Hi,

Most of you reading this did not know me in my younger days. More specifically, you did not know me during my houseplant years. Yes, I once grew houseplants. Lots and lots of houseplants. At one point I had nearly 300 houseplants. Perhaps that the number is excessive doesn’t surprise you, whenever it was that we met. I certainly hope that’s the case.

At one time, the 300 plants and I shared a two bedroom apartment with my long suffering first wife and daughter and/or an office with three other graduate students. In fairness, not all of the plants were original with me. A handful of plants came with the wife, and it seems as though a friend and office mate may have brought a pot to the office from home–probably in self defense. Among the plants that Claudia Ann brought to the marriage were a splendid Jade plant and a ficus benjamina that would approach seven or eight feet in height in an annual growth spurt after suffering through a another winter of dry heat indoors in the Pacific Northwest. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s I spent a lot of time misting that ficus tree with a spray bottle.

It seems that with 300 plants one can establish all sorts of priorities in life, many of which have nothing to do with important things. Perhaps this point would be a valuable thing for someone who has 300 houseplants to realize, but of course I can’t say from experience. However, I CAN attest to the fact that in one’s declining years plants can take on a legitimately important role.

That’s the situation for me now here in Las Galeras, where some days it feels like I’m under floral assault. This is particularly true on the second sunny day after a several days of rain. Whooeee–how one’s tropical garden does grow!

It doesn’t seem possible, but I’ve now been working in this garden for 11 years. During this time I’ve packed or hired done more than 35 cubic yards of rock, 12 yards of sand, 130 yards of dirt and–during one especially memorable week, 12 yards of cow manure down into the garden in five gallon buckets. This has been the work of “making a garden,” in the most fulsome sense of the phrase. And caliché too…I’ve packed in 15 or 20 cubic yards of road base to fill the steps and paths that make it possible to traverse my New Garden, which was formerly just one Big Jagged Rock. So I’ve put a lot of material into the garden. I’ve also taken a lot out.

Things grew on this rock even before we packed all of this soil and terracing material down the hill. Oh yes, they did grow–and they grow they do yet! Trees and bushes, flowers and fruits, vines and sundry weeds beyond measure, all sending urgent signs of life skyward and sinking roots into this rock, fracturing it incrementally–maybe preparing a beach for the lapping waves once the deep sea eventually returns to this elevation. I dunno. But I do know that, with just a few years of arboreal neglect I could completely lose the magnificent view of the national park across the bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. So the garden bears maintenance, as well as development.

Over the years, I’ve worn out six or seven hardened steel Japanese pruning saws. I’ve sharpened my Swiss hand pruners and lopping shears to the point of replacing the blades. I’ve developed a healthy gardener’s equivalent of “Painter’s Thumbs,” the ones that we all have when working with the tools for any length of time. And I flirt again with carpal tunnel in the wrists. But–full disclosure: I don’t do it all.

I occasionally contract out a bit of pruning to a Haitian with a machete. Nice guy, hard worker. Beyond effective with the machete. Savage, actually.

But this note isn’t about Wale, my Haitian helper, nor is it about the making of this butterfly garden although both could easily be the subject of numerous reminisces, including several that are pretty funny. Neither is this missive about one’s declining years (except to the extent that it’s all about me–and I just may have commenced those years of declension.)

No, this missive is all about the Japanese pruning saw and the Swiss pruners and the big thumbs and the ficus benjamina near to the entrance to the guest bungalow. The twenty foot extension ladder also figures in the tale, and I suppose that the several gallons of Gatorade consumed deserve an honorable mention. This is the sum of a houseplant story of epic proportions.

In my time I’ve had a few far-fetched dreams–still do, I suppose. But I never once imagined that I would spend three days in a house plant, on an extension ladder, wielding assorted tools and dragging away enough brush to make a burn pile the size of a hi-cube van. Nevertheless, I did that. And it’s not the first time, nor is the ficus the only culprit. Whacking that tree is a boatload of work and not tremendously more fun than shoveling snow, but I suppose that it IS a more rewarding than the shoveling. In the end, I’ve got a nicely shaped giant houseplant to welcome guests, while snow eventually turns to slush and then melts, exposing a season’s worth of urban dog crap along the way.

Anyway, here’s a photo of the giant houseplant.

This photo doesn’t really do justice to the nicely shaped tree, now reduced to eighteen or twenty feet in height and just beginning to leaf out. To make up for that I’ve also posted several other photos of my garden here in Las Galeras on the El Otro WA blog. Please ignore those things that seem to need attention in the background of the garden photos; I do and mostly with impunity. Which is certainly not the case with soggy dog poop, is it?

As a bonus, and for those of you with a houseplant bent, I’ve also posted in this location on that blog a helpful ficus benjamina houseplant hint, gleaned a month or so ago when confirming that I knew how to spell ficus benjamina correctly. (Hot Tip: Wikipedia asserts that the Ficus apparently develops some sort of affinity for the familiar electro-magnetic arrangement of the universe and responds to having it’s pot rotated by dropping leaves. Who knew?)

It may seem difficult for my friends in the central and northern latitudes to credit, but no doubt your spring is just around the corner, and all the sweeter for it’s arrival after this hellacious winter past. While waiting for that turn, enjoy your anticipation.

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