Native Plant Garden Growing in Fish Bay

With imported plants and trees becoming common sights on St. John, at least one little corner of Fish Bay is now home exclusively to native flora.

The Native Plant Garden on Marina Road in Fish Bay grew out of hours of hard work and a government grant. Estate Fish Bay Owners Association president Terry Pishko conceived the idea last year after she heard about Department of Agriculture Urban Community Grants.

“We received information about the grant opportunities and that got us thinking, ‘gee it would be nice to try to educate our members and the community on native trees and plants,’” said Terry Pishko.

By showcasing the abundance of native plants and trees, the association also hoped to change property owners’ habits of clearing their land, added Chuck Pishko.

“A lot of people clear cut their building lots and then add stuff to it,” he said. “We wanted them to realize what is there before they clear cut, so instead of clear cutting they can just weed out what they don’t want.”

“And, we wanted to preserve these trees,” said Terry Pishko.

With about $3,000 in hand from the Department of Agriculture grant, the homeowners association got permission to create the garden from Island Resources Foundation, which owns the property, and got started on the project in August 2008.

Before removing anything from the overgrown site, however, the Pishkos enlisted the help of St. John botanist Eleanor Gibney, who surveyed the land.

(L to R) Terry Pishko, Eleanor Gibney and her children Amelia and Alex placing ID tags on trees.

“Before we cleared out any of the wild tamarind or anything, Eleanor Gibney, who was the consultant on the project, came out and identified the native trees,” said Terry Pishko.

With native trees tagged for saving, a team of volunteers from the homeowners association set to work clearing the site of catch and keep, sweet lime, wild tamarind and iguana vine.

“That was the hardest part,” said Terry Pishko. “I haven’t added up the total number of volunteer hours spent on the project, but it’s a lot.”

After clearing out the overgrowth, the group found guavaberry, mastic, yellow prickle and white prickle trees among the foliage. Gibney also provided several species of native trees to plant in the garden, explained Terry Pishko.

“Eleanor would come out and check the site every once in a while and advise us and she also provided native trees and shrubs for us to add to the garden,” said Terry Pishko.

The Native Plant Garden in Fish Bay now boasts kapok, bullettwood and anthurium trees thanks to Gibney, as well as a Solarnum conocarpum, a rare bushy tree with light blue flowers.

With the native trees and plants starting to take shape, the Pishkos focused on the aesthetics of the garden.

“The trees and bushes were planted and then we decided to make it a little more attractive and so we put in a footpath that winds through the garden,” said Terry Pishko.

The four-foot wide path meanders through the site and is composed of crushed stone over landscape cloth and outlined with landscape timber wood. The group also added plant and tree identification signs and plan to add more, explained Terry Pishko.

“There are some small signs there already, but we plan to add more,” she said. “Eleanor has found more native plants that she didn’t see when the site was all overgrown.”

After more than a year of hard work, the Pishkos have been enjoying the fruits of their labor and watching the neighborhood use the garden.

“We’ve had really positive feedback,” said Terry Pishko. “The garden is not just for Fish Bay, we’d really like the whole island to come out and take a look at it and walk around a bit.”

The Native Plant Garden is in Estate Fish Bay on the main street, called Marina Road, on the left just past the first bridge. The community is invited to visit and watch the garden grow.

“We have plans to create an educational brochure and some people in our group are talking about expanding the garden too,” Terry Pishko said. “It’s been a lot of work, but I think the results are very satisfying.”