Thursday, August 31, 2006

Thursday with Hurricane Juan

Tropical Storm/Hurricane Juan
1am Thursday morning
It's in the middle of the night in Chacala, and I just checked the hurricane website. We are in the Hurricane watch area now. They seem to expect Juan to be here in about 10 hours. But no one knows how close to land it will be when it gets to the 22N latitude, where Chacala is.

I am glad my son is here, but it's still hard to know what to do, or how to prepare. I am imagining the refrigerator flying thru the air and alot of flooding on the north side of the house, which already has a problem. Besides losing electricity, etc. I am assuming my plant are going to blow away.

I am inclined to stuff things away in plastic bags in nooks and crannies, but there are no protected places in this house, and it's hard to figure out how to protect things. I think we will probably pack what we can carry in the morning and get away from the ocean. The next hurricane report is at 5am, so we will check that one and decided what to do. And see what other people in Chacala are doing.

Well, it's almost 10am on Thursday. It just started raining seriously in Chacala after overcast skies and light sprinkles since daylight. I surveyed a dozen people around town about 8am and no one seems to be planning on leaving. Or at least, they say they aren't leaving. Everyone expects the eye of the storm to stay over the ocean and away from land.

We tidied up everything and are ready to be out of here in three minutes if necessary. The best thing about the houses around here is the roofs are cement and steel and brick, and the windows are screened with metal security grates with the bars at eight inch. No glass. Just have to worry about flying objects and stuff getting soaked with rain. The roof is unlikely to blow off. Mud might get washed away on the north side of the house if it rains really hard for quite awhile. My plants are going to have to survive on their own. They are homes to too many insects to bring inside.

A volunteeer town crew is clearing the new town park/clinica site, and constructions were still working all over town as of a few minutes ago. So far it's business as usual, I think. We have som offers to go to other houses if we get scared, and that's reassuring. Everyone seems to expect people who are on the beach to be in trouble and have property damage. And then there's Chacalilla. It's most out on a point.

That's it for now. I am going to go learn how to use my new digital camera. And finish tucking things away. Chiquita just arrived and took a spot under my son's chair. We are hanging out on the veranda, reading and watching the weather when we're not checking the weather reports or moving things around. I am so glad he's here. My son, I mean. Not Chiquita. I guess her being here means Susana isn't back yet. But how knows.

Thursday, 1pm
It'ss still, overcast and occasional drizzles in Chacala. Changing, as I write, to heavier rain. The sky is overcast, not cloudy or stormy looking. The birds are still singing and workers are still working.

People in Chacala seem to be hoping the storm will continue to stay over the ocean and not come any closer to land. A neighbor was just here, and she thought having all my plants pushed up against the house was ridiculous. People in Chacala have strong memories of Hurricane Kenna, four years ago. And there are bits and remmants of its destructive force all over town.

At this moment, it's hard to imagine a big storm coming, but it seems clear it will be here in a couple of hours. We are packed for a quick escape, but it would probably be too late to leave by the time we decide it's necessary. The rain is definitely getting heavier as I write.

I have spent the morning learning how to take photos with my new digital camera, care of my son and my ex. Distracting myself.

People writing me from the towns south of here, where Juan has already passed thru are saying it was not too bad . Lots of rain and wind, not much else, so I am optimistic.
Maria, my friend and gardening mentor in Chacala

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tropical Storm is Headed This Way

This is a short post. A Tropical Storm, a 3 turning into a 4, is moving up the Pacific Coast of Mexico, headed this way, toward Chacala. It isn't expected to reach this area (or, hopefully, the ocean out west of here) until mid-day Thursday.

No one in Chacala seems to be too worried about the storm, and TV weather says it WILL move out into the ocean, so...... Plus the people who live in Chacala lived thru a doozy in October 2002, so they probably are more comfortable with the idea of a hurricane.

I am anxious about this. One the other hand, there's certainly nothing I can do, except leave, and so far, I don't want to. Besides, my son is arriving tomorrow. He likes the idea of a storm.

And wouldn't you know it, I finally have my potted plants arranged in a very pleasing way, and now it would probably be smart to get them back under at least the protection of the veranda roof. I am not moving them in the house because there are millions of bugs and spiders living with those plants. Ugh.

I am adding this sunset photo, just because I feel like it. Of course, it's nothing compared to the sunset we had tonight.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Monday, August 28, 2006

Exterior Decorating in Chacala

Today I finished setting up the tent I used on the beach last winter. As a guest bedroom for myself while my son is visiting. Repaired the broken tent pole with short piece of copper tubing Pepe at the hardware dug up for me. For free. Actually he dug it up out of the trash, so I guess that was fair.

Had a nice surprise while I was down below the veranda attaching some tie-downs so the tent wouldn't blow away. Whenever I wash off the veranda dirt and plant debris piles up down below. And the some of the plant debris starts growing again apparently. Today I found about fiften portulaca starts growing in the dirt on their own. Pretty neat. Tiny little colored blossoms.

The tent is taking up half the covered veranda area, and about a quarter of the whole veranda. I did some rearranging of the pots. Now, when you are sitting in the shade, looking out toward the ocean, there is a large semi-circle of all sun-loving plants. The semi-circle is three or four plants deep, so it looks pretty dense. I think there are 46 pots now, all different sizes.

I arranged the pots so the rivers of rainstorm water coming off the roof won't wash the plants right out of their pots. And there are six flats of seedlings and starts, and some about ten shade plants right back under the roof line. And I dragged two plants from the front patio thru the house to the veranda. One is a palm that's about seven feet tall, and another really lush foliage plant about the same. Really fills out the group of plants.

Looks pretty neat. Chiccho, who sometimes parks in my driveway when he is working in Marina Chacala, came to get his truck just as I was finishing up, and he seemed to think it looked good. Me too. I offered him a Desert Rose for his wife, but he said she doesn't care about plants.

The three vines are still wrapped around of the support pillars. Their pots are too small. They are growing so fast, I am going to have to actually buy some big pots. Those three pots have to be watered twice a day, and they are in the shade until about 2pm. I have a coral Mandevilla, a yellow Copa de Ora, and another vine whose name I can't remember. Oh, Trumpet vine I think. I have been trying to grow vine starts, but only the Copa de Ora seems to get growning.

