Before I moved to Boquete, Panama I really enjoyed my garden in Los Altos. I always found it to be endlessly therapeutic spending a day with my hands in the dirt. Weeding, planting, trimming, creating a garden that pleased my eyes was something I could easily loose myself in. Entire afternoons could slip away as I made my way through the yard. I had so many little areas of my yard to work in and each area seemed to have its own personality. I don’t consider myself an extremely knowledgable gardener but I loved to learn by trial and error, all I could about my little plot of dirt in Los Altos. Through the years I learned a lot about my yard, I learned that the soil was a little different in each area of the yard. Different sides of the house had differing amounts of sun and shade which provided a mix of suitable climates for many different plants and flowers. As I worked my way around my garden it was as if I were traveling through tiny little micro climates where I slowly began to learn what plants thrived where. Some areas needed more water than others. Some area’s needed more weeding and others needed more fertilizer. But after time I grew to understand how to best tend and care for the specific areas and what plants belonged where in my yard. Gardening was a pastime that really fed my soul and made me feel happy.
Now….I’m entering into an entirely new world of gardening here in Panama! I’m not embarrassed to tell you, its a bit daunting! We’re not talking about a little manicured suburban yard. I’m not dealing with anything I’ve been accustomed to in my past gardening experiences where you simply stroll around and plop plants in the ground that you bought at the nursery, pulling a few weeds as you walk around. I’ve had to literally ‘carve’ out my garden area from the jungle that had overtaken the land. Also, within that space where I began to ‘carve’ out my idea of where I would develop a garden space ,there were hundreds of plants, many of which I didn’t necessarily want to kill. So, as Silberio (my gardener) has been macheteing his way through the wall of plants I’ve needed to keep an eye opened for plants that he should not chop to smithereens. We found small trees, wild heliconias,, angels trumpets, raspberry bushes, ferns, Cecropia trees, wild clover, gladiolas, a small variety of sunflower, Mexican shell flowers and several different palms. These are just the plants that I could identify. There are endless other plants I’ve found which I have no clue what they could possibly be , only that I like them. Of course I couldn’t keep my eyes on Silberio every second and so he managed to plow through some areas chopping indiscriminately. I tell ya, that guy can CHOP! Sheesh! I can see the remnants of large trunks of things that I know I had told him NOT TO CHOP! Ugh! Deep breath….
The most glorious thing that I’ve learned so far about gardening in the tropics is that nearly everything thrives here. Often it doesn’t matter if a plant gets sun or shade. Plants that I know of as ‘shade’ plants will do just as well in the sun here. Many plants that are flowering will actually flower most of the year. Angels Trumpets are one of my favorite flowering plants. Here in the cool mountain air they bloom along the side of the roads all year long in abundance. They look so pretty. I remember in the Bay Area I used to spot an occasional Angels Trumpet and I always admired them, wishing I had them in my yard. Well, here I don’t have to ‘wish’ anymore…I need only stop at the side of the road with my trimming shears and cut a few stocks from a big bush. You can plop that cutting right into the dirt and “BOOM”! It will grow! Just like that! I’m not kidding. I’m learning which plants can grow from a simple cutting and which plants I need to put into a pot to get it started with a bit more attention. Propagating plants is a whole new game for me and I’m excited about learning how to start my very own nursery for my garden. And, just the other day as Silberio was chopping away I discovered a huge Angels Trumpet in my yard! Yippee! Wishes do come true! hah!
Scott built a great potting bench for me, now I have my very own little area for propagating all the plants I like. Now I’m constantly on the lookout for plants that I don’t already have in my garden. Like I said, I’m learning which plants I can propagate by simply taking a cutting and putting in the dirt or plants I need to propagate with seeds. One of my good friends Cynthia is retired from Landscape architecture, she’s a transplant from Chicago and let me tell ya, she’s in absolute heaven here. There’s never any winter so gardening is never ending! You should see what she’s done to her yard in just one years time! I’m learning a lot from watching as Cynthia performs magic in her garden. And, she’s been so generous about giving me lots of great plants from her yard too! Nearly every plant in her yard is a plant that she’s either taken cuttings from a friends yard or from the side of the road, or plants that she’s propagated from seeds that she brought with her. Its been so much fun to see her turn a boring, bare yard into an amazing botanical garden full of flowers and plants of endless varieties. Her passion is such an inspiration to me, not to mention contagious to anyone who spends time strolling through her garden. We started a garden group not long ago and we’ve gotten the opportunity to explore so many truly amazing gardens in and around Boquete. I tell ya, gardening here is such a treat! My neighbor Kat is also quite the avid gardener and she’s always offering me cuttings from her amazing garden as well. One of the many great things about living here is that everyone is so generous about sharing plants with each other. I get cuttings from Kat’s garden, Luana & bond gave me a bunch of banana trees from their yard, I get endless plants from Cynthia’s garden.
