Archive for October 2012

What Does Your Garden Grow?   1 comment

Coming back home, I was delighted to find the window box had a couple of thriving vines, greeting me with at least 5 or 6 morning glories when I sip my morning coffee.  The planters are on a 2 foot wide balcony that my husband and I jokingly call our “patio”.     Basically, this is our garden.   Three stories below, a faux sumac tree has also, amazingly, thrived, growing from a small break in the asphalted-over back patio of our house.   It’s trunk has vined and wormed into a small labyrinth, but managed to upright its branches.   An emblem of natures struggle to survive, the tree has emerged victorious, filling part of the former ‘dead zone’ with its greenness.

I now recall the unbelievable garden at our house in Los Planes de Renderos, El Salvador.  It is like night and day, but I will confess, growing is an almost effortless task for plants down there, with constant sun and rain.   Our garden in Los Planes was like a small rainforest, with numerous varieties of ferns, flowering plants, and fruit trees.   Here is a photo gallery of what was in our garden, as we left, on moving day.

Ground cover and Spreaders

The first plant on the left, the pink and green one, can be picked up at almost any Home Depot.  I planted this with the hope it would ‘spread’ and it did, via vining and reseeding itself.  Once, when we visited a friend who lives very close to the Puerto del Diablo, we passed by literally a “field” of these on the way to his house.  That day we sat at Martin’s house, in a sparsely populated neighborhood, with a view of hills on one side, filled with a ‘cafetal’, or rows of coffee trees.  The land around his house was full of banana and orange trees.  The plant in the middle is a nice ground cover whose nickname is “mani” because it resembles the peanut, or ‘mani’ plant.  On the right is a purple and green ground cover/spreader that covers ground well and grows like a weed but is best grown in the shade and not nearly as sturdy or hardy as the mani, which can withstand more sun and longer periods without water.

Flowering Viners

I couldn’t believe I was living in a home that had jasmine in it.  This jasmine was planted by the previous owner, and was winding its way up and down the stair railing, its scent welcoming us every time we came home.

The Veranera, known in English as a Bouganvilla, is a classic in El Salvador.   This plant/bush/tree is ubiquitous, seen coloring yards and entrances, and road edges everywhere.   It is a well chosen plant for the climate, as it withstands extensive dry periods and as its name suggests, blooms most during the nearly rainless six months of dry season (“verano”).

It is a peculiar plant in that, when first planted, is a simple vining bush (see orange colored veranera on the left), and during that phase can easily be ‘molded’ to fit a design.  For example, my brother-in-law trained the vines of two bushes on either side of the garage entrance to arch over it.   Later, the lower vines will thicken to become the main trunk of a tree, but the branches furthest away from the main trunk will continue dancing in the air, searching out new frontiers, with a zest for conquest.   More than once I have seen veranera vines 30 feet or higher from the ground, climbing on top of other plants as they reach towards the heavens.  Take a look at this pine tree, on the far right.  This pine is seen as you drive down the mountain from Los Planes, probably four stories high – and fully entwined in veranera vines.

young veranera vine in the garden

veranera tree near entrance of our house

a successful conquest

The Jungle

Have you ever seen bamboo close up?    Look at the stripes on this bamboo tree – they look as if they were painted on.   The edge of the neighboring property was full of bamboo, which shot up over two stories, and dropped its thin leaves into our garden.   This is a perfect habitat for the famous “chorcha” bird, whose coloring matches the yellowy beige wood of the bamboo, and we’d see them hop in and out of the bamboo branches.

Below this are a few more jungle celebrities we found  in our garden.   The infamous ‘elephant ear’ which my sister was also growing in her garden in Florida lives up to its name. The plant quickly takes over a huge amount of space with its vast leaves, and will grow child shoots around it, popping up out of the soil to unfold even more vast leaves.

Pictured in the middle is a jungly viner which climbed from the lower garden up onto the patio of the house, over nine feet higher, and vined everywhere in the patio’s edge. It fared best in the shade and took over this banister and railing.    Pictured on the right is a plant with deep green heart-shaped leaves that resembles plants I’ve seen growing indoors in North America, but much, much larger in size.    With plants like this around me, I really felt like I was in the jungle.

looks so happy, I didn’t have the heart to cut it back

China (impatiens) and Coleus – both grow like weeds in temperate climate areas of El Salvador.