Today I transplanted six Jasmine cuttings and three Hibiscus starts into larger (six inch) pots. I killed one of the Jasmines, not realizing the root started about 12 inches down in the dirt. I accidently cut off the root with the trowel. Klutzy me. And, some of the seedling I planted three says ago seem to be coming up. Or its weeds

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Satisfying Day in the "Garden"

I was surprised to find this stamp of a Sanseivieria plant.
Yesterday I got four seed packets, and some plants for a total of 80 pesos (about $7.20US). It still pleases me to get inexpensive plants here. Although I know that the only reason they are so cheap is they are being grown by peasants in bad working conditions. Guys making 50 or 60 pesos a day for long days and working with machetes and sticks mostly.

Anyway. Aside from my little guilt trip. The seed packets are very expensive here, about 15 pesos for very very few seeds. Sometimes the packets are mislabelled and the plants are either too dried out to germinate, or they aren't what the packets says they will be. Oh real, another adventure in Mexico.

I got artichoke, cacti, coleus and Serrano chile pepper seeds. I was going to share. Usually I take out half the seeds in each packet for me, and then tape up the packet to give to the next person that asks for one. You can buy packets of seeds in Las Varas, but it's not really a common thing to do. People enjoy studying the packets and looking at the pictures on the front. And usually they aren't success with growing seeds, but sometimes they are.

So, I planted all the seeds myself this morning. We'll see how they germinate. Coleus usually germinate quickly here. I tried to grow artichokes in the Zone 5 greenhouse,years ago, back in the US. The greenhouse was attached to the south side of the house, so I could try to warm the greenhouse in the winter. In those years we often had 15-20 below zero weather for short periods every winter. It's warmer there now and they changed the area to Zone 6. Scary days.

Anyway, artichokes are biennial, at least the seeds I had in the US were biennial. I ended up with three large plants in mid-October and wintered them over in the greenhouse, which took some doing. And I had big hopes for an small artichoke harvest. My Mom loved artichokes and she passed the taste for them onto me.

Then, in early spring, the weirdest thing happened. We found a peacock in one of the empty railroad cars they move grain in. They used to park the empty cars next to the highway for the winter, and we would go sweep out all the extra grain to take home for our chickens and turkeys. This peacock was jumped out of one of the cars and was limping along the road next to the tracks. It was very cold out, maybe zero degrees, so we scooped him up and brought him home. Wrapped in some gunny sacks. He was a full-sized male (big peacock tail) and was he mean!

The next morning I went into the nearby town to ask around about who had peacocks in the area. Got a phone number and called. They agreed to come get the bird, and I hurried home. While I was gone the kids, or a neighbor, or someone put the peacock in the greenhouse, and he trashed my poor artichokes. Oh well. That's life in the country.

Anyway, in addition to the seed packets I got five containers of plants. One pots of Sanseivieria
which was actually four nice sized plants, one Bird of Paradise, which I divided into three pots, and some more portulacas. A bunch of them. Different colors.

Very satisfying. Nice sunny hot day, not too humid. At least I only have a little sweat dripping off my forearms where they are touching the oilcloth on my computer table. And only the back of my tee shirt is wet from sweat. Last night I though we were going to be rain-free for the night, but it ended up raining most of the night. No storming though.

Small Frustrations and Larger Pleasures

Gorgeous little red sedum (enhanced with my water color paints)
Just kidding
Yesterday two gardening friends of mine came over. Concha came up because I had offered a Desert Rose and another plant a few days ago. But it turned out she already had the second plant so she took a Bird of Paradise plant plus some others I had several of. I loved seeing her head home with her new plants. Plus, as we were walking down the driveway, making jokes about calling a taxi because the plants were so heavy, a friend drive by. We yelled and waved and he stopped and gave her a ride home. (Sharing with Concha was the pleaure).

(And here is the small frustration)
The other person who came over is definitely a "material girl". She's a local young woman who seems to be very aware of not having much. She asks for many things, and it's a little annoying. She has been coming over quite a bit, and hinting heavily about which of my plants she would like. But I have been concerned that she won't take good care of the plants. So each time I would say, "When you have pots with dirt in them, I can share some plants with you. Do you have any pots? Do you have any dirt?"

After several days she finally said, "Yes" to having both pots and dirt. I should have checked to make sure she was really ready to take care of my sweet plants. And then yesterday, when she came up and asked for some plants, I said okay. "Your pots are ready and full of dirt?" And she said "Yes" again. So we picked out about 10 plants for her and carried them over to where she is staying. No pots and no dirt. I asked where they were and she sort of waved her arm to the back of the lot. So I left.

I went over to her place today in the late afternoon, to visit her sick Grandmother next door.
I noticed the plants laying on a table where she had set them yesterday. Drying out, in the direct sunlight. I kept saying to myself things like "I gave her the plants, it's none of my business what she does with them", and "Lazy, little liar", and "If I don't insist she take care of the plants, she won't understand why I don't want to give her a plant the next time she wants one".

I went with the last thought, and walked over to the plants, and said, "These plants are really drying out. It's looks like they are dying". Then I asked where the pots and dirt were, she said she didn't have any.

This is no a case of misunderstanding. Or a language problem. Or that she doesn't know how to garden. At her last house she had an extentsive garden. I think she just wanted some plants, and said what she needed to say to get some. It makes me sad. And mad. And I don't want to deal with being lied to three times. Or my lovely plants being abandoned in the hot sun. And I don't know have a clue about how to handle it.

It's interesting how people here react to not having things they want, particularly when they are really aware of the inequities in life: have's and have-not. etc. My guess is TV coming to Chacala has really intensified poor people's awareness of the severe economic equity in Mexico. I think before people saw the wealthy characters prancing around on the Mexican soaps on TV every day and every night, they weren't so aware of how little they had. And how much stuff other people do have. And even, how much stuff there is out on the big world to want.

The young woman who wanted the plants, actually wants many of my belonging. She asks directly sometimes, or repeatedly drops not-so-subtle hints. I have pretty much stopped giving her things. It feels like she is a bottomless pit for wanting. And she never says "thanks" or offers anything in return.

