Even the most latent horticultural interest is excited by the masses of spectacular flowers in Bermuda. Their variety is fascinating, their beauty is astonishing and their origins are hard to believe.
Bermuda was one of the last really habitable spots in the world to be inhabited, and until Sir George Somers landed in 1609, nature had been in full control. There were then a mere one hundred and fifty varieties of plants including the seventeen indigenous ones. Apparently the others, similar to plants native to Mexico, the West Indies and the southeastern coast of the United States, had floated in on seaweed or had grown from seeds brought by migrating birds.
Now there are more than 1,500 varieties of plants. A surprising number of Bermuda's early globe-roaming sailors extended their investigations of foreign ports beyond the waterfront to the flora of a new country, and brought back slips and seeds of plants that would ornament the Colony. Here on a coral atoll in the middle of the Atlantic, flowers brought by these seagoing flower-fanciers from Asia, Africa, North and South America and the West Indies have flourished.
In addition to the contributions of sailormen, early governors and their wives frequently brought new species with them, and others arrived in letters. Some plants, such as the loquat, came to the Islands quite by accident. This pretty evergreen is native to Japan, and it arrived in Bermuda only because a ship in distress, with some aboard, was forced into St. George's Harbor. Now it grows widely, and loquat preserves are a local delicacy.
Gardens are carefully tended and are a source of great pride, but no well-manicured beds and borders can contain the exuberance of the flowers. They trail along the sandstone walls bordering the winding roads and invade vegetable gardens, until there is created the impression of a large outdoor greenhouse. Although Bermuda is only semi-tropical, its palms (including the stately royal palm) and many of its other plants often create tropical landscapes.
For the serious amateur the Agricultural Station on Point Finger and the South Shore Roads in Paget East is a must; and attending a meeting of the Garden Club to listen to one of the monthly talks, chat with the members and see the bench exhibits and arrangements is a real treat. For further investigation there are available, in the Public Library on Queen Street, several excellent books on Bermuda's plants and flowers, including the definitive and learned Flora of Bermuda, by Dr. Nathaniel L. Britton , and Louisa Hutchings Smith interesting and readable Bermuda's Oldest Inhabitants.
There are some flowers that will become familiar almost automatically, either because they are so spectacular or are seen so often. The hibiscus came here from Hawaii and the West Indies. One variety was just washed ashore. It has large but delicate filmy blossoms that can be red, pink, yellow, apricot, or white, but the color most frequently, seen is a unique coral shade sometimes called "hibiscus color." This lovely semi-tropical shrub is frequently used for formal hedges, but the rarer varieties are usually planted as individual specimens. It blooms throughout the year and Ronald J. Williams, editor of the Bermudian, has paraphrased the, English expression about the gorse to the local equivalent that "when hibiscus is out of bloom, kissing is out of season." The "Scotchman's purse," that never opens, is similar to the hibiscus.
The fame of Bermuda's oleanders is such that visitors often plan their trips for "oleander time" just as others go to Washington, D. C., for "cherry blossom time." They bloom more or less throughout the year, but are in their real glory in June. The pink, red and white blossoms on plants that grow eight to twenty feet high are probably the most beautiful floral feature of the Islands. They are particularly lovely in Somerset, or along the South Shore of Warwick and Southampton. Oleanders from India, the South Seas and Charleston, S. C., have grown here for nearly 150 years. Not only are they beautiful, but a hedge of oleanders makes an excellent windbreak when planted in a breezy spot.