By Christopher Tobutt
The Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is the Jewel in Cayman’s crown – showing off the very best of our plants and flowers, as well as a good selection of the different kinds of habitat that make Cayman unique. But if you spend a day there, you will find out it is really much more, too. It’s a place that enriches you, and renews your soul.
Like all the other attractions, the Botanic Park has been closed to the public for months, and only opened up again at the beginning of July. Of course, normal social-distancing and mask-wearing rules apply, but once you are walking around the gardens and grounds, there is no particular need to wear a mask unless you come close to other groups of people. Sadly, there are still very few visitors and Manager, John Lawrus would really like to see more. It is, after all, “their,” Botanic, park, a really beautiful, peaceful place to spend a day, and with a local resident’ rate of only 5 CI, and under-12 kids free, what is there not to like?
Mr. Lawrus is extending his vision for the next generation, by spearheading the Children’s Garden project – a special area made just for kids to interact, in their own way, with nature. It’s a big project, but its more than halfway through right now and Mr. Lawrus he feels that it should be open early next year. There’s going to be all kinds of magical things for kids – including a pond which children can investigate, two observation towers built from CUC poles, one for older kids which rises to 40 feet, and one for younger kids which rises to 20, and there’s also going to be a giant-sized Cayman Banana Orchid that makes children sitting beside it look the size of a bee. It is a true enchanted garden to bring a child’s imagination to life, and fill their mind full of wonder, and it’s been designed for all kinds of children.
“An important part of developing the Children’s Garden is allowing children who are introverted to have their own space and really allowing them ….the chance to get away,” he explained. “There is a Discovery pond. We are going to have cargo nets so that children can actually climb over it and see what is in there,” he said. “We are going to have dip-nets so that kids can dip in, and hopefully pull up the little creatures.”
Opposite is the Orchid Conservation Boardwalk, an elevated walkway that lets you into the heart of a wonderful woodland filled with orchids of all shapes, sizes, colours and fragrances. A wide variety of flora naturally leads to lots of butterflies, birds and all the other parts of nature’s tapestry, unfolding before your eyes. I was delighted but somehow not too surprised to see a pair of woodpeckers looking for grubs quite nearby, and feeding their young in a big hole, just like a picture in a children’s encyclopedia. It isn’t just about pretty flowers – it’s about the architecture of plants and their habitats, and the way they’ve found to live and thrive.
Have you ever tried to make a beautiful garden in Cayman, but never bothered to water it? In the Xerophyte garden are plants such as cactuses and other plants that not only thrive but look magnificent without ever being watered. So instead of trying to change a plant’s surroundings with fertilizers, pesticides and expensive irrigation systems – why not choose plants that are adapted to the garden that you have? Then you can make something that is not only unique, but truly “belongs.” That is partly the theme too of the old-time Cayman house and garden. The house is full of old-fashioned implements, so that you can see and imagine just how things were here in days-gone-by, and just how they managed use everything around them.
The Botanic Park, off Frank Sound Road is a blend of native and exotic plants, with many different kinds of habitat recreated, so that if you like you can travel around the world too without ever having to leave the Cayman Islands, all for just five dollars.