My experience in Chacala is most people are very careful about sharing and reciprocity. And very generous with their belongings. If you give someone something, you almost get something from them, and usually very quickly. But I am starting to wonder how the outpouring of gifts, trips, schools supplies and scholarships from visiting gringos has impacted the young adults here. Maybe created a sense of entitlement, or specialness or something that is occasionally very distasteful. I am specifically thinking of some of the young men and women who are no longer in school but were previously recipients of gringo generousity.

Of course, I really don't know what is happening here. The social and economic changes here are happening so quickly, it's probably impossible to attribute cause here on any issue. And many times I probably misunderstand what is going on right in front of me. So who knows. Not me.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Little Garden Surprises in Chacala or "Success in Ignorance"

Gardening in Chacala is full of nice surprises. I am ignoring the topic of bad surprises for the moment. Today I was out messing with the town water line to this house, and I noticed, looking from the ground-up, that one of the large pots looked different. It's a plant I don't know the name of. The homeowner bought it last winter. Sweet little purple flowers on peculiar, low-growing strange leaves. Nice tidy plant. When I moved back into this house in May the plant hadn't been watered by the owner for quite while, and appeared to be dead.

But, since it wasn't my plant, I didn't want to chuck it, so I added some Vinca's and
Geraniums in the pot, and let it be. Well, after about two months the purple plant was back and looking good. So this morning, then I took a closer look, I realized there were 8 small plants growing from shoots from the mother-plant. nice healthy little guys. So I removed the other plants, and later today I am going to transplant the babies. That is, I will transplant them if my dirt ever arrives.

Then I was fooling around on the veranda, draining excess water from the plants that got drowned in the torrential downpour last night. I think the holes I initially made in my bucket-pots are now plugged up. So later today I am going to try smacking a couple of new holes in the both of each both with my trusty hammer.

Next, I started draining a large diameter plastic tray that is supposed to go under large pots. I use it for piling things up. Plant material, etc. Those trays don't work well here during the rainy season. The water sits in them and draws mosquitos, and the water can't drain out of the soil.

Anyway, I noticed that the pruning cuttings from some succulents I had thrown in the tray, and were sitting on some old not-yet-composted potting-type soil, were definitely rooting. Hoorah. This kind of plant reproduction is new for me, and it seems to be going okay. "Success in ignorance", that's my new motto for gardening in Chacala.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Here comes the Coral Vine to Chacala

As far as I know this is a Coral Vine,
an Antigonon leopotus although the color seems off.

Now that the rainy season is going full blast the boring old green plants, shrubs, vines and trees are starting strut their stuff and show their blossoms. For the last week the Coral Vine has been crawling all over the tree that grows next to the NW corner of the veranda. During long, dry season the tree is leafless, scraggly, and offers no sound buffer from the noisy neighbors.

But now, the tree is covered with leaves and sweet little yellow button-shaped flowers. And Coral Vine is growning all over it. And the butterflies are all over the blossoms. So it looks incredible. I can lie in the hammock for a hour and never get bored, just watching them flitter around.

The Coral Vine will soon be all over the place in Chacala. It can cover a hundred square feet a day, easy. Very fast growing. And pretty. Of course, it's one of the things that gets hacked away with macheetes, because it's just too agressive.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Succulents are so Geometrical and Lovely

This photo just knocks me out/over/sideways, whatever. The little plants are so amazing. The color and the pattern of the leaves and the subtle hints of other colors around the edges. And the sweet little blossoms. My heart be still. Just kidding, but I really love the symetrical look of some of these plants.

Tomorow is another tianguis day and I am heading out, looking for plants. It there's nothing to grab me in La Penita I am going further south the Mezcales and try to find that nursery someone on a PV message board mentioned.

Chicho hasn't showed up with my dirt yet, but I expect he will in a bit. I told him anytime in the next couple of days way good.

Concha, a landlady of the Techos de Mexico rentals here in Chacala, is coming up later to share some plants. She likes the Desert Rose and Portulaca. Me to!! And I have enough of them to share. She's a very bright woman, a birdwatcher, and a gardener, and a community activist (for a lack of a better description). Involved in the bibliotecha and community affairs. Her husband, Juan, is the town Juez, a non-paid elected official who is the official contact point for government entities involved with Chacala. And the guy who calls the cops on the bad guys. And they usually come. Not that they actually do anything, but it's a nice gesture.

Anyway, Concha has some lovely plants around her house, and she is always starting new plants and pruning and stuff like that. She has a thunbergia that is huge, all over one side of the house.

I never got out to work on changing the pots around yesterday. Had visitors all day, and people who are planning to come to Chacala for Christmas week seem to have suddenly realized it's almost Labor Day, and they had make make reservations. I have a little rental blog and also help a few of the landladies without email address or English by taking reservations and deposits for them. I got seven emails for Christmas week yesterday. Most of the more affordable places are already taken, but there are still places to stay.

I have been studying my "Tropical Plants" books from Fairchild Botanical Gardens the last few days. And understanding more of what I am reading and seeing now. And recognizing more plants.

I love getting Comments about this blog. If you would like an actual reply from me, besides being posted, be sure to add your email address, otherwise I can't write you back.

More Dirt in Chacala

Well, I have been sitting around in Chacala, plotting about how to get some more bags of dirt from the nursery out on the highway, down near La Penita. Benjamin's nursery. And this morning I lucked out. Chicho, friend of Berta (Chacala's greatest gardener, in my opinion), just came over and told me that he is going to Guayabitos this afternoon. And if I wanted some more dirt he could pick some up for me. Good deal for me. I will pay some gas money, as opposed to paying a friend for doing something. That would be kind of insulting to a friend. But offering "gas money" is what friends do. Okay with me.

So, my next step today is remove all the baby plants from by biggest pot. And put them in their permanent, individual pots. I have been growing babies on a kind of mobile plant nursery.
The big pot is on one of those rolling platform and easy to move around. Then I will shift some of the dirt around, so the new dirt will be on the top of some of the pots I am re-planting.