These two plants were all over my garden, and literally grew like weeds.  They are very fond of the rain, shade, and ‘fresco’ (brisk) temperatures of Los Planes.   Both grow from small plants into basically large ‘bushes’ if you let them.

the ‘china’ or impatiens starts off as a cute little plant

and grows into a giant bush, exploding with flowers

Bright and Exotic.   Pictured below on the left is the gorgeous heliconia, which inhabits our old neighbor Sabas’ yard, and propagates itself with child shoots.   Sabas gave us one of the ‘hijos’, but when Don Jorge, the dueño (owner) of our house, and his helper Don Andres came by one day to groom the yard, Andres must have ripped it out.  I enjoy the overgrown jungle look which is in contrast to Don Jorge’s idea of a manicured garden.  Fortunately, the dynamic duo only came by to perform their “masacre” once every six months or so, yanking out spreading plants and ripping off gorgeous ferns growing from the brick walls.

A blue hummingbird drinks the sap from these heliconia. One day when I spoke with Sabas over the fence, the same picaflor would zip away in fear of us humans, but kept returning to drink the sap.

The croton can also live in sub-tropical climates, and I was fond of this one, as it reminded me of the crotons along the walkway in my late grandmother’s Boca Raton home in Florida.

Commonly seen trees in El Salvador
Below are trees you will see often there.  The Guarumo, to the far left, tends to grow out of rocks or on side of cliffs or steep inclines.  This one is growing right out of the wall the runs from the patio to the lower garden.  It has to be routinely trimmed back or its roots will break the wall.  The left-middle picture shows leaves of a tree that can grow very large in El Salvador.  I do not know its name, but it is has really beautiful leaves.  The middle-right photo is part of a “Pascuas” tree, and is named as such because it flowers with pretty red leaves right around Easter (Pascuas), which look like the pointsettias you see everywhere around Christmas.

This photo does not do the pascuas (pointsettia) tree justice. Check out the link below to see a yard full of these flowering trees.

Check out these Pointsettia trees in Vietnam!

The owners lined the yard with Izotes, which are easily propagated by planting their spiny bunches in the ground. The izote flower is the national flower of El Salvador

Ferns – what would a rainforest garden be without them?   Our yard was filled with at least a dozen different types of ferns, growing happily out of every crack and crevice.  Here are a few of them.

Spreading bushes?

wish I knew their name. Very good in El Salvador bc they withstand dry season well.

A heinous plastic version of these plants is found in office building lobbies and shopping malls throughout North America. I laughed every time I saw these, saying to myself, I’ve got REAL ones right here in my yard – eat your hearts out up North!

This plant grows pretty white flowers, but they are often picked before they bloom in El Salvador.  The buds, called “chufles” are eaten in soups. People steal chufle buds from these plants all the time during its flowering season.

Plants that feed you.   Last, but not least, are plants that feed you in our garden in El Salvador.   On the left is a tree with juice oranges – not too sweet and very  juicy.   A mango tree that grows large melon size mangos in the middle.   A pacaya plant on the right.  Pacaya is another wierd flower vegetable Salvadorans like to eat – it has long medusa-like strands, and is eaten dipped in egg and fried.  You find it bottled in the states.

There’s nothing like going out to pick oranges from a tree in your own yard and making juice, or just eating them straight.

The lima orange tree. Though its oranges are a bit bland, the best fruits it bore were the birds who visited. Early morning and late afternoon, birds would perch and hop around its branches, just ten feet from where our table sat on the patio. I got to see chorchas, hummingbirds, torogoz, and amazing blue birds every day.

I may have missed a few, but I think this is a fairly thorough ‘catalog’ of what we had growing in our yard in Los Planes de Renderos in El Salvador.   When we moved back to Chalatenango for a few month after that, our property there was filled with more serious agricultural plants – maize and frijoles, two major food mainstays in El Salvador, that our brother in law planted for the family to eat from.

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