Leaving the gravel parking lot at the head of the dinghy dock, Sam turned his taxi away from Kingstown and headed up into the lush green hills. Meeting oncoming traffic became a pattern of a gentle swerve toward the edge of the road, a friendly tap on the horn, and for us in the backseat, a quick check to confirm the driver’s outside mirror was still attached to the Toyota minivan.
Quickly the road narrowed, the homes became more basic, the air cooled, and the vegetation became a deep verdant green. After climbing for 20 minutes, we caught our first glimpse of the Mesopotamia Valley, the bread basket of Saint Vincent.
Steep hillsides were planted with a variety of root vegetables, many of which were exported to their primary market France. Mechanical farm equipment was nowhere to be seen – this agriculture went from seed to harvest with a long hoe and strong back.
We stopped briefly for road construction; 15 men working hard moving rocks by hand and building a cinder block water catchment gutter. They were aided by a couple of guys driving road leveling equipment.
The homes and people thinned the farther we climbed the winding road, until we rounded a corner and saw the sign for Montreal Gardens.
Started in the 1970s by a keen gardener, it came into the hands of its second and current owner in 1995: a highly accomplished horticulturist from France who has made it his life’s work to design, plant and nurture the abundant variety of all flora that grow in this tropical climate of Saint Vincent.
His full time staff of three were hard at work, yet more than happy to take time to share with us the history of the gardens and what was growing where.
Over the course of a couple of hours, we were the only guests and learned that some days there are no human visitors at all.