I am struggling with how much plant food these plants need. In my other Zone 5 gardens I focused on building the soil. I rarely used fertizilers, except on roses. I have a carton of the blue crystal fertilizer (can't remember the name) but I haven't used it yet this year. I am waiting to see how the plants do I guess. The normal soil around town where the plants grow on their own looks horrible. Very clay-like. but everything seems to grow. Don't know what to make of that.

I have been buying and giving away seed packets from a couple of the PV stores. Nastursiums and peppers and coeleus seem to be the favorites. I am going to plant my last packet, nastursiums when I get the new dirt. And the coeleus I planted from seed a couple of months ago is huge, so I am going to do another pot with coeleus cuttings for give-away.

I have been paying close attention to Maria's success rate with her transplants. And I think she gets about 95% failures with her method. Break off a branch of something stick it in the dirt. But her successes look good, so I don't think it matters. I am being more and more careful with cutting. Only softwood cuttings for now, with the leaves mostly stripped off. Seems to be working okay. I am moving the jasmine babies to today, and some hibiscus and vine cuttings that are looking pretty good.

My Adenium (Desert Rose) cuttings are hit and miss. I haven't figured out the problem. My first cutting did very well, but now only about half make it. I am starting with new soil for the next batch. Maybe that will help. I have been trying to look at the plants closely and see if I can tell if any are growing on oleander rootstock. I read on one of the excellenet websites about Adeniums that the more flowery plants are grown on oleander rootstocks. I can't tell yet, but I am still looking. The lady at the Pemex nursery (named that by me since it's next to the Pemex gas station in La Penita) knows alot about plants, so I will try to ask her. They don't grow anything from scratch there, as far as I can tell it's all stock brought in from somewhere else.

Benjamin's does grow quite a few plants right at the nursery. I have been watching his workers transplanting while I am at the nursery. Very quick and nimble fingers.

Time to get to work. Oh. I got three excellent comments today. Please yesterday them. I am loving comments. Although I am always afraid someone will catch me on how little I know about what I am doing. But these were very nice comment. Feels like friends to me.

I don't have any new garden photos right now. So. This is Don Berto, in Chacala, supervising the efforts of one of his many son's to re-build one of the ramada's the family rents to campers on the beach. The ocean is about fifteen feet toward the viewer from the ladder. Most of the ramadas have sand floors. This one has room for three or four families and has a cement floor. I think the floor is the remains of a house destroyed by Hurricane Kenna about in October 2002. But I'm just guessing. The palm fronts are used for everything you can imagine here, but especially for roofs and walls. And the posts are tree trunks, which will probably sprout into trees in a while. Or actually, they already have. This photo is a couple of years old.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Creating My Own Little Gardening Community

A lovely red mango with a few blemishes
A few posts ago I was bemoaning my lack of gardening friends here in Chacala. But since then, things have started to change for me. Well, partly my attitude has changed, and partly I am starting to I have some gardening friends, albeit, on the Internet.

The attitude change is realizing how much I enjoy my relationships with some of the local gardening ladies. Esparanza, my landlady on the beach last winter, and her daughter-in-law Henia, are both plant addicts. And so are Isreal and Chata, and the Aurora (of Aurora and Benjamin), and Maria, and Guia. Aurora, Berta. And the Lupes.

Guia is another gardener here. I have been chatting with her a little as I walk by her house, across from Trini's for a long time now. But it wasn't until she started working as a cook at Chico's restaurant that I started really noticing her, and her little house garden. She has a nice cement flower planter in front of her little patio, and some plants on either side of the house. Yesterday we were visiting, and talking about her vincas (which grow wild here), and I noticed a lovely, deep red hibiscus plant on the empty lot next to her house. I asked Guia whose lot it was, and said I wanted to come get a cutting, if it was okay with the owner.

Guia hopped right up, and said "That's my plant" (in Spanish, of course). And I looked, and sure enough, the plant's roots where on her side of the property line. And the plant was almost all in the neighbor's yard. We laughed a lot, and we agreed I would come back for a cutting, since I was heading away from home, doing errands.

But I was very interested to see her strong reaction about whose plant that was. Everything looks kind of disorganized in Chacala, except for the houses with tall walls around them. Those fortresses belong to Guadalajara people who vacation here once or twice a year. It's hard for a newcomer like me to see the property lines around most of Chacala. And I don't know the history of the each lot. But it's very clear that people in Chacala know exactly where the lines are, and which plant or tree belongs to which family. Many of the trees here are useful: palm fronds, fruit, tea leaves, poultices, etc, twine, etc, and people know whose tree or shrub belongs to which family.

Another attitude change I am experiencing is to do with a longing for easier conversations about gardening. That translates to: wanting to talk in English about gardening sometimes. But I am getting some of that via emails, reading blogs, and researching on the internet, and my Spanish is slowly improving. Especially my gardening vocabulary.

And I have decided it's okay to make a bigger effort (and maybe to spend some cash) to get to interesting sounding gardening and writer events around this area. And out-of-the-way plant nurseries. I tend to think, "Oh, it'll cost to much to take the bus down and back to that event". Or, "I would have to come home in the dark", or ......... But I have decided to just go for it. I am cutting back on my pathetic magazine addiction anyway, so I have a little more cash for day trips.

And making some acquaintances on the internet has changed my feeling that I am all alone out here. Not knowing the names of plants, or how to grow them, or to even get the plants I crave. But now I know how to get good dirt and affordable pots. And I am feeling braver and more relaxed about searching out plant nurseries in unfamiliar areas. Anyway. Things are looking up in my little gardening world. It seems bigger now.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

I Love Getting Comments About This Blog

A sweet little Lantana (L. camera). In zone 5 it's an annual,
but it's a year-round blossoming shrubs here.
I got comments today from two bloggers. One is an old friend I just reconnected with lately, and the other from a possible new blogging friend, Lost Roses. I would like to email her, but I didn't find an email address on her comment or on her very, very nice blog, which you can see, hopefully by clicking on the name. If you would like to correspond with me, please include an email address somewhere when you contact me.

We had another night of endless, loud, crashing lightning, thunder, and rain. For several hours there was so much light from the lightning I didn't need the electricity. Lucky for me, since the electricity went out first thing.

