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Transforming the 'People's House'

Published:Sunday | February 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Barbara Ellington, Lifestyle Editor

Last Friday marked one year since Governor General Sir Patrick and Lady Allen became the new residents of the 160-acre King's House. With a busy official schedule, the first couple have managed to start the arduous task of landscaping the beautiful grounds.

The address is one of just a few such green spaces remaining in the city. It has been a challenge, particularly with the ongoing drought and harsh economic conditions, but with the help of some kind and supportive corporate citizens, it has not been a drain on the public purse.

"I am very grateful to many persons across Jamaica," Lady Allen told
- "The Consular Corps, with the help of businessman Kenny Benjamin's landscaping team, completed the tea garden that has a waterfall and miniature fish pond."

Several other corporate donors and friends of King's House have stepped up to the plate to make the 'People's House' the thing of beauty it can be. Approaching the teardrop entryway to the house, it is evident that the small old fountain is in advanced stages of repair. Fixing the pump and a new coat of paint will complete the job.

The entire circular lawn in front of the porte cochére is now lit and the three flagpoles originally on the roof are now planted on the ground.

"It was a challenge for the men to climb up to raise and lower the flag every day, so we decided to take it down," Sir Patrick said while giving
a tour last week Monday.

The governor general is proud of the blue mahoe, lignum vitae and mahogany trees that have been planted and the arboreta that is being developed, but more so of his patch of plantains that he personally put in the ground. The trees are fully grown but, like everything else, they need water.

"I got the plantain suckers as a gift and planted them myself. If we were getting rains or even water from the well that needs repair here on the property, we would have had some to eat already," he said, with an obvious sense of achievement.

From her vegetable garden, Lady Allen has so far reaped callaloo, spinach, sweet peppers and okras, and there are lots of fruit trees and some sorrel as well.

Elsewhere on the grounds are: a tiny garden of spinach, close to 50 new palm trees, and lots of flower beds encircling the giant-size palms. The Institute of Jamaica will donate as well as label indigenous trees in a proposed theme garden that Lady Allen hopes will serve educational purposes when children visit the national treasure in future. On Earth Day last year, the Tree Growers Association planted six poui trees and there are also 19 hanging pots of bougainvillea, a donation from justices of the peace in St Ann.

Flower garden

"I plan to establish a flower garden, from which we can get fresh blooms for the house; a place of this size should have its own flower garden. Already, I have an orchid house almost filled with plants we have received as gifts during the year; these will be cared for future blooms," Lady Allen said.

So, how did she find time for all of this in addition to official duties? Lady Allen told
that she works best during the early mornings after the gym and she does not ask anyone to do anything she cannot or would not do herself. There are also plans afoot to build a gazebo and she is hoping to acquire more giant-size clay pots for areas in and around the residence.

Another section where marked improvement is evident is the old walkway that leads to a huge fountain on the grounds. The fountain is now being cleaned and is to be restored to its former magnificence in the near future. The dome-shaped walkway now has a new mesh roof bordered by palms at whose roots grapevines have been planted. When these grow and the fruits come in, they will be a beautiful sight.

Friends of the first couple were married in this area on Valentine's Day and, according to Sir Patrick, in future, couples who wish to start their married life there will first have to get the permission of the King's House Foundation that will vet their applications and make the decision.

The once humid ballroom has been air-conditioned, the formal dining room has been given a facelift but the wooden floors in some parts of the house are still to be repaired. Several pieces of precious antique furniture have either been repaired or are still waiting to be done and, given the economic constraints, many chairs