Monday, July 3, 2017

Hawaii - The Next Chapter

For years I have been dreaming about going to the island state of Hawaii.  From the early days of working in the tropical nurseries of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in England to my first adventure of living in the tropic's of the British Virgin Islands and later Nevis, I constantly dreamed of Hawaii.  For me, I've always perceived these islands to be a mecca for tropical horticulture and so far it hasn't disappointed.  A year ago, almost to this day my family and I put our feet onto its shores to start the next chapter of our life's.

Our home on the island of Lana'i is one of a few lesser known islands that make up the Hawaiian chain.  Oahu, with Hawaii's capital of Honolulu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii are probably the best known of the archipelago of islands. Lana'i, Molokai and the forbidden island of Ni'ihau make up the rest of the in-habitat islands.  Lana'i is best known as the Pineapple Island following its glory days as being the worlds major pineapple exporter.  The crown has since gone to the Philippines but evidence of these years can still be seen on the landscape.  A little known fact outside of these islands is that 98% of its 140 sq miles is privately owned, but don't worry there's very few places you can't go on this island.

The position I've had for the last year is Director of Landscaping for the Four Seasons Resorts, a company I became familiar with from my time on Nevis.  It is a high end, luxury resort and hotel chain that can be found in many of the worlds most desirable destinations. However, the property is owned by the same person who owns the majority of the island with the Four Seasons providing the management and branding of the resort.  This partnership has lead to the creation of probably one of the best resorts you'll find in the world, with the Four Seasons exceptional high level of service paired with the owners desire and financial capacity to provide the best guest experience in the world.  

During 2015, the resort was shut down for extensive renovations before reopening in the beginning of 2016.  No corners were cut in the makeover and its evident when you wonder around the resort.  One of the aspects that appealed to me was that the landscapes were considered just as important as the buildings in the renovation and went through a major change.  Gone is the standard arrangement of hotels plants and generic landscape designs seen in so many places today and in its place is a collection of plants mostly seen in Botanic gardens or private collections.  It is almost like you are a guest staying in the private home of the owner than at a resort.

From the moment you arrive on the main driveway to the resort, you are enveloped by lush tropical landscapes.  Every corner of the landscape has been improved on and addressed.  Gone were the labor and material intensive lawnscapes and in its place a jungle of palm, cycads, gingers and many other iconic tropical plants.  No expense was spared in creating this dream landscape.

This year sees the start of renovations to the islands sister resort, The Lodge at Koele and it promises to be just as exciting as the Manele Bay makeover.  While Manele sits at sea level and provides the heat needed for many exotic plants, Koele has higher amounts of rainfall with cooler temperatures that broaden the types of tropical plants that can be used. These are exciting times for an island that hasn't seen much development since the building of the two resorts after the pineapple years came to an end.  

Who knows, with all the investment happening to the islands properties maybe Lana'i title of being a Pineapple island will change to the Island of Gardens.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Antique Soil Conditioner

I found myself sitting on the crossroads last night trying to figure out how to renew my subscription of my domain name and getting royally frustrated with the whole process.  I questioned whether continuing with the blog was relevant as its been a long time since I last posted and a lot has changed.  I now live on the other side of the world on the island of Lana'i in Hawaii, still gardening and still struggling with time to add extra in my life.  However, my daughters comments about keeping this going spurred me to overcome the technological frustrations and getting guidance from a person I presume was in India, is alive again.  

Below is one of the last pieces I wrote and planned to post while in Nevis.  The tides of change had been a major distraction, but after reading again I wanted to publish this as it was a fascinating subject.  Enjoy:-)

Lets be honest, doing any kind of gardening on clay soils just sucks.  It can be slopping wet for prolonged periods sticking to tools and boots while trying to work the ground and then baked dry like concrete in times of drought.  Its a miracle that anything will grow in clay, but somehow plants still manage.

When dealing with clay in the garden , the best approach is to mix in plenty of amendments like compost to break up the particles and produce a crumbly soil.  It will allow water to drain through the surface but also hold moisture for longer during drier conditions.  The other important factor to breaking up the clumps of clay is that you increase pore space allowing the roots to spread out and receive oxygen.

So what happens when you don't have ready access to compost?  To answer to this question I met an archaeologist working on Nevis who revealed how early settlers to these islands approached soil amending  and the answer was very unusual.  

