Gosh, it’s so good to see you all back here again! Another gardening year has reached an end and yet there is so much more horticultural wisdom and expertise I need to impart to you. So I promise, 2011 will bring more fun, enlightenment, and telephone threats than ever before!
Meanwhile, let’s send 2010 out with a bang, shall we? Travel along with Grumpy’s family as he leads them on a grueling series of gardening and cultural seminars while he cruises the Caribbean. The pace is frenetic, the hours long, and the instruction intense. But the payoff is worth it — new knowledge, new memories, new friends, and a new passport in case I ever want to sneak back into several Central American countries that expelled me with no explanation. (Boo, Belize!)
Our expedition begins in what’s widely regarded as the Intellectual Capital of the United States — New Orleans. This is where the ship embarks. My brain activity is spiking already!
My son, Brian, and wife, Judy, were thrilled to be surrounded on Bourbon Street by other intellectuals so obviously delighted to be expanding their minds. They learned just how big a role that plants like barley, grapes, hops, corn, rye, sugar, and agave play in their everyday lives. Brian looks forward to turning 21, so that one day he too may join the ranks of the cognoscenti.
After a day at sea with nothing to do but eat, drink, sauna, and laugh at people who buy Tarkay prints, we finally arrived at our first outdoor classroom in Mexico (below). It was hard to believe that all 3,000 passengers on board were just as passionate about gardening as we.
One of the first plants we discovered was what many (including Grumpy) consider the most beautiful flowering tree in the world — the royal poinciana (Delonix regia).
Called the flamboyant by the locals, royal poinciana (above) really lives up to the common name. Shaped like an umbrella and growing 30-40 feet tall and nearly twice as wide, it bears large trusses of 4-inch orange to scarlet flowers with white markings. So numerous are the blooms that they nearly obscure the mimosa-like foliage. Royal poinciana won’t take freezing, but you can grow it outdoors in places like south Florida.
I love palms. You can grow hardy palms like windmill, pindo, dwarf sabal, European fan, and needle palm in north-central Alabama, but this really cool one you can’t. Maybe because it isn’t a real palm.
Is this an artsy photo or what? All of the branches emerge in a single plane from an unbranched trunk. Like royal poinciana, traveler’s palm will only grow outdoors in Zone 10, but you can also grow it in a big pot you take indoors for the winter.
Whoa. All this concentrated teaching and mental exercise has me feeling the strain. It’s time for a cultural break. Judy says there’s a beauty contest tomorrow in a nearby country where I can kiss the winner.
How fortunate for us that the contest was held at the Belikin Brewery in Belize! There was just so much to learn — the history, the romance, the art — that we paused for a few hours to drink it all in.
Our horticultural odyssey continued throughout the week with fascinating finds around every corner. If you can correctly identify the plant below, you may be eligible to win an all-expenses-paid bus ride to Karachi, Pakistan, complete with a complimentary pat-down from TSA upon your return!
Give up? This is Bangkok rose (not to be confused with a popular social director of the same name who works in Thailand’s capital). The botanical name is Mussaenda phillippica. This tropical shrub grows about 10 feet tall and reminds me of a poinsettia. Small, tubular, yellow or orange flowers ending in 5-pointed stars aren’t the source of the show. That honor belongs to showy sepals of pink, white, or red up to 3 inches long that surround them. The hybrid pictured here is ‘Dona Luz.’ Hardy to zone 9, it likes sun and well-drained soil.
What do you think of this combination? Grumpy hopes you like it, because otherwise you’re probably a big fan of Thomas Kinkade and Tarkay.
A variegated yucca is the featured plant accompanied by a salmon-pink flame-of-the-woods (Ixora coccinea) in back and a mat of Moses-in-the-cradle (Tradescantia spathecea) at its feet. Grumpy likes the marriage of colors and textures. The yucca is probably hardy outside in Zone 9, the others in Zone 10. You can also grow Ixora in a sun room (but watch out for bugs). Moses-in-the-cradle is great in a pot.
Have you ever be blinded by the light (like when I’m up on stage with Lady Gaga)? Here’s one plant that just about blinded me.
It’s a variegated Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) called ‘Snow Queen.’ No, I didn’t just stick the flower in there for the photo. Grumpy has integrity. What he also has is admiration for a plant that can thrive with almost no chlorophyll. Its leaves are whiter than the population of Vermont. So much white reduces the flowering somewhat, but the leaves make up for it. It’s hardy outdoors in Zone 10, but easy to grow in a large container you take indoors for winter.
Well, I’m worn out again. Time to start thinking about dinner.
Judy checks out the local farmer’s market. Look at this bounty of fresh fruit! Mangoes, papayas, bananas, plantains, sapodillas, pineapples, and pitayas. No wonder nobody ever returns from the Caribbean complaining of irregularity. While Judy takes care of the dessert course, Brian and I hunt down the meat.
Mmmmmm-MMM!!! Takes just like chicken. Save me the tail!
Well, it sure has been an exhausting couple of days. Let’s pause for a moment to reflect upon all that we’ve learned on this ground-breaking gardening journey.
One thing I now know is that gardening — and even learning about gardening — is a thirsty business. So I hope you don’t mind if Brian and I kick back with our favorite beverage and prepare for tomorrow’s adventures.
What’s that you say? “Looks like hard work.” You bet it is! Every time I walk on the beach, tour a new garden, or belly up to the bar, I can’t believe how much there is to learn. I’m so busy, in fact, that I won’t be able to answer emails until after New Year’s. The ship’s crew and passengers have big plans for me.
Grumpy hopes you understand. And now it’s time for some serious introspection. Catch you on the flip-side.
Ooooh, that breeze feels nice!