Lost in Barbados: the Flower Forest

The last time we visited Barbados was 15-20 years ago.  I recall that we rented a ‘mini moke’, which is like a slightly larger, barely road-worthy golf cart and that our challenge was to make the “car” go faster than a vigorous walk would take you up the Barbadian hills.

Driving in Barbados is on the left, with the steering wheel on the right-hand-side, but navigating there was a breeze.   The land was covered in sugarcane and the only road that was busy was the one entering the capital, Bridgetown.  In fact, the only time we got lost, another car stopped and yelled out, “Where you goin?  Can I help?”

So on this trip, we knew the first order of business was to secure some wheels.

Step 1:  Get a car.

Make sure all major dents and scratches are noted

with rental guy before take-off.  Check.

Notice that the 3 hub caps are secured with plastic zip-ties, hence the wobbly noise while driving.

Before leaving, make sure you have several maps, reading glasses, temporary Barbados driver’s licenses (purchased for $5 each from rental car guy), wrap to throw over your shoulder when the sun beats down on it while driving, water, beach towels, bathing suits, snorkels and flippers, sunblock, protein (i.e. roasted almonds) and all necessary keys.

Step 2:  Find perfect beach.

Perfect beach requirements:

 – must be secluded but not so secluded to be dangerous;

– must have a beach bar with palapas but not be too crowded;

– beach bar must serve nutella crepes and rum punch;

– must have calm, shallow water, but not too shallow since it must have lots of colourful tropical fish that you can see while snorkelling;

– must not have any boats, wind-surfers, kite-surfers or regular surfers, small children or perfectly-formed teenagers or young adults.

Step 3:  Change strategy

When you realize that the best beaches are all on the most populated side of the island and access to them is almost entirely through small passageways off the busy roads that are marked with very small signs saying, “Access to public beach”, that cannot be seen while driving like a maniac on the left side of the road (did I mention that?) and certainly not with a navigator who keeps saying, “I have no idea where we are — I can’t believe somebody actually makes a living making these maps!” (sorry dear…)

And that this is the only photo I got while in a car since I was too busy driving with my knuckles white after loss of blood and my hands firmly gripped on the steering wheel — this photo was taken as we were DRIVEN to the airport for our return flight back to Ottawa.

Anyway, am I right in saying that there is something that changes when you get older?  Suddenly driving a strange car, in a strange place, on the wrong side of the road, with the intention of finding the place of your dreams (yeah, I know that I should know better…) — it just isn’t that easy anymore.  Simply going out for a drive takes so much out of you, when you get back to your hotel you have to have a drink and then lie down.  Or is this just me?  Have I turned into a middle-aged wimp?

So, with maps again in hand and thoroughly humbled, we set off for the Flower Forest.  Really, how hard can it be?  On our previous trip we joked, “You just can’t get lost in Barbados; all roads end up going around the island so the worst that can happen is you end up where you began.”

But, in the twenty or so years that had gone by, my perception is that there seem to be so many more roads, many of which seemed no different from driveways and a corresponding number of cars, trucks and buses.

Nevertheless and miraculously, we managed to find our destination.

We made it!  And the car (cute, eh?) is still in one piece.  (That missing hubcap was gone when we got the car.  Check.)Great, since our rental car deductable was NOT zero$.

Note to self:  Make sure deductible is zero.

The skies had been blue and the sun was beating down but when we arrived, the heavens opened and the rain came down.  The woman working behind the counter said that it had been an unusually wet ‘dry’ season, so the flowers weren’t what they should be.

But that was ok; with views like these, who cares about a bit of rain?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves …

… since I was ravenous, we took a table in the restaurant/cafe next to the gift shop and had a bite to eat before we ventured through the garden.

The paths were covered in moss and the flowers and shrubs that lined them were heavily laden with rain so many of the blooms tumbled over in advance of us.  There were white and pink blooming begonias edging many of the walkways.

And suddenly you see the bamboo towering above you and the knocking sound you hear are the canes hitting eachother as they sway.

And everything appears to be on steroids.  But really, this is how a philodendron should look!  With the sheen of a rain shower not the gloss of a leaf-shine product.

You look down and see a delicate tapestry of ferns, tropical foliage plants and the bracing roots of the ubiquitous Royal Palm — a palm that can be seen everywhere.

And then you look up and suddenly you feel very small … because these trees tower above you to a maximum height of 130′ !

But you don’t feel as small as this import:  the Giant African land snail that is devastating the garden by eating everything in sight.  Prevalent on many Caribbean islands now and making in-roads throughout the temperate United States (even up into states like Michigan), these snails can reach 8″ in length and 4″ wide.  They multiply very quickly and crawl onto foliage, eating and tearing them to shreds with their rasping mouth-parts.  The gardeners here have resorted to using snail bait, but others have thought about different methods of control.


Here is a glorious specimen of Maypole, the Barbadian century plant called Agave barbadensis.  Note the etched initials and names on the spikey leaves:  people just can’t help themselves :c(

This would drive me crazy if I ran the place…

Did you know many orchids are epiphytes?  That means they have aerial roots that allow them to latch onto tree trunks or branches, or anything else for that matter.  Living in a tropical climate they are able to get all the moisture and nutrients they require through the rain.

Trees like this, whose architectural roots seem prehistoric, are found throughout the garden.  This one’s bracing roots have probably become more exposed over the years with the constant rains and erosion on the steep hillsides.

If you want to visit a garden that’s primarily full of colour, then perhaps this garden is not for you.  But if you want to visit a garden that reflects how Barbados used to be, but with paths that allow you to walk through the middle of that lush vegetation, then this place is a must.

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