I find it very funny that the idea of sharing plants with friends or taking cuttings from the side of the road never once occurred to me when I lived in Los Altos. My next door neighbor Janet and I never thought to take cuttings from each others yards. When we wanted more plants we just drove over to Summer Winds, the local nursery, and filled up our carts full of plants. I can’t imagine digging up a bulb on the side of the road or cutting a bit of ground cover to propagate for my yard from the side of the road in Los Altos, Hah! I’m pretty sure someone would frown upon that behavior and the police would surely be called! Such barberic plant pilfering would not be tolerated, haha! I’ve noticed a wonderful sense of self reliance that comes from knowing that I can procure a beautiful, living plant from just about anywhere. I can take that little plant to my house and care for it and be repaid for my loving care with a plant that I can admire and love for a long long time. One feels a deep and genuine pleasure in getting your hands dirty and caring for a plant in order to help it thrive and grow into something that pleases your eyes. And the added bonus of having the time to spend puttering around and tending to all the little seeds and cuttings that quickly clutter the potting bench. It’s just one more thing I’m enjoying about this new life we’re creating for ourselves here in the beautiful, lush highlands of Western Panama.
Just last week Cynthia read in a local Facebook post that a lady who lives nearby was giving away a bunch of iris’s that she had taken out of her flowerbed. So, off we went on an adventure to find this ladies house. Her directions were a little wanky, as all directions around here tend to be, given the lack of actual addresses, hah! But, after getting a little lost we eventually managed to find her house. And holy moly! What a beautiful garden she has! We ended up making a new friend with this woman and we hope she’ll someday join our garden group. And the iris’s were incredibly abundant! She had a monster pile that she had cleared out of her flowerbed, just laying there. I took dozens of bulbs for my garden and Cynthia did as well, we didn’t even make a dent in that pile. She also gave us a few cuttings of this beautiful hibiscus that she had as well as a few other really nice things and I can’t wait to see how they grow. The very next day Cynthia and I decided to go hunting for a bromeliad farm we had heard about. I love the bromeliads here! We drove around a particular area where we had heard this farm was located but in the end it was a failed mission, darn it. But leave it to my trusty garden buddy, she got online and made some calls and sent some emails and has scored the email address of this mysterious man who supposedly has this marvelous farm, we await his response to our request to visit him. I’m feeling hopeful that one day soon I’ll have the beginning of a glorious little bromeliad area in my garden.
As you can see, gardening here in Boquete is an adventure unto itself! It’s so much fun to be on the lookout at all times for different plants and flowers that you may not have growing in your yard. And believe me, whenever I’m in the car I’m always on the lookout! I’ve learned to keep a pair of pruning shears and a small shovel in the car at all times as well as a supply of empty grocery bags to hold my booty! You just don’t find lots of well stocked nurseries everywhere here where you can buy plants whenever you feel like it, but when the entire town is a nursery who needs to buy plants ! There are many little Vivero’s (plant nurseries) here and there and of course we’ve had to buy some things that we wanted to start from larger plants just because we have so much land to cover. We’d love to see it come to maturity faster than it would if we started everything with seeds or with propagating new plants. I’m especially excited about all the incredible heliconias we bought from our local heliconia garden in Volcan. Carla Black is very well known around here for being the foremost specialist in those tropical beauties. I believe she is the president of the heliconia society, she travels all over the world researching and collecting specimens and her garden inspired me to no end! She opens her farm up to the public just two days each year. And she only sells her heliconias on those two days. So we bought about 25 plants from her. We already can hardly wait until next year so we can get more! I’ve yet to have visited the Dracula Orchid farm in Volcan, and I can hardly wait to get over there and check that out!
Thankfully we’ve finally begun to get a bit of rain. We’re in the rainy season right now but sadly we’re experiencing a bit of a drought. I’ve read that the government has announced a state of emergency because of the lack of rainfall we’re having this time of year. Since most of the electricity generated here in Panama is from Hydro-electric, a drought not only means dire times for farmers but also electricity shortages. So, everyday I do a rain dance and ask the heavens to please rain, rain , rain! Now that I’ve begun to develop my garden I’m very in tune with the rain my little plants are getting. I really don’t like to waste water using water from the aqueduct to water my yard. It’s been so dry though that I’ve had to do it a couple of times, Ugh! When our house is finished we’ll have plenty of water to use for agricultural purposes because we’re creating a catchment for rainwater as well as gray water from showers and sinks in the house.
It won’t be too much longer now! I’ll veer from my gardening post to tell you that the roof on the main house is very nearly done! So, I’m thinking…only a guess, mind you….that we could possibly be in our main house in about six months or so! I don’t bother asking my builder (Scott) about the timeframe for completion…he’s pretty dodgy about giving a finish date! Pfffft! The plan is to get the main house about as livable as we can, then once we move into the house we will get all the finishing touches done to the casita so that it’s ready to rent. But our biggest priority at the moment is ELECTRICITY!!! Which we are moving closer and closer to getting! Today as I sit in the casita writing this post I see Scott and Yuris (the electrician) outside talking about the plan of action to get the wire ran up and the power connected! Oh boy! Oh Boy! I’ll be ever so grateful to be rid of these darn generators! Not that I don’t totally appreciate those generators for providing temporary power for us, but It’ll be so nice not to have to drive into town everyday to buy gasoline for them, not to mention a whole lot more cost effective!