Saturday, April 30, 2011


I know I swore I’d focus on the here and now when I was finished with all the Nicaragua blogs. But the here and now is about the future at this moment. And in mine and my clients’ futures are fuchsias.
We’ve been having an unbelievably cold spring. I’ve heard 15 degrees below normal. It’s great for the daffodils which are in a state of suspended animation. I wish I could say the same for myself, but the busy season has started. Those of you who think professional gardeners have a great life filled with stop-to-smell-the-roses moments haven’t known a gardner in spring. The pressure is on, the future whether it’s June garden tours or August parties is already being prepared for. This is when I love fuchsias the most. I can buy and bed them out early, I wouldn’t plant coleus, petunias or geraniums during these cold wet days, and they will perform until the first hard frost. I wrote several posts a few years ago about the glory of fuchsias. I’ve lost a few of the not-so-hardy ones since then but not my love of these excellent performers. The one pictured is ‘Cherry’ a reliable upright for bedding out.

I made be exaggerating a bit about the non-stop busy-ness. I actually made a stop at the Washington Park Arboretum the other day to catch the last of the late Japanese cherries in bloom. I love the flowering cherries more than any flowering tree.

Pink powder puffs are usually not my favorites, but I couldn't help but stop to marvel at this old unnamed cultivar in the Arboretum.

I prefer the white cherries or this green flowered form 'Ukon', some listings call it yellow, but to my my eye it is the shiest bit of elegant green I've ever seen in a flowering tree.

And as far as daffodils go....
Who needs ‘em when you have a lawn full of dandelions?

Of course I do. I love the snowy ‘Mount Hood’, and about 150 others, at least.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Well, here they are. A handful of what I saw, just a taste of the amazing botanical diversity of Nicaragua.

Jicaro (Crescentia cujeta) has a strange flower pollenated by bats, it actually looks like a bat. It produces large hard round fruits that contain numerous protein rich seeds that are made into a drink. This one is growing in Arboretum Nacional Juan Bautista Salas Estrada in Managua.

The national arboretum a center for education in the capital grows many useful plants of Nicaragua. Common Bamboo (Bambus vulgaris), though not native is grown extensively for construction material. It ain't bad looking either.

We went to Chocoyero Canyon National Reserve outside of Managua mostly to see the flocks of green parakeets, toucans and yellow headed amazon parrots, but we had a lot of botanical surprises along the way. Like this Philodendron goeldii.

The very large buds on a vine I never found the name of.

Along with the creepy knowledge that vampire bats inhabit this canyon, luckily we visited after dawn, was this floral oddity, a Dutchman's pipe of some sort ( Aristolochia sp. ).

Our destination was Paradise and that was Little Corn Island on the Caribbean side of the country.This little island inhabited for a long time was forested with plants from around the world. Mostly fruit producing like bananas (Musa acuminata). The whole island felt more like a garden than a jungle, though jungley it was.

It rained daily while we were there. Plenty of mushrooms erupted from logs, piles of manure and the ground. We didn't eat any. But I had to get a picture of this odd fuzzy one. The photo is a little fuzzy, too.

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) another tree brought to the island by man made up a large portion of the jungle canopy.

Hoja de estrella, or root beer plant, (Piper auritum) is native to the island though I only encountered it in gardens. The leaves smell like root beer and the locals make a tea from the leaves to aid digestion; they are also used to flavor meats and tamales, though modern research says it could lead to liver cancer.

Mangoes (Mangifera indica) were the dominant tree on the center of the island, coconut palms dominated the beaches. Both are from South East Asia, though they look right at home. While we were there the mangos put out their new spring growth, which was a beautiful bronzy plum pink.

Ah, my beloved pineapple (Ananas comosus). There is noting like this bromeliad. It is said to be native to Brazil, but to date there are no wild populations found. It has been cultivated so long and has settled in on Little corn Island so that it seemed quite natural to see them popping out of a clearing in the jungle in glorious technicolor.

Syngonium angustatum grew prolifically on the island, climbing palms, mangoes and anything else it could get a hold of. It grows throughout Central America. The red fruit are eye catching but inedible.

This sweet little fern covered the volcanic rock on the north side of the island. Wherever I travel ferns are the one thing that make me feel at home.

I wonder if these islanders realized that they painted their house the color of the Senna alata buds. Or did the color just seep subliminally into their design scheme?

Where the palms hadn't gotten a foothold, bay cedar (Suriana maritima) grew in thickets on the beach. For a tough little shrub that takes salt spray, harsh winds and high light it has a rather fine and delicate appearance.

Yuca (Manihot esculenta) is a starchy staple in the tropics. It only makes it to northern tables after being processed into tapioca. The beautiful growth habit and red petioles are not to be ignored either.

After leaving Little Corn Island we spent a few days in western Nicaragua in the city of Granada which gave us the opportunity to vist the the cloud forests of Volcan Mombacho. Begonias tumbled out of every rock, climbed every trunk and bloomed with abandon. Every year back home I kill a few. I still don't get begonias, though I love them.

