A Tree Grows in Nevis
By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
ITS SUGAR MILL aside, the weeping fig tree that presides over the great house at Nevis’ Montpelier Plantation and Beach is the inn’s most iconic image, welcoming guests to the tranquil 19-room property where Princess Diana and her sons once famously retreated.
And its almost as famous, constantly being photographed by pro and amateur shutterbugs, who try to capture the beauty of its sprawling canopy of branches, its massive trunk, and the roots look as if they could escape the confines of its brick-lined bed at any moment.
The fig is rumoured to be a hundred, even 200 years old, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that it dates from Montpelier’s colonial days when it was a thriving sugar plantation. But you’d be wrong.
“I planted that tree myself in 1966, when I was 13 years old,” says Oldain “Sandy” Claxton, the inn’s longest-serving member of staff. “All the trees around here,” he says, spreading his arms in the direction of the verdant mountain acreage, “I see them small.”
Back then, when Montpelier was first being converted from a factory to a hotel, Sandy had just started work as a member of the gardening team. “I remember it was just a little twig and we had to use stalks of bamboo to support it. As it grew we used taller and taller bamboo. Then a ladder. And when it outgrew the ladder we just let it spread.”
Sandy chuckles when I tell him how I thought the tree was centuries old, amused but unsurprised by my mistake. “Everyone thinks that,” he says. “It’s a strong tree. We have to cut back the branches every year or so. And the roots run all the way under the great house to the cistern in the back of the property.” He tells me how sometimes they invade the water pipes, and how he’s the one everyone turns to when they need to know anything about the famous fig.
Forty-eight years since he planted that tiny twig, Sandy still works full days at Montpelier. But now, just like the tree, he’s branched into other areas. “I deal with the water, windows, walls … a little bit of everything,” he says proudly. “I’ve been talking about retiring. But I’ll never stop working. It’s just talk.”