Compost is a rare commodity on the islands.  Most waste plant material was either burnt as fuel instead of composted and the ashes used as a source of potash that was added to the soil. Very little organic material was dug into the ground. However, everywhere you go you'll notice broken shards of ceramic pottery mixed into the soil.  At first I thought it was a way that settlers would dispose of broken household items, but in reality this stuff was imported by the ship load!

As I learnt from the archaeologists, ships heading to the new world would often load bags of broken ceramics into the cargo holds as ballast to give the boats better stability.  These bags could be worked between the ribs of the ship hull and then have other cargo packed on top.  These bags of broken ceramics were obtained for free from the potteries disposing of broken shards.  Captains of these sailing ships knew that out in the new world this commodity could be sold as a soil conditioner, which in turn provided the captain and /or crew with a little extra income on the side.  These broken shards were then mixed into the clay soil as a way to open it up and improve drainage, much like putting broken pottery (crocks) at the base of pots.  Once these ships that had reached the Caribbean or along the east coast of America, they emptied this ballast of broken ceramics and replaced it with sugar, rum and cotton before heading back to the ports of Europe.

To this day, broken shards can be found everywhere from beach to mountain slopes on Nevis.  They range from Porcelain dating between 1660 - 1800, hand painted Pearlware from 1780 to 1920 and mix of different Stoneware and earthenware.  Though mostly from England, some shards have been identified as exports from China, Holland, Germany and Scotland.

These broken shards are seeing a new life in some parts of the Caribbean as entrepreneurial jewelers have taken these unearthed pieces of history and are transforming them in jewelry.  While not being the valuable pirates treasure that everyone wants to find, each unique piece represents a hidden story of days past and makes a nice conversation piece to go home with.

One mans trash really is another mans treasure!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Big, Bold Bougainvilleas

No matter where ever you go in the tropic's you'll always come across the vibrant sun loving presents of Bougainvillea's.   These drought tolerant sprawling climbers will thrive under neglect to shower you in a massively floriferous display of color throughout spring, summer or autumn.  Their resilience and color have gained them a place in many tropical gardens around the world.

Bougainvillea's were first discovered by a french naval commander, Louis-Antonie de Bougainville around the coastal areas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil between 1766-1769.  By the early 19th century, Bougainvillea's had made their way to the nurseries of Europe where a thriving trade soon grew.  It was shortly discovered thereafter that the species naturally hybridized with colorful hybrids popping up spontaneously wherever Bougainvillea were grown.

Bougainvillea's comes from the Nyctaginaceae (Four-o-Clock) family which hosts 33 different related genera.  Within the genera Bougainvillea genera, there are 14 species, with only three that are considered horticulturally important; B. spectacles, B. glabra and B. peruviana.  They are a tropical to subtropical woody evergreen, shrubby vine typically with multi-trunked or clumping stems.  Left naturally, it has a spreading habit and forms a rounded plant with a height and spread of up to 20 feet.  However, with training the eventual size often is much greater.

The true flower is a small, tubular, white to yellow bloom that is surrounded by the brilliantly colored bracts, or modified leaves.  The same flower modification can be seen in Dogwoods and Poinsettias where the true flower is often over shadowed by the vibrantly colored bracts that surround it.  They come in various different colors from lilacs, oranges to yellows, pinks, purples, reds, violets and whites with various shades in-between.   Double braced forms and variegated foliage hybrids can be found for those looking for a little more interest.

Location: Bougainvilleas will grow best in full blazing sun or with at least 5 hours of direct afternoon light per day.  Not enough sun = not enough bloom.  They thrive best in outdoors in areas of low rainfall and intense heat with night temperatures that are above 60 degrees F.  This makes them ideal for year round cultivation in US hardiness zones of 9 and higher.  However, they can be grown during the summer months in colder zones as long as they are brought inside and protected from freezing weather.  Although a tough and durable plant, they don't tolerate strong prevailing winds.  It is best to secure your plants so they get shelter from high winds and don't rock around.