The starry fruit of Clusea sp. in Michael's big hand.

It was unfortunately not orchid season. Still we did see a few. And a lot of Epidendrum radicans. It covered a large open meadow high up on the volcano. It was so windy that day I asked our guide Eddie to hold it still while I took the picture.

Though ferns usually make me feel at home the unearthly size of these young tree ferns lets me know I am far from home. Eddie and Michael look on.

The cloud forest if a matrix of varying textures. The large oak like leaves are tobaco de monte(Telanthophora grandiflora), not a tobacco relative at all but a miniature sunflower.

The leaves of Capriote (Miconia laevigata).

Back in Granada there was no lack of plants though most were sequestered in inner court yards. Here the shadow of a royal palm (Roystonea regia), a native of Cuba, commonly found ass street trees.

The inner court yards of the beautifulMi Museo, Granada's archelogical museum, were beautifully planted and a tranquil cool place to escape the city in the afternoon.

The inner court yard and open air restaurant of La Islita, where we stayed. How nice to here the screech of parrots and cacophony of grackles during breakfast.

Just behind our hotel the tourist zone ended. This over grown orchard, I'm not sure what kind of fruit trees these were though next door they grew cashews, was a great spot for bird watching in the early morning.

The symmetrical use of royal palms in the inner courtyard of Convento y Museo San Francisco amplified the contemplative beauty of the place and induced a sense of grandeur though the space was quite small. A tip to all gardeners:keep it simple.

And to all travelers: visit Nicaragua.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Years ago a chef friend of mine said you should never apologize for a meal your serving. “ It’s the worst seasoning,” she said. I’m sure I had just apologized for a meal I felt was over-salted, overcooked or just plain tasteless. My wise-chef-friend ate it anyway, relished it if I remember correctly; she had a great appetite. And the subject never came up again.
Until now. I wanted to start this post with an apology. My internal editor, consistently on, said “ wait a minute...” So I must pad my apologies with a few excuses for not having written more about Nicaragua. The country I was so fascinated by after visiting it in early March for the first time, that I ran to the library after returning, actually several libraries and the internet, to read all I could about the natural and human history of the country.
It’s flora and fauna is amazingly diverse. It’s history complicated by evil dictators, revolutions, counter-revolutions, earthquakes, embargoes and hurricanes. And hope. I found Nicaragua a happy place. Not just because I was happy to be in the sun and warmth in early March, when spirits in the Pacific Northwest were being doused with chilling rains. There was a simple everyday happiness there, maybe in comes from living where it’s sunny and warm all the time. Maybe it comes form having devastating earthquakes and evil dictators and revolutions behind . Suddenly ordinary everyday living is like a celebration. I’m not saying there weren’t complainers, we’re everywhere. We probably were kicked out of the garden of Eden for complaining about the taste of the forbidden fruit, not for picking it.
I had intended to write a series of posts on Nicaragua. And all I have are a bunch of excuses: there was a flood; there was a debilitating head cold; there were daffodils , making me forget about coconut palms, bananas and hibiscus. Shouldn’t I be writing about daffodils? You will be able to find plenty of blog posts on daffodils this time of year. It’s spring, they’re triumphant and nothing makes people crow louder than triumph.
Now that I am finally and firmly past the beginning of the post I can start apologizing. Firstly, I’d like to apologize to my readers who have been waiting since I promised “pretty pictures” of our trip way back on February 20th, nearly 2 months ago. I took over 1200 pictures on the trip. Mostly snap shots, though some could actually be called photographs. Thank God, for the digital camera; remember all those rolls of film?
As you know I love to take pictures of plants. “Plants, plants, plants!” my friends scream when I show then pictures from a trip. So I tried to be bold this time and include buildings. All the following pictures were taken on Little Corn Island. Though “in” Nicaragua, this tiny island is, geographically speaking, more part of the West Indies.

I am especially fond of these last 2 buildings. They look like something I could build. I also have a rustic hut fantasy. “ Ah, the simple life.” I must admit the barefoot inhabitants of these 2 building looked totally relaxed and happy. They were not rushing anywhere, or fussing. Maybe I misread them, but abject poverty looked very tempting when I thought of all my commitments and work back home.
It made me wonder what on earth our government was doing in the 80’s, and actually well before. Thwarting these peoples hopes of living in a more just society, in being able to own the land they worked, to have health care and education, doesn’t seem very democratic to me. It seemed like a huge cruelty and filled me with a million apologies every where I went. Luckily the Nicaraguans are governing themselves, not that I didn’t here complaining (what is democracy without complaining), but they're getting on. The many members of cooperatives that served us, from the cab drivers to the nature guides, to reforestation projects, all seemed very happy. And that made for a happy trip for us.
Oh. one last apology. I still haven’t posted any pictures of all the cool plants and gardens I saw. That will be coming next... And then on to daffodils.