by Robin Trimingham
In many ways strolling through the grounds surrounding Orange Valley House in Devonshire Parish is like travelling through time.
Originally constructed in 1800 by Captain William Cox and inhabited continuously by six generations of the Cox family, each generation has surveyed the land with a far-reaching gaze and made strategic enhancements for future generations to enjoy.
It is no wonder then that John Cox, the current resident and family archivist, views his role as being a unique mixture of caretaker, historian, and tour guide.
A GARDEN IS FOR EVERYONE
“You can’t have something this wonderful and not share it with everyone,” says Mr. Cox. “My mother Anthea Cox always felt that it was her duty to maintain the grounds for future generations and I have come to feel the same.”
Standing at the base of arguably one of the largest trees on the entire island, a towering 200-year-old Kapok tree that Captain Cox brought home as a sapling from Demerara (better known as British West Guyana), John looks up contemplatively.
LANDSCAPING FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS TO ENJOY
“Captain Cox must have known how big this tree would grow, given the great distance that he planted it from the house. Oddly enough these trees are usually thought to harbour evil spirits, but I like to imagine that this tree harbours a benevolent one who has watched over us through the ages.”
Fast forward 100 years and we approach an elevated fishpond. “My Great Great Uncle Aubrey Cox wanted an ornamental fishpond, but he was so terrified of toads that he insisted that the cement bowl be raised up on pillars to ensure that the toads would never be able to access it,” he explained.
Stepping through the hedge into a green field we move another fifty years forward in time.
“When my parents married and took up residence here in 1954, the entire property was covered in Surinam cherry trees,” John recalls.
“When I was young my father spent considerable effort clearing those cherry trees from the land to improve the gardens and to make space to pursue his passion for cultivating fruit trees. Growing up we had an orchard filled with naval and blood oranges, grapefruit, avocado, locust and wild honey, and pawpaw trees.”
“There was even a slat house for propagating pineapples, which he learned about during a visit to the Azores – proving at the very least that he was a man of great patience because it takes 18 months for each pineapple to grow to maturity.”
SCULPTING NATURE FOR A PLEASING VISTA
But it was John’s mother who made some of the most insightful additions to the gardens, installing a wisteria covered arbour leading visitors from the front lawn past the side of the house to a tranquil enclosed courtyard which features a cooling fountain, and a formal croquet lawn providing a pleasing vista from the shaded back porch.
As is the family tradition, John is also adding his influence to the grounds of Orange Valley – most notably by improving the main drive and installing a balustrade at the edge of the lawn on the front side of the house.
As we pause to say goodbye, he looks wistfully at a medium-sized Poinciana tree by the garage and remarks, “you know we used to have an enormous Poinciana in that spot that was planted back in 1872.”
“Thank goodness those tree spirits like me because the whole thing came crashing to the ground in the middle of a sunny afternoon in September 1995, not 20 seconds after I had been standing under it with both of my dogs!”
Proving yet again that there is never a dull moment in the gardens of Orange Valley.
A fascinating journey of nature and history and caring.