There is nothing to beat an English cottage garden in the summertime… except perhaps a tropical Caribbean garden of 20 acres in Panama. Englishwoman Lin Gillingham and her New Zealand-born husband, after a long search in many parts of the world for a place to create a garden, discovered Bocas del Toro in 1999, spent a decade planning, planting, potting and pruning and finally opened their botanical garden to the public.
Their property is called Finca Los Monos, or Monkey Farm and, as you may have deduced, the farm has many monkeys, among other members of the animal kingdom that add to the experience of visiting these beautiful botanical gardens on Isla Colón, a short drive from the town center in Bocas del Toro.
The visitor trail leads tourists along a two-hour journey through tropical flora from around the world.
It is fit for every kind of visitor. A botanist will be thrilled here, whereas the tag-along visitor still finds loads of visually entertaining flowers, palms and ferns as well as the occasional sloth, raccoon, armadillo, silky anteater, frog, caiman, bird or insect.
The farm runs coast-to-coast on the main island in the Bocas Archipelago, on a skinny strip of land known as the “Istmito”. All the big old trees, the habitat of the wildlife, were left intact. Visitors enter beneath two Flame of the Forest trees (Delonix Regia) into a large Palapa that serves as a visitor’s center.
This open structure with a thatched roof serves as start and finish of the tour. A bit of shade and “agua de pipa” (coconut water) or refreshing lemon grass tea are always welcome after the long walk.
A typical tour
Linda knows her plants just as well as she does people. Her endless fascination with her garden is immediately contagious to those on the tour. Walking from a palm garden, through a vine-covered tunnel, past bright red and pink gingers and on to colourful hibiscus, one can also observe the humming birds and butterflies drawn to the nectar of these exquisite tropical flowers. Off the footpath, tiny colorful frogs can be seen, camouflaged among the fallen leaves.
The path goes alongside a fish pond, covered by pink water lilies and reconnoitered by brilliant dragonflies. With all its fruit and flowers, the garden is a favourite haunt for parrots, tanagers, woodpeckers, orioles, flycatchers, and green ibis Or one may be lucky enough to see a tiny hummingbird nest, made of the soft woolly fibres of the Balsa tree.