Initially, in the early 20th century the major parks and lush botanical gardens of Jamaica were intended to be centres for botanical research. These days they are used by locals as days out with the family and friends for picnics, special occasions or even just to get a day out in nature. The most popular ones include Castleton, Bath, Strawberry Hill, Shaw Park Gardens, Coyaba, Hope Gardens and Enchanted Gardens.
Castleton Botanical Garden
Located on either side of the Kingston to St. Mary main road is Castleton Botanical Garden. It was established on the 19th November 1862. Shortly afterwards, Castleton Gardens became one of the great gardens with its rich variety of plants. In the past Castleton had over 4000 species of plants from the great English Garden at Kew. In 1897 there were 180 species of palm in the Palmetum. Many plants introduced in the island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were planted here. These included the Poinciana, Bombay Mango, the Spathodea, Navel Orange, and tangerine. Many interesting plants can still be seen at Castleton today. These include the strychnos from which medicine (and poison) strychnine is obtained, the Velvet Apple, West Indian Mahogany and specimens of coffee.
Added to the attraction, is the cooling water of the Wag Water River, where visitors may have a swim. Many visitors walk from Temple Hall to the Garden to picnic because they find walking along the winding Castleton road interesting and scenic.
One can walk on either side of the Garden and get a very close view of the trees and flowers while listening to the chirping of numerous birds. The lush green grass provides an ideal setting for the weary who may lie and sleep or view the blossoms of the plants and listen to the rushing water of the river.
Nestled in the hills of St. Mary, Castleton Gardens is a haven for nature lovers who want a cool, quiet place to relax.
Bath Botanic Gardens
Established in 1779 in St. Thomas, this botanical garden is believed to be the second oldest in the western hemisphere. Lands for the garden were designated when the town of Bath came into existence. The botanical garden was created for both recreational and economic purposes. However, many medicinal plants were also planted. The garden was a place of relaxation for visitors who came to use the Bath Mineral Spa. The garden was supervised by a superintendent. The first was Dr. Thomas Clarke who at the time of his appointment was a physician at the Bath Hospital. Later the garden and the hospital came under the care of Dr. Thomas Dancer, the then island botanist.
The creation of the garden resulted in the introduction of foreign plants into the island. Some of which were subsequently planted elsewhere in the country as the garden served as a nursery. These included cinnamon, jackfruit, croton, jacaranda and bougainvillea. However, the most important plant introduced was the breadfruit which has become a Jamaican staple. Some as these plants were brought to Jamaica by Captain Bligh in 1793 and the HMS Providence. In 1782, a French ship was captured and its cargo which included many economic plants were planted here.
Strawberry Hill Gardens
Get to know another part of the island’s history at Strawberry Hill’s 26-acre property. Since the days of the native Taino Indians (Taino arrowheads have been discovered on the property), people have enjoyed the sublime natural location of Strawberry Hill. Today’s visitors have even more to appreciate. Since its cultivation as a coffee farm in 1890, a gentle development strategy has allowed the mountaintop gardens to bloom shamelessly and the lawns to display a sublime beauty ringed by the mist-wreathed peaks. Wander winding stone paths and marvel at the bounty: native avocado, mango, coffee, star apple, orange, lime, soursop, banana, and June plum and guava trees.
Years of cultivation have expanded Strawberry Hill’s variety of flora. The grounds reflect the island’s historical timeline. The main canopy lining the driveway is juniper with specimens of cedar, eucalyptus and mango. Thus far, 350 endemic and exotic plant species have been catalogued at Strawberry Hill, making it a naturalist’s delight.
Shaw Park Botanical Gardens
Shaw Park Gardens is a beautiful botanical garden, located in the hills above Ocho Rios.
The 25 acre garden features around 600 species of flower along with many ferns and shrubs such as bougainvillea, palms, hibiscus and ferns. The entrance to Shaw Park is some 900 feet above sea level, giving a great view of Ocho Rios from the top of the gardens. The park is tiered over many levels, meaning that many different plants which thrive at different altitudes can be grown here.
