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The Garden Beautiful

At the risk of stating the obvious, most of the topography of these verdant isles is precipitous to say the least.  And, if you value your personal surroundings as much as your view, you’ll want to ensure your garden does you proud.  Whether you are starting from scratch, or your private paradise already boasts a luxurious landscape, there are some things you might like to know as you travel down the path that leads you to that superlative situation. Climate considerations. If you are a green-fingered character, you’ll want to know about climate and soil types.  The average daily temperature in the BVI is between 28º and 32ºC (80º + F) from October to July, and between 32 º and 38 ºC (in the 90s) from August to September.  Night-time temperatures are between 20º and 27ºC.  Rainfall, approximately 59” (1,300mm) per annum, is frequent, and heaviest between the months of September and December.

The islands were derived from continental movement, volcanic eruptions, coral reefs and sandbars.  In some places, the land is extremely fertile, having been enriched for centuries with decaying vegetation and volcanic ash.  Where settlement has had a detrimental effect on soil quality it is not too difficult to transubstantiate it to something more fertile, and topsoil and compost can be purchased at any of the garden centres.

Growing on up

If your property is a minimum of 500 ft from the sea, you’ll find yourself in a very different climate zone from the more arid seafront areas.  Sea spray and wind factors have a less devastating effect on plant life; soil structure tends towards loam and clay, and the pH scale tends to the less acidic.  Remember that on most parts of the Islands, you will also be climbing at this distance.  

Provided the soil quality is good (a newly developed site may have high subsoil content as a result of excavations and may need topsoil to be added), this is where you can really go to town on your garden.  "Tropical" is the name of the game.

If the garden is steep, you may want to think about terracing or establishing spreading plants that protect the soil surface from the impact of heavy rains, and deep-rooted plants to hold the soil in place.  If you enjoy the sound of running water, steep gardens provide a fantastic opportunity to build watercourses and reservoirs, including fishponds and dip pools.      

    

Have you considered an orchard?  Citrus trees thrive in the Caribbean and can be bought as seedlings for you to plant out.  Lemons, limes and grapefruits require little maintenance although the keen gardener may wish to work at increasing productivity through propagation and grafting.  Most varieties of banana tree will thrive if planted anywhere near a watercourse (open ditches or drains; next to outdoor taps or overflow pipes) and will reach maturity within three years.

If mature trees and scrub surround the garden you need to ensure that the lawn you opt for is shade-tolerant.  Landscapers in the BVI recommend centipede grass (Eremchloa ophiuroides), savannah grass (Axonopus compressus) and shade grass (Paspalum breve).  For more open areas, consider devil grass (Cymodon dactylon), Java grass (Polytrias amaura), and zoysia grass (Zoysia tenuifolia).  These all require a fair amount of upkeep to get established, but planting at the beginning of the rainy season will help to speed up the growing process.

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Shrubs, ferns and ornate palms do well in these conditions.  Check out the Euphorbias and their relatives (Christ-thorns, poinsettias, slipper flowers); Boston and Maidenhair ferns; gingers and the lily cousins; the delicately scented Ixoras; and the highly ornate Chinese Fan palm, bottle palm, fishtail palm and macaw palm.

The higher your property is, the higher the moisture content in the air.  If you are on top of a hill you could experiment yet further with more delicate flowers.

Points to ponder  
Growing a garden in the tropics can be a full-time occupation.  Things grow quickly, and things can decay just as fast.  One moment your hedge is the perfect height; the next moment it needs some drastic pruning.  Landscapers recommend you go for lots of restful greens rather than a myriad of colours, which may seduce you one year and spurn you the next.  Delicate, northern plants are just not capable of withstanding the extremes of heavy rain followed by severe droughts.

However, there are some truly amazing gardens in the BVI, the products of lots of love and hard work.  If you are determined to do the garden yourself and are not an experienced tropical gardener, the landscape professionals recommend that you read up as much as you can beforehand.  

If the prospect of designing and maintaining a garden fills you with dread, there are a number of reputable landscapers and garden maintenance companies in the BVI.  They themselves advise that you have a good think about how you’d like your garden to look before you talk to them.  They suggest that you consider whether you want an open lawn and a few blooming beds, or a leafy haven to shade you from the fierce midday sun; or whether you want minimum upkeep and a rocky outlook; or whether you want to create a walk around your property that can be discovered slowly, with little oases of delight at every turn.

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