When Ahhh….Ras Natango Gallery and Garden’s Ian Williams, aka Ras Natango, first saw the property that would eventually bear his name, he was looking for a place where he and his wife, Tamika, transplants from Kingston, could put down roots and raise their young son. After a bit of negotiating, he bought it on spot, telling Tamika about it only when he returned home. If he expected high fives, he was wrong. She needed more than a little convincing.
You see, the property he bought is tucked into the side of a hill, about 2,000 feet above sea level, with rocks everywhere, some the size of boulders. And it presented its own problems — like how to build on rock and, equally as important for Tamika, then a teacher and an avid gardener, where to put her garden. But Ian, the artist, had a vision and eventually, he won her over.
They began slowly building their home, which clings like tentacles to the hillside, starting from the top and adding space below, as needed and funds allowed. When one of the guests at the hotel Ian worked asked to see where he found his inspiration, he realized he needed a studio, and Ras Natango Gallery was born.
Making the Rock Garden
Ian and Tamika continued working and sculpting the land for their use. To create the garden, they terraced and backfilled the hillside with compost, and planted flowers that would thrive in shallow beds.
Soon lantana, bougainvillea, gladioli, heliconia, hibiscus, zinnia, nasturtium, convolvulus, torch ginger, ginger lily, beehive ginger, cosmos, sunflower, amaryllis, lantana, bromeliads, and several other varieties bloomed. They added fruit trees (mango, guava, cherry, naseberry), and planted herbs and vegetables as well.
They treat the land with such love and respect that when a large tree began to die, they lopped off its limbs, painted its stump and turned it into a fairy villa. A boulder they couldn’t move was painted into a lion’s face, another a shark. Ian painted the birds that visit the garden on stones so visitors can identify the ones they see. To encourage you to stop, smell the aroma of the flowers, and take in the panoramic view of Montego Bay, they’ve placed benches at strategic locations in the garden. A small fishpond and fountain add to the ambience.
It has taken 25 years but Ian, Tamika, their son, Ayale, and scores of helpers have turned their piece of rock into a beautiful garden. Friends, family and visitors, captivated by the colors and being fed by nature, encouraged them to share their little oasis with others.
Ahhh…Ras Natango and the Community
In a community with no industry or employment for its youth, Ahhh…Ras Natango employs 14 full- and part-time young men, mostly. The Williamses have adopted a local school where Ian volunteers as an art teacher, and Tamika conducts field trips and teaches students, who’ve come from all over, how and what to plant and the benefits of composting.
In recognition of the work the Williamses have done over the years, in 2012, the community nominated Ahhh….Ras Natango Gallery and Garden for a Samuel Sharpe Award, which is given annually to seven businesses or individuals who have transformed the lives of others.
This labor of love has seen its share of ups and down. With no working capital or assistance from tourism agencies, Ahhh…Ras Natango fell on hard times. Last year, they laid off their employees and was about to close when they found American investors Mark and Frances Tucci who helped with much needed capital. Today, Ahhh…Ras Natango is thriving and continuing to give back to the community that it calls home.
Before You Go
Ahhh…Ras Natango Gallery and Garden is located in Camrose, about 20 minutes’ from Montego Bay. To encourage more visitors to take a break from the beach and head up into the peaceful hills, the Williamses have been offering shuttle service from town. The cost of entrance to the facility is $30. They also provide lunch on order.
The gallery and gift shop has original artwork by the Williamses, as well as one of a kind handcrafted tote bags, T-shirts, and other items.
Ahhh…Ras Natango Gallery and Garden is open 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays; on weekends by appointment only. 876-578-2582.
Sept. 9, 2013 – Linking today with Travel Photo Monday organized by Noel Morata at Travel Photo Discovery.