I have just returned from spending a few days at the Golden Rock Inn http://goldenrocknevis.com/ on the island of Nevis. I went there because the owners, Brice and Helen Marden, landscape architect Raymond Jungles and architect Edward Tuttle have created a remarkable and ineffably beautiful garden.
Situated on the slopes of Nevis Peak, the garden is part of and surrounds the Inn, a small hotel with eleven guest rooms. It may be one of the most botanically enthusiastic small hotels in the world.
Raymond Jungles is crazy for plants and there is so much horticulture going on that it makes your head spin – in a good way. His signature plantings are the large and sweeping gatherings of bromeliads that swirl down and through the slopes of the garden. The bright colors and fat leaves are not so much a punctuation, there are other plants that provide that, but are rolling paragraphs of plants tumbling through and around each other creating patterns that both propel and pull the garden together.
If there is one dominant plant amongst considerable competition, it is the sun-loving, orange-leaved bromeliad, Aechmea blanchetiana ‘Orangeade’. With a height of 4 feet and a spread of 3-4 feet, one plant stands out but planted in groups of twenty to thirty, the red-tipped orange leaves are more than a splash of color, they are a rubicund tidal wave. As if the auburn leaves weren’t enough, tall spikes of brilliant red are produced from the central rosette. The flowers last for months. The orange foliage is a unifying color amongst the many shades of green, always bright as fast moving clouds, pushed by the trade winds, constantly change the light. Orange dances with blue and red and the bromeliad is planted next to the blue leaves of Agave americana and the blood red of Bougainvillea ‘Flame’.
All this is set against a mixture of 18th century Caribbean colonial plantation architecture, romantic ruins, mid-century furniture and brightly colored cottages.
After one particularly intense day, I sat on a terrace to watch the sun go down. As I did so, a troop of vervet monkeys passed through, picking fruit off trees and looking for any morsels dropped by visitors.
I didn’t know much about the monkeys except that they are native to Africa and were brought to a number of islands in the Caribbean, escaping captivity to form robust feral populations.
And so I began to do a little research.
‘The vervet monkeys in St. Kitts and Nevis are known to locals and tourists alike for their love of alcohol and tendency to raid beachfront areas for alcoholic beverages. Some researchers have studied their behavior in an attempt to better understand alcoholism in humans.
A controversial research project that involves giving alcohol to 1,000 green vervet monkeys has found that the animals divide into four main categories: binge drinker, steady drinker, social drinker and teetotaller. ‘– Psychology Today
Another study produced this – ‘Sex differences in children’s toy preferences are thought by many to arise from gender socialization. In this study, we found that vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus) show sex differences in toy preferences similar to those documented previously in children. The percent of contact time with toys typically preferred by boys (a car and a ball) was greater in male vervets than in female vervets , whereas the percent of contact time with toys typically preferred by girls (a doll and a pot) was greater in female vervets than in male vervets . The results suggest that sexually differentiated object preferences arose early in human evolution, prior to the emergence of a distinct hominid lineage. This implies that sexually dimorphic preferences for features (e.g., color, shape, movement) may have evolved from differential selection pressures based on the different behavioral roles of males and females, and that evolved object feature preferences may contribute to present day sexually dimorphic toy preferences in children.
‘Alexander and Hines. Evolution and Behavior, Official Journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. http://www.ehbonline.org/article/S1090-5138(02)00107-1/fulltext
I looked at the vervet monkeys with new respect but still shooed the little fuckers away when they tried to steal my gin and tonic.
Back to plants and the design of Golden Rock Inn.
I was stunned to come across a dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus) growing between two red window shutters. Simple and perfect. I liked the terraces with geometrically clean pools and the Montgomery Palm (Veitchia montgomeryana) growing tall. The whole thing looked pretty good at night too.
The flared trunk of kapok (Ceiba pentandra) stopped me in my tracks. I spent a couple of hours sitting with my back against this wonderful tree.
Helen Marden’s choice of furniture is a pleasure too.
In all, Golden Rock is a wonderful if horticulturally over stimulating place to spend a few days. With so many plants, so much color and texture and depth, I needed to rest my head. And so I went sailing for an afternoon, and after swimming with turtles, and listening to Bob Marley on the way back to the Inn, I was feeling a natural mystic blowing through the air. I was feeling irie.