The garden boasts a majestic waterfall which cascades down a rocky bank, surrounded by many varieties of beautiful flowers.
Shaw Park Gardens were originally part of the Shaw Park Estate, an opulent property named after its first owner, John Shaw. The estate came to prominence after it was sold to the Pringle Family in the early 20th century. The Great House was converted in to a hotel, the "Shaw Park Hotel". Flora McKenzie Pringle Stewart lovingly cultivated the hotel's garden. It is these gardens which are now Shaw Park Gardens.
The Royal Botanical Gardens, commonly called "Hope Gardens", occupies 200 acres of land in the Liguanea Plains of urban St Andrew. The gardens were established in 1873 on a section of land from the estate of Major Richard Hope, one of the original English colonizers. Today the gardens are the largest public green space in the Kingston metropolitan region, and are home to Jamaica's most popular collection of endemic and exotic botanical collections. Of particular interest is the Cassia siamea grove by the main entrance, which was planted in 1907, and the other mini-gardens within the park - notably the cacti garden, with its rare variety; the bougainvillea walk with its magnificent explosions of tropical colours; the annual gardens, with numerous species of exotic flowers; the sunken gardens and the lily pond.
Most of the plants and trees, particularly the mango and various spice species found here. There are many rare and beautiful species of tropical plants and trees, including the Hibiscus elatus (blue mahoe), the national tree of Jamaica. Blue Mahoe is a small spreading tree with flowers that open in primrose colour in the morning and change to orange and deep red as the day advances. As a bonus visit the Chinese Gardens with its zen inducing koi pond and the onsite Hope Zoo.
Located at the Shaw Park Estate, Shaw Park, Ridge Road, Ocho Rios, is a small botanical garden and more, the Coyaba River Garden & Museum.
This is a great attraction for history and botanical buffs. The small museum starts with pre-Columbian history and follows the development of the island. The real splendor of the attraction, however, lies in its beautiful gardens. Stroll through the gardens, past natural springs and waterfalls. Small pools are filled with colorful koi as well as turtles. Each visit to Coyaba is a new encounter with beauty, curiosity and nature. The seasons are marked by newly flowering plants and trees and the time of day by the reflection of sunlight on the water. Take a guided tour through the garden, amidst meandering streams and ponds and climb Mahoe Falls and dip in the pool at the base of the falls.
Enchanted Gardens is a beautiful botanical garden set in the mountain-side overlooking Ocho Rios. A natural river cascades through the 20 acre property, creating 14 natural waterfalls on its path.
The aquatic theme features throughout the gardens; in addition to the waterfalls there is a koi pond, lily pond and a swimming pool. There is also a large aquarium building which once had giant tanks lining the walls.
Another highlight is the large domed walk-in aviary which has some 80 different species of bird. The birds are tame and (if you wish) your guide will give you a handful of feed to hold so that the birds fly down to eat from your hand.
You will be escorted around the gardens by a guide who will talk you through the tour of the 14 waterfalls and point out the many varieties of plant life on the way. At the end of your tour of the Enchanted Gardens you are free to wander around the gardens or swim in the swimming pool.
The Enchanted Gardens were once owned by the former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Edward Seaga.
Cinchona Botanical Gardens
Established in 1868, Cinchona is the only garden of its type in the Caribbean. The splendor and glory of Cinchona Gardens nestled in the cool, high and moistly hills of the Blue Mountains, sits at an altitude between 4,500 and 5,500 ft.
From Cinchona there is a majestic view of Strawberry Hill, the Blue Mountains, Liguanea plains, and Kingston. Forty acres of Cinchona were planted with Asian Tea and there was also a garden of various European crops.
If you are holidaying in Kingston, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio or even in the Blue Mountains, you are welcome to join in on the many hiking trips to this enchanting attraction. If you are interested in bird watching, you can also spot Jamaica's rare endemic species of birds which can be found elsewhere but spotted more easily around Cinchona Gardens. Spend the day hiking or just basking in the beautiful setting as you relax.