Friday, 28 September 2007

Paramin Seasoning

What is it in the soil of these lush mountains that feeds the crops like nothing else? Could it be that the plants spend their growing days feeling the cool, mountaintop breeze and looking down on some of the most spectacular views that the country has to offer? If plants do in fact feel, these are happy plants and it shows in the plumpness of the chive and the fatness of the cabbages.
It is at table like this that the seasoning bundles are wrapped and prepared. I thought a chive (or sive as we say) was a chive was a chive. Not so. There are many different types. There is the "Big Blue" which is big anf fat and has that blueygreen tinge that you sometimes get on the head of fresh broccolli. When seen on the hillside, they are beautiful. Then there is the"cobra" which is the most common (I believe) and it's the one that most people know. It has a distinctive flavour that is what gives most of our creole seasoning that recognizable smell and taste.
Cobra and Big Blue
This chive process takes place all over this mountain top. In almost every house that you pass there is this quiet sense of industry and good will. This was so refreshing to see because it's good to remind ourselves that Trinidadians are still good people. Yes, there's crime but what we have here is very special.The view looking down through the Maraval hills and into Port of Spain.

Thursday, 27 September 2007


I spent the morning up in Paramin with my friend Rosie. This is a fairly isolated community up in the hills of Maraval and it is well known for supplying world class produce (i.e. chive, chadon beni, celery, cabbage and tomatoes). The produce grows on steep slopes and thrives. It is a tight knit community where the older folks still speak patois, parang is much celebrated and their blue blue devils are much respected!This is an example of an old chattel house. These are quite rarely seen these days and i still think that they are so pretty.
The view from Paramin hills
The Northern Range running off into the distance.
A really old fashioned house. Check the attic window. This was probably used to dry coffee or cocoa.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

First Blooming of the Curcuma and Shampoo Gingers

I did have an earlier post very similar to this, but somehow lost it. How I don't know!!
Here are my new shampoo gingers. I'm so thrilled with them. When you squeeze them gently, they give off a divine smelling, almost soapy liquid.This is a curcuma which has never bloomed before.

We cut my white frangipani this morning as the trees were in a desperate need of a prune. These are the flowers that I got. They make such a show when they are all clumped together. My gardener was saying today that we haven't had the caterpillars that usually decimate these trees. Hmmm. Wonder where they are?
Marigolds are not indigenous to the region but will grow from seed. If I was a purist, I probably would not have them but every now and them I succumb to the temptation of something temporary. These are my plant one night stands!Isn't it cheerful and lovely?

My first sunflower. Years ago when I was in Spain, I remember seeing sunflowers by the acres. Rows upon rows upon rows of these cheerful heads following the sun along its path through the sky. Amazing!
I think we are too damp and humid for them really to thrive here but we do sometimes succeed with seeds.

Pink begonia which is just as deliciously scented as its yellow and white sibling.
Rangoon creeper. It begins this delicate pink and then moves on to a ruddier colour. The beauty of it is that there are different coloured blooms on the vine all at the same time.

My purple bouganvillea that can feel Christmas in the air. The sun has changed directions and many areas of the garden are now receiving light and direct sun for the first time in many months. Diferent parts of my garden will start to bloom now. These subtle signs are as strong for me as fall is in temperate climates.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Flowers for Mummy

Life does not accomodate you, it shatters you. It is meant to, and it couldn't do it better. Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition.

Florida Scott-Maxwell
These are some of the flowers that we received over the last few days. They are so exotic to me because most of them are not native to this region. The tiger lilies are beautiful.
Green chrysanthemums

I love white flowers.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Mummy- 28th May 1941-14th September 2007

Mummy lost her battle with breast cancer at 2.00pm on Friday 14th September 2007. She has been battling since November 1995.
This is May this year and she went down really quickly after this. She loved Daddy, Jennifer and I, and all the animals that people our lives. I can't believe that she is gone. Her funeral is tomorrow and I ask everyone who reads this to say a prayer for her.
Mummy with her cousin Uncle Julien Hobson.

How do you sum up a life in minutes? How do you describe all that now lives in us because of her life?

She was so loved. The complete centre of the family. The hub around which we all revolved. It was inconceivable that cancer could take her away from us. She loved us with a ferocity that knew no bounds and could never bear to consider that she would have to leave us.

She has fought so hard over the last 12 years that this may be her defining legacy, But there was so much more to her.

She loved her husband, children, horses, dogs, cats, and gardening. We learnt tolerance and kindness from her and, for all that know our family, a ridiculous love of animals. A steady stream of kittens, puppies, ducks, macaws and budgies to name a few, paraded through our childhood home. Each with its own distinct song. Mummy loved music. In her last days, her ipod was a source of tremendous comfort. While she never sang to us, and I seriously doubt that she sang to Daddy, she did have an endless repertoire of ditties for each animal that could vary from day to day. She read voraciously and while, deeply spiritual, never accepted dogma on face value. She lived her Christianity and was one of the easiest people to talk to, always striking up conversations with the oddest people in the strangest places.