Feeding: Although Bougainvilleas grow like brutes in the garden, they are big babies when it comes to their roots.  They have delicate, thin roots which will easily burn if too much fertilizer to applied all at once.   The best approach to feeding is to apply the fertilizer weakly but with multiple applications out over a longer period.  A balanced, slow released fertilizer high in iron to prevent chlorosis, and plenty of micronutrients is all that is needed.  Liquid feeding with soluble fertilizer is also a good option but requires increased frequency of applications to achieve the desired results. They are heavy feeders during their flowering season and will benefit from a increase in feeding.  However, during  non-flowering periods the feeding can be reduced.  Fertilizer should never be applied to dry soil as this will burn their delicate feeder roots.

Soil and Watering: Bougainvilleas grow best when planted in a well draining loamy soil mixed with good amounts of organic matter to help nutrients and oxygen get down to those delicate roots.  A soil pH range of 5 to 7 is ideal.  Deep watering is always preferred as long as the soil drains with little trouble.  Once established, they're drought tolerant and prefer to on the dry side.  By keeping your plant a little under stress you'll improve the flowering show.

Planting or Re-potting:  As mentioned during the section on feeding, Boug's are big babies when it comes to root sensitivity.  When planting, try and not disturb the roots as you move the plant from its nursery pot to the final home.  Careless planting can send these plants into serious shock or in the worse case will lead the plant to die.  As such, many people chose to plant them with the nursery pot still on, but cut away the bottom to allow for the roots to push out and explore their new surroundings.  If growing in a container, Boug's love to be pot bound and should only be stepped up a single size without breaking of fiddling with the rootball.  Root pruning is not recommended.

Training and pruning: Bougainvilleas are extremely vigorous growers and don't mind a good whacking back to set their shape.  Start by training selected stems to make a good framework of branches and create a desired form.  Boug's don't have a natural ability to cling or attach themselves to structures so you will need to fasten them if you wish for it to climb.  Once the shape is achieved, lighter prunings after each flowering cycle and removal of water shoots is all that is need to keep the plant in check.  It is best to remove side shoots to about 2 inches from the old cane (just like climbing roses) to produce flowering spurs and maintain its shape. Bougainvilleas bloom in new wood. The more you pinch out and trim, the more flowers you'll encourage.

Growing in containers:  Of course not everyone has the space to allow these super-sized beast to take over or have the growing climate for it to live outside year round.  Fortunately, Bougainvilleas response well to container culture and actual prefers their roots to be a bit snug in a pot.  Start by using a container one size up from its nursery pot and use a planting mix moderate in peat moss with plenty of drainage.  Peat moss can retain to much moisture and may result in root rot issues.  Water soluble fertilizer is the best approach to feeding Bougainvilleas in pots with a application of slow release granular fertilizer given when potting on.  Also, consider some of the smaller cultivars (some of them thornless) like Helen Johnson, Flame, Silhouette, Miss Alice or the Ice series.  Click here for a chart of recommended cultivars.

Pest and diseases: Bougainvilleas are fairly free of trouble.  For the most part, the usual culprits that cause damage are Aphids, Caterpillars (loopers), grasshoppers, mealybugs, mites and whiteflies.  Using a good wide spectrum insecticide at the first sign of damage will halt any problem from getting out of hand.  For diseases, leaf spots and root rots will be more of an issue on heavier soils or places where irrigation is frequently wetting the foliage.  Broad spectrum fungicides will help prevent the spread but a change in water management will reduced the problem over the longterm.

One common physiological problem faced by anyone growing Bougainvilleas is chlorosis, a lack of normal green pigmentation in the foliage.  This is often cause by a deficiency of iron or magnesium or a high soil pH that prevents the uptake of these nutrients into the plant.  Mixing 1-2 teaspoons of Epsom salts with 1 gallon of water and applying with a watering can will improve the situation.  Also, acidifying the soil with aluminum sulfate, chelated iron or elemental sulfur with help with the plants absorption of these elements.  If after this your plants systems don't improve, you could be seeing the effects of water logging or a nematode issue affecting those delicate feeder roots, where a change in cultivation will be needed to reverse the symptoms.

From vines, ground covers, hedges, containers, topiaries and bonsai, there is a Bougainvillea to fill you needs.  With very little needs, Bougainvilleas will provide eye-catching color over long periods in the garden.  Even if you don't live in the tropics, they adapt well to overwintering inside a house to provide a colorful display during the summer months.  So, isn't it time you planted a Bougainvillea for your garden?

