Professor Henry FraserArchitecural Historian / Heritage Consultant
Chairman, Sentinel Committee, Barbados National Trust
Writer, TV Presenter, National Orator & Motivational Speaker
Professor Emertius, Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology.
Immediate Past Dean, Faculty of Medical Sciences.
University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados.

 



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THINGS THAT MATTER:  Andromeda Gardens – Beauty Chained to a Rock

Henry S. Fraser

“Andromeda: a princess from Greek mythology who, as divine punishment for her mother's bragging, was chained to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea monster.”   (Wikipedia, on Greek Mythology)
Iris Bannochie, widow of the equally famous Dr. Harry Bayley (founder of the Diagnostic Clinic, Beckles Road and memorialised in the Harry Bayley Observatory at Clapham) was an extraordinary person.  Both she and Dr. Bayley were heroine  and hero of mine – he because he reputedly saved my life from paratyphoid fever when I was nine, and she because she was simply such an impressive person, with the uncanny ability to make young people feel special.

Iris inherited from her family, the McConneys, the property that is now  Andromeda Botanic Gardens.  In 1954 she and Dr. Bayley began to clear the land of bush to build their “weekend retreat”, and develop the garden that has become, in the words of Paula Deitz of the New York Times (February 17, 1991) “A cascade of brilliant colours and lush tropical foliage.” And Andromeda is arguably the finest botanical garden in the Caribbean today, although perhaps not the largest, and certainly not the oldest! (In fact the oldest is probably Bath Gardens in St. Thomas, Jamaica, established in 1779, while plant collection was occurring in Kingstown, St. Vincent, around the same period, and Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame  brought the breadfruit to the botanical garden there, in front of the Governor’s house, in 1793.)  Government House in Barbados played a similar role under Governor Baron Seaforth (1801 – 1810).  Hence the splendid gardens at our Government House, and the largest Cannon ball tree in the island.

Iris named her garden Andromeda, after the Greek princess Andromeda, who was reputedly chained to a rock as a sacrifice.  Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia the Queen of Ethiopia, had said that Andromeda was more beautiful than the beautiful Nereids, the daughters of the sea god Nereus.  According to legend, to punish the queen for her arrogance, Poseidon, the god of the sea, sent a sea monster to ravage the coast of Ethiopia, and the Oracle of Apollo advised that the only solution was to sacrifice Andromeda to the monster, chaining her naked to a rock by the sea.  Andromeda was rescued by Perseus, who married her, and they produced a profusion of children. Hence Andromeda Gardens, and the profusion of plants so lovingly introduced from all over the tropical world, and lovingly nurtured by Iris!
When Iris died in 1988, at 74, she was the doyen of horticulture in Barbados and the Caribbean.  She had been influential in promoting floriculture in Barbados, leading to the export of heliconias and ginger lilies, and led in the early days of Barbados’s remarkable success in winning gold medals at the world famous horticultural extravaganza, the Chelsea Flower show. In 1977, she was awarded the Veitch Memorial Medal by the Royal Horticultural Society for her contribution to tropical horticulture, and Andromeda was established as one of six international Heliconia Centres; indeed a heliconia cultivar is named after her - the Heliconia stricta ‘Iris Bannochie’.



In her will, Iris bequeathed Andromeda, on the death of her husband, to the Barbados National Trust, for operation of a nursery, training and research in horticulture, and enjoyment of the public.  The Trust had to take over its management at once, as gardens wait on no one!  In fact I vividly recall the emergency Garden Advisory Committee that was formed by the National Trust, comprising the other three leading gardeners of Barbados - the late George Money of Barclays Bank and hibiscus fame, Audrey Thomas and Jean Robinson, Paul Foster (Director) and as President I was the non-expert chairman!  What a lot of challenges, and what a lot I learnt in that year!

Of course Iris ran Andromeda from her kitchen door, in a modest way, yet made her creation world famous.  The Trust had to invest heavily in its transformation to a public botanical garden, with car park, reception, shop, restaurant, rest rooms et cetera, and we were most fortunate to secure help from several people, but especially the magnificent philanthropy of Sir Peter Moore, who funded an academic post, based in the Department of Biology at the UWI, to coordinate horticultural training and research.  Dr. Rajendra Maurya is the current Lecturer in Horticulture.

Andromeda remains much as Iris conceived it – an extraordinary place of immense beauty … huge trees like the bearded fig (Ficus citrifolia), the only fruiting “screw pine (Pandanus) that I’ve seen in the island, many imported exotics and every local tree and flowering shrub – palms galore, orchids, heliconias, bromeliads, dracenas, hibiscus, ferns, water lilies, cacti, succulents, the lot!  And all planted in the perfect spot, between the giant boulders, with secret gardens, the flowing rivulet and the magical lily pond. There is something for every taste, and flowers for every season. Right now and for the next few weeks, one of the most magnificent, rare and extraordinary sights in the plant world is on view at Andromeda – the flowering of the Talipot palm (Corypha umbraculifera), a species of palm native to southern India.  This unique and famous palm, growing to the splendid height of almost 100 feet, flowers once in its lifetime of some fifty years – a huge crown of thousands of inflorescences 20 or 30 feet across at the top of the tree – and then it will die.  Every Barbadian and every visitor should go to Andromeda to see this once-in-a-lifetime sight – the Talipot exploding with beauty!  You will not regret it.

And at this time of year, with daily rain, the gardens of course are verdant, luxuriant and inspiring – a garden of enchantment for which we must be eternally grateful for the remarkable vision of Iris Bannochie. Here you can truly experience the famous poem of Dorothy Frances Gurney:
“The song of the birds for pardon, the kiss of the sun for mirth,  
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden, than anywhere else on earth.”


Professor Fraser is Past President of the Barbados National Trust, and past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI.


Henry Fraser Historic Houses Of Barbados Book CoverHistoric Houses of Barbados
Written by Henry Fraser & Ronnie Huges.
Available at all book leading book stores in Barbados.


Henry Fraser Treasures Of Barbados Book CoverTreasures of Barbados
Written by Sir George Alleyne and edited by Henry Fraser.
Available at the UWI Bookshop the publishers.


Henry Fraser Chattle House Book CoverBarbados Chattel Houses
Written by Henry Fraser and Bob Kiss.
Available at all leading book stores.


Henry Fraser A-Z Barbados Book CoverA-Z of Barbados Heritage
Written by Sean Carrington, Henry Fraser, John Gilmore and Addington Forde.
Available at Days Bookstore Barbados and Amazon.com


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