She loved Mayaro, playing Pada with Uncle Jack and Auntie Shirley, walking on the beach, visiting to fire a few, and enjoying Melvina’s cooking. Our parents were highly social and enjoyed nothing more than having people over for drinks and old talk. She loved the excitement of carnival, sewing for Wayne Berkeley and playing with him for years. Her bags were always packed and she adored traveling with Daddy and they became quite the globetrotters in recent years, truly enjoying their empty nest years. We will all feel her in the garden, in the kitchen, in the orchids that have come down from her grandmother.

She taught us to love life and embrace it with grace and compassion. It was a privilege to have her as a mother.

So goodbye for now, Mummy. You are still so alive in each of us but we will miss you every second of every day until we meet again. I wonder who will choose your earrings for you in heaven? Or remind you to wear lipstick? I hope you make lots of friends there and let them know how lucky they are to have you there.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

I tend to be a bit uncoordinated with my text and photos so for everyone who logs on to find no words, check a little later. I've usually gone to bed and left the photos uploading :)
This the family's home "down the islands" and we try to go at least once every six weeks. It's lovely down there and in August the magnificent Savonetta trees are covered with lilac blooms. These trees obviously thrive on these little islands because they are endemic and spread easily all over the main off-shore islands of Gasparee and Monos. They are quite rarely seen on the mainland.
I love this photo of the morning sun hitting the eaves of the house. My mother-in-law Christine has an amazing eye for colour and the reds and greens of the house are perfect for the lush background.
The hammocks provide lots of entertainment for the under 10s in the bunch, and as a result, the grown ups have to stake their claim early.The detail of this crab shell is amazing, There was no living breathing crab behind those glassy eyes. I'm not sure if they outgrow their shells but I imagine they must because there was no one home.
Morning in the bay and all is well in the world.
This vine is very prolific (VERY). It sends off silver curling shoots in addition to this lovely flower. I think it may be related to the morning glory family but I'm not sure. I did have it in my garden but could not control it. Since it clearly did not respect who the alpha was in the relationship, it had to go. But I love to visit when I meet it somewhere else.
Sun vandas. They don't grow down there but they could. This is just a bunch I took down to decorate our table.

This is the house in the next bay. And no, not all "down the islands" homes look like this one. Isn't it remarkable? The landscape behind gives a fair idea of the topography of the land with its obvious jungle appearance. It is not actually as dense as it appears but we have had a lot of rain recently. Snakes are not as much of a problem as you would expect here. There are some boa constrictors but I have never heard of the mappepire or fer de lance being found on these islands. Giant, monster, nightmarish, big centipedes yes! Vampire bats-yes. And the very worst- sandflies-YES, YES.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Fragrant Flowers

Tonight is the 6th anniversary of 9/11. All that I can offer is what comforts and reminds me that there is still remarkable beauty amidst all the ugliness in the world.

Following are excerpts from an article on Fragrant Flowers that I had done earlier in the year. As a whole, it is one of my favorite pieces. The photos are by Michelle Jorsling who does such amazing work.

The song of scent is the same all over the world. Evocative and primal, it speaks to our deepest soul, conjuring up moods and memories long forgotten. And nowhere is it sung louder than the recesses of the tropical garden. In the milky light of pre-dawn morning and at the magical dusk hour, the choruses are in harmony, dipping and swooping in a medley of sweet overtones, musky notes, and even an occasional bite of bitter to round off the balance. And for every siren call, there is an answering suitor.

Coffee Arabica

I had planted three Arabica coffee trees high on the hill behind the Flamboyant tree. The first time they burst into flower I was overjoyed. Inadvertently it seems that I had discovered one of the best kept secrets of the gardening world. It took me some time to find the source of the intoxicating smell wafting through my early morning garden but there they were, spiky bursts of china-white against the deep shiny green leaves. All in full bloom. The flowers do not last but make up for their short lives with an exquisite biting perfume.

Cattleya Wendy Patterson
Deep in the rainforest, scented orchids can be found swaying high in the canopy. Vanilla pods are, in fact, the seed pods of a particular species of climbing orchid (Vanilla planifolia) found in warmer climates

Gardenia Jasminoides Variegata
By sending out a deliciously fragranced morse-code, the flower can exert a powerful pull and thereby ensure life. It is also why white flowers are often odorous with sweet, musky notes, ensuring that they are “seen” by pollinators.
Cattleya Gaskelliana

Quisqualis indica (rangoon creeper)

Gardenia Tubeferia Kula
Cattleya Mari Song (very fragrant)

A garden fragrant with subtle perfume is not complete without the addition of at least one or two scented orchids. Many varieties send forth multiple sprays of fragrant blooms that last for several weeks. Perhaps the best known specimens are the large, blowsy Cattleyas with their vivid range of striking colours. They are often seen with contrasting colours on the tubular, fringed lip. Less well known, but no less beautiful, are Oncidiums such as the popular Sharry Baby 'Sweet Fragrance' with its distinct chocolate smell and the Dendrobiums (one of the largest orchid genera), well recognized for their popularity in the cut flower market.

