Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The Land of Plenty

I'm continuing my edible theme to remind myself how lucky we are to have so many delicious things growing around us in the Tropics. We don't grow apples and pears, or peaches, blueberries, strawberries or raspberries. But we do grow pineapples, bananas, guavas, sapodillas, mangoes, sugar apples, West Indian cherries, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa, coffee, roucou, cashews and pommecythere, to name a few. Pineapple is a bromeliad. My gardener calls all bromeliads "wild pine". I know the fancy hybrids are insulted! Pineapple is most delicious with a slight sprinkle of salt and cut in fat chunks.
Cinnamon is a bark. Mauby, the ever-popular bitter beverage, is also a bark that is brewed to make a drink. I don't have a picture of a clove tree but I remember the first time that I saw one. My brother-in-law had an estate deep in the Northern village of Brasso Seco. A neglected cocoa estate, there was a lovely river running through it and some wonderful forest trees. One of these trees was a clove tree. It is an enormous tree and the cloves are red. When they fall on the ground, it is an amazing sight as the colour throws you for a second. It looks like a clove but it is bright red. And the smell. Indescribable. I've never seen another clove tree. I would love to plant one, but realistically I don't have the room.

The above odd looking fruit/vegetable is roucou or annatto. It was used as far back as the Amerindians as a preservative and is a very popular additive in our Christmas pastelles. It stains a deep red and has very little flavour. This is the fruit on the tree. Once removed from the tree, it dries and turns brown and the pod splits to reveal the little seeds that provide the colour.
Cocoa off my tree. I do believe that I have very good quality cocoa. I bought the tree from the Government farm in Centeno and it gives me big, healthy, pretty cocoa.

This is my favourite fruit, the sugar apple. It grows best under arid conditions and so is happiest "down the islands" where it grows almost wild. It is an unusual fruit that you split open and suck the pulpy white fruit off the black seed. It is quite a labour intensive fruit but well worth the effort. It is sweet with the slightest undertone of of an indescribable flavour.
Post Note on the Dec 1:
I didn't know a whole lot about the sugar apple so could not answer whether it was, in fact, a custard apple. I'm going to cut and paste what I got from Wikepedia which seems to answer the question.

In some regions of the world, the sugar-apple is also known as custard-apple, a different plant in the same genus.

Annona squamosa (Sugar-apple, Sweetsop or Custard Apple) is a species of Annona native to the tropical Americas. Its exact native range is unknown due to extensive cultivation, but thought to be in the Caribbean; the species was described from Jamaica.

It is a semi-evergreen shrub or small tree reaching 6-8 m tall. The leaves are alternate, simple, oblong-lanceolate, 5-17 cm long and 2-5 cm broad. The flowers are produced in clusters of 3-4, each flower 1.5-3 cm across, with six petals, yellow-green spotted purple at the base.

The fruit is usually round or oval, slightly pine cone-like, 6-10 cm diameter and weighing 100-230 g, with a scaly or lumpy skin. The fruit flesh is edible, white to light yellow, and resembles and tastes like custard. The seeds are scattered through the fruit flesh; they are blackish-brown, 12-18 mm long, and hard and shiny.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Fruit and Veggies at the Parlour

When I was growing up, we ran to the parlour at the end of the road for everything from salt prunes, pepper mango and pennycools (sp?) to milk, sugar and eggs. The concept of the "parlour" is a distinctly Caribbean one. We have them all throughout the islands . Basically roadside shops, they sell an assortment of culinary haberdashery. Each country will have their own version of snacks but the true beauty of these little shops is in their fruit and vegetables. Most, if not all, of the produce has never been refrigerated. It is being sold usually within a mile or two from its source. Many of the things that show up in country parlours never make into the big supermarkets. You may be lucky and chance upon a batch of cherry tomatoes or a grappe of extra big pommeracs (malay apples). I have three or four parlours around my neighbourhood. Boysie's is run by Angela, Terrence and sisters. Terrence is the golden boy and is a wise sage for his age. He is always ready with cryptic advice. Located less than a quarter mile from the country's mental asylum or the "Mad House", a visit to Boysie's to pick up newspapers, maggi cubes, or my constant addiction, Diet Coke!, is often excitement filled. The melee of mentally challenged drifters sound more ominous than they really are. They are harmless (mostly) and can be quite amusing delivering their sotto voice social commentaries from the sidelines with a comical , cruel clarity. I made the mistake of arriving the other day without lipstick (BIG CRIME for the mentally challenged) and got told off for appearing without it. Oh the joys of life in the tropics. You have to laugh!These were some of the offerings at the parlour yesterday. Above is Caraili, or bitter gourd. It is supposed to be quite a delicacy and is stuffed by many of the Chinese restaurants. I can't eat it at all, it is too bitter for me. If you say you can eat cariilii, I look at you with new respect. It is BITTER. Trinifood over at Can Cook, Must Cook has some great things to say about caraili.
Lovely scotch bonnet peppers.
Home grown ochroes. I like to see the little twists and turns of an imperfect vegetable as it says to me that maybe a whole lot of chemicals were not used to produce it. Perfection makes me suspicious.Pawpaw or papaya ready to be eaten. I sometimes have a slice for breakfast with just a dash of lime and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Pawpaw seeds very easily but there is a story about male and female trees and if you get the male, no fruit.
Terrence giving somebody chat.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Green Thumb Sunday

