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Development of a Palm Collection on a Caribbean Island
Photo documentation on the Planning, Design and Realisation of a Tropical Garden.
This page documents the step-by-step development of a garden on a Caribbean island. Without costal exposure and only slightly above sea level - on a barren but fertile property of 2 500 m2 (~27 000 square feet) a collection of endemic, Caribbean as well as international tropical palms was to be established as the main focus. This tropical garden shall also become home for Cycads, fruit trees, flowering shrubs, Orchids, Bromeliads, Heliconia etc

Please step in and enjoy the pictures at first glance of the property up to the end of the first planting session, which was accomplished by mid January 2006.

Starting point in January 2005

East of the house, a covered walkway named Paseo will lead to the area that includes the pool and infrastructure buildings. The property is surrounded by a wall and needs significant soil movement to guarantee unconfined drainage even during the wet season.

The owner is a palm enthusiast and desires a collection of these precious plants together with some colorful accents and an edible fruit section. The existing vistas including some hills and lovely landscapes shall remain intact while on the other hand the creation of some nicely designed private sections is highly appreciated.

Die Ausgangslage 2005


Considering the given climatic circumstances, the shape of the grown land as well as the owner's desires and directions we work out a design with a smart and especially in the long-range, pleasing concept for the garden.

The Caribbean Basin is considered to be one of the prime palm sites of the world. Countless species exist exclusively in this charming region in the midst of the tropics. Besides an enormous diversity on climatic extremes (ranging from hot and dry all the way to cool and humid) there is the threatening hurricane season the plants need to cope with. Because of the many islands there is a high number of endemic species (e.g.Roystonea princeps which exists only in Jamaica).

The basic layout calls for a collection of native palms and cycads around the heart of the garden near the pool. With increasing distance to the water and north of the paseo other Caribbean as well as Central American species are being used. The southern part of the garden holds sections for species from South America, Madagascar, South-East Asia, Australia as well as from islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

In addition to the often referred to palm collection the following plant collections are either under way or at least planned for:

  • Cycads
  • Heliconia
  • Croton
  • Ginger
  • Bromeliads
  • Orchids
  • Tropical fruit trees
  • Climbing plants

First Steps

After pinning the exact positions of Paseo, pool and adjoining houses the excavation can be commenced. From the very beginning a great amount of consideration is given to creating a 'natural' slope to the east and north to insure the proper draining of excessive rains during the wet season.

While construction progress is under ways more thoughts are being given to the concept, choice of plants and - most of all - finding local sources.

Erste Schritte - Erstellung Pool, Gebäuden und Paseo

Searching for and finding the desired plants

Beginning in January 2005 a variety of contacts were established with local nurseries, tree farms and plant enthusiasts. Their respective assortments allowed us to transform the conceptual ideas step by step into reality.

During the same time detailed research was undertaken regarding how to import high-quality plant material from professional nurseries in Florida.


Levelling and Drainage

The basic requirement remains in the flawless tilting of the terrain to secure proper drainage of eventual high amounts of water during the rainy season.

To further improve growing conditions for the plants additional rich 'black soil' was added and properly built in the gradient.

Planie und Drainage

1st planting session January 2006

Now that the terrains are perfectly set up and ready to go all the painfully accurate preparatory work pays off. Within 10 days one delivery after the other rolls in and keeping a crew of 15 men quiete busy.

For each plant an individual plant hole is being dug and the ground is loosened up at least 1 meter (~3 feet) below the surface with a heavy iron bar. Once the holes were prepared in this way they were filled with a soil mix containing plenty of organic matter and lots of gravel to further guarantee once again the unimpeded drainage.

All the plants were set rather high in order to allow for some sinking of the high amounts of loose soil used. After some training time the local workforce adjusted very well to the demanded work technique and installed a perfectly nice watering ring from rich 'Tierra Negra' for each and every plant set. As soon as this task was accomplished the thorough watering was commenced, making sure that every ring was filled with water several times in order to press eventual air out of the new soil and make sure the root balls finds an excellent connection to the growing media. This insured the best possible start for new root growth.

Now the time comes to stake all large plants with massive beams in order to simplify the re-establishing process and keep the trees steady even in windy conditions.

During the following days and weeks all the plants receive regular and intensive watering to keep the roots motivated to grow into the new soil.

Pflanzungen vom Januar 2006

As it looks by mid-January 2006

On January 17th, 2006 the first planting session is successfully terminated on schedule. All of the large plants have been installed and now have time to re-establish. The first layers of white gravel for the walkways have been laid to allow clean access throughout the garden even in rainy weather.

By the end of summer most of the palms will have grown a number of new leaves thus producing more shade and a beneficial microclimate will start to establish. This again allows the planting of the more shade loving plants in a next step.

Apparently not only humans are finding pleasure in the newly created place of peace and tranquillity but also birds are moving in to add acoustical pleasures in addition to the optical ones.

Stand Mitte Januar 2006

Seeing the Garden by October of 2006

Returning to the island in early October of 2006 the garden offered some new looks compared to 9 months ago. The lawn has grown in and many of the palms are showing new foliage.

The developing shade allowed the planting of undercover plants such as heliconias and orchids.

Caribbean Palm-Collection as per October 2006


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