Advantages Peaceful and colourful stop, very lush
|Is it worth visiting?|
Like several others of the Windward Islands chain, St Lucia was formerly mainly divided into plantations and plantations principally grew sugar (now the main crop is bananas, although tourism is the main source of income).
The plantations may have gone but often their names live on (like Sandy Lane in Barbados) and Soufriere is the former plantation in St Lucia which is the home of the St Lucia Botanical Gardens (also known at the Diamond Botanical Gardens).
(Side note: If Soufriere sounds French, it is: St Lucia was changed hands repeatedly between the French and the British, belonging to each of the warring nations a total of 7 times each).
Soufriere Plantation was part of a land grant by King Louis XIV and it is the descendants of the Devaux family, to whom the land was granted, who still own the land and who therefore own and operate the Botanical Gardens.
You are very conscious on St Lucia that it is a little tropical rainforest and this location, on the south west of the island (therefore sheltered from the worst of the Atlantic weather) is lush and verdant to the point of being over ripe – it smells fertile and rich almost to decay.
You are very near the massive volcanic crater here (the walls that rise up at the back of the site are the outer walls of the crater) and this is a mineral rich area. A natural gorge through the site is fed by a waterfall, the water gushing straight out of the rock and so rich in minerals is it that it has stained the cliff side in shades of yellow, orange and reds and greens. This is Diamond Falls, which gives the garden its alternative name.
The walk through was lovely (there is lots of bird life, too) and one thing that struck me strongly was that several of the plants here growing happily outdoors are ones that we see (much smaller versions of) as indoor plants in the UK and also of course flowers and plants we would normally only see in a florist or flower arrangement here growing outdoors – but you have to remind yourself that you are closer to South America here than anywhere else and not far off the equator.
I noted plants like Begonia’s, but not the little six-inch high specimens we get in the UK – these were three or four feet high with leaves six inches across and flower spikes a foot high – recognisably the same plant, but on a different scale. There were also spectacular (and huge) Anthuriums (with the decorative coloured leaf and upright stamen) in a variety of colours, 6 foot high pink ginger lilies and beautiful Heliconia, amongst much else – my camera was working overtime!
There are more and less formal sections of the garden, one area set aside specifically to attract birds and a well arranged table where you could handle and smell the various fruit, nuts, roots/tubers, pods and so on of the edible plants of the island – from sugar cane and bananas through coconuts and plantains, chilli’s and cocoa (phenomenal smell – like chocolate doubled), coffee and on and on. We had a guide on our tour and she told us what everything was, what it was used for, how it was grown – great stuff (but I was hungry when she’d finished!). You can see some of the plants and trees – like cocoa and coffee – growing in the gardens.
There are baths where the mineral-rich water running out from the volcanic cliff is captured and you can pay a small charge and bath in the waters – I am told it can be beneficial for conditions like excema and psoriasis.
This was a lovely trip for very little cost – about £2 per person. There is a cafeteria and gift shop area and I heartily recommend a visit. The site is not level and is not well adapted for wheelchair users although you would probably be able to manage a baby buggy OK.
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