One of Barbados’ national treasures has been hit by a substantial fall-off in visitors and its management is blaming a “conspiracy” by unknown persons for the growing belief that the site is closed to business.
While the Andromeda Gardens attraction in St Joseph has retained its natural beauty, Sharon Cooke, owner of Passiflora Ltd., which is contracted to manage the property, says her best efforts to attract tourists and locals have been unsuccessful.
Cooke, however, claims that recent investigations are pointing to a concerted effort by some person or entity to convince tourism officials and by extension visitors, that the gardens, which are owned by the Barbados National Trust, have been closed down.
She said under their watch the numbers visiting the gardens increased to as many as 7,500 annually but even at this level, the full resources needed to run the facility are not covered.
On an average day at the gardens, the parking lot is mostly empty and the gardens are only patronized by a handful of people.
Cooke told Barbados TODAY her company has been managing the property for five and a half years and were charged with reviving the over eight-acre space but were hindered by drought conditions and water outages in the rural parish.
“We started with 5,000 people a year for the first two years and you can’t sustain a garden of 8.5 acres with that. We need eight gardeners, but we can’t afford eight gardeners with just 5,000 people coming in a year. We’ve increased it to 7,500 people a year but it needs double that… and we are not getting them,” complained Cooke.
She explained: “Last year we delivered leaflets to 90 per cent of Barbados’ hotels and just recently we have been phoning the hotels to invite them and our assistant manager is saying that most of them say they haven’t heard of us,” Cooke revealed.
“I phoned one in particular which has not been recommending Andromeda and she [a senior hotel worker] said ‘to be honest, I thought you were closed’.”
In another instance, Cooke said a tour operator with a popular hotel admitted to them that he was informed in a meeting not to take tourists to the attraction because it was closed.
“He then called back two hours later apologizing because people had been asking to come here and he has been telling them that they can’t come here because it’s closed. I have been asking him for more information, but he has never come back, so we definitely feel somebody is telling people that we are closed for an unknown reason and I would like all of those people to just stop,” appealed the annoyed proprietor.
The botanical garden was opened in the 1950s and gifted to the Barbados National Trust by horticulturalists, Iris Bannochie upon her death in 1988. Space is home to a number of natural and manmade streams and houses over 500 species of plants.
Since then, it has attracted attention from numerous famous public figures. Most recently, world-renowned Nigerian recording artist Davido recorded parts of the music video for his song, Assurance in the garden attracting over 47 million views on YouTube. Bashment Soca sensation, Mole has also been recording a music video in the space.
Since 2016 the managing director said the area had been restored and she now has dreams of transforming it into a Tropical American Ethno Botanical Garden focused on local plants and conserving local flora. Poor patronage, however, has hindered those efforts.
While Cooke said she remained dedicated to the job at hand, she indicated she would barely be able to maintain it with assistance from her husband, two part-time gardeners, and volunteer Karen Affeldt.
“It won’t be closed down under my watch and I am going to be here for at least the next five months. I am just concerned when I consider that in London everyone knows about the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Singapore Botanic Gardens, but they don’t know about our own natural wonder,” Cooke said.
Barbados TODAY’s efforts to reach officials at the Trust were unsuccessful. [email protected]