With its beautiful gardens set in 12 tropical acres, over 100 different species of plant life and 30 species of bird, it’s little wonder when green-fingered Judith Milne first came to East Winds on St Lucia that she completely fell for it. But what Judith might not have foreseen was being named General Manager of the all-inclusive hotel and even writing a book about its flora and fauna! Other Shores Feature Writer Sarah Garrod quizzed her on her botanical tale…
When did you first visit St Lucia?
My husband and I came to St Lucia on holiday in early 2015 and we happened to stay at East Winds for that holiday. While we were there on holiday we met the Chairman of the company that owns the hotel and he offered me a job! That was how we eventually moved to St Lucia in 2016.
What made you fall in love with the island?
The people are extremely friendly and welcoming to visitors which makes a really big difference to your experience when you first visit but also makes moving here much easier. But the island is overwhelmingly beautiful, it has a beautiful landscape, is very mountainous which makes it interesting and is quite undeveloped and very natural. The centre of the island is dominated by rainforest and most of it is completely natural and unspoilt, the island has everything you would expect from a paradise island, lots of plants and flowers, fruit and vegetables, beaches, waterfalls and a live volcano that’s currently dormant. The volcano creates sulphur springs and hot mud which is amazing for the skin and thought to be anti-aging!
What makes the flora and fauna of the island so special?
Because the rainforest is unspoilt and undeveloped, there are many ancient plants that still survive, giant ferns and rare birds. There are many plants in St Lucia that are used in natural medicine and for cosmetic purposes. The garden at East Winds is full of natural medicine and we work with a local lab to produce East Winds Spa products that are completely natural and use many of the plants and herbs in our garden. The small population in St Lucia (less than 200,000 people) means that the natural island is truly that, very few roads exist in the rainforest and the plant life is undisturbed and there are very low levels of pollution. This benefits not only the for a and fauna, but the wildlife and marine life as well.
What could guests expect to see on a garden tour at East Winds?
During the tour we focus on the 100 most interesting plants in the garden, they range from fruit and nuts to ferns and trees, herbs and spices and natural medicine as well as stunning tropical flowers and shrubs that attract hummingbirds to nest or finches for shelter. There are no predators in our garden, so the birds are very relaxed and although they are not tame, they are confident and unafraid, so close contact is very easy. East Winds Head Gardener is called Sylvanus and he is incredibly knowledgeable about the garden, it’s development in the 1950’s and the strategy and planning behind it as well as all the various plants and trees that he and the team care for every day. We also have our own banana plantation in the garden which is part of our kitchen garden, this is a new initiative that we are constantly changing and developing alongside our evolving menu in the hotel restaurant.
What inspired you to write your book?
I wanted to bring the garden alive and give all guests the opportunity to make the absolute most of the natural environment at the hotel. Not everyone wants to join tours or listen to lectures during their holiday, but most guests do love to browse through the book and use it as a guide to wonder through the garden, identify the birds that they see every day and look for the marine life that lives in the natural reefs right off the beach. There are some interesting insects and animals that can be spotted around the garden that you would not see in other countries.
Can you tell us about the Market Garden and Banana Museum?
Last year we started an initiative to create a vegetable garden to help reduce the amount of vegetables that have to be imported as well as offering a garden to table experience for our guests. We got very excited about providing our guests with home-grown organic vegetables and as part of the initiative started to properly harvest fruit from the trees that are all over the garden. We have always harvested the coconuts and served the fresh coconut to guests at lunch time on the days they are picked, we serve the coconut water straight from the shell which delights the guests! Our kitchen gardener, Stephen, had the idea of creating a banana plantation and showcasing all the varieties of banana’s and plantain that are grown in the Caribbean. The plantation has grown into a stunning display of banana trees that provide fresh banana’s for guests and is an interesting addition to the garden tour. Our guests are fascinated to see what goes into farming banana’s and the many are shocked to discover that each tree produces only one bunch of bananas in its lifetime. Luckily each tree also produces a new tree!
Do you have any favourite dishes from the East Winds menu which use garden-grown ingredients?
There are so many! I love the variety of salad leaves and salad beans that we produce and also a Green Fig Salad, green figs are actually green bananas harvested from our own garden and mixed with vegetables and a homemade dressing.
This article first appeared in ITC Travel Group’s Other Shores magazine. Read our online version here.