Tag Archives: gardening

Separate summers

Datura outside our bedroom window yesterday. There’s also aloe vera.

MY FATHER DIED a quarter century ago when he was just three years older than I am right now.

He was a sad man, but he loved summer. He worked evenings, which gave him days free to labor in the yard where we lived in Northern Florida in a ranch house.

He loved the Atlantic beach, sand and saltwater, and he loved tending the yard. Neither interfered with his drinking, however. Heat stirs well with highballs.

I don’t drink — well, not anymore — and maybe that’s why I don’t like gardening, and I don’t live near the beach though we can get there in three hours down the autopista.

And I loathe heat, the lack of which makes my mountaintop home wonderful in summertime. But things really grow here, much better than they did in my father’s yard.

Gotta be the latitude.

Every winter I blaze through the yard like a machete-wielding madman even though I actually use a small saw and branch trimmer. The golden datura is slashed back to basics, leaving the trunk and some nubs. It’s soft wood.

It booms back in June once it feels a touch of rain.

My father had a pink-flowered mimosa of similar size in our Florida yard. It was the only thing of any height. The rest were pansies, petunias, such stuff, all planted in rows.

Here I have a Willy-Nilly Zone where things grow, hemmed in by rock and concrete, in any direction they desire.

And for things of size, there’s monster bougainvillea, the towering nopal, a gigantic fan palm.

I was pressed, as a boy, into yard-mowing duties, and I received a small sum. I forget how much. And I once cut the Hacienda lawn too, years ago, but not anymore.

That’s why the Goddess invented pesos for me to pay Abel the Deadpan Yardman.

About a decade back, after I moved to Mexico, I drove a rented car slowly by the Florida house. The mimosa was gone. Everything was bleak. The grass was spotty due to cars being parked on it, just like a rack of rednecks would do.

There were no flowers at all. Nothing.

In the 1950s, the area was the middle class moving up. Now it’s the working class barely holding on.

Summers separated by half a century of time.

The first yank

My trusty machine, red like the house.

THE RAINY SEASON arrived this week with a splash!

Three days ago I was enjoying a nice café Americano negro at a sidewalk table downtown when the skies opened with a vengeance.

In short order, the street vanished, and a lake took its place. Passing cars pushed waves onto the sidewalk, so I retreated closer to the wall with my chair and table.

The temperatures have dropped. The dust is washed into the gutters, down the drain pipes and into the lake.

And now my grass is greening. Soon it will need mowing and edging. Yesterday I pulled the mower from under a table on the Garden Patio and wiped it off with paper towels.

I poured fresh gas into the tank. I primed the carb (three times), and I yanked on the rope. Roar! The first yank!

Craftsman makes good stuff.

That leaves the weedeater, which I bought just last year, a Stihl, which is also a good item, but all weedeaters are a bitch to crank. The Stihl is just a little less so. But it has a rather complicated process you must observe to start it.

And being along in years, my arm is not what it once was. If the Stihl does not crank  quickly, I’m out of the game. I have not tried to start it yet. I am procrastinating.

Stihl weedeater, better than most.

While I let Abel the Deadpan Yardman mow the grass with the Craftsman, I am hesitant to put the Stihl in his mitts. The last time I let a local use a weedeater, it ended up in tatters.

Mexicans tend not to take care of things owned by other people. It’s a cultural trait and not one of their better ones. But I may be forced to hand it over to him.

Happy cacti.

After shooting the mower and Stihl, I photographed these cacti. I’m a cactus man. I planted them in Houston, but they never did squat.

Here, however, they’re right at home. I planted these cacti when they were small. The ones at the far end are  now taller than I am.

So summer and its accompanying rains are here. We love it when that happens after the stuffy, dry, dusty spring. But by soggy September we’ll be praying for an end to it.

The orchid peach

AND ONWARD we slog through the overly warm afternoons and evenings of May.

Praying for rain.

But there are fun distractions. One is the orchid peach. It’s my own invention.

Here’s the recipe: Take one peach tree. Any tree will do, but I use peach. It’s out there.

Tie orchid bases to the peach tree. That’s Step Two. Patience is Step Three. Most of the year, they just hang there, but in Springtime they bloom.

These orchids grow wild in the area, attaching themselves to trees — they’re parasites — and in Springtime, vendors walk the streets and stand beside highways, selling them.

I try to purchase at least one a year.

They can grow high, making it difficult to grab them. Once, a couple of years ago, a tall part of a tree on our main plaza broke off and thundered to the sidewalk. Nobody was hurt.

But the hunk of tree lying on the sidewalk was chockablock with blooming orchids. People went at them like a pack of wolves. I happened by after most of the orchids were plucked.

Darn!

This year I purchased yellow, a first. All the previous orchids on my peach tree had been pink. You like a little variety in your orchids, color-wise.

The blooms in the photo look a little weary. That’s because they first erupted weeks ago, and they’re just about pooped out for this season. You can see my new yellow one.

The orchid peach. My own invention.

Patent Pending. Or not.

Dust of spring

IF YOU STROLL across our yard this month it’s like stepping through a lawn of dead, crunchy locusts.

We keep the large window in the living room shut to keep the dust out. The equally large one in the dining room, however, is opened because you need some fresh air.

All our springtimes are like this, the polar opposite of our soggy, green, slippery summers.

