchestrating nature, selecting plants and providing a garden architecture that is appealing and, if done right, becomes a work of art. Most gardens tend to be somewhat formal: the plants well pruned and trimmed and neatly laid out. Tim Vaughn’s genius has been to back off on the pruning and control over much of his garden and let the nature of his plants run riot. This has created a kind of controlled garden jungle — a riot of colors, leaf shapes and spectacular growth. The effect is breathtaking, like a visit to some fairytale land where you can, for an hour or two, feel like Alice in Wonderland strolling around in awe of the beauty. In the wilder parts, plants are allowed to encroach on the paths so you find yourself brushing though the vegetation, which adds to the experience, though if you come on a rainy day you might get a trifle damp.
The garden also has formal areas with lawns and careful order against a backdrop of wild rainforest-clad mountains.
This is not a place to rush, and it is a great place to bring a picnic lunch; several seating areas covered by roofs are tucked away among the leaves. The only sounds are rustling leaves, running water and birdsong. It rates as the number one attraction in St. Vincent on TripAdvisor, which is quite surprising as the visitor load is light and many cruise ship tour operators seem oblivious of its existence. (The current state of the narrow, winding road leading there might deter the big tour buses.)
Montreal Gardens is open from December to August, Monday to Friday from 0900 to 1600. The closest anchorage is Blue Lagoon. For those anchored in Bequia, it’s possible to take the ferry to Kingstown, proceed from there, and get back the same day. I have usually gone to the Montreal Gardens in friends’ cars or taken a taxi, but the more adventurous can take buses from Kingstown to the village of Richland Park, which is within hiking range. If you have a group, ask any of the local taxi drivers or tour companies about a rate.
For more information visit www.montrealestgdns.f9.co.uk.
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