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Grenada spices up the traveler’s life

 

Grenada Bay. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A four-hour flight from Miami takes you directly to St. George’s, Grenada, a launching pad to spices, chocolate and all the West Indies offers.

Known as the Spice Island, at 133 square miles, Grenada is about the size of Atlanta. During a five-day stay (or even better, a week or more), visitors can immerse themselves in tropical splendor: mountains, rain forests, luscious landscapes, balmy weather and intoxicating views of the Caribbean and Atlantic oceans. As an added benefit, several Grenadians open their private gardens for tours.

Lunch at Spice Island Beach Resort in Grenada. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Accommodations vary from the luxurious Spice Island Beach Resort, which is well suited for a couple’s intimate getaway, to Mount Cinnamon, which is designed more for families. Most beach resort rentals are for seven days and may include meals and other amenities, depending on your guest plan.

Fresh, local food, including vegetables, fruits, juices, herbs, seafood and some meats are commonplace. Most beef is imported. During the day, locals and tourists, including hundreds of cruise passengers, spill into the spice market along brick streets in downtown St. George’s. The low-cost shopping excursion yields nutmeg, turmeric (called saffron by the locals), cinnamon, ginger, peppers, pimento, curry and dozens of other spices for tasty souvenirs or gifts for foodies.

Besides spices, Grenada is known for its chocolate. Grenada Chocolate Company’s bars are a rich, dark, organic blend of cacao, nubs, tropical bay leaf and vanilla. The company feeds its chocolate habit with 150 acres of cacao trees. From a building about the size of a two-car garage, the Grenada Chocolate Company mixes, melts and molds its satisfying melt-in-your-mouth bars, which have garnered the Silver Award from the London Academy of Chocolate.

Nearly every scrap of land is planted: banana, cacao, nutmeg, hibiscus, mimosa, cinnamon, plumera (frangipani) and flamboyant trees are common. The predominant color, though, is green in luscious shades and textures, punctuated by seasonal tropical flowers.

Grenada is a study of green hues and textures punctuated by spots of tropical flowers. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Hedges of bougainvillea, the country’s national flower, define many properties. Gardeners pair colorful crotons and other broad-leafed plants with a delicate, frothy euphorbia reminiscent of the popular summer annual ‘Diamond Frost’, only much larger. White, pink and red gingers, heliconia, or false bird of paradise, palms and alamander adorn private gardens, parks and resort landscapes.

Grenada has several private gardens that are open to the public by appointment or through tour groups, including Gardening Tours, Sunsation Tours or Caribbean Horizons. In January 2011, the Grenada Board of Tourism invited garden and travel writers from the United States and Canada to be guests on the island for several days. Put on your walking shoes and take the tour. Here’s a sampler:

Hyde Park Tropical Garden, St. George’s

Gazebo overlooks Grenada Bay at Hyde Park. (C) Veronica Sliva

Fay Roberts Miller is the sixth generation of her family to reside on the 1 ½ acres that remain from the original 13-acre estate. The home and gardens offer breath-taking views of The Lagoon and the St. George’s shoreline. The property, which was vacant for several years, was renovated in 2000, when Fay Miller and her husband, John, returned to the island to retire.

Shortly after their arrival, the Millers hired noted Venezuelan landscape designer Christopher Baash to transform the primarily farm and grazing land into an orderly landscape with structure, beauty and splendid views. Although blessed with rich organic soil, many of the gardens are steep.

Besides dozens of orchids, a strong focal point is the traveler’s palm, so named for its capacity to store rain water, says Ian Blaikie, a guide for Sunsation Tours. Also of interest is the Annatto tree, which produces seeds used as a coloring for food and cosmetics.

Sunnyside Gardens, St. George’s, jeanrenwick@gmail.com

Muracoy tortoises at Sunnyside Gardens in Grenada. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Jean Renswick is the matriarch at this compound that has been in her family since the 1920s. A regular stop for garden enthusiasts from cruise ships, Sunnyside is almost as well known for its muracoy tortoises as it is its rolling hills, inviting pathways and gorgeous plants.

Despite severe hurricane damage in 2004 and 2005, Sunnyside rebounds. A strikingly beautiful feature are the mounds of Zoysia grass that recall a Japanese garden set against lush tropical growth.

 

St. Rose Nursery & Garden, St. George’s, (473) 440-5870

Brugmansia drip above visitors at St. Rose Nursery & Garden in Grenada. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Famous tropical nurseryman John Criswick lovingly tends his fringe of a rain forest, where he grows hundreds of plants — brugmansia, croton, euphorbia — for the island’s landscapers, gardeners and designers. Suzanne Gaywood has relied on Criswick’s exquisite selections for her Gold Medal winning Grenada displays at Chelsea Flower Show the last several years. He grows plants because he loves everything about them. For a gardener, no trip to St. George’s would be complete without a visit to a nursery. “Here in the tropical forest you cannot tell where the nursery ends and the forest begins,” says Donna Dawson of Gardening Tours.

 

Balthazar Estate, Grenville

Denis Noel’s family plantation grew banana, cacao and nutmeg until recently, when he started to focus on the cut flower trade. Acres of ginger, heliconia and other tropical plants are harvested throughout the year for West Indies’ hotels, restaurants and florists. His flowers also can be found in award-winning designs at the Chelsea Flower Show.

 

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