For more information on Bougainvilleas follow these links:

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The case of the disappearing coconuts - A closer Look

In my last post I wrote about the mystery of disappearing coconuts from our shores and touched lightly on the causes leading to their decline.  Through my sleuthing on the internet I discovered something that may have a big impact not just on coconuts, but many other plants as well.

Without a doubt, coconut decline is a serious problem across the whole tropical region.  Many people depend on coconut palms not just for food but for oils, shelter, fuel and many other uses.  Should the decline of coconut palms become worldwide it could be compared to the Irish Potato famine in how it will effect many people reliant on the coconut industry.

Coconuts drying for Copra production

Lethal Yellowing syndrome (or complex) is a collection of different pathogens identified with todays crisis.  The main disease is a phytoplasma organism that is spread by a plant hopper (Myndus curdus) which feeds on the sweet sap of the palms fronds.  Thus far the only treatment has been to inject oxytetracycline HCI, an antibiotic into the trunks every four months.  However, shooting up trees with antibiotics is costly and the side effects of consuming any part of the palm can have a negative effect on protecting our own health from so called 'Mega-bugs'.

Injection sites for Oxytetracycline damages coconut trunks and leaves them unsightly.
LYS was first identified in 1830 running rampant through stands of coconuts in the Cayman Islands.  Since then it has spread across the Caribbean region and central America with cases being reported as far away as Africa.  There is no single symptom that can diagnose Lethal yellowing as many other stresses can turn a palm yellow.  Mineral deficiencies and pests like 'Red Ring', a nematode native to the Caribbean has lead to confusion and misdiagnosis of the disease.

Blacken, water soaked appearance at the stem
of the nut.
The first signs to appear on older, fruit bearing palms is the premature dropping of the nuts accompanied by flower necrosis.  However, coconut palms as young as 2 to 3 years have been know to contract the disease and often show foliar discoloration, starting at the lower fronds and extending upwards until the whole crown turns yellow. Eventually, the crown will turn brown and desiccate, hanging down for a few weeks before falling off to leave a solitary trunk.  Infected palms often die with in 3 to 5 months after showing the first symptoms.

Targeting the insect responsible for the spread is one approach, but it's so common and widespread that positive controls outside of infected areas is impossible to achieve.  Coconuts growing in areas of well maintained healthy grass like golf courses were the first to be impacted, while on dry sandy beaches the spread of LYS was far slower.  In fact, the juvenile insect cycle starts its life feeding on the roots of lawn grasses.  However, once the adults emerge they can jump long distances carrying the pathogen once infected from palm to palm as they feed.

So far, the best option has been to plant resistant cultivars of coconuts, but this isn't without its own set of problems.   In a 20 year field study conducted at the University of Florida a number of certified seed coconuts cultivars were grown and evaluated.  In a report published in 2002, 91% of Jamaica Talls, a common coconut for this region were lost.  However, the previously believed resistant strains like Malayan Dwarf, Maypan and Red Spicata suffered losses ranging from 50 to 83%.  The only cultivar that showed the greatest promise was Fiji Dwarf (Niu Leka) which had a loss rate of 0%.  This field study also demonstrated that 'off types' of Fiji Dwarfs were just as susceptible to infection with 50% loss.  Only clones or seed collected from controlled cross pollinations that produce 'true to type' can be considered 'resistant'.

Fiji Dwarf Coconut
Another study, published in 'The Journal of the Mexican Chemical Society' has put a different light on the fight against LYS with an article published on 'Cuticular Wax Composition of Coconut Palms and the Susceptibility to Lethal yellowing Disease'.   The study was to measure the wax coating on the fronds of coconuts to see if there was correlation between thickness of this wax layer had any effect to the palms contracting LYS.  As it turned out, those palms that had a thicker layer were less prone to LYS.  This natural barrier prevents sap sucking insects from penetrating the leaf layer and introducing a pathogen.  This might explain why in infected areas you can still find stands of coconuts seemingly unaffected by LYS.

On reading up on cuticle wax I discovered that environmental stresses like drought, excessive heat, exposure to strong wind and even acid rain can all dissolve this protective layer leaving the plant vulnerable to attack.  However, all these stresses are a result of climate change, which is progressively changing what crops can grown where.

So what can be done to protect our existing coconuts?

