It’s an organic masterpiece, one that is always growing and changing.
Indeed, the garden of Trish and Claude Yonnet is a tropical oasis that blooms with a lush palette of colour, texture, scent and form.
“The garden for me is a piece of art that is never quite finished,” says Trish.
The couple, who have had a vacation home on Grand Cayman since 1986, moved permanently to the island in 2011 and settled into their Salt Creek home a year later. Their vision was to create a garden retreat that was a feast for the senses.
“We wanted to create a garden [with] year-round colour in every area; aromas that would stop people dead in their tracks; leaves of every size and shape possible; and specimen plants and trees throughout that could harmoniously exist together and create a lush and vibrant palette of colour,” says Trish.
The expansive garden and grounds feature native plants and trees from Cayman along with varieties from other tropical locations.
Their canal-front home sits on one-and-a-half acres, with the garden incorporating serene pathways, ponds, water features, and inviting nooks and crannies in which to relax and enjoy nature.
The home is surrounded by water on three sides. The street-front area features a perennial garden highlighted by 11 towering royal palms and a vast array of specimen plants and ornamentals. A brilliant bougainvillea overhanging an entrance makes a showpiece statement.
“The idea was for this area to provide both privacy for the entire garden and property, and incorporate an amazing variety of colour year-round,” says Trish.
On the canal side, the garden is intended to be seen from the water. It features quilt-like foliage of salt-resistant flora, native trees and iguana-resistant plants.
“This area was quite a challenge in the early days but now is one of our easier areas to manage in the garden,” says Trish. “There is an array of colour, textures and, as it matures, becomes even more interesting.”
It is where several old man palms reside, a rare and unusual tree endemic to Cuba that Trish and Claude admire.
Another rare and unusual – and unusually beautiful – plant blossomed in their garden in the spring: a ghost orchid.
“My favourite all-time plant is the ghost orchid that bloomed for the first time,” says Trish. “A friend gave me a handful of roots four years ago and, for four years, the roots were misted six days a week. In May, this little, leafless orchid put on a magical show.”
A cherished spot is the main pond – a feature that Claude wanted to incorporate to make the garden complete.
The pond is home to an assortment of fish, including mollies, guppies, platy, clown loach and African cichlid. Pond plant life includes cattails, a variety of water lilies, parrot’s feather, pickerel plants, taro, water lettuce, sacred lotus and papyrus grass.
“Claude helped to engineer the coral stone waterfall feature that gives the pond aeration and the continuous sound of running water,” says Trish.
The bamboo path beyond the pond is several degrees cooler at any time of the year and is a favourite path to walk along in summer.
“This was created to be a serene area to have a stroll and contemplate life,” she says. “Over time, this has gone from a sunny area to a shady and a densely planted hidden garden. The bamboo walk leads to the boardwalk, which is full of beautiful orchids.”
Across the canal is an orchard that sits on about one acre of land. It boasts an impressive list of fruit trees and palms spanning from cocoplum, sweetsop and soursop to figs, Jamaican cherry and pineapple, to name a few.
“With many, we have multiple varieties such as the guava, key limes, limes, lemons and bananas,” says Trish.
Decorative accents adorn the garden throughout, including an impressive custom totem pole.
“My father lives in Cordova, Alaska, and has strong ties to the indigenous people in the area,” notes Trish. “We thought it was only befitting that we have a display to represent our family that is in keeping with the traditions that are so familiar to us.”
At the top of the totem pole are three watchmen, traditional sentinels who keep guard over the family.
“I, being American, am represented by the eagle who protects the spirit and the body,” adds Trish. “Our three children are represented and, untraditionally, we incorporated a mahi being clutched by the eagle. This was our attempt to include a little something from Cayman.”
The Yonnets employ three full-time gardeners, bringing in expertise from local landscape companies as needed. The demanding environment can present challenges.
“Salt is a real problem with the orchard, and the wind is a big enemy since any strong wind will kill new blossoms and therefore die,” says Trish. “We struggle with all of the typical insects and fungal infections.”
Claude grew up in a horticultural family, spending many hours working the land. His parents grew flowers in Bordeaux for the local market, and had chestnut woods, a small vineyard and a fruit tree orchard.
She is a supporter of the Garden Club of Grand Cayman, opening her home for members to tour the gardens as well as donating plants for their various plant sales.
Trish says the garden, and all the senses it invokes, is a magical window to nature, particularly by the pond.
“We both love the pond area,” she says. “It changes every day with orchids blooming, different colours and sizes of lilies opening up, the birdlife that stops by for a drink or a little fishing and, at night, the owls, frogs and bats take over.”
Originally published in InsideOut magazine, Issue 38, Fall Winter 2020.