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Working with nature

What makes a garden special? As soon as you walk into Reverend Bishop Nicholas Sykes’ garden in the Beach Bay area of Lower Valley, you know it’s very different. There is large dip-down in the front, with tall, shade-giving trees in it. Inside this big dip are many subdivisions, caused by walls of naturally-outcropping rock which have been built into little bays and raised, beds by using stone walls. The walls blend in so perfectly with the natural outcrops that it is often hard to see where the outcrops end and the walls start. With the house placed on the higher ground at the back, and a driveway, higher too along one side, the whole area feeling is like a tiny, ancient amphitheater that has been long overgrown with trees. At first you think that this must be the result of a very extensive landscaping project, but really the exact opposite is true. It is a garden where the best of nature the lovely mature trees, and the contours of the ground, have been left very much unchanged from the time that Rev. Sykes and his wife bought the land more than 20 years ago. The lovely indigenous trees include tall, red birch trees, and a Headache Bush Tree, with its dark, silvery-green leaves which is thought to be the tallest example in Grand Cayman, Rev. Sykes said. “In a lot of people’s eyes some of these beautiful old natural Cayman type trees might seem worthless, because they don’t bear any edible fruit – so it is a matter of what you see as being really worthwhile.”

Of course, if there are plenty of mature trees, and lots of shade, is just right for orchids, and in the middle of this particular patch, many different orchids, some wild and others cultivated, are everywhere. When the neighbors decided they would get rid of their trees, Reverend Sykes and his wife, Winnifred, ‘rescued,’ many of the orchids from their felled trees, he said. In the center of the dip is a wonderful-looking tree, with what appears to be spirals of think bark entwining, making it look like a massive piece upright rope, but actually the ‘bark’ twists are branches, which it wraps around itself. It is a lovely place to sit down quietly, and there is a little table and chairs.

Across the ground is a layer of fine, light –colored gravel covers the ground making the surface easier to walk on, and soil has been brought in to fill the natural and semi-natural bays made by the rock-outcrop-and-stone-wall combination. It’s lovely to have a garden on many levels like this.

“I think what we are doing here is putting man’s influence along with the wildness, so that together, we can retain some of the wild character of it,” Rev Sykes said. Working with the original contours of the land has other, practical advantages, because the house, built at the highest place, is surrounded by plenty of deep limestone hollows, and it is easy to accentuate these shapes to channel rainwater, so that it just soaks away into the porous limestone underneath. “If the developers had originally had their way, they wanted to flatten out the property before the house was ever built – we would have lost all the stone outcrops –all the visually interesting features would have been flattened out,” he said. “I feel it has worked out – not only nicely – I feel it is beautiful, and the thing is, what has made it beautiful is what has been already there.”

Next to the house is a large deck area, which hides the septic tank. It is made of Trex, which is a very tough, weatherproof composite material. It is well-planned, with a little semi-enclosed subdivision, some garden furniture.

The back garden is much smaller than the front, and mainly consists of one large border, with some younger fruit trees including a mango tree, laden with fruit, and a mulberry bush, which was the first one I have actually seen outside of a nursery-rhyme book. It had some dark red mulberries on it, about an inch long. Rev. Sykes let me eat it and it was delicious, - like a blackberry only sweeter.

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