Ala's Antigua Garden

Our house in Antigua wasn’t even finished yet when I began building my garden. I was just that excited. We flew in John Love, the best man for the job, a Texan artist turned landscaper who guided us through the process. Being that I had no experience in tropical gardens or their challenges for that matter, John’s expertise was much appreciated. And who would have known that a simple desire for a tropical garden would lead to so much art inspiration.

Ala Isham wearing printed shirt and pants by Ala von Auersperg in her garden in Antigua

Every inch of our property was fair game when it came to our garden. I loved the idea of passersby being met with trees, flowers, and greenery instead of dense housing as they traveled on their way. I opted for Neem, Arborvitae, and Turpentine trees. Google them! I promise you won’t be disappointed.

The windy hill top that we live on puts Antigua’s fantastic trade winds on full display. Our year round temperature rarely goes over 85 degrees. With the effortless, light dresses and sheer toppers from AvA, I can take on any level of heat, but I certainly won’t complain about my 85 or under degree backyard.

Ala Isham garden in Antigua
Ala Isham garden in Antigua

Despite its cool winds, Antigua is a dry island. Water is a hot commodity. Everyone on the island works to gather as much water as they can whether that be from rain gutters or cisterns. When it does rain, the island transforms, growing a touch more magical and a whole lot more green. Because of this, the biggest obstacle in planning our garden was finding plants that were both rain and wind resistant.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how quickly tropical plants grow. It’s like watching my grandkids grow. About 15 years ago friends of ours gifted us two Royal palms. Those palms now stand at 20 feet tall. We started out with a number of Bismarck Palms that soon grew so tall they tower over me. Now we have date palms, dwarf palms, and traveling palms.

Flower in Antigua
Plant in Antigua

My staple favorites when it comes to plants are Spider Lilies, Heliconias, Ginger, Bougainvillea, and Agapanthus. I also have a large amount of Mock Coffee, a member of the Frangipani family. Sound familiar? It recently joined the AvA print family. Make sure to take a look at our new Mock Coffee Print and take a bit of my tropical garden to your wardrobe.

I like to keep as much varied green foliage as possible. It creates dimension and makes me feel like I have my own little rain forest right there in my yard. I purposely keep Orchids in the trees right at eye level so I can be sure to fully enjoy them. I even use both Moth Orchids and Dendrobium Orchids which bloom at different times of the year so I can be sure to be enjoying some sort of Orchid all year long.

Ala Isham garden in Antigua

Yes, the garden is beautiful and brings so much joy but it does come with its challenges. Like for example, a disease called lethal yellowing. The only way to treat the disease is to inject the palms with antibiotics or lose them. For years, I routinely treated my trees as such. Luckily there is now a Dwarf Coconut Palm tree that is resistant to the disease. But don’t be fooled by the name, this tree still hits heights up to 100 feet. Outside of watching for lethal yellowing, I’m always looking to control caterpillars and pests which I do using Neem Tree oil. A fantastic and natural remedy. With our disease and pests taken care of, I focus on providing the best soil possible which is why I use coconut husk as a sort of mulch. It works to enrich the soil and keep our garden extra healthy.

If looking at the garden wasn’t reward enough for the hard work that managing a tropical garden is, I am lulled to sleep every night with the sounds of the tree frogs and the smell of blooming jasmine. Absolute paradise.