Last night Chiquita, my neighbor's wonderdog, wasn't at my house, and I really missed her company during the rain. So, instead on hanging out with Chiquita, I sang my favorite old songs. (One is "Bye Bye Blackbird", another is "La Vie en Rose"). Lots of songs from summer camp. I sang really, really loud. Louder than the constant thunder.

I haven't sang like that since I lived in the US. I can't carrry a tune, so I used to sing with in the car, with the windows rolled up. No car here in Mexico, so I can't do that. It was very fun, singing at the top of my lungs. And not expecting anyone to come visiting in the middle of a storm. So I felt like I had some rare privacy.

I was afraid some of the potted plants might have drowned last night, but I only had to drain a couple of them. I found an old bucket with no bottom in the trash truck this morning. Jose
Manuel drives the trash truck around town every morning, but I just drag my can down to the road on Saturdays. When I saw the bucket in his truck this morning I offered to buy it for 5 pesos (50cents), He laughed and showed me the bottom broken out. But I took it anyway. Better than nothing. I gave him a bunch of aluminum cans I picked up on the paved road yesterday, so he seemed okay with that.

I weeded in the south side of the house this morning. One of the new plants the homeowner put in this winter is looking really beautiful. I think it's a Mussaenda, or Hankerchief Plant. It's really lovely and growing fast, with lots of light pink blossoms.

One of the comments I got this morning (see Comments) was about the wonderful new Puerto Vallarta Botanical Garden, which is located about a half-hour south of PV, on the busline to El Tuito. Closed now until October 1. It's very lovely, and in a beautiful setting. It's not really a plant nursery (yet) except for orchids. Bob is an orchid expert, and has some lovely orchids for display and for sale. And there is a Orchid Club which meets there monthly. He is still learning about plants in Mexico, but it's really worth a visit. There's even a small restaurant with excellent food. I think the website site for the PVBG is or .org. Can't remember right now. If you are coming to PV, any gardener should stop there.

Also, during the tourist season there are charity, guided house tours every Wednesday around PV. Some of the places have lovely gardens. You can look in the weekly PV newspapers for more info, or Google the Vallarta Tribune, to study up ahead of time. I've never gone on one, because even if I leave Chacala on the earliest (6:30am) collectivo, the eariliest I can get to PV is about 11:15am, too late for the tour. Partly it's the travel time (and three buses) and partly it's the time change. PV is one hour earlier than Chacala.

Back to work. It's a little cooler today, about 90 but not so humid at the moment (11am).

Friday, August 18, 2006

Buying an Oleander

This cattle drive is a regular occurence on the road between Chacala and Las Varas. But it was not the reason I didn't get to the Friday tianguis (street market) this morning. I stayed home because I was hoping the electric company workmen would show up and finish the permanent wiring. But, no such luck.

This afternoon I was washing my tee shirts on the veranda when I heard someone calling me. It turned out to be Maria and her little grandaughter, letting me know the plant lady had shown up. She's the one that sells plants at the tianguis, so I went down. Maria always comes up to get me because I always give her plant money. Plus, I think she likes being the bearer of good news. And I like sharing with her. She's really fun to be around. About 4'8" and full of energy, ideas, and spirit. And a gardener,and an artist. She makes the paper banners for town events, and pinatas made, and grave decorations for Day of the Dead, and for Guadalupe celebrations.

Anyway, we walked down the street to where the plant truck was parked under a shady tree.
And was surrounded by ladies looking over the selection. And Butcho, Maria's husband, was there with his wheelbarrow, just in case anyone (me) wanted their plants carried home. I am the only woman around town (I think) without a husband, brother, son, cousin, father-in-law, uncle, or nephew (thank God!), waiting in the wings to give me a hand. So other people seem to kind of fill in. It seems like everytime I think, "oh...I think I will need help with this" someone shows up, just in the nick of time. Heavy sacks of good soil, or whatever.

Anyway, I got an oleander plant. Nice big one with deep pink blossoms. Expensive for Chacala. 40 pesos/3.60USD. I only have the oleander cuttings I am experimenting with, so it'll be nice to have a big blossoming plant.

Except I don't have any pots left. But I do have some potting soil. I'll figure something out tomorrow. My Mom would be amazed to know I remember all the plants at our house. My mother wasn't a plant person. But a gardener, Tak, came every week until my brother was big enough to mow the lawn. Mom let Tak do whatever he wanted, so it looked pretty good, even years after he didn't come anymore. Especially the oleander and poinsetta.

Reading La Gringa's Blogicito

Bananas, fresh and sweet and right off the tree
I woke up this morning to a gorgeous, sunny, hot and humid day. I just finished looking to see if my post from yesterday showed up on Garden Voices, and it did. I love Garden Voices. I get to see other garden blogs, and it makes me feel famous or something to see my words in "print".

And then I read La Gringa's blog about gardening in Honduras. She's my new internet gardening friend who is trying to garden in a similar climate and culture. It's makes me laugh when I read some of the thing she writes, because often it sounds just like gardening in Chacala.

I can totally relate to her last post. The only thing that's very different for us is I am lucky enough to live in a poor little village, next to a poor neighborhood, so people share a lot. Plants too. There is a constant flow of plants in and out of this house.

But when she wrote about how hard it is to identify plants here, I can really relate. Even the nursery people offer you informal names, like "snake plant" or "sunny days". And all roses are just roses, by color. Sometimes I will ask a neighbor what a plant is called, and they tell me some local name. But when I say something like, "Oh, in my old town they called in an "oleander" or whatever, many times they will shrug and say a similar name, with a Spanish twist. It's frustrating but I guess it doesn't really matter, as long as people can tell me sun/shade, water needs, and how to grow babies from seeds, cuttings, whatever.

The uneducated and careless use of herbicides and pesticides in Mexico seems pretty dangerous to me. Of course, the US has poisoned many many water sources, on a very large scale, with the indiscriminate use of all kinds of toxic chemicals. What's worse? I don't know.

Labels and instructions on the packages are often non-existent, in English, or unreadable. Nobody reads directions in small towns in Mexico. Partly because only a few people read well, and partly because they are of the poor and useless labeling. People have no idea but the dangers of these toxic chemicals. Severe kidney and liver disease is common here, but no one understands that all these chemical hurt your body. BlahBlah Blah.