This is my first Green Thumb Sunday Post so I'm quite excited. These are some of the things in bloom in my garden right now. I have learnt from bitter experience that it is best not to fight my landscape and grow what does best in the rather odd soil of the Northern Range. Heliconias love the soil and grow to almost pre-historic size. My soil appears to be quite alkaline because I have to feed very heavily with things like Miracid and chelated iron, if I don't many of my shrubs suffer from pale leaves. Heliconias and orchids do fine.
I'm ashamed to say I don't know the name of this showy little orchid. It starts out purple and goes paler and paler as it gets older.
This is commonly known as "Blue Ginger" but is in fact not a ginger at all. It belongs to the Commelinaceae or Spiderwort family so is related to the Wandering Jew. It looks like a costus hence the name. Its important name is Dichorsanda thyrisiflora. It is one of my favourite blooms because of its unusual colour. This deep blue is not an easy colour to find and it always adds the depth and interest that you must have in a successful bed.
I've posted on this shot before. This is one of my favorite views of my home. I love the demerara windows with the bougainvillea cascading over them. This is my laundry and store room, so no one actually lives here.
The heliconias and ornamental bananas are the biggest bird pullers in my garden. Until I grew them, I had no idea the vast avian population that is drawn to these species. The Sexy Red or heliconia collinsiana in particular, is a huge favorite with the tanagers and the hummingbirds.
The Musa (or ornamental) bananas are a great addition because they are consistent bloomers once the conditions are right. The beauty above is the Musa Royal Purple and it is one of the larger ones, getting up to about 9-10 feet. To keep them from overpowering the garden, I keep the foliage quite sparse. I find this way I can see the bracts or the bananas and the light can get down to the new suckers to help them on their way. Many people are turned off of heliconias and bananas because of their tendency to take over a garden. But like everything else, if managed properly, they know their place!

Green Thumb Sunday
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Thursday, 22 November 2007

Botanical Gardens in Nevis

I dug into my archives because I was suddenly in the mood for Nevis. The Botanical Gardens there are not terribly old but are absolutely beautiful. This scene was so straight out of a children's storybook that I had to capture it.
A single pan man. One pan around the neck can be just as dramatic as a whole band. In Trinidad right now, because the Carnival season is so early next year, all the steelbands have begun practicing. I can lie in my bed at night and listen to the pan being played on the hill. Some nights they go through a batch of carols and it is really lovely.
The cascading water coppers make for a dramatic central water feature. These authentic coppers often date back to the 18th century when they were used on the sugar estates to boil the cane juice to produce sugar.
Bromeliads have been put to quite dramatic use here with the differing colours providing the necessary contrast for a well sculpted bed. Bromeliads are an excellent choice for this type of effect as they are hardy and less prone to the bacterial and fungal threats that affect other plants. Their spiky, hard shape can provide the balance crucial in effective landscaping.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Back up and running

I just lost my entire post! Arrrggghhhh
My theme was red.
Anyway, I've been having some trouble with Blogger over the last few days but it seems as if I am back in the saddle.

This lovely red shampoo ginger (Zingiber zerumbet) looks firm but is actually deliciously squishy. It is still the season for gingers and heliconias. My shampoos haven't done anything for me this year- maybe when the rains stop.

The yellows and pink of this upright heliconia are a wonderful contrast to all the surrounding green.A particularly attractive costus that often dies back in the dry season only to make a reappearance once the rains return.

Ixoras are much maligned for being a tropical cliche but as with most cliches, they do carry a lot of clout. They are bright, steady bloomers with a wide range of colour variations. Poor things, they were just too much of a good thing.
Hummingbirds love them. So do children. A whole generation of West Indian children spent many a sleepy afternoon drawing the sweet nectar out of each star shaped flower. We never ate the flower, just drank the nectar .I know this is a heliconia bihai but I'm not sure which one. I know it's not Richmond Red. Maybe the Red She???

Friday, 16 November 2007

Hello Caribbean Garden!

I felt as if I was going on a blind date. Nicole (Tira) from A Caribbean Garden was in Trinidad this week and we managed to hook up for a day of garden visiting and photographing.
She's lovely and has a wonderful sense of humour with a big, big laugh. :)
Here she is chatting with Chris Talma of Foliage Designs who runs one of the larger nuseries on the island. His property is located deep in the Santa Cruz valley, on a slightly raised bluff that looks onto the Northern Range.

