The Barbadian Beauty of Andromeda

Barbados' beautiful Andromeda Gardens, introduced by Dr. Henry Fraser and lovingly photographed by Felix Kerr

A glorious red velvet carpet of the Otaheite ( O’ Tahiti) Apple Blossoms. Photograph by Felix KerrA lucky bee hovers near the spectacular Jade vine, now an endangered species in its native Philippines. Photograph by Felix KerrEarly morning sun on the water lilies. Photograph by Felix KerrLooking up over the middle levels of the garden to the swimming pool. Photograph by Felix KerrPink hybrids od Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, one of Iris Bannochie’s favourite. They are now grafted at Andromeda by the 84-year-old retired manager, Timothy Hoyte. Photograph by Felix KerrThe regal bromeliad, Aechemea dichlamydia, var. Trinitensis, a native of Trinidad and Tobago. Photograph taken by Felix KerrThe regal bromeliad, Aechmea dichlamydia, var. Trinitensis, a native of Trinidad and TobagoThe view from the bougainvillea garden towards the Atlantic. Photograph by Felix KerrYellow hybrid of the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, one of Iris Bannochie’s favourites. They are now grafted at Andromeda by the 84-year-old retired manager, Timothy Hoyte. Photograph by Felix Kerr

What do a mythological maiden and a world-famous botanic garden have in common?

Andromeda, in ancient Greek mythology, was a beautiful princess who was chained to a rock as a sacrifice to appease the gods. She was rescued by Perseus, who flew by on the winged horse Pegasus, saw the doomed princess and (naturally) fell in love with her and married her.

Andromeda Botanic Gardens sprawls across seven acres of dramatic hillside on the east coast of Barbados; chained, like the mythological maiden, to giant boulders but, unlike Andromeda, a very real, living place. It is almost certainly the most dramatic, the most unusual and the most richly rewarding botanic garden in the Caribbean today.

Iris Bannochie, who created Andromeda Botanic Gardens, was a legend in her own right, and the doyen of Caribbean horticulture. She repeatedly won awards at the Chelsea and other international flower shows, and was honoured by the Royal Horticultural Society and elected a fellow of the Linnean Society, a singular honour for a non-botanist. Her unique garden has been bequeathed to Barbados and all plant lovers through her husband and the Barbados National Trust, who now manage it.

The Gardens contain major collections of important tropical plants, which form individual gardens of their own — palms, hibiscus, orchids, heliconias, ferns, cacti and so on — traversed by a small stream. Giant trees and rock formations create different environments side by side, permitting hundreds of exotica, local and imported, to flourish in the same garden. Where else can you find the Papyrus plant next to the Victoria amazonica, the giant water-lily the Staghorn Fern next to the Bird’s Nest Fern; and the sacred Lotus in the shade of the Traveller’s Tree?

Most of the Caribbean’s botanic gardens were established in the colonial era, but have been somewhat neglected in recent times. They contain fine, mature specimens of tropical trees, but relatively few other species besides the common, showy ornamentals. Andromeda, in contrast, is a treasure trove of every imaginable exotic tropical plant, from the famous Jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) with its cascading pendants of turquoise “jewels”, to the Vanilla orchid, the only “useful” orchid (it is the original source of vanilla essence).

The many species of palms, varieties of hibiscus etc., display the infinite variety and beauty of the natural world. The secret of Andromeda is this extraordinary range of plants and the variety of mini-landscapes, each plant and each garden “belonging” within the overall concept. This was surely the work of genius and vision, and a magnificent legacy to the Caribbean.