The answer may lie in a study conducted at a Canadian agricultural research station in Ontario concerning ways to combat Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV).  In the study, they compared various film-forming products like Wilt-pruf, a anti-transpirant product and Horticultural Oil on the feeding habits of Thrips connected to the spread of TSWV.  What was discovered was Wilt-pruf significantly reduced the virus transmissions and feeding damage from thrips.  It was also suggested that 'TSWV transmission may occur more readily during brief and shallow probing which is associated with thrip salivation and discharge of the virus'.

With this knowledge in hand, it seems highly possible that by applying an extra layer of persistent, clear flexible film to many plants will help in deterring the feeding habits of many virus spreading insects.  By coincidence, we noticed that spraying our Plumeria's to protect the foliage from the burning damage caused by salt-laiden winds we saw a drop in Plumeria rust and scale as a result.  If this reduced a plants pathogen load, then spraying coconuts might also help in reducing attacks from Red Palm Mite and other insects too.

In summary, knowing how important cuticle wax is on a plants defense and how easy it is for this to be reduced, it is only logical to believe that applying film forming sprays can have a positive benefit to a plants health.  This is something that we will be experimenting with over the course of a year to see how positive it is on the health of our coconuts.  At the same time, the application of film forming products could be used in a much wider spectrum to protect highly susceptible plants like Roses from all the damage they sustain.

For further reading on LYS, please click on these links;

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Nevis needs more Nuts!

Most of you non-tropical mainlanders may be unaware that our iconic symbol of Caribbean islands is in deep crisis.  The symbol I'm referring too is our beloved Coconut Palm or Cocos nucifera a palm featured so many times on the pages of travel magazines, has been disappearing from our beaches at an alarming rate.

So what has happened?  Simply put, these palms face the same crisis as Bananas, too many of the same genetic types with little diversity.  These mono-culture's of nearly identical types can't resist diseases when outbreaks occur.  Although the main disease I'm referring too is 'Lethal Yellowing Disease', two other pathogens, 'Bud Rot' and 'Red Palm Mite' have run rampant through the population.  In a future post I will get into the details of all three issues, but collectively they have been termed 'Coconut palm complex' as they can all be found at the same time on declining trees.

Pinney's Beach before Lethal Yellow Disease
When I first came to Nevis a longtime ago, the beaches were lined as far as you could see with Coconut palms that stretch deep into the interior of the island.  Locals will tell stories of never taking any supplies with them to the beach as natures bounty was ripe for harvest.  Jelly water (a local term for coconut water) was drunk to refresh the body and Coconut flesh was eaten to fill your bellies.  Nowadays, there's not even enough palms to meet the needs of everyone as over 70% of coconut palms were estimated to of died, although the number is mostly likely higher.

Effects of Lethal Yellowing Disease
This week I was sent on a mission to find some jelly waters for guest staying at the place where I work.  It should of been a simple walk along the beach, but every stand of palms I found was devoid of their nuts.  Instead, the ground was littered with opened husks left behind from harvesting.  So rare now is it to find jelly waters, entrepreneurial people have seen a market willing to pay good prices for what was once ample.

Fortunately, efforts are being made to replant these iconic symbols of Tropic islands. Various government ministries have committed themselves in a scheme to replant resistant coconut strains across both islands of St Kitts and Nevis, but is this enough?  No one really knows the true amount of coconut palms lost to this 'complex' but its impact is evident.  Although bring in resistant types would in the long run help, its those trees that survived that leave me to ponder why?  Do these survivors have a natural ability to fend off attack.  If they do in fact come from better genetic stock, then the constant harvesting for jellies is only adding to the complex of coconut decline.

Nut grabber in action
Maybe a better approach to re-nutting Nevis is through educating the nut collectors in sustainable harvesting.   After all, they are the benefactors of the harvest and profit from what remains, so its in their best interest to secure their chosen crop for future profits.  If for every two nuts they collect, one is planted in gratitude, we can reclaim the bounty that Nevis once relied on.  Because at the end of the day Nevis wouldn't be Nevis without its Nuts!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Life on an island, Part 2

Arrh, it's happened again! Finding the time to sit down and focus on writing has become quite the problem. Being a father, husband and manager (and sometimes babysitter to a large group of staff ) all looking for a slice of my time, leaves me with precious little for my own pursuits. Fortunately, I have a few moments of quiet that I can refocus on the follow up to 'Life on an island', part 2.

