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.
21 comments on “Ahhh…Ras Natango Gallery and Garden, an Eco-Tourism Destination”
What a great story! I looks like a fascinating place.
What a fabulous place. I can relate to building on a rock and all the work it takes though I definitely wasn’t as creative as they were. Still I filled about four 8 cubic yard bins with rocks, moved over 34 cubic yards of dirt by hand on our property and planted in shallow beds. I was quite proud of what I accomplished – and they we moved to Calgary. I never did think of painting some of the rocks. So glad to hear the place is still open – and it’s one I would love to visit in Jamaica.
Ahhhh… beautiful place! I had to laugh at myself — It took me a while to figure out that Ahhh was part of the name of the and not just a sigh. 🙂 I like the entrance, too. 🙂
I really like this idea – and the saying! It’s beautiful how they worked with the landscape instead of just covering it up.
I agree, Jess. Sometimes, we have to work with what we have instead of changing it into something else. Thanks for your comment.
Hahaha, I debated whether to include an explanation but in the end, I totally forgot. It’s also the sigh you let out when you take in the beauty that surrounds you there.
I remember that post you wrote about leaving for Calgary, Leigh. How you must have missed that garden! Hope you start one in the new place. And yes, they’re open and thriving and giving back to the community. Hope you get to see it one of these days.
It’s a fascinating place with a fascinating couple. Their story is so inspiring, I think of it when I feel like giving in.
Marcia!!! The two articles are beautiful!! Thanks to all who have commented. it warms my heart that other persons from all over the world appreciates our rock garden paradise! Ahhh…
Hello Cindy. it is indeed a beautiful place. Hope you will be able to visit one day.
We are open and will welcome you gladly. Its the perfect job doing what we love. It does not feel like work.Thanks for commenting
It is deliberate our name Ahhh… The first word most guests say is Ahhh… then it hits them its our name. Thanks ras natango for choosing the perfect name!
Working with nature. Most people would bulldoze the hillside but we preserved it as it is then added terraces and tropical blooms. Ahhh…
I’m glad that they found some capital to keep such a beautiful place going…. Great post! 🙂
Some pin-worthy pics there, Marcia 🙂 The post reminds me of all the old farmhouses here in Canada with porches and walls made of stones hand-cleared from the land. It’s so great they are teaching kids how to garden. I’d love to stop and smell the roses in Jamaica!
You’re welcome, Tamika. So glad you like them both and glad to spread the word about Ahhh…
Thanks, Lesley. I’d love to see those farmhouses, they must have taken a lot of work to build and are full of character.
Hope you get to smell the roses in Jamaica one of these days.
Oh yeah, I agree. It would have been a pity to lose such a gift and a blow to the community.
Eliz, We are thankful to the Tucci’s for believing in us and our community to give the necessary funding needed. Together we can and must. Thanks
Especially the roses at Ahhh!!!! Thanks and we do appreciate the exposure Marcia.
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