While walking on the lovely nature trail that is punctuated by several varieties of heliconia, we chanced upon this barred Anshrik. They are not rare but, neither are they common. I was very happy to get so close to him as to see his red eyes.

Just one of the statues that appear on the trail as you meander your way through the Foliage Design garden.
Lovely pommerac or Malay Apple seldom lasts long on the tree and it is best eaten right off the branch.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

My First Bloom Day Post

Okay, I can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes. It's taken me almost six months to figure out that I keep missing Bloom Day. I hope I can make up for all my rambling, non-gardening posts that must drive the purists mad. The same gene that makes it impossible for me to follow a recipe, makes me incapable of staying on one subject.
But here we go; this is what my garden is doing today.
It's a showcase of old faithfuls.
Here is Mussaenda erythophylla, I think- something tells me that this is Princess?????Family: Rubiaceae (coffee family) hybrid. I HAVE to get the horticultural bible, Tropica. By the way, my coffee plant is blooming again and there is nothing as divine as that smell. I will post it tomorrow when all the blooms have opened. It is truly one of the most spectacular flowering plants in my garden. But it only lasts about a day.
This delicate mussaenda is a hybrid that is different to the more common dark salmon mussaenda. The silky feel of both the flowers and the leaves of this plant make it an excellent addition, for both colour and texture, to any tropical garden.
My Double Chaconia. The single chaconia (Warszewiczia coccinea) is the national flower of Trinidad and Tobago and the double was an indigenous sport that spontaneously occurred in Trinidad's rain forest. Well renowned agriculturalist, Dr Johnny Lee, is the author of the informative article from which I quote: .........
"CHACONIA VS. CHACONIER The origin of the name Chaconia is also in dispute. Generally thought to be named after Don Jose Maria Chacon, the last Spanish governor of Trinidad, some prominent naturalists disagree: They believe that the name is derived from the French word chaconne, a folk dance, in which the participants wore little flags similar to the blooms on the trees. They also feel that the name should be spelled Chaconier and not Chaconia.".The Double Chaconia (Warszwiczia "David Auyong") by Dr. Johnny Lee.

This hardy orange heliconia never stops blooming. It blooms all year round and stays at a manageable height.
I have no idea what the above plant is, but the hummingbirds love it. I guess you can never go wrong with red in a garden.
My pink gingers need a good fertilizing. That why they are so pale. Look at the cobweb spun by an industrious spider. That's his day's work done.
Honeysuckle. Honeysuckle. Honeysuckle. What a beautiful name.
My dendrobiums are coming into bloom again as the sun changes direction. I am in the process of doing an orchid shed so that all my orchids can be nursed, tended and monitored in some sort of orderly fashion. I find it so interesting that in Trinidad, the serious growing of orchids is a male thing.
This is a Thai dendrobium that is very prolific and blooms almost all the time. You really can't go wrong with dendrobiums as they take a lot of abuse. It takes a lot to kill a dendrobium. I have learnt that an occasional spray of fungicide/bactericide is necessary in our humid climate.
This spotted Vanda does not bloom very often. It's only the second time that I have seen it throw flowers. For some reason the batchacs don't like this one as much as the others. Isn't that strange?
My old faithful bougainvillae never fails to bloom.

The Delicacy of Things

I'm reading my second biography of Ernest Hemingway. After visiting his home in Key West, I developed my usual author obsesssion but this one has surprised me with its intensity. After reading "Running With the Bulls", I've moved on to "Papa Hemingway" by Hotchner. Hemingway once said that he learned as much from painters about how to write as from writers.

(For all the gardeners that think I am grossly abusing my "garden" slot, I will blog later for "Bloomday".
Below are the pale mauve flowers of the Duranta plant.)

His characteristic 'bare as bones' style meant no generalizations or wishy washy adjectives. Just the distilling of emotion.
I think in all art forms we try to achieve this state of distillation; a concentration of reality.

This common yellow flower grows on a small shrubby trees with pinnated leaves. Occasionally the camera throws up something that you don't see with the naked eye. But you do when you look again.
This is what I would like my writing to do.
It is what Carnival does to a nation every year and it is what all good art should do. Artistic surroundings should present these mini-distillations everywhere and make the world clearer. The world may appear to be more ugly or more beautiful, but certainly the reality is conveyed with clarity.
Am I disciplined enough to stand; writing, working, and reworking, each sentence? Hemingway rose every morning and stood at his specially made pulpit-type desk to write. He sat to pay bills but always stood to write.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Garden Club

This is the Garden Club calendar that the club began producing last year. 2007 was our inception year and the calendar was very well received. The gardens are taken from the club's membership. Michele Jorsling and Peter Moll were the photographers and they have done a marvellous job.
When I scanned it, I could only get eight gardens on the back page. Think of it as a teaser! They are $100TT, which is approximately $16-$17 US.
Locally they can be found at Pop In at Ellerslie Plaza, RIK (the airport and the malls) and Rainy Days at Ellerslie. If anyone else is interested, email me and I can provide more information.