By Christopher Tobutt
Kem Jackson is well-known as ‘Cayman’s Catboat Man,’ who together with some others formed the Cayman Islands Catboat Club to make sure that the beautiful boats, which are such an important part of Cayman’s historical and cultural heritage, don’t disappear. But apart from the catboats which can be found in his garden, Mr. Jackson’s garden has a large section devoted to fruit trees growing full and green and lush. Much of the fruit has already been picked this year, he said, and like many other gardeners he’s mystified as to why there are so few mangos. But there have been plenty of other fruits. The Jamaican Apple Tree (also known as mountain apple, rose apple, or Otaheite apple) was so laden with fruit that Kem and his wife, Ola, didn’t really know what to do with it. Dragon fruits have been amazing this year as well he said, and gave me one of the large, purple fruits cut into slices on a plate. It tasted very nice, and was like, well…it was really not like any other fruit I have ever eaten. A dragonfruit plant grows all over Mr. Jackson’s orchid house, and looks like a strange, elongated cactus, consisting of long limbs, a bit like a giant preying mantis, or maybe a Chinese dragon.
“This is a Cayman Guava tree, and this is a mango tree. She usually bears very well, but this year doesn’t have a single mango,” he said. Right next to it was a grape vine growing over a rectangular frame, about six feet high. Mr. Jackson said, he has had a huge crop of lovely red grapes – bunches of them, but they are all gone now. Grapes will grow in the Cayman Islands, but some people say that they don’t’ ever get very sweet, because the summer days are not long enough for the leaves to produce enough sugar.
Looking about me, everything was so green and lush, so I got curious I asked Kem just what his secret was. “What do you use for fertilizer?” I said. Kem replied that he didn’t use anything, “But I tell you what I do – I make my own water. I have a reverse-osmosis pump which takes the water from the ground. It makes fifty gallons an hour,” he said. Kem also likes to produce some of his own electricity – from a small wind-generator on the roof. There is usually a strong breeze to keep it turning, blowing over the North Sound.
Many of the trees look quite mature, and they were there when Kem moved into the property, back in the 1980s. There is a large breadfruit tree, with a baby tree growing up from a root-sucker, about fifty feet away from it. “You cut it, and if you are lucky, it will grow into another tree,” he said. It is possible t grow breadfruit trees from the seeds of ripe breadfruit, but it is more usual to grow them this way.
The plum tree has been amazing this year, with a large crop of deliciously sweet, juicy plums, Kem said. “Here are Soursops. If you boil the leaf, and make tea, it is very good for cancer.” Kem has put some aluminum sheeting around the bottom of some of his trees, to stop the iguanas from climbing them and doing their damage by eating fruits or leaves or blossoms. We passed a young tree with large, thin leaves. “Somebody gave me that and I’ve planted it. Everybody tells me it’s a Blueberry Tree, but it hasn’t got any blueberries on it yet,” Kem said.
We walked past an Avocado Pear, and some scotch bonnet peppers, and a large clump of Fevergrass, which, as the name suggests, is great for curing fevers if boiled into a tea. Finally we pass a large Sea Grape tree. I asked Kem if he likes to eat them. He looked at me as if I was a bit crazy. “Oh yes,” he said. “I like to eat them and my parrot likes them too. He’s fifty years old.”