escapes

The Secret Garden of Eden Perry Mason‘s Raymond Burr Created For Himself

The gay Canadian actor Raymond Burr, who played television’s Perry Mason and died in 1993, made the island nation of Fiji his second home. In 1965, he purchased the island Naitauba, and made it his own private sanctuary. In 1977, on another piece of land he acquired, he opened the Garden of the Sleeping Giant on a plantation estate, where he fancied himself a botanist. “He was a keen grower of this dainty flower and, with his partner Robert Benevides, hybridised an estimated 1500 varieties before leaving Fiji in 1983,” notes The Australian. “One was named for Barbara Hale, the actress who played his secretary Della Street in the Perry Mason series.” Burr, of course, is no longer with us, but his nursery remains. “It is a botanic wonderland on a steepish block, entered via a mesh-covered walkway lined with cultivated orchids – chartreuse, pink, creamy white, buttercup yellow – growing in pots perched randomly on rock walls, and perennial epiphytes that sprout from trees and stumps. Each is gorgeous, fragile, with petals variously shaped like frilly slippers, tiny starfish and lunging spiders. The estate then opens out via wooden boardwalks and stone paths to plantings of laden mango trees, frangipani and palms (including traveller palms with their fan-like fronds), groves of bamboo and a lovely feeling of wildness, with the forested foothills of the Nausori Highlands in the distance. It’s these hills that give the garden its esoteric name, as the corrugated ridge is said to resemble the body of a sleeping giant.” This sounds absolutely beautiful, and the type of place gay actors in the 1950s could only dream of. Burr, then, was fortunate to make it his reality.