CHARLOTTE AMALIE -- Why go visit botanical gardens on a Caribbean
After all, most of the islands are themselves natural retreats,
full of tropical blooms and foliage year-round.
I set out to answer that question on a recent visit to Estate
St. Peter Greathouse & Botanical Gardens, 1,000 feet above Hull
Bay and Magens Bay beach on St. Thomas' north coast.
The 11-acre garden spot was completely leveled by hurricanes
Hugo in 1989 and Marilyn in 1995. However, owners Howard de Wolfe
and his wife, Sylvie, who bought the estate in 1987, replanted,
rebuilt and reopened after both storms.
More than 200 species of labeled tropical plants and trees now
flank the self-guided nature trails, waterfalls, fish ponds and
aviaries of the meticulously landscaped site.
Calli Waselenchuk, director of sales and marketing, said that
many of the botanicals are transplants from other regions, such as
the umbrella plant from Madagascar, the tropical day lily from
Asia, the cane orchid from China, the bird of paradise from South
Africa and 20 different kinds of bananas from all over the
In addition to attracting hordes of cruise ship passengers, the
estate is popular as a locale for corporate events and private
Waselenchuk said that groups from 40 to 500 people can be
accommodated in the separate dining pavilion that includes a
gourmet catering kitchen, audiovisual equipment and an
The re-created great house is full of contemporary Caribbean
furnishings and local artwork. The public rooms were roped off but
I peeked in, not quite sure if I was intruding into someone's
private living room or a villa rental.
No one actually lives in the great house, I found out.
I sipped a watery rum punch, included in the $8 per person
admission price, as I toured the grounds. The latticed outdoor
observation deck got my vote as the best part of the tour. More
than 20 of the neighboring British Virgin Islands looked like
emerald drops as far as my eye could see.
In the 1800s the estate was part of the 150-acre parcel of land
called Plantation St. Peter. Frequented by several Indian tribes,
the original owners were of French descent and claimed that the
property had been used by pirates to bury treasures.
Stories of holes being dug in the night by bounty hunters have
long been part of the estate's legend.
In 1938, the great house was sold to Lawrence Cramer, then
governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.It was purchased in the 1960s
by the trust of Johnson & Johnson Corp. for use as a corporate
The current owners also own and operate another of St. Thomas'
top attractions, Mountain Top, an observation site, restaurant and
boutique shopping area 547 feet above Estate St. Peter.
One of Mountain Top's claims to fame, along with its spectacular
view, is that the banana daiquiri was invented in its bar.
The drink is $5.50 (some island sightseeing tours include the
cost in the tour price).
It is available with or without alcohol and is de rigeur for
Estate St. Peter Greathouse and Botanical Gardens
Phone: (340) 774-4999
Phone: (340) 777-4707