In my experience, plants seldom flower exactly when they are supposed to. But this year, my Christmas Flowering Cactus is spot on.
The third stop on our Caribbean cruise was Antigua. We docked at the capital, St John’s, in the north-west of the island, which has a deep harbour suitable for large cruise ships. Antigua was named by Columbus when he first visited the island in 1493, and means ‘ancient’ in Spanish, but is also known locally as Wadadli, which has a meaning similar to ‘our own’, and gives a delicious meaning to the name of the local beer! By 1674 its main crop was sugar, and by the 1770’s it had a slave population of over 37,000, and a non-slave population of 3,000! The slaves lived terrible lives, malnourished, cruelly mistreated, and even killed by their owners. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and slaves freed by 1834. In 1981 Antigua and its sister island Barbuda, became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations. Antigua’s economy now relies on tourism, with luxury hotels along the coastline, and throughout the summer months cruise ships visit almost daily.
Antigua is surrounded by coral reefs, with a coast-line of about 54 miles, and (we were told) 365 sandy beaches, enough for one a day for a year! We had decided it was time to spend a morning on the beach, so we took a taxi ride to Fort James, a quiet and pleasant bay not far from St John’s. After paying an ‘umbrella rent’ we strewed our belongings under our huge, hexagonal wooden umbrella, and went for a dip. I expected the aqua-blue water to be warm, or at least warmish – it wasn’t! Instead it was a refreshing cold, not the gasping cold, we’re used to in the UK. There were large, long roller waves that almost swept us off our feet, we were later told this was quite unusual. We dried off quickly in the sun, and did a bit of beach-combing across the hot sand, finding shells and pieces of coral that had washed up on the beach. It was hot but not overwhelmingly so, and a bottle of Wadadli from the beach bar, went down very well!
Palm trees grew along the beach, and there were scrubby trees with bright orange flowers, rather like azalea. A bird, with black plumage and bright yellow eyes hopped around in the sparse undergrowth at the edge of the beach, and then perched in the bushes; we later discovered it was a carib grackle. Fat pink doves cooed at us from the trees, and humming birds hovered around the flowers, iridescent blue and yellow, but they moved too fast to photograph. There were also huge, black frigate birds soaring high in the sky, and then swooping low over the sea.
The beach at Fort James, Antigua was completely what I expected from a Caribbean island beach – pale dazzling sand, clear blue sky, aquamarine sea, and wall to wall sunshine!
The next stop on our Caribbean cruise was Basseterre, the capital city of the tiny island of St Kitts, where we were booked on a tour. The coach took us out of Basseterre, along the coast, and on the beach we spotted a pair of brown pelicans, the national bird of St Kitts, and later on saw energetic young egrets nesting in bushy, low-growing trees. We then turned inland, and before long arrived at Romney Manor, once the great house for a sugar plantation. St Kitts and Nevis are both volcanic in origin, with very rich fertile soil, ideal for the production of sugar. The islands were settled by the British in the 16oos, because of the huge financial gains to be had in the international sugar trade. Romney Manor was once owned by Sam Jefferson an ancestor of Thomas Jefferson 3rd president of USA, but was sold to the Earl of Romney in the 17th Century, and was then called Romney Manor. In 1834, the estate became the first plantation to free all of its slaves. Part of the estate has now been made into beautiful botanic gardens. Narrow paths twist through borders of bright, tropical plants and flowers, and a carefully kept lawn surrounds a 400 year old saman tree. The valley below is covered in thick green vegetation.
Within the gardens is a collection of buildings where Caribelle Batik create beautiful and unique fabric designs. They utilise traditional Indonesian methods using wax and brightly coloured dyes on high quality cotton fabric, that have unsurprisingly become the most sought after batik textiles in the Caribbean. We watched a fascinating demonstration, and saw swathes of newly finished batik designs drying in the warm air. Then we browsed around the extensive shop, where choosing what to buy was very difficult!
Does anyone know what the white flower is? It looks a bit like giant honeysuckle to me.
I’m back! I have just spent a lovely fortnight, cruising around the Caribbean, before heading back across the Atlantic via The Azores, to Southampton. The nearer home we got, the cooler the weather, and now I’ve been back a few days, the cold, damp English spring is getting me down. The vegetation and flowers of St Lucia, St Kitts and Antigua were bright and beautiful, so here are a few flower pictures from St Kitts to brighten my day, and hopefully yours too. I’ve looked them up, but I’m not quite sure what some are, can anyone help me?
The snow is all gone, the temperature has risen, and all the signs are pointing to spring close on the horizon. So hopefully that’s the last of the snowy pictures till next winter. I leave you instead with pictures of my hellebores. I have three varieties of hellebore in my garden. The flowers of Candy Love are pale pink and white, with a blush of pink veining on the outside of the petals; Pirouette flowers are a dusky pink, with darker pink veining; while my favourite is I think, Black Diamond, with striking, almost black flowers and deep red foliage. Last week they were all laden with snow, bowed down to the icy earth, so low I thought they’d never recover (see my previous post). Now the snow is gone and their cold blanket has melted away, my hellebores are standing up again. Their stems have straightened, and their heads are held high. Black Diamond stands the tallest, but Candy Love and Pirouette on their shorter stems arch gracefully. And with the promise of spring just around the corner, my spirits too have lifted.
It snowed last night, not deep or crisp or even, but definitely snow, sprinkled across the garden like icing sugar. Although it was bright and sunny this morning it snowed some more, soft fat flakes drifting and dropping aimlessly. This afternoon it grew colder, and the snow fell like tiny hard crystals whirling madly in a biting, easterly wind. Some of the longer spikes of grass are still standing tall, but most of the lawn and flowerbeds are covered with a thin lacy blanket of snow. A few small, half-open daffodil buds, have been stopped in their tracks, as winter has returned with a vengeance. Tiny pendulous snowdrops stand straight, while pink and white hellebore flower-heads are heavily laden, bowing down to almost touch the icy cold earth. I’ve defrosted the bird bath three times today, and have been rewarded with the sight of blackbirds and pigeons grabbing a quick drink, and I spotted a wren on the trellis, and a squirrel high up in the oak tree. Despite the bitter cold, there is still life in my garden. We may not have had the snow we were expecting, but there are a few days yet of snow and below zero temperatures forecast, so who knows…..
After weeks of grey skies, or so it seems, we have finally had a few bright days, when the sun has warmed the cold earth, and encouraged some early flowers to open at last. I was beginning to wonder where the snowdrops were, when a couple of days ago I realised that they were hidden under drifts of autumns leaves. Now I have brushed some of the old leaves away from the borders, clumps of snowdrops have opened to the sun, along with a sprinkling of yellow crocuses and a pink blushed hellebore. And this afternoon I was surprised and heartened to see a solitary miniature iris, its vibrant blue petals flung wide like arms to greet the sun.
Spring is on its way.