It just scares me to see people using backpack sprays with no gloves or masks. And they don't read the labels. They just dump the powder in and stir it with their hands. I have seen a lady wash her little boy in a bucket she just finished using to mix ant spray. I convinced her to rinse him off and wait five minutes so I could run home and get her a new bucket, just for washing the baby. She thought I was nuts. Luckily she was too polite to go against my wishes, and she waited to use new bucket. But probably just that once.

The other thing La Gringa wrote about was missing her gardening friends from her old life. Me too. I am making a big effort to meet other English speaking gardeners in the area, but haven't had much luck. But reading gardening blogs and emailing is lots of fun and very educational.

And besides, with my gardening friends here there's no one-up-manship stuff. Like who has the most exotic plants or the most expensive garden or whatever. Or who just came back from a garden tour of South Africa, or Provence. At least, if there is, I don't know about it. People just seem to like pretty flowers and nice plants. And sharing.

Oh, for the good old, bad old, days. But not really. I'd still rather be in Mexico. "Mexico es mejor". Mexico is best, at least for me, now.
Can't remember what this plant is called. It grows all over Chacala
Someone else sent me this picture,
and I didn't even notice the crocodile until La Gringa asked about it.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mi Maestras de Oleanders

On the beach, right beyond where I camped all last winter.
I don'thave an oleander snapshot, so here are some more Chacala photos.

I grew up in Los Angeles, and there was a very large oleander plant at my Mom's house. When I first moved to Chacala I was amazed to see so many oleander plants. Mostly white flowers, or a deep pink color. I am finally getting around to trying to starting some plants from cuttings. I have been learning a number of different starting methods. I know they are poisoness. However, people here burn the leaves, and think I am peculiar when I stay away from the smoke, which is also toxic.

Yesterday Lupe offered me a couple of cuttings from a white oleander. She said to just trim off the leaves from a six inch green branch, leave a couple at the top and stick the plant in a jar of water.

Then today, I was walking by Tina's (short for Clementina), a woman a little younger than me. She has four lovely grandchildren. Every time I see her "Oh My Darling, Oh My Darling, Oh My Darling Clementine" runs thru my head. They don't know that song in Chacala, I guess. At least no one recognizes my off-key rendition.

Anyway, Tina was raking up leaf debris from the plants and trees in front of her house. Her yard is fenced in by barbed wire, and the look is "bare dirt". When I first moved to Chacala, I thought the popular "bare dirt" look around people's houses was really ugly. But now I appreciate being able to see exactly what is on the ground around me. Same thing with barking dogs. I still don't like them barking, but I really appreciate the early warning system. Warnings of "person approaching", " rat entering", "dog/cat/tejone/ alert!!" are very comforting now. No sneaking up on me.

Tina knows I like the color of the blossoms on her oleander. It's a big shrub on the corner across from the primary school basketball court. The red/pink color is really nice.
I asked Tina if I could have a start, and when she said "Yes". But when I started to break a new, green piece off , she stopped me. She showed me how to break a branch off at the place where the new branch emerged from an older branch. She said to trim off the torn part, and trim the branch to about six or eight inches. No leaves. And then put it in water until it has serious roots.

And yesterday Maria showed that I should just trim off the top four inches of nice new growth and stick in the ground. I guess this is a little experiment in starting oleanders. So we'll see what method works best. Maybe they'll all work. Most of the plants around here seem to do okay with the cut in off and stick in the dirt method. Like the fence posts around here almost always turn into trees. Very handy.
Sitting at one of the beach restaurants,
watching the sun go down

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Rain, Rain, Rain, Thunder, Lightning in Chacala

This photo is of a large bouganvillea in front of Isreal and Chata's small rental complex, which is right overlooking the water. Isreal is a gardener for rich homeowners in the area, and Chata runs the rental business and gardens like crazy. She has a beautiful garden, although there has been construction going on next door for months, which kind of ruins the effect. I understand the neighbors are going to fix up the landscaping on their lot when with construction is finished.

Had another all-night rain, lightning and thunder storm last night. Loudest and windiest storm I have seen/heard in Chacala in Didn't end until about 4am, and it's still drizzling now, at noon. Overcast.

Spent the morning removing dead bug bodies from all over the kitchen. They were attracted by the anti-rat light I had left focused on the window the rat came in the other night. Then I composted the blossom leaves that had be blown off all the bouganvilleas, mandevilla, adenium and other blossoming plants on the teraza. And tried to evict the thirty million ants who appear to be tired of the rain, and decided to come into the house this morning. I was been using vinegar water in a spray bottle. It kills on contact and seems to keep them away for a bit.

I am going down to my neighbors to get some Nopali (a cactus) leaves to start my own plants. Apparently you lie them flat on the dirt after the wound is calloused over, and sprinkly a little dirt over them, and they take off. At least that's what Guia says. I was just looking in my PV plant book, and she mentioned the plant is used traditionally as a boundary plant for property lines.
I am picked up some vegetable seeds tomorrow (at least tomatoes and various peppers, and cucumber) and try again to grow veggies. The La Gringo blog inspired me to try again. If she can grow veggies organically in Honduras, I can do it in Mexico. No prob!

I ordered two cheap, used, tropical gardening books from Amazon last week. They are being sent to my son's house, so he can bring them down when he comes in a couple of weeks.

Later. Took a break because a neighbor lady came up with some plant cuttings for me. From an hibiscus plant I had admired at her house a few days ago. Beautiful white with coral centers.

She was wearing the most amazing outfit. Flip-flips, sort striped clown pants, three or four layers of shirts and tops, and on her head, a purple fleece cap holding down a kerchief, to keep the mosquitoes away.
The second the rain stops for a minute, the mosquitoes are out searching for our blood. I love it that I never worry about clothes around here. I just realized I was still wearing the white cotton tee shirt and men's boxer shorts I slept in last night. Who cares. I am more careful if men show up. I have a cover-up long shirt right inside the front door, for those moments.

