We're at the home of Erica Simmons, aptly dubbed the Blue Mountain River Lodge. The cottage features a grand cover of bougainvillea, creating a cosy addition to the already comforting feel of the garden whose deck faces the sunset.
“It was a joy for my husband Peter and me to secure the beautiful farmhouse in east rural St Andrew. The home was built in the 1970s, and its original owner, an Englishwoman, created the most amazing English garden. Everywhere you look, there is something else to see, and a new colourful treat popped up daily,” Simmons shared.
The property sits on a ravine and is in proximity to rivers, coffee farms, hiking trails to the Blue Mountain Peak and many mountains and valleys. The rich soil and cool temperatures gave birth to the garden's abundance of plants. These include orchids, two types of hibiscuses, hydrangea, cup and saucer trees, blue mahoe, crown of thorns, roses, night irises, and the list goes on.
In preparing to manage the vast amounts of flora and fauna acquired with the property, Simmons and her family sought help in managing daily tasks, like raking leaves, that constantly fell from the three mature bougainvillea vines that graced the front of the house.
She recalls one evening during their first spring in the house, the wind blew in a sweet smell that stayed constant all night long. The smell was so strong that they closed the windows. The following day, they sought the plant that was producing this fragrance. In passing a tall tree blooming small white flowers, Simmons caught a whiff of the familiar scent from the previous evening.
She had no idea what it was and called on her cousin, a member of the Jamaica Horticultural Society (JHS), to help her identify it. “I later came to learn that JHS is the place where all the plant experts reside,” she said.
She snapped a photo of the blooming tree and texted it to her cousin, who later identified the tree as a “lady of the night” (Cestrum nocturnum), night-blooming jessamine or night-scented jessamine. The tree, a species of plant in the nightshade (Solanaceae) family, grows 8-10 feet and is native to the West Indies. The yellow/white tubular flowers bloom at night, a tropical evergreen, releasing the most intoxicating fragrance. Simmons later learned that care for the night-blooming jessamine is minimal once established.
Being able to quiz the horticultural society members on the various blooms was easy and exciting. They also provided identification for the several species of orchids found in Simmons' garden, including several species of vanda, vanilla bean, oncidium, and orchidaceae.
In addition to the plants, several fruit trees litter the property. Indeed, Simmons and her family regularly enjoy starfruits, tangerines and avocados, among others.
Her favourite place in the garden is the wooden deck overlooking folding valleys and daily sunsets. The deck, the newest addition along with a fire pit built elsewhere in the garden, is her go-to place to spend time with her husband and family, have a cup of coffee, read her newspaper or a book, or simply be one with nature.
In part two of this feature, we will look at how Simmons uses technology to help care for her garden.