By Maia Muttoo, Camana Bay Times
Since the development’s earliest planning stages in the mid-1990s, the use of native plants has been a tenet of Camana Bay’s landscape design.
Camana Bay’s landscape design was conceived to specifically reflect the unique natural and cultural heritage of the Cayman Islands; to be authentically Caymanian, but embrace modern aesthetics. By the principles of “New Urbanism,” Camana Bay would be a sustainable, multi-purpose community that included retail, commercial and residential opportunities alongside public spaces, but unlike some international developments, would not attempt to replicate older architectural styles.
“They never wanted it to look particularly historicist,” says Dennis McGlade, partner at landscape architecture company OLIN, which was brought on to help conceptualise and execute Camana Bay’s landscape design.
Cultivating native plants for the Town Centre in Cayman proved complicated. The lack of adequate soil and resources on island meant that a horticultural industry had never blossomed. Propagation had to begin years in advance to ensure that Camana Bay’s flora would reach full fruition in time for the Town Centre’s public opening.
Landscape designer Sandy Urquhart was a key figure in innovating Cayman’s garden-culture, establishing a nursery where the Town Centre now stands during initial planning stages. McGlade recalls, “Sandy broke a lot of new horticultural and botanical ground by propagating some of the native plants that had never been propagated in Cayman before and had never been used in gardens in Cayman before.”
Trial and Error
Without an archive of historical subject knowledge, experimentation was key – slow examination as plants flourished or wilted when sown in different locations. Plants were placed based on their individual needs – those with a higher tolerance to sun were planted in open spaces and those that preferred shade were planted in suitable courtyards or under awnings. “[Plants] are responding to the coincidences of climate and geology,” McGlade says. “There are great differences from the low swampy forests in the middle of the island to the ironstone beaches and low cliffs at the other end, and different plants like some areas better than others.”
Of course, there were growing pains – instances where native plants either spread too far or refused to grow at all. Some native plants did not fare well in Camana Bay’s more social areas, so non-invasive exotic species such as The Crescent’s date palms were imported and acclimatised to supplement decoratively. Other plants thrived -Argusia gnaphalodes (sea lavender) was widely used along Camana Way and in the larger development.
The selection of plants and their surrounding design was as dependent on culture as it was on nature. Envisioned as a public community, it was essential that landscapers take Camana Bay’s guests into account and anticipate the public’s use of the space. Local architect Burns Conolly of Burns Conolly Group Ltd. suggested The Crescent be designed partially as a green space. He argued that public parks were not prevalent in Cayman, and that the local population would appreciate such a space to unwind and spend quality time.
Today, The Crescent lawn is not only a day-to-day family picnic spot, but also a gathering space for treasured annual traditions like the Christmas Tree Lighting and New Year’s Eve celebration. McGlade says he finds this kind of cultural growth and the rituals that have sprung serendipitously from the landscape gratifying.
“One of the wonderful things that happened when the bookstore moved in is that a lot of people with kids would come and go to Story Time at the bookstore, then watch the kids play in the fountain and there was this routine happening. I find it very successful that that sort of thing is happening, that there are rituals. Rituals and ceremonies and habits of civic life are starting to happen.”
Camana Bay’s landscape continues to shape and be shaped by community culture. Carefully crafted design reflects both its natural and cultural context, and has created an urban microcosm within the wider country.
The nursery’s work continues with constant advancement of irrigation techniques, experimentation with native and exotic plant species and ongoing care of current landscaping. As a perpetually expanding Town Centre in which to live, work and play, Camana Bay continues to develop and flourish alongside its flora.