I’m at that point in my time in Jamaica when I’ve started to consciously look at the ‘not to miss’ list and plot out when I will do or see the things that remain on it. On a Saturday afternoon when I needed nothing more than space and quiet and nature, Hope Gardens called my name (by the way, how fitting is it for a botanical garden to have an official name “The Royal Botanical Gardens” and the common name “Hope Gardens”?) .

As per usual, I mis-judged the distance on Google maps, and I mis-judged the number of route taxes available on a Saturday afternoon. So I had a bit more of a walk than I anticipated, over-paid for a charter taxi, and finally arrived at this garden of peace and refuge sweating, red-faced, and clutching a fruit smoothie as though it were giving me life. All things considered, perhaps it was.

Hope Gardens was once a jewel in the greater Kingston parks system. In many ways it still is – it is the largest urban green space in Kingston-St. Andrew, has an impressive collection of both local and imported plants, and is home to an amazing array of birds and butterflies. It is cared for, cherished, and used by many. Some areas of the park are actively being restored, the Chinese embassy has donated what promises to be a lovely Chinese garden, and maintenance has clearly been re-prioritized. The highlight for me was seeing my first Doctor Bird, the stunning national bird of Jamaica, while I rested under a shady arbour in the sunken garden.

As soon as my breath returned and my body temperature reached the realms of normal I realised what a mistake it had been not to bring my ‘real’ camera. Ginger flowers soaring over my head, 6-inch koi circled creamy water lilies, and beauty around every corner waited to be captured for sharing, though no 2 dimensions can really do justice to the scope of the 200 acres.

I meandered between lovers in shady spots, families playing ball, and church groups having picnics, looking for a spot where a woman on her own didn’t look too out of place. Alongside the grassy open areas, prehistoric looking vegetation lines paths that wind between palms and tropical grasses. I half expected a placid Brontosaurus to swing its head around the trunk of a tree, fronds hanging from its lips, wondering what wee being disturbed its lunch. Instead, the paths give way to the massive grey trunks of trees of that appear to be crossed with elephants. A giant French Peanut tree is perhaps the most impressive growing thing I’ve seen.

Hope Gardens is a happy place. I was glad to sit on one of the benches, read, and listen to the chatter all around me – young couples – sometimes in small groups – teasing each other, a young man singing along to whatever was on his headphones, the unmistakable squeal of children at play. It was at once pleasant and lonesome.

Hope Gardens is also home to Hope Zoo, one of two zoos in Jamaica. I didn’t visit the zoo this time, preferring to save that for sometime when I’m in good company. Coincidentally, when I was looking for the parks opening hours I happened across this quote from my favourite Jamaican poet-philosopher. It increases my determination to return and see the zoo:

Growing up above Hope Gardens, the sound of the lions roaring at the zoo was so common I stopped hearing it. Often people came to the house and would jump up suddenly, asking, ‘What’s that!! What’s that sound!?’ And I’d say, Oh it’s just the lions, but I can’t hear them anymore. Then the zoo fell into disrepair, and the lions died though to my useless ears they had been silent long before their deaths, and then I fell completely out of love with zoos – the captivity and all. But today, I jump up at the clear sound of my childhood — a lion roaring at Hope Zoo. I feel strangely giddy as if something long lost has been returned to me.    Kei Miller

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