The kitchen garden is a Caribbean tradition. As the name implies, they are usually right next to the home. Gardens or farms a bit further from home are often called provision grounds. Kitchen gardens are often small, but they can include a wild variety of different plants.
St. Martin is densely populated, so some kitchen gardens are as small as a few potted herbs on a balcony. Walk down a street and you can see bits and pieces of kitchen gardens all over. Sugar apple, soursop and papaya trees stand guard in front yards. A maiden apple vine winds its way around a front porch. A line of pigeon pea bushes runs along a fence. Bananas are growing in the wettest corner of a yard and a single clump of sugarcane rises up beside a wall. Along the even busiest streets you’re likely to spot doliprane and vervain.
Kitchen gardens are ancient. Plants and techniques come from African and Amerindian traditions that are thousands of years old. European and Asian plants have been incorporated, too. The result can be chaotic, but the diversity of plants makes kitchen gardens rich and strong. Pigeon peas and beans provide nitrogen to their neighbors, papayas and bananas offer shade.
Kitchen gardens have roots in the colonial era, when enslaved persons would tend their own gardens before and after long days of labor. They were key to survival for free St. Martiners during the long years when the island had little economic activity. Today, with a tourism economy and endless imports, the kitchen garden is not as necessary as it once was.
Will the kitchen garden disappear from St. Martin? It seems unlikely. No matter how busy we get, the promise of a fresh-picked sugar apple and the smell of herbs are still irresistible. The growing power of the Caribbean sun is too strong to waste. Time spent with hands in soil will always be one of the best ways to get a moment of zen in a world that is too busy.
What is in your perfect kitchen garden? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to [email protected].