Island once like Eden
Imagine the slopes of Farley Hill, St Peter ablaze with flowers; garden beds supporting various flora, assorted exotic trees shading them all with the magnificent scenery of the East Coast in the background.
Looking at it now, with only its majestic trees and grassy hills, it might be hard to see.
But according to Professor Henry Fraser, Farley Hill in its heyday was ranked as one of the most beautiful gardens on the island, right alongside the gardens of Government House.
The professor and eminent historian was delivering the “lively lecture”, last Wednesday afternoon, as the Barbados National Trust threw open another house in its open house programme. This time, the property was the expansive villa Pandanus, sitting on the rim of a gully in Mullins, St Peter.
Fraser told hundreds of visitors to the property that from early times, the island had been compared to Eden, and the gardens of the various estates, including those of Codrington College and Government House, had been described by Robert Schomburgk in his book The History Of Barbados.
“The comparable garden in the second half of the 19th century was the garden at Farley Hill,” he said.
“Farley Hill was owned by Sir Graham Briggs, a rather revolutionary thinker. Briggs was quite a collector, a bit of a scholar as well as a planter, a rather prominent man in Barbadian society and he introduced a great many exotic plants. He had introduced the first Norfolk Pine, which is now a popular garden tree, at Farley Hill,” said Fraser, adding that those gardens were “quite famous”.
However, within ten years of the property’s owner being “read out of the Bridgetown Club” and relocating to Nevis, the gardens had slid into a state of ruin.
“And of course Farley Hill house, having been razed by fire, is now a ruin in a large national park and what remains of the garden is essentially the very large trees, and the forested environment around the main house and the main lawns,” he said.
The former Barbados National Trust president went on to reveal that many of the gardens in the 20th century were created either by the ladies of the Civic Circle, or the “ladies of leisure” in the Garden Circle.
Various presidents in the Civic Circle were credited with beautifying the gardens of Queen’s Park; those around the Bay Street Esplanade and even those at Ilaro Court, back in 1919, while those in the Garden Circle were mainly the wives of plantation owners who did the same with their properties.
However, said Fraser, it is the legacy of former president of the Barbados Horticulture Society Iris Bannochie which is still felt today.
“She had a passionate interest in flowers so she developed an orchid culture and she developed the crossing of hibiscus flowers to produce all sorts of new hybrids of hibiscus,” he said.
Her property at Andromeda, St Joseph, was later bequeathed to the National Trust and that, along with the gardens of the Flower Forest, Hunte’s Gardens, Orchid World and Welchman Hall Gully, are some of the most beautiful today.