August 10, 2011

The great garden clean up 2011

Potted untropical plants
El Jefe knows the way to my heart

We somehow missed the great garden clean up of 2010 and in this tropical climate, things can get really out of control during that period of time. You can click these photos to enlarge them a little.

Tropical plant, La Ceiba, HondurasWe bought one of these plants in, oh, say, 2007. This photo was taken in 2008. We moved some of the babies and now have several of these accent plants in different spots in the garden. I love the white and grey-green spiky contrast with so much green in the garden. These plants are totally carefree, never bothered by insects or too much or too little rain. Though they multiply, they are easily controlled and you can't beat free plants, can you? Anyone know the botanical name?

Tropical plants, La Ceiba, HondurasI think that one of the hardest things about tropical gardening is imagining how much space the little 6-12" plant you are looking at will need in the future, especially if it is one of those plants that doesn't like to be lonely and turns into 37 plants by the next year.

I couldn't resist these wild multi-colored plants — more accent colors! At the time we bought them they were maybe a foot high and now the tallest Ti plant (Cordyline terminalis, totally out of control) is about 16 feet tall or more. Now these colorful overgrown crotons seem a messy hodge-podge, so we want to cut them back and take some cuttings to plant in other locations where their wild colors and leaf shapes will shine through more and maybe, just maybe, we'll keep on top of the pruning tasks a little better in the future.

wild Dieffenbachias, La Ceiba, HondurasCuttings and starters from tropical plants are very easy. For stemmed plants, generally all you have to do is chop off the top, stick it into the ground, and water well. We do that every year for these wild Dieffenbachias in the jardinera in front of the terraza. If we didn't, they would soon block the view and fill the whole jardinera. They don't miss a beat, not even wilting from having their head decapitated from their body. You can even cut the long bare stems into foot-long lengths and plant those. For those that grow from rhizomes like Heliconias, just chop off the plants at about a foot high, dig up some of the rhizomes, and replant them in a new area. Before you know it, you'll have another new clump.

Can you see all the 'baseball avocados' hanging from the tree in the photo below? We'll soon see how bad was the mistake of planting two hybrid Hass avocado seeds. I'm really kicking myself for this. We are seriously thinking of chopping down one of the trees and replacing it with a better avocado from the agricultural university.

Mussaenda philippica, La Ceiba, HondurasThis peachy-pink flowered Mussaenda philippica is another totally out of control plant. We wanted it to be a bush, but failed to keep up with the trimming, and it wanted to be a tree. After a rainstorm, too heavy with water laden blooms, it would sprawl about 15-20 feet inside the garden all over the lawn and outside all over the sidewalk. These can grow into nice tree shapes, but ours had too many stems and none of them strong enough to support the weight.

During the beginnings of the great 2011 garden clean up, El Jefe asked me what I wanted to do about it. I said that I hated to lose all those glorious blooms (it blooms year-round), but obviously we had to do something. He came up with the idea to just leave the parts growing in the avocado tree, so now the "tree" has support. Not many people have a pink-blooming avocado tree, do they?

Heliconia rostrata, La Ceiba, HondurasThis Heliconia rostrata (Lobster claw) is another one where I bought one and now have several. Isn't that a spectacular bloom? Some of them are easily two feet long. It has had a hard life. When we first started landscaping the garden, one of my neighbors gave me several plants. While most were outstanding plants that I just love, one was a wild orange Heliconia that would take over the world if we let it. I have joked that the neighbor put a curse on our garden with that plant.

Heliconia from hell, La Ceiba, HondurasThis is the dreaded Heliconia from hell. If that sounds harsh, you should know that it spreads for miles and chokes out and shades out every plant it surrounds. We've spent five years trying to rid ourselves of every trace, every stem, every root, even to the point of sifting through the soil to find every little piece of root left behind. But it comes back and back and back again from the grave. At one point, this Heliconia latispatha had invaded the Parrot's beak area and out of frustration and unable to tell which plant was which without the blooms, El Jefe hacked it all back and pulled out all the roots that he found. I was disappointed, but thankfully, he missed a few roots and the good guy plant has returned. See also Unstoppable tropical plants for some of the lengths we've gone to to rid ourselves of some of the invasive plants.

Caladiums, La Ceiba, HondurasThese Caladiums suprise me every year. They seem to completely die away during the dry season but then return with the rains every year. I found the red and white splotched ones growing wild and dug them up from the side of a dirt road out in the country. I like to be prepared and take some pruners and a little shovel when we go out for drives. You never know what you might see or what someone will offer to you. ;-) The larger solid green leaf is an elephant ear which actually has an edible tuber called malanga and which needs to go before it chokes out everything else. And by the way, I am not denuding the natural tropical habitat when I collect these plants. The sides of the road are usually macheted at least once or twice a year, so I'm actually saving the ones that I collect.

mother-in-law's tongue, La Ceiba, HondurasI've always called this plant 'mother-in-law's tongue'. I had one in Texas inside in an 8-inch pot for so many years and it never grew or multiplied. I can't remember where I got this but I thought the thin upright spikiness would make a nice contrast to the other sprawling tropicals. It has taken off like crazy and we are thinning it out to a ratio of about 10-1. It's former accent clumps have turned into thick hedges.

El Jefe found a good worker to help us with this mammoth task of garden clean up 2011. If I have my way, Josue's two week job may be closer to two months. "We" are also working on a humongous compost pile right now. (I'm gerente general of compost, so, of course, all I do is give orders. hahaha.) It is such a shame that more people don't compost instead of using chemical fertilizers. There is such an abundance of free natural materials that instead of being used naturally go to fill up the dumps and/or get burned or tossed into the creeks. Sometimes the materials even get bagged up and thrown out beside the roads. Even if you are dead set on purchased fertilizers, the compost is wonderful for potting soil and improving the texture and drainage of the soil.

Composting, La Ceiba, HondurasThis photo doesn't do the quantities of compost material justice. On the left is sheep manure (no smell!) and on the right are the yard trimmings to date, with much more to go. In the rear of this photo, behind the green plant in the center are our three built-in compost bins. Though they are large, obviously all of this is not going to fit when we start layering it in. Between the mountain of trimmings, a couple of pickup loads of sheep manure, and three big trucks full of wood shavings, we are going to be rich in 'black gold' before long.

Check out the plant topic for more photos from my garden. I'll stop now. This article started out as four photos with a few comments and ended up to be another one of my epic novels. ;-) Here are a couple of my favorite books; I love, love, love that first one but it is sometimes hard to find:

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