My neighbor wanted some nasturiums seeds she had seen me bring back from PV a few weeks ago. When I bring back stuff from a shopping trip it's usually in open plastic bags. Some Chacala people on the collectivo from Las Varas like to look thru and see what curiosities I have purchased. My life is (almost an open book around here). I also passed on some plants to her: an Adenium, and some portulacas. Portulacas are a big hit around here. And they seem to grow okay. Blossoms are bright when the sun is out.

I had about 10 pots turned over on their sides to drain the excess standing rainwater out, and she turned them all up again. I think she thought the wind had blown them over last night. I thanked her.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Learning about Gardening, in Chacala

I wish these plants were part of my (tiny) succulent collection

I have been getting lots of gardening info lately, and making a few connections. For one thing, I have been reading the plant book a woman in Puerto Vallarta wrote just recently. At the moment it's my "bathroom" book. Short one-page articles. She says that Bird of Paradise plants need full sun. Which is not what I had heard or noticed in other gardens. But I have four plants right now, so I am experimenting, two in half-shade and two in about six hours of sun.

I gave my first landlady in Chacala, Aurora, a Bird of Paradise plant for Mother's Day this year. She keeps it in the full-shade and it's growing like crazy. We are going to divide it as soon as she gets some more pots. So who knows. I guess reading and experience are both important in a new climate.

And I got an email yesterday from a woman gardening in Honduras. Central America. Her blog is at http:// Very interesting blog for me to read. She is successfully growing vegetables. Which I have pretty much given up on the moment, except for chili peppers, and other peppers too, actually.

And I got an email from a fellow living in Puerto Vallarta. He used to have a plant nursery in the Bay area, San Francisco area somewhere, or maybe Northern California. Anyway, he had seen my post asking about nurseries in PV, and my question about his profile. So that was nice.

It feels like maybe I will have some friends who are also learning about how to garden down here. And understand my frustrations. La Gringa was writing in her blog about not understanding how plants grow in the hard clay soil where she lives. I feel the same way here. It's a mystery.
Egret standing on the beach at Las Cuevas,
the next little beach south from Chacala

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Attack by the Wild Hummingbirds (and butterflies)

This butterfly looks alot like a local butterfly, although I can't see the red markings this this one.
They are everywhere, especially on one part especially damp part of the paved road.
There are thick clouds of them in the mornings.
You have to cover your head and run them.

Fixed up the hammock again, this time with two back-up ropes on each end. And when I tried it out I put a foam mattress under the hammock, just in chase. But it works fine, and I read for a hour on so, relaxed and comfy. Until two out-of-control hummingbirds decided to battle over the Mandevillea vine right next to the hammock. The coral-red blossoms are beautiful and seem to be especially attractive to the birdies. Especially the hummingbirds.

After my aborted trip to the PV nurseries last week, I got another chance to go to PV yesterday, and got to go to the nursery I hoping to see before. This excursion turned out very well. I got five plants for $110pesos, about $10USD, more or less. And three of the plants were ready to be divided, so I ended up with 3 new Bird of Paradise plants (from one plant), 11 new 4/5" plants (I am going to go see if I can find the official name in my little 3 volume tropical plant library), and 3 cacti, one a really beautiful aloe or agave with a purplish tint. Of course, the purplish tint might be a sign of trouble, but I like how it looks right now.

I got a nice "Comment" on my gardening blog from a woman gardening in Honduras. She has also been looking for people trying to garden in tropical-type climates. She has some nice photos of her garden. I am guessing she must be in the mountains. Of course, I don't even know if there are mountains in Honduras. I am going to read up in my old worn-out Lonely Planet book. Her gardening blog is called La Gringa at

I got a couple of three gallon pots (masetas) yesterday for 12 pesos total. About $1.10 US. These were actual pots, with holes already made. Very upscale, at least for me. I think the girl at the "plastics" store had the price wrong, but she insisted. Okay by me. I will go check another day, just in case it WAS the wrong price.
This looks like my new Plants. Sanservieria?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Leaving Chacala, Searching for Succulents, Again

I am studying up for another short trip away from home, away from Chacala. I am heading for a suburb of Guadalajara, called Tonala, and then to the northeast to visit some gardeners and maybe purchase some plants. If I can find any succulents to purchase.

I am developing a small list of botanical gardens, and other public gardens, using Google, plus Thorntree and some other message boards. Right now I can researching Cadereyta (spelling) which as a big well-known (but not to me) cactus/succulent garden and nursery called Quinta Schmoll. And there are others.

I found some photos from the Quinta Schmoll garden in Cadereyta, and am still looking for others in the general area of the towns of Queretaro, Aguacalientes,and San Luis Potosi. Plus I am imagining a quick look at Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allenda, just out of curiosity.

I have to remember to bring some big Mexican bags with me, to bring plants home in. They are used for everything around here. They come in all different sizes, made from loosely-woven plastic in colorful plaids and stripes. With handles. I can easily carry six one gallon plants in a larger one. And I can put more delicate plants each in their own smaller bag, and then set a bunch of plants in a bigger bag, all protected. Have to plan ahead when you are travelling by bus and collectivo. No handy backseat or trunk or pickup bed to toss things into on the way home.

I am going out on the veranda to water, and to start some more bougainvillea plants. The starts from a month ago are looking okay and I want to get some more going. I am hoping to plant them across the driveway from the front patio at this house. For a surprise for the owners.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Gardening Lessons in Chacala

This is a strangler fig growing around another tree
at the site of the oldest construction in Chacala

Just had a day and a half of rain, which is very unusual for Chacala. It rarely rans before early evening here. I just went back through my little weather notebook for the past 32 months and only found 4 times when it rained before six in the evening. Generally it's later, after dark.

Anyway, this morning the sun is shining and it's comfortably breezy and nice. I just came in from the veranda of this house, where I fool around with my pots and plants. And also where I do my hand laundry (everything but sheets and towels, which go to the lavenderia for a machine wash).

I was just out there starting my washing when I got distracted by one of the plants. I don't know what it's called. It is large light green succulent type leaves and it's growing very quickly. At the end of each of about 11 of the leaves, small growths have started, with little roots and leaves.

