One of the few endangered Blacktip Island ghost orchid plants to survive Thursday’s brawl at the Blacktip Island Botanical Garden dedication ceremony. (photo courtesy of Reg Gurnard)
Blacktip Island’s new botanical garden was closed indefinitely during its opening ceremony Thursday when a brawl between rival gardening factions destroyed the facility’s entrance and many of its just-transplanted flora, island officials said.
“There was a dispute over who to name the garden after, with the crowd split evenly between two sides,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Several instigators began taunting each other and the violence escalated from there.
“Nearly 40 attendees were involved in the melee,” Marquette said. “The area has been cleared of people, and the garden will be closed until we can guarantee public safety at the site.”
Witnesses say the altercation resulted from simmering resentment in the island’s gardening community.
“I’m third-generation Blacktip Island Garden Society,” Molly Goby said. “My granddaddy founded the club. The garden should be named after him, out of respect, not some Johnny-come-lately who threw a bunch of money at it.”
“We contribute money and hard work,” Helen Maples said. “Who do you think paid for the land clearing and the gravel for the pathways? And trimmed the verges by hand?”
“Yes, we are changing the island,” Maples said. “For the better. That’s called ‘improving’ it. There would be no land for the Botanical Garden if it weren’t for us.”
Bystanders described a chaotic scene at the ceremony.
“The reverend had just started the opening prayer when someone yelled something about ‘golden trowels,’” Eagle Ray Cove resort guest Bill Fisch said. “The next thing you know people were at each others throats, flailing with gardening gloves, rakes, flower pots, even unplanted saplings.
“The tragedy is all the rare plants destroyed,” Fisch said. “Those poor orchids never had a chance. We kept our distance so we didn’t get dragged into it. And so we could video it. It’s all on YouTube now.”
Some locals say the brawl came as no surprise.
“Politics gets nasty with the garden set because the stakes are so small,” Belinda Graysby said. “Serving free alcohol at the pre-opening reception didn’t help, either. Both factions were lit, armed and looking for a fight.
“This kind of thing happens more often than you’d think,” Graysby said. “And they can call it a ‘botanical garden’ all they want, but it’s really just a path through the weeds. But saying that will start a riot, too.”
Some society members are pushing for a compromise to placate both sides.
“We floated ‘Goby Botanical Garden at Maples Park,’” BIGS secretary Reg Gurnard said. “But half our members pushed for ‘Maples Garden and Goby Park.’ ‘Goby-Maples’ and ‘Maples-Goby’ had the same result.
“The only option no one totally hates is naming it after ‘Tonio Fletcher, since he has no connection to the garden or gardening and, frankly, has a black thumb when it comes to plants,” Gurnard said. “We’re leaning toward ‘Antonio Fletcher Memorial Garden’ after all the plants that’ve died at his hands.”