Joseph and Martha Murphy came to Nevis with plans to build a home in the Montpelier area. They purchased Tim Mosley’s house and land together with some adjoining properties to make an estate of about 6.25 acres. They initially planned to build a home on the property but in 1996 they decided instead to build and stock a Botanical Garden which they aimed to make “the best in the Caribbean”.
To realize this exciting project, the Murphys hired horticulturalist Paul Richnow to design and implement their scheme. He was supported by Sandy Littlepage, who specialized on the planting designs and plant signage. The construction work was undertaken by a team of Nevisians including Myron Claxton, Rolston Browne, Noral Lescott, and Nathaniel “Terry” Liburd. Terry continues to work in the Botanical Gardens today and tells many interesting stories of the Garden’s development.
The graceful design featured terraces and lily ponds, built to complement the natural features and beauty of the land. Bronze fountains and sculptures from Thailand were installed as well as a triple copper sugar cauldron fountain. Containers of tropical plants arrived from all over the world: Australia, South Africa, Malaysia, Thailand, Central and South America, and the United States, including Hawaii. The garden contained orchid terraces with over 70 species of orchid, a bamboo grove, cactus garden, flowering plants and shrubs, and over 100 species of palms. The initial budget of half a million US dollars for plants was stretched, reaching well over eight million US dollars by the time the Botanical Gardens opened in 1998.
A large mesh-covered conservatory was erected to house tropical rainforest plants and parrots, styled after the Palm House in the famed Kew Gardens in England. Major features were the large reproduction pre-Columbian Olmec head which formed a dramatic waterfall together with Olmec and Mayan-motif steles. To complete the design, a pretty Nevisian-style Great House was built in the centre of the garden to house the eatery and shop. The Botanical Gardens were opened with the main building named “Martha’s Tea House” – serving English tea with scones and clotted cream!