Creating a community space

In the third in a series of articles that follow the development of the new National Gallery and Education Centre, we take a conceptual tour of the gardens that will surround the site. 

The gardens at the new National Gallery are being created by Margaret Barwick and Sandy Urquhart – their first collaboration in the Cayman Islands. Author of the of Tropical and Sub-Tropical Trees: An Encyclopaedia, Barwick is a renowned international plants woman who’s work includes the design of the Tortola Botanic Park, the Cricket Square complex and many private gardens in Cayman and beyond. Urquhart, who until recently headed the design team for the Camana Bay project, has designed many public areas of the Cayman Islands and was recently honoured at the Governor’s Award for Design Excellence, having been shortlisted as one of seven outstanding designers for the gardens of the West Indian Club.  

The landscape design developed over a series of consultations with the NGCI board and staff. It was important to the Director that the gardens provide a beautiful setting for the National Gallery but that they become a visited ‘third’ space in their own right, a place for families to spend time in park-like surroundings. As part of the organisation’s long-term business plan, the design also needed to incorporate a flexible events area. Following the needs of their clients, a design began to take shape.  

As the pair are both long-time advocates for the use of native plants in design, it is not surprising that the gardens will use predominantly native, indigenous and endemic flora, allowing the building to rise up from the ground surrounded in its native habitat while supporting native birds, butterflies and other wildlife. In addition to their natural beauty, many of these plants offer the added benefit of requiring little maintenance. “Importantly for the NGCI operations budget long-term, these are plants that need little in the way of fertilizer or pesticide, that have adapted to our cycles of rain and drought and that are salt-tolerant,” says Urquhart.  

The central driveway, flanked by two small lakes, will be lined with native mahogany trees. Further into the site there will be native fruit trees, Silver Thatch, red birch and a diverse group of smaller native shrubs. The several small ornamental gardens in this front area, each named after major building donors: John and Carol Owen, Tim Ridley, Henry and Eliza Harford, Desmond and Cathy Kinch, Linton and Polly Tibbetts, Andreas and Natalie Ugland, Barbara Palmer, Stewart and Dianne Siebens, Atlantic Star Ltd. and Butterfield.  

At the rear of the building, the Deutsche Bank Sculpture Garden will run through the lower terrace, which will also house several individual gardens and the multi-purpose area. Here, families can picnic on the flat grassy area or visit the developing outdoor permanent collection, and learn about contemporary sculpture through a variety of educational programmes. The tree-shaded car park is close by and as in Urquhart’s design for the Dart Park in South Sound, the gardens will spill out into the parking area in an effort to ease people’s access into the gardens and the gallery. Visitors will be able to walk between these spaces beneath the Greenlight Re Pergola.  

“In addition to creating an attractive, educational area, we hope to generate an inherent sense of community by offering many ways for people to interact with each other in the spaces between the buildings,” says the duo. “The design will provide a fitting framework for Cayman’s cultural heritage at its best, unifying the interior artwork with the external beauty of our islands.”  

Plants will be sourced from the Native Plant Nursery at the QE II Botanic Park, local nurseries, and via donations-in-kind across the Island. There are still opportunities available to support the project by naming trees and the team encourage anyone interested to contact the National Gallery directly. 

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Margaret Barwick’s drawing

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