The amazing Andromeda Botanic Gardens

“The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the birds for mirth
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.”
(From the famous poem “The Lord God Planted a Garden” by Dorothy Frances Gurney (1858-1932))

The love of gardens, from the mythological Garden of Eden and the hanging Gardens of Babylon to today’s Andromeda Botanic Gardens or the simplest wayside garden, is a universal love, with a power similar to that of nature and the great outdoors to inspire, to soothe the jaded spirit, to lift depression and bring sheer pleasure.

Barbados has a history of three great gardens, at Government House, Codrington College and Farley Hill and many modern gardens, featured in the spectacular book Barbados in Bloom. And in addition to several relatively recent gardens open to the public (Flower Forest, Hunte’s, Orchid World and Petrea Gardens) we have the unique Andromeda Botanic Gardens, established back in 1954.

Andromeda was the brain child of Iris Bannochie (née Bradshaw, 1914 – 1988), widow of the brilliant Barbadian physician Dr. Harry Bayley, founder of the Diagnostic Clinic. She developed the gardens on the rocky family land of her ancestors, McConneys, overlooking Bathsheba, where she and Harry built a “holiday home”. The huge, rugged coral stone outcrops inspired the name Andromeda, after the legendary Greek maiden, chained naked to the sea rocks by Poseiden to punish her mother HYPERLINK “”\o “Cassiopeia (Queen of Ethiopia)” Cassiopeia for boasting too much about her daughter’s beauty! Andromeda was saved from the sea monster Cetus by Perseus. And our Andromeda brings lush and lavish beauty to these rocky hills overlooking Bathsheba.

Iris collected everything – every local and indigenous plant – tree, palm, herb or shrub, and the most exotic specimens from around the tropical world. But she was essentially a scientist with a passion for plants, and she loved to cross-fertilise hibiscus and orchids, creating new varieties. Ironically, it was two
accidentally emerging varieties at Andromeda that were named after Andromeda and even Iris herself. These were two heliconias – Heliconia psittacorum ‘Andromeda’ or the False bird of paradise ‘Andromeda’, given the name by the University of Florida; and Heliconia stricta ‘Iris’.

Iris enjoyed an international reputation, and in 1977 she was awarded the hugely prestigious Veitch Memorial Medal by the Royal Horticultural Society. She led the Barbados Horticultural Society in the famous Chelsea Flower Show, establishing a reputation of our winning a gold medal most years for 30 years! She ran the most modern medical laboratory, at the Diagnostic Clinic (Bayley’s Clinic). She discovered the unique life cycle of the whistling frog (Eleutherodactyl martinensis), which, unlike other frogs, has no tadpole stage, and she published two papers on it in the British Journal of Zoology. She chaired the National Conservation Commission, promoted floriculture, and was awarded a Silver Crown of Merit in our National Honours, although many people thought she deserved to be a Dame of St. Andrew. She bequeathed Andromeda Botanic Gardens to the Barbados National Trust shortly before her death in 1988, for the benefit of the nation, our people and our visitors.

Connections with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) remain strong. Andromeda is an RHS Overseas Partner Garden, and a rave revue of Andromeda is published in the December issue of the RHS magazine The Garden. The author, Alasdair Currie, a garden writer based in Scotland, describes Andromeda as a plantsman’s paradise. Its almost 600 specimens range from the magnificent indigenous Ficus citrifolia (the bearded fig tree, our national tree) to two specimens of the Talipot or Century palm, seeded from the original century palm which bloomed and died a few years ago, and even more exotic specimens such as the cucumber tree and the Barringtonia or fish poison tree.

Sharon Cooke, Director and head gardener for the last four years, has been passionately working to bring the gardens back to their greatest glory of Iris Bannochie’s day, and she conducted an impressive tour for Friends of the Garden on Monday morning – lush after the recent rains. We were introduced to many exotica, some of which I’d never even noticed before, although I’ve had tours by Iris herself, chaired the Andromeda Advisory Committee for months after her death (learning from garden gurus Audrey Thomas, Jean Robinson and George Money) and have been around the garden nearly a hundred times!

We saw the many other impressive trees – including the Australian Umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla) and the Tourist tree (Bursera simaruba), so called because of its thin reddish bark which peels off, rather like tourists overexposed to the sun! We saw the bromeliad garden and the giant Mexican sunflower, demonstrated by Sharon to be a great fertiliser. We enjoyed the Queen Ingrid’s Palm Garden with its collection of some fifty palms including the weird, bearded Old Man’s Palm and nearby the very special small South American tree – Quassia amara – named after a freed Surinamese slave and reputed to contain some 30 pharmacologically active compounds. And we saw some of the new spaces opened up, such as an area on the Eastern slope, with a lawn and planted with the orchid tree, olive, clitoria, star apple, moringa and Pride of Barbados, designed as a hummingbird zone, with Sharon rattling off botanical names like the names of so many friends! And so much else.

Andromeda was the brilliant inspiration of a remarkable woman – scientist, horticulturist and plantsman (or plantslady), creative thinker, leader and philanthropist. The Gardens have been through some challenging times after her death, with theft of plants especially orchids, drought and diversion of the stream that fed the garden, severe shortage of funds, et cetera, et cetera. It is “well on its way back” as one of the great “living treasures” of Barbadian heritage.

A visit gives enormous satisfaction – it inspires, soothes the jaded spirit, lifts depression and simply brings sheer pleasure and perfect peace to the soul. I recommend visiting it now to see the lushness after the rains, and again in February or March to see the flowering plants. Over 900 local visitors were
able to connect to this wonderful heritage during the week-long celebrations for Independence Day and Iris’ Birthday (December 1st).

Do become a Friend of Andromeda. There are so many benefits –
1. Unlimited entrance
2. 25% off all gardening courses
3. Approximately three free courses/workshops/
lectures per year
4. A newsletter (3-4 per year)
5. Special plant offers
6. Free entrance into three English gardens – The famous Lost Gardens of Heligan (Cornwall), Tresco Abbey Garden (Isles of Scilly, Cornwall), Abbotsbury Subtropical Garden (Dorset).
It currently costs only $55 per year – it must be the best bargain in Barbados today! But friends bring friends, support and some will have generous hearts! Andromeda needs all the support it can get to be the best it can be.

Bouquet: To the Prime Minister for her magnificent Address to the Nation on Independence Day.

Professor Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI, Professor Emeritus of Medicine and President Emeritus of the Barbados National Trust. Website:᪪

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