Horticultural traveller nurtures gardens everywhere but a favourite is Golden Rock in Nevis.

Golden Rock is the most unabashedly quirky of Nevis’s ultra-chic quartet of plantation inns.

Over the past decade, the retreat has largely reflected the particular tastes and creative talents of its owners, New York artists Helen and Brice Marden, and the man they hired to design what has become one of the Caribbean’s most exotic gardens, the award-winning Miami-based landscape architect Raymond Jungles.

The lush gardens, an almost sensual tropical kaleidoscope of trees, plants and flowers jostling for space over an estimated 10 to 15 acres about a third of the way up the south-east slope of the 3,232-foot Nevis Peak, have become one of the most talked-about attractions of this exclusive Eastern Caribbean island retreat, a 36-square-mile tropical hideaway where the rich and the famous warrant barely a second glance.

Golden Rock gets its fair share of both, who appreciate the understated elegance of its 11 rooms nestled amid gardens that are home to countless varieties of plants, including some 20-odd species of palm trees—among them a rare Cuban Old Man Palm (Coccothrinax crinita), valued at about US$20,000.

Golden Rock’s grounds are not only breathtaking; they’re meticulously cared for by one of the world’s leading experts on palm trees and orchids, in particular, and tropical flora in general. Marshall Horsman, a 60-ish American who has devoted much of his busy life to creating and maintaining many of the Caribbean’s finest gardens, flies to Nevis from his Florida home every few weeks to pamper Golden Rock’s lush and lovely gardens with his special brand of horticultural TLC.

The key elements of his maintenance programme, says Horsman, “are mainly nutritional and consist of applying the right balanced fertiliser on the soil and cocktail sprays on leaves. We look for nutritional deficiencies and work to reverse them.

“My scope is beyond just palms. I assist in plant nutrition, plant pathology, water quality, soil science and anything in regard to keeping a healthy landscape in the tropics.”

All of which is very much a labour of love.

Says Horsman: “I prefer to work on gardens with a natural look, incorporating native Caribbean species with some exotic pieces, and with a lot of colour and textures. No place does this better than Golden Rock, without question one of my favourite gardens to work on and walk through. It is literally a botanical garden in its own right.”

A lofty compliment indeed, coming as it does from a man responsible for an impressive array of the most beautiful gardens in the Caribbean in settings ranging from mega-hotels to private homes.

Horsman’s extensive horticultural CV includes major landscape projects at the Grand Palazzo hotel (now the Ritz-Carlton) and Stouffer Grand Beach Resort in St Thomas, the Atlantis and One & Only resorts in The Bahamas, Cap Juluca in Anguilla and private estates in St Barths and Nevis.

 

He has also worked with what many regard as the world’s finest collection of palms, Fairchild Tropical Gardens in South Florida, where he was involved with fertility and pest control.

Further afield, he oversaw a massive oceanfront palm garden project in the then war-ravaged southern African nation of Angola, and his travels in search of rare and exotic species of tropical palm trees and orchids have taken him to Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Paraguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Guyana, Brazil, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Dominica and the Bahamas.

Horsman’s earliest horticultural travels, as a south Florida teenager, were with his airline pilot father, Chris, from whom he inherited his lasting passion for tropical flora. They collected mainly rare and exotic orchids, but also hunted for rare palm seeds—the first step on a voyage of discovery that would result in¬† the younger Horsman becoming a respected and in-demand authority on these quintessentially tropical trees.

The last of these father-and-son expeditions, however, ended in tragedy in Peru, when his father was killed in a jungle collision with an out-of-control logging truck and Horsman himself was so badly injured he spent several months in hospital.

After returning to America and recovering from his injuries, Horsman majored in ornamental horticulture at college, and one of his first jobs after graduating was installing and maintaining the gardens at Bal Harbour Shops in a wealthy Miami Beach suburb, one of the world’s most upscale retail complexes.

The mall’s owners, Stan and Bill Whitman, were keen horticulturalists themselves, and they gave the young Horsman carte blanche to create a spectacular garden that featured an assortment of rare palms. That experience led to Horsman joining the International Palm Society to learn more about the species and gain access to rare palm seedlings.

Says Horsman: “In time my home in South Florida became a botanical garden in its own right. My palm collection was one of the finest in south Florida, with most species being Caribbean.”

It didn’t take long before Horsman was in demand as a horticultural consultant and garden creator, a career he loves and which keeps him busy year round.¬† “As an independent consultant, I am the true road warrior: over 60,000 miles a year. As well as my work in Nevis, I consult for large commercial nurseries, helping them with fertility and pest management programmes. My clients include some of the largest nurseries in Florida.”

When he’s not busy consulting or helping tend to the Golden Rock gardens, Horsman is at his happiest listening to roots reggae music—Peter Tosh, Culture, Burning Spear, Gregory Isaacs, Steel Pulse and Bob Marley are among his favourites—or working on the palm plantation he and Bob Luger, a friend from surfing days, bought in Costa Rica almost 25 years ago. Their 60 acres of land are home to more than 100 species of palm trees and they are¬† busy building a couple of cabins suitable for eco-tourism and bird-watchers.M

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