Palm collection at The Mount in Nevis is rare and beautiful. There’s nothing that says “Caribbean” quite as succinctly as an elegant palm tree swaying in the breeze. Which is just one of the reasons why a house called simply The Mount is among the most distinctive properties on Nevis, an island that’s not exactly short of ritzy residences to hang your designer hat and enjoy the delights of a still unspoiled tropical paradise.
Located in the funky-chic Upper Jessups area of the island, just next door to the Four Seasons Resort’s renowned golf course, The Mount is an architectural gem, recently renovated from top to bottom after years of neglect. It’s got some interesting history, some property-enhancing new touches—including a splendid pool—and some distinguished mahogany furniture made-right-here-in-Nevis that looks as though it dates back centuries but in fact has yet to reach its teens.
But what makes The Mount truly special is that it’s also home to the biggest and most comprehensive private collection of palm trees in the Caribbean. There are something like 160 palms dotted around the property’s just over three acres of grounds, and among them are some of the rarest and most exotic specimens to be found anywhere in the world. Think a towering palm with a sturdy trunk wrapped in what looks like human hair and valued at around US$20,000. Or a regal palm genetically programmed to live 50 or 60 years and to shed about a million seeds as it starts to die. Or a slow-to-grow old-timer aged 50 to 60 all the way from the mountain regions of Afghanistan.
This, by any yardstick, is palm-tree nirvana. Don’t take our word for it—listen to horticulturist Marshall Horsman, one of the world’s leading authorities on palm trees and a regular adviser to Mount owners Charles and Babs Ewing. Says Horsman: “Great house. Great location. And a really awesome palm collection. It is truly a historical/botanical attraction.
“The Mount’s collection is a very diversified one that can be distinguished by being in the tropics, allowing certain varieties to flourish without threat of frost. Plus the volcanic soil conditions allow several species to thrive without worry of minor nutrient deficiencies.
“The collection was planted in the 1970s, so we are witnessing these palms as grown adults—similar to what would be found in a distinguished botanical garden. The collection is diverse and not weighted heavily on any particular genus or species, allowing visitors a broad selection of palms from around the world.”
For the Ewings, caring for The Mount’s palm collection is a labour of love—and so is enhancing and maintaining the property’s imposing 1920s-built stone residence, which the South Carolina couple bought in 2008 after visiting Nevis for the first time in 2002 and falling in love with the island and its people.
Says Babs Ewing: “The place was an absolute dump when we found it, but I walked in the house and noticed a part of the ceiling drooping in a corner, pulled it down, and uncovered an extraordinary ceiling with wonderful high wooden beams. Little by little the house revealed itself and I knew we had to restore it and make it a home.
“We did the whole house over, from saving the pine floors to building proper jalousie windows and doors, to all the plumbing, bathrooms, kitchen, to blowing out some porches, screening them, adding stone floors, walkways, walls, a brand new roof, a deck and a beautiful 38 x 20-foot pool. All the outbuildings have been done over, the manager’s cottage, the office, tool room, laundry cottage, generator room, garage/barn, the nursery.
“We also had all the furniture for The Mount built in Nevis by the wonderful furniture-maker Paitfield Hill. I drew a sleigh bed for him, which he had not heard of … and he built it.” Hill’s other modern mahogany masterpieces at The Mount include planters’ chairs, hand-carved sofas and a magnificent 12-seat dining suite.
The Mount’s gardens—which are also home to a mighty Lignam vitae, along with mango, jackfruit, calabash, cedar, cinnamon avocado, persimmon, banana, orange, lime, lemon and breadfruit trees and a towering Norfolk Island pine—are the legacy of previous owners Lewis and Ann Knudsen. Babs explains: “He became interested in palm trees and started bringing them in from all over the world, carefully planting his three acres with exotic palms and creating a botanical garden.”
The Mount’s gardens, in fact, flourished to the extent that they became a tourist attraction, featured on the Four Seasons Resort’s concierge’s roster of recommended guest outings and commanding EC$25 for a tour. “We still have the sign advertising The Mount tours.” After eight years of refurbishing The Mount and tending to its trees and plants, the Ewings, both of whom are retired, have decided it’s time to pass on stewardship of the property, and put it up for sale.
The main residence consists of a gracious open-plan sitting-dining room with its spectacular wooden ceiling, a new covered and screened veranda running the length of the house, a roomy master bedroom with large en suite bathroom, two elegant guest bedrooms and a guest bathroom, a well-proportioned and airy kitchen and an adjoining larder cum laundry room. There are a number of outbuildings, including a laundry cottage, a self-contained guest apartment and a gardener’s cottage.