Nevis is just like the image conjured up in all those glossy travel magazines. White sands, sapphire blue oceans and emerald forests (well, just during the rainy season) welcome you as you arrive. However, Nevis just like all the other islands is more diverse than just sand and sea. So let me take you on a little tour of our Rock!

For the newly arrived your experiences start at our international airport. Most tourist began their adventure to the islands navigating sprawling airports with multiple flights heading all over the world. Nevis has simplified this process by having just the one gate and keeping the clutter of flights to manageable few a day. Truth be told, the runway isn't long enough to accommodate big 'people movers' so most visitors to Nevis come through the bigger airport in St. Kitts. However, if fortunate to arrive directly here on Nevis, your transition from aeroplane to exiting the terminal is a simple walk with a few fellow passengers only stopping briefly with customs and passport control. That's the beauty of small airports!

Rush hour - Nevis style!
Once cleared to enter the island your first Caribbean experience starts in the parking lot. As airport carparks go, this one has ample spaces right up front. The experience I mentioned is the fact that the sheep and goats outnumber the  amount of parked vehicles. Its not uncommon to see them walking past the front sidewalk enroute to a new patch of grass to chew on.

Nevis is awash with roaming livestock of various kinds. The resident population of goats and sheep found at the airport can be seen all over the island foraging for food. Coupled with this, you'll find bigger cows, horses and now feral donkeys that were once the prefered mode of transport before the arrival of cars. Rarely, you might catch a glimpse of an old timer riding up the mountain on the back of a mule, but these days it's mostly done inside the airconditioned cab of a truck.

From the air, Nevis looks like it rose on the back of an old volcano come out of the depths of the ocean. Though true, Nevis Peak is an impressive 3232 ft, we have a total of seven very much older, smaller and extinct volcanoes that make up the island. Nevis Peaks elevation helps in providing much needed rain by stopping the clouds that have traveled the Atlantic so relieve themselves of excessive evaporative moisture. It's worth pointing out that locals don't see rain as a negative but instead refer to a rainy event as receiving 'Blessings'. This is because the Caribbean is classed as the dry tropics with an average rainfall of around 50 inches with temperatures fluctuating in the 80's (fahrenheit) yearly.

Nevis Peaks dominating presence was part of the reason Nevis got it name. Columbus was one of the first europeans to lay eyes on the island while traveling to the new world. Before Christo traveled through these parts the native Carib Indians called this island 'Oualie', translating into "land of Beautiful Waters".  However, when Christo did travel through in 1493, Nevis appeared on following Spanish maps as "Nuestra Senora de las Nieves", which translates to 'Our Lady of the Snows', for the cloud covered peak that can look like a snow capped mountain.

The cloud covered peak enables the chain reaction of cloud to rain to happen. The racing winds that have moved those clouds across the Atlantic decides where the rain should fall.  For this reason our island has many diverse ecosystems and plants that thrive only in these environments.

The east side of the island faces the open ocean and is as dry as many deserts. In fact, the rock strewn landscape has a lunar look, with the occasional cactus poking up through foreign Acacia's that have naturalised across the island from there original african homes. The powerful Atlantic wind has carved the plants in these environment into interesting and tortured shapes. Boulders lend some protection to plants, but their growth is restricted to the shadow of these rocks. For this reason, the plants growth can undulate, mimicking the waves that crash along the coastline.

Further inland, the wind begins to give way and trees start looking more like trees than the tortured specimens most bonsai fanatics would lust for. Rain is still limited but with the wind beginning to be dispersed, moisture has a chance to percolate down to the roots.

However, things beginning to get interesting when you reach the slopes. Through years of rainfall and runoff, deep canyons (or locally referred to as ghauts) have carved themselves into the mountainsides creating sheltered, humid rich environments. The steep walls of these ghauts are clothed in dense coverings of ferns, gingers and begonias to name a few. Cooler temperatures and massive water smoothed rounded boulders create a zen-like sanctuary, peaceful and separated from everyday life of the island.

Towards the summit, the ghauts disappear and thick moisture rich cloudforest take over.  Sadly, this is a world that I still need to experience as my work keeps me to busy to explore. I've been told that the vegetation is controlled again by the same Atlantic winds, keeping the tree height to a minimum. However, the moisture rich clouds allow epiphytes like Orchids to drip from the limbs of trees making up for the lack of height. Everyday I watch the clouds swirl around the peak to swallow it up from view, only clearing occasional to give a glimpse of a world often hidden in the mist.

