A succulent garden at Pedro St. James, which is filled with a large variety of plants, mirrors Cayman’s heritage.

Succulents thrive in their own garden at the historic site of Pedro St. James. Photographs: Stephen Clarke Photography

Occupying a little more than 1,000 square feet, the garden has been spruced up following extensive damage sustained during a storm in 2020.

“The garden is planted with a diverse palette of xeric flora from around the world, which represents the diversity of people who have settled here in the Cayman Islands,” says horticulturalist Nick Johnson. “The islands are also represented with some indigenous species, such as corato (Agave caymanensis). We even have a native prickly pear (Consolea millspaughii).”

Beauty spot

It is a mini beauty spot within the seven-acre historic site known for being the birthplace of Cayman’s democracy.

Located just outside the courtyard, along the path to the great lawn, the garden is filled with sculptural succulents and cacti, providing the perfect point for interesting and artistic photos.

“Pedro St. James wishes to maintain the beauty of the property and, in doing so, the type of plants used here are easy to maintain and offer a small ‘attraction within an attraction’,” says Nick.

The garden is maintained by Pedro St. James staff, who consult with the team at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, where Nick is the horticultural manager. Both sites fall under Cayman’s Tourism Attraction Board.

Suited to climate

“Cayman’s seasonally dry climate is well suited to growing succulents; this is due to their adaptations to growing in hot, desert-like conditions,” says Nick. “Many are salt-tolerant and can withstand the occasional storm winds that blow in.”

The garden also has an overstorey of silver thatch palms, which have adapted to survive in extremely dry, saline environments.

Now a mature oasis, the garden dates back to 1996 when Pedro St. James opened as a tourism attraction in its current form.

What’s in the garden?

Plants include:
Candelabra tree (Euphorbia candelabrum) – Africa
Blue agave (Agave tequilana) – Central America
Maguey pulquero (Agave salmiana) – Yucatan Peninsula
Donkey ear (Kalanchoe gastonis-bonnieri) – Madagascar
Sago palm (Cycas media) – Southeast Asia
Barrel cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus) – California
Corato (Agave caymanensis) – Cayman Islands
Golden prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) – Texas
Silver thatch palm (Coccothrinax proctorii) – Cayman Islands

Grow your own

Tips from Nick to get your succulent garden growing at home:

How to get going: Plants such as kalanchoe, crassulas and echeverias can be easily started from leaf cuttings. Succulents do need water, but they will survive on less frequent irrigation. Fertilising once a month (when they are in growth) with the same fertiliser you use on your tomatoes will ensure amazing floral displays.

Succulents to start with: Aloes and crassulas are almost “unkillable” unless they are over-watered. The genus Haworthia and Lithops are becoming more popular in the trade; they both have beautiful flowers and are easy to care for.

Where to plant: Succulents can be grown anywhere, even in the cracks of walls. Potted displays of succulents are easy to look after and will brighten up any windowsill. String of buttons (Crassula perforata) can be grown in hanging baskets.

Caring for succulents: I prefer to keep succulents in clay pots, I find the colours complement each other, especially with a nice, coloured top-dressing. I pot in an open, free-draining mix and only water when the pot is dry. Some succulents are adapted to live under bushes, so may not enjoy full sun. Always research your plant.

Why succulents?: They are low maintenance, with amazing flower and leaf colours (Haworthia cooperi for instance), compact planting areas, and architectural growth forms.

Did you know?

The great house at Pedro St. James was built in the 18th century. It was here, in 1831, that the decision was made to form the first elected government in the Cayman Islands.

Visit

For details on opening hours and admission, go to pedrostjames.ky.

Originally published in InsideOut magazine issue Spring/Summer 2021.

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