You can’t imagine a person as special as Dinah Veeris, nor a tropical garden as uncommon as the one she’s personally carved out and nurtured in the heart of Curacao’s famously arid environs.
I met her last year in April while visiting the island as a guest of the Hyatt Regency Curacao, now the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort. Actually, I met one of her fine homemade botanical products – a Laraha Scrub that made my first-ever manicure magnificent – well before I met the lady herself.
At the time, I, like most people, assumed that not much of anything useful (besides the laraha fruit used to make this sweet treat) grew on Curacao. After all, the island receives about 20 inches of rainfall per-year. Your typical desert, 10 inches or less.
So yeah, it’s plenty dry here, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a go at growing the same herbs, fruits, and vegetables found throughout the rest of the Caribbean. At least that’s what Dinah thought when she quit her teaching job back in the 80’s to pursue her dream.
I noticed that we were losing a lot of herbs… because we would build the house; we have a company, we cut everything because we know nothing about the plants.
To Dinah, progress and development were dealing a death blow to the old farming and herbal medicine traditions she had seen her mother practice during her childhood. She set about learning the ancient traditions from her mom and other local elders in Curacao, Aruba, and Bonaire over a period of five years. She then bought the modest one-acre parcel of land that would become her garden.
Over the next four years she set about collecting the many different plant species essential to Curacao’s old herbal remedies. When she found that a species no longer existed in Curacao, she traveled to Aruba or Bonaire to find it and bring it back.
Plant by plant she built her garden, cultivating it with care in accordance to the lessons imparted to her by her elders. Finally, in 1991, Den Paradera was born.
The name comes from the Paraguiri Indians who had one of the biggest herb gardens of Curacao near to the area of the Hyatt.
She later explained that when the Spanish came to Curacao, they brought their slaves to the Paraguiri Indian garden to be cured of various ailments. It was the Spanish that called the location “En Paradera,” a name later changed by the local people into “Den Paradera,” which means “the place where you feel at home.”
In the spirit of the Paraguiri, Dinah has packed more than 300 different plant species into her tiny garden, all of which she lovingly maintains together with a small staff of helpers. The garden is divided into three parts – botanical, historical, and production. Stepping away from the main entrance, she led us first through the botanical section, calling out the names of select plants as we passed, while also detailing their benefits.
It was a real treat getting the details straight from Dinah herself, though everything was clearly labeled, so you could glean much of the same info while trekking through here on your own.
In the historical section, Dinah showed us examples of kunuku dwellings, typical countryside homes that were prevalent in Curacao long ago. Inside sat life-sized dolls in traditional dress, giving added life to Curacao’s past.
In the production section, herbs used to produce Dinah’s wide array of soaps, oils, lotions, and elixirs are cultivated. It’s a densely-packed area as the list of homemade products produced here covers just about every ailment you could think of – headaches, colds and flus, asthma, prostate problems, high cholesterol, stress and sleeplessness, hypertension, diabetes, worms, menopause, weight loss, and on and on and on…
All natural cures, all grown in a one-acre garden, all by one woman on the “desert island” of Curacao… Didn’t I tell you Dinah was unbelievably special?
Den Paradera is open Monday-Saturday from 9am to 6pm. Dinah and her staff offer guided tours at modest prices (under US$10). If you just want to tour around on your own, there’s a small entrance fee.
You won’t want to miss the herbal shop where you can purchase Dinah’s amazing natural herbal remedies and, if you’re lucky and they’re in print, Dinah’s celebrated book, Green Remedies and Golden Customs of Our Ancestors. There were no books left when I was there, which just gives me another reason to want to pay Dinah another visit soon…