Datura Mollis (Brugmansia)

Spathoglottis ungiculta or fragrant ground orchid (smells like grapes)

The power of smell has uncanny power to move us. Even the most subtle whiff can bring back a plethora of memory and emotion

Strophantus Gratus

Anise, bay leaf, bergamot, cardamom, cedar wood, eucalyptus, gardenia, geranium, iris, jasmine, lavender, lemon, lilac, lily of the valley, moss, neroli, orange, patchouli, pine, raspberry, rose, sage, sandalwood, tuberose, vanilla, vertiver and ylang-ylang- each bearing your personalized script. If you had to smell happiness, which one would it be?

Monday, 10 September 2007

The beautiful and the strange

Beautiful and deadly. How does nature think these things up? For those who do not know, this is a portuguese man o'war, a particularly nasty floating beast that I've always thought of as a jelly fish, but it is not one apparently. According to Wikipeida " it is commonly thought of as a jellyfish but is actually a siphonophor."
Okay then.

The sting is excruciating and can sometimes leave welt like scars for years after. The tentacles can extend up to thirty feet behind it. I just wonder why it is so beautiful.

Once again, I cut and paste liberally from Wikipeida.

"According to a study done by Dr. Geoffrey Isbister of Newcastle, Australia's Mater Hospital between 2003 and 2005, the best treatment for a sting is to apply hot water to the affected area. Hot water used in the study was fixed at 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). The hot water eases the pain of a sting by denaturing the toxins.[2]

Applying ice to the area of the sting is also a fairly effective way to suppress the pain. Ice works by making the toxins less active and reduces the sensation and therefore pain of the area of skin around the ice. Additionally, ice constricts blood vessels, reducing the speed at which the venom travels to other parts of the body, including the brain; heat has an opposite effect. It was originally thought that applying ice was the best way of dealing with Man O' War stings before the study was conducted. Lifesavers around the world still use ice to treat the stings of this species.

The Portuguese Man O' War is often confused with a jellyfish, which is incorrect and may lead to improper treatment of stings, as the venom is different. A second sting may lead to an allergic reaction.

The sail portion is covered in a slime which counteracts the sting from the tentacles, and can be used for a quick cure. Look for a beached Man O' War, to get the slime from the sail, as attempting to touch one in the water is dangerous as you may come in contact with the tentacles. A normal jelly fish does not have this slime nor remedy.

The Loggerhead Turtle is apparently immune to Man O' War toxins, as the turtles are commonly seen feeding on the Man O' War."
This picture was taken on Mayaro beach at Easter.
When we were growing up, there was a common assumption that the best treatment for a sting was to, ahem, empty a full bladder on the welts. Whether this started as some sort of demented homeopathy, who knows, but the trend continues up to today. So on top of being nearly half dead with pain, you were then subjected to even further indignities. Clearly these were the days before Antisan.

Does anyone remember ti marie or pricker bush? Does anyone under 40 even use the word "pricker" anymore? The leaves of this weed close tightly when touched and this trick never failed to amuse. These frondy leaves hid sharp little thorns that were commonly known as "prickers" and running barefoot everywhere, we lived with them as a necessary evil. One of the most remarkable things about this little plant is its premonition of dusk. With the setting of the sun, the leaves would close tightly and go to sleep for the night. With the closing of the ti marie we would know that it was time to head home as dark would be upon us soon.
Water water everywhere. It is rainy season.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Ripley in the Forest

Believe it or not?!
This is stranger than fiction. The leaves of the incense tree are little mini-incubators for insects that set up residence for their eggs in the intra-cellullar spaces of the leaves. This is the beginning of the neighbourhood. Paradoxically, if the leaf senses that the area is becoming too crowded and presumably its own resources may be compromised, it creates "fake" homes. Basically saying to the expectant mamas- no room at the inn.

This is a crowded neighbourhood about to pop.
Most of these have moved on and left their home and the leaf high and dry. There is a particular butterfly that does this and the plant allows it because a symbiotic relationship is set up between insect and plant as the butterfly returns to the plant to pollinate the flowers. I only know this because Courtenay, my very knowledgeable guide, filled me in on this info.

This particular plant is the incense tree and it produces a red berry that smells divine and is a very potent insect repellent.

You could not dream up the things that go on in the rain forest. I was never very good at physics but somehow I have a dim sense of mathematical perfection in these minor miracles.
A member of the bactris palm family. This is one scary palm.Tiny white mushrooms deep in the forest. Each serrated edge more perfect than the other.
Courtenay has a great blog. He's well worth visiting-
Thanks Courtenay. My bites have finally disappeared so I'm ready for my next forest foray.