It isn’t the biggest garden I have ever visited, but it is certainly the most remarkable. I am surrounded by plants of every conceivable hue, their colours heightened by the recent rain. Our guide, Jamie Lee, cautions us to watch our step on the steep path, and then the unexpected happens. The air is filled with music, the heady sounds of opera, and I start to experience sensory overload.
In Your Bucket Because…
- Visitors are treated to recordings of classical music as they walk around the gardens.
- You will enjoy the eccentric whiff of colonialism.
- Good for: Anyone who loves gardens and plants.
Hunte’s Gardens is built around the sides of a deep gully in the heart of the Barbadian rain forest. As we clambered up the slope the owner, Anthony Hunte, appeared on the opposite side. The music stopped and he addressed the audience. First he apologised for the weather. Then he explained how, following a long career as a horticulturalist, he had been looking for a site for a new garden when he came upon this ancient geological fault in a disused sugar plantation six years ago. Because of its unusual geology, the garden he created offers a multidimensional experience, from sunny open spaces to the dark crevices in the gulley where shade loving plants grow around and over each other in a tangle of cool dark greens.
Flowers and Birds
The sides of the gully are covered with tall palms and other native trees. Every available space in between is crammed with plants both common and exotic: orchids and lilies, local flowers and plants from around the world.
It is a haven for wildlife, too. I don’t have names for all the birds I see, and the hummingbirds are too fast for me, but I snap away anyway. Jamie Lee points to a bright yellow bird, a bananaquit, that is just flying away. “If you are patient, it will come back,” she says and, as if on cue, it returns and perches obligingly on a ripe banana flower. Then there are the butterflies and geckoes, and the friendly dog luxuriating in the long grass.
Even when it is busy, you can find solitude by turning down one of the little paths that wander into secluded corners. Part of the pleasure of the garden is the things you find along the way: an old pot, a Greek statue, or a hidden bench where you can stop to soak up your surroundings.
A Colonial Retreat
When we finished exploring, we were taken to a house at the top of the garden, a converted 19th century stable with a colonial-style balcony, crammed with old pictures and strange objects. Anthony Hunte served us all a glass of ice cool rum punch and then told us how his family arrived in Barbados to work the plantations in the 17th century. He topped up our glasses as he compared the island before and after independence, and I ventured to request the rum punch recipe. “It’s easy,” he said. “Just remember: One sour, two sweet, three strong and four weak.”
There are lots of things for sale here. Not just plants, although many islanders see the gardens as a nursery rather than a tourist attraction, but garden ornaments and local artifacts too. But my souvenirs of the day are a host of colourful memories and the recipe for rum punch.
- Hunte’s Gardens can be reached by bus or taxi from Bridgetown. The bus journey takes around 40 minutes.
- Excursions may also be available from Bridgetown, either just to the gardens, or as part of a wider itinerary.
- The paths and steps are fairly steep, and can be slippery after rain, so the gardens may be less suitable for anyone with walking difficulties.