About a year and a half ago, my brother and I bought a small home on an acre lot on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Our parents had once had a home there, as did my brother. We thought the time was right to buy a home that might serve as a retirement home, or at least a place to visit as we are able. It’s been like an HGTV show, with discoveries of unexpected repairs and unanticipated decorating touches by my wife, Carolyn. (As my coworkers can attest, I am clueless when it comes to colors and design and other subtle nuances of decorating. And, they downright laugh at the idea of me tackling projects with a screwdriver in one hand and…a screwdriver in the other. Of course I know that one is to tighten and one is to loosen. I know SOMETHING about repairs, don’t sell me short!!)
We did some planting of tropicals in the yard in January, and returned a few days ago, after the driest spring in 80 years, I am told. This has led me to some thoughts about “universal truths of gardening.”
1) If a plant is at a home, and has been for a long time, and it looks good, it is probably going to survive a hot/dry spell, if not thrive. Alternating wet and dry seasons are typical of the tropics, and plants often adapt by shedding leaves during droughts. Many of the big mahogany trees have shed leaves, and we can see things we couldn’t before. And I know they will leaf out. There is one big weeping fig on the property, not native, and actually considered invasive. You know how they shed leaves in your home at the drop of a hat? Well, this is the happiest plant on the block; it takes it bone dry with no complaints.
2) Plants evolve over time. We planted a dozen banana trees in a lower corner, and they seem to have grown feet and walked away, I suspect, as the first representatives of the new species of Walking Banana. If Darwin were only here.
3) Gardens do best when the gardener is present. Even with the best of intentions, other people don’t quite do things the way you would. It’s the frequent walking of the garden, observing, and puttering that makes a garden function and gives you ownership. You discover insect problems before they get out of control, for example. (Hey—you, with the brown spots on your evergreens back there in Maryland? Look close, you probably have bagworms. If you spent more time in the yard and less at the computer, you would be a happier person.) The half dozen gingers I planted in January seem to have gotten smaller rather than bigger. Would they be thriving had I been here? Maybe not, but I would have realized something was wrong, and maybe moved them. Or maybe put up a protective fence, because…
4) Something always wants to eat your garden. Deer and rabbits at home? Here we have flocks of sheep and goats. Not only do they love the plants in the garden, but they are noisy at night, unlike deer, which are stealthy. There are about ten sheep of various ages, and they “baaah” from base to soprano. My brother, who is gifted with age-related hardness of hearing, thinks there is a church service going on somewhere.
I hasten to add that these are not our animals, but they live in the neighborhood and sometimes just drop in. Last night I heard them in the lower yard and went out with a flashlight, and they all came up to me baa-ing like I was Larry Bo Peep.
5) If you don’t write it down or label things, you’ll eventually forget what you have. This accelerates with age, when you can remember all the words to some songs you wish you could forget, but not names. If you really enjoy gardening, at some point you will want to know what variety of azalea you planted in “Spot A” ten years ago, because your new neighbor likes it. Or, let’s say you just spent the morning looking for survey markers that you were going to mark in some obvious fashion the last time you were here because they are below grade, and now the holes have started to fill in. You just forget stuff.
6) It usually helps to incorporate organic matter (e.g., compost) into your soil. It helps retain nutrients and water in sandy soils, and it helps to flocculate clay particles in clay soils and allows them to drain better. (Takes clay particles and causes them to clump together, thus forming larger air spaces between clumps,which in turn drain water faster.) Where our place is, the top 6 inches to two feet of soil is very recently deposited volcanic ash, which is like powder. Organic matter really helps retain moisture. Not adding OM may have been the issue with the gingers mentioned in #2. I may be blaming the sheep for something I should have done, but, they’re sheep.
So there are some perhaps “universal truths” about gardening; hope you agree. I threw in one extra, just in case.
From the Montserrat Desk of Behnke Nurseries, Larry Hurley, Behnke Horticulturist
Know anyone who would like to stay in a beautiful villa in Montserrat for a vacation? Here is a short description of Larry Hurley’s rental property….
Located on one acre in the Old Town section of Montserrat, this peaceful Montserrat villa holiday rental has an open concept living/dining room, den, full kitchen, two bedrooms, and two bathrooms. A covered deck leads to a swimming pool. There is cable TV and wireless internet access. Laundry facilities are located on the lower level.