Berta, my most reliable source of plant info in Chacala was just here and she told me to tuck the little babies into the dirt so they can start growing. She also said the a large, tall shoot will come out of the middle of the plant. The stem with have a large flower. I tried to ask Berta if the plant only blossomed once, or how often it blossoms. Or when. But the questions were too complex for my Spanish I guess.

The limon tree (limes) is covered with limes right now. I am giving them away, and using them to lime/ice/water coolers. The tree has been here for two years, in a large pot and is about 10 feet tall. I had to cut it cut at the start of summer, but it's still producing fruit. I haven't figured out the growing season for limons yet. Mangos are three months starting in May, papayas are year round, pina's have a first harvest, generally one large fruit and then two smaller harvests with smaller fruit. I think they start over with new plants after the third harvest. I ask people about the seasons of different fruits, and often people don't know (or don't understand the question), but ffruit is available from different areas of Mexico at different times, which confuses the issue.

The butterflies are everywhere right now. All colors. My favorite at the month is black with intricate white designs all over the wings, which touches of red on the body and head. Really beautiful. Makes me think of snow drops. Every one is different.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Buckets and Plant Ladies in Chacala

When I went to the tianguis (street market) a few days ago, I bought a couple more 10 peso plastic, 4 gallon, buckets to use as plant pots. Somehow, I again left one of the two buckets sitting on the ground in front of the plant booth when I walked off to catch the collectivo back to Chacala.

When I got home I realized what I had done, and kicked myself for a minute. Then I remembered it was only 90 cents and not worth kicking myself over. Later that afternoon I was taking a siesta and I heard someone calling me by name, from the front porch. I was too sleepy to get up, but then Chiquita started bouncing off the walls, barking and yipping, so I got up to see what was going on.

It was the lady from the plant booth, who had brought my lost bucket home. I was so amazed and happy. What a nice thing. It turned out she was visiting Maria, and Maria told her where I live. I would have loved to hear how they described me to each other. Or maybe I wouldn't.

I gave her a little mini-tour of my mini-garden on the veranda. She liked one plant alot, and since I had two I gave her one, and also a bunch of small pots. She was very happy, I think.

Anyway. That was pretty nice. I have also had strangers bring me my umbrella (left on the collectivo) and a book in English left God knows where. People are so thoughtful. Well, usually. Actually, almost all the time.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Weeds and Rain in Chacala

Senecio(?) from La Penita
We have been having heavy evening rains, with thunder and lightning, for several weeks now. Electricity goes off regularly. Last night it was only off for about a hour or so. The weeds and plants are growing very quickly, everywhere in town.

This house is now surrounded by grasses and vines knee-high and higher. The "jungle", which is what the people who live here call the heavy imprenetrable vegatation that takes over during the rainy season, is creeping right up onto the house. Because there are no other houses near this house, just "jungle", the vegetation seems to really grow. A foot or two a day sometimes.

Juan, a local painter and handyperson, came by this morning. He wanted to spray the driveway with the last of some horrible weed spray he had is his spryer/backpack. I let him. I told myself the homeowner likes the drive way to be gravel-only, no vegetaton. So Juan finished of his spray tank and left, refusing pesoes, popcorn, or a pop.

Juan returned an hour later with a new tankful of spray which he used on the driveway and the back path. Now he is using the matchete to clear away the weeds that are rapidly trying to cover the bouganvillas and palmas on the south side of the house. I know he likes plants, and I trust him to be careful, but I hate the spray and don't want him using it except on the road and path. Even that is horrible, actually.

I am afraid to walk around in the deep weeds because so many animals live out there.
When Juan arrived this morning he chased off a tojones, which seemed to be creeping up on the metal garbage can box. And later there was a dead possum on the road at the end of the driveway.

I didn't get to any nurseries when I went to Puerto Vallarta a few days ago. But now, thanks to a PV message board and two taxi drivers, I know exactly (?) when four nurseries are. Oddly enough, a taxi driver, who also is the landscaper for a small PV hotel, told me that the best and cheapest nursery is the one I have been going to in La Penita. And he didn't know that I lived up north and been going there.

But today the Plant Truck came up to the house. I got two nice portulaca's (yellow and orange) and a variegated succulent that was actually three smaller plants. I had just finished making holes in the bottom of two new 10 peso buckets, and planting the new new plants, when the 12 year old mailman (Jose Andreas) brought up some mail for this house. He wanted to look at the new plants and we talked about them for a few minutes. He is a very talented young man, handsome, and a good singer, dancer, and performer. I hope his life turns out okay.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

My Search for Succulents, continued

Tomorrow is my bi-monthly trip to Puerto Vallarta. Usually I exchange my English books for credit, get new books,and go grocery shopping. Sometimes I go to artist supply stores/Office Depot for this or that. And I go by the airport to use the ATM, and maybe get a magazine or newspaper in English. The selection get slimmer when it's not tourist season, but it's okay.

But tomorrow the focus will be on visiting plant nurseries. I have been asking around (in person and via message boards) about where nurseries are in the area. And I have a small list. There are some nurseries I am not going to. There are four along the highway between Brucerias and Nuevo Vallarta, and I think maybe they only carry the Big Ten (plants for landscaping). Boring boring. Anyway, I know of one place in Pititall and another in Ixtapa. My plan is to take the bus to those areas and then ask someone, or take a cab. Depending.

I have been looking at websites and studying my three tropical/succulent/etc books. I am really excited. I have been so lucky with plants this last couple of weeks, I hope this will be another good trip.

I can swing this plant trip because I got some cash for my (approaching) birthday. Some will be for plants/taxis. The rest is going into my 'Trips" saving envelope. I am vascillating between saving for a big trip to the Yucatan/Chiapas or settle for now for north-east of Guadalajara.
Have to see which way the wind blows.

It's a perfect day in Chacala. Big, long, loud rain storm last night, and everything green and bursting with growth. Some plants grow a foot or two a day here, easily. Now that the rains have started, all the decidious trees are growing like mad, and the house is starting to feel really private, surrounded by green on three and 1/2 sides. I love it. I am so lucky to live is such a beautiful place. Right now I am looking at the ocean, little glimpses between pieces of laundry hanging on my veranda clothesline.