Summer 2013, the days searingly bright and the the nights dark and close. Escaping Kingston city’s assault of constant heat is the only sane thing to do; I took to the hills.
The Blue Mountains and the foothills that lead to them flank the city plains, so getting away is no more than an hour’s drive. The steep winding road is the only route of others with the same escape in mind, heading to homes tucked away behind mango trees, bamboo thickets and ever-thriving bush. I was luckier than they were though; I was meeting some friends who had linked up with a guide, and so we got off the road and were led to a hidden trail that had to be cleared with a machete. At least initially. Once we hacked away the curtain of tall grasses we found the bridle path that used to be the only way to ascend this particular hill, on top of which was once a flower farm. The lady who owned it used to walk this path with donkeys and filled their baskets with flowers to carry to the city to sell. Yes, up here in the hills where a soft drizzle keeps dampening the trees and the carpet of golden leaves beneath them, flowers could thrive.
Up we walked, the light low under the cover of thick canopy. The path was magical; strange growths like charred bulbous mushrooms, black and glistening in treasure-trove clumps, and delicate fronds of fern. Silence. A feeling of timelessness, of entering into a place of cool shade where the natural way of things is all there is, and a reconnection with the ongoing life force of the planet that city-living tends to veil.
About an hour of walking, makybe more, and we emerged into the hilltop garden, beautifully maintained by the Sharp family and now run as the heart of their coffee business. Clifton Mount house and garden is surrounded on three sides by sheer drops, the scrubby cascading land sinking to deep valleys before rising again, creating a dramatic panorama of a view. Mists drifted through, nothing beneath them but coffee bushes, thousands of them. And there we were, in the garden of a demure mountain home, a gracious old lady settled into her throne of hydrangeas and roses, heathers and lilies. It was the hydrangeas that captured me with their abundance, an array of pinks and blues and creams. They reminded me of my grandmother and her garden in Ireland. One or two large bushes is all she had, but to a small child that was plenty, enough to submerge into and marvel at the intricacy of these flowers. Here I got a chance to reacquaint myself with their world, and I determined that when I returned to the hot city I would paint these hydrangeas with their cool hills as a backdrop. And so I have.