I would be amiss to not mention the other feature of Nevis also seen in travel magazines, Monkeys! Naturalised from Africa, the Green Vervet monkeys were brought to the islands as exotic pets and after escaping captivity grew in number. They are loved by visitors, but despised by islanders. Sure, they're cute to watch and bring hours of enjoyment as they run, climb and play but they're as destructive as deer. Agriculture on Nevis has almost been obliterated by these furry thieves as people give up trying to provide produce for themselves. It's no wonder that people who catch them for cooking call monkeys 'Tree Mutton'.

Well, this is just a small glimpse of the island my family and I now call home. As and when time allows, I'll write and tell stories of our adventures of life and gardening on the island. But for now I need to shoo off the monkeys from the Mango tree and throw the kids in the pool to cool off.

Lime on!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Life on a island, Part 1

Even though the final box was unpacked some time ago, my move overseas and the transition into a new job had put me into a blogging hiatus of sorts.  Lets face it, the draw of sitting under a coconut palm watch the world go by has been too great.  However, lots have been learnt since moving on Island and its time to share my experiences of living on a rock and get back into writing again.

For many, gardening is all about the escape.  Even though I still work in it, it is what you create that gives you the freedom.  So for this post I thought I'd starting at the roots, well actual the house I live in and the garden around it.  Its the perfect way to chronicle my adventures in tropical gardening and the challenges I face as the seasons change.

Here on Nevis, houses don't have numbers, but are given names instead.  My little slice of paradise is aptly called Genesis.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't to honor the pop giants of the 80's and 90's, but probably to honor the biblical term for 'the beginning'.  Its better to think of a place in a more noble manner than to picture a little balding man singing 'I can't dance'!

Genesis is your typical caribbean home.  Solidly constructed in concrete with a metal roof and water catchment cisterns under the floors.  Built to withstand hurricanes its a doomsday preppers dream come true!  Even the big bad wolf could blow this house down.

Adonidia merrillii, Manila palms outside the front door

The other dream come true mainly for my daughter, is that its painted Barbie pink, a common  color of caribbean dwellings.  Apart from constantly craving cotton candy, I feel like were living in a dolls house.  We're located about 700 ft up on the slopes of the extinct volcano that forms the center of Nevis.  The views across to St Kitts are amazing and the breeze is somewhat constant, but you need to have the stamina of a mountain goat to mow the lawn!

Flamboyant tree, Delonix regia

The one  negative about living on the side of a volcano is all the bloody rocks.  Aparently, at some point many thousands of years ago, Mt Nevis blew its top and threw it down the side of the mountain, which is where they decided to build this pretty pink house and put in a garden.  Its reassuring to know that we are living on an old pyroclastic field.  I better find a way to pay homage to the sleeping volcano to guarantee my safety.  Now, where did those bloody free roaming roosters go!

Bismarckia nobilis, Bismarck Palm
The positive side is that the garden has great bones with all the trees and shrubs.  The standout features are a nicely mature Bismarckia nobilis, Bismarck Palm with grand silvery fanlike fronds. Along the driveway is a grove of Adonidia merrillii, Manila palms with bright red berries that are produced in copious amounts. Surrounding the rest of garden are three wide spreading Flamboyant trees, Delonix regia providing a much appreciated canopy of shade and in the back yard is an endlessly flowering African Tulip Tree, Spathodea campanulata .  As time goes by I'll highlight a few others, but these are the stand out specimens that caught my eye when we first moved in.

One difference you soon learn in the tropic is that there are just two seasons, the wet and dry!  Gone are the four season gardens I have used to for a while.  I had always considered winter as a curse but in reality its a luxury.  The gardens here never sleep, they just slow down when it gets dry.  That means that all the problems associated with gardening, pest and disease and the like stay as a constant issue.

African Tulip Tree, Spathodea campanulata

In my next post, I'll introduce you to the rest of the island. Although we're pretty much a small circular island that shows up on many maps as a small dot, it a diverse rock with many different environments.  I hope that many who read my blog before will continue to do so even though its a departure from the cold tolerant gardens of the north.  One thing I've learnt since coming here is that its never dull and there's always a story to tell.

So until next time, garden on!