Yesterday about noon, I sat myself down on the Jesus Patio with the intention of reading, but I didn’t read anything. The Kindle just sat on the glass-top table as I stared around.

I had the Canon, so I photographed the clay head that sits beside the cactus. He’s not a man to be messed with.

Later we lunched at Tiendita Verde, and then we headed downtown, the two of us in separate cars, leaving a larger carbon footprint. It can’t be helped.

We ran into Jaime there. He’s 11, and the son of our nephew who died recently of cancer at 32. My child bride and her sister have taken him under their wings of late.

Jaime is a remarkably good kid. I like him.

Bougainvillea butcher

THE CURSE of my gardening existence, as has often been noted here, is this bougainvillea that I planted when it was in a pot, and then I turned my back on it, so to speak.

When it spotted me otherwise engaged, it exploded — spikes, shedding flowers and all — to its current beastly status, virtually out of control, taunting me daily.

But I am battling back. At least, Abel the Deadpan Gardener is fighting back on my behalf. That’s him Tuesday morning giving the plant some much-deserved discipline.

For contrast, see the photo below that my child bride shot about a month ago as I posed for perspective’s sake.

That’s one big mother. That plant, that is.

But Abel’s labor did not stop there. One of the four ivy plants creeping along the Alamo Wall decided recently to take a dive, in a manner of speaking. It died, and I don’t know why.

It was firmly connected to the rock wall, and difficult to pull off even in its dead state, but Abel did a great job.

With the trimming done, he chopped everything and hauled it away in a wheelbarrow to somewhere out back, down a ravine where it will decompose as Mama Nature intended.

Abel went home with 500 pesos.

Not bad for three hours of work in the sunshine.

Architectural error

Photo shot from a chair. I had just swept.

ARCHITECTS KNOW things you don’t, which is why you hire them. We did not hire one. Perhaps we should have.

Above you see one of the reasons. What should be one of the best aspects of the Hacienda is essentially useless, and we rarely go out there. It’s the upstairs terraza.

We initially intended to have a tile roof over most of it, but it was one of the last parts (expenses) of the construction process back in 2003, and I was weary of spending money.

The tile roof was scaled way back, just large enough to cover the hammock that was out there for years. I wanted my hammock, and I used the hammock for about eight years.

Then I didn’t. Finally I removed it because it was an obstruction to walk around every time we stepped out there.

Let’s count the architectural errors. You see the biggest in the photo at the top. If you sit in a chair, this is your view. The yellow wall. It you’re standing, or even in a hammock, the view is spectacular. If you’re sitting, it’s the yellow wall.

Here’s another: During the rainy season, which lasts about five months, a fourth of this terraza is a lake. The drainage is lousy. We’ve added extra drain holes, but the problem is the floor’s complete lack of incline.

And another: That floor tile is super slick. During the rainy season, well, you can guess. Swan dive!

And another: Plants out there almost always die. It’s freezing cold in the winter, and blazing sunlight in the spring. About the only things that survive are cacti.

Most of these problems could be eliminated by adding the entire tile roof I initially planned, but the primary problem would remain. If you sit, you’re looking at that yellow wall.

That too could be done another way, but then you’re looking at major work and expense.

Meanwhile, sitting on the downstairs veranda is just great, so this upstairs area remains low on the priority list.

It likely will stay the same forever.

Should have hired an architect.

View in the other direction. Both photos shot this morning.

(Note: The house design is mine, and it was written on sheets of graph paper. The workers took it from there.)

Post-bagel labor

MOST WORK around here gets done in the morning, and that would be after the bagels and cream cheese.

The labor this Good Friday morning included the yearly cleaning of the underground cistern.

Child bride descends to mop after I had descended to sweep.

Our concrete cistern holds 9,000 liters of water.

The reason you don’t want to drink tap water in Mexico is less because the water didn’t come from a clean source at the get-go. It may have. For instance, our municipal water comes from an underground spring. It is quite clear.

What happens is that almost everyone stores water in an underground cistern. From that cistern, water is delivered, one way or another, to a roof tank, and from there it’s dropped into the house faucets via gravity.

There are variations, but basically that’s how it works.

I have no statistics, but I’d bet a pocket of pesos that few homeowners ever clean their cisterns. I’ve peered into cisterns that you could use for a horror-movie scene.

But we are better than that.

Here’s how we clean ours. First, we turn off the incoming water. After that, it takes almost two weeks to empty as we use the water in the house. Finally, the cistern is empty, and we switch to a small backup tank for a day or two.

We leave the lid open overnight, and the cistern’s dry in the morning. I go down and sweep. She goes down and mops. We turn the water back on, and toss in half a liter of bleach.

Here comes fresh water into the clean tank! Yipee!

It takes three or four days to refill. The municipal water runs six days a week for six to eight hours daily.

* * * *

Other labor

Having finished that work, it was time to reassign cacti.

You’d think that after what happened with the monster nopal that I would have learned my lesson regarding prickly plants.

But I’m stupid that way.

I love deserts and the things that live in them. I used to plant cacti in my yard in Houston, and they never did squat.

The tall ones.

Next to the verandah, there’s this stand of pole cacti that I started years ago with one small one. The tallest now is six and a half feet high.

Another shorter — but not by much — stand nearby provided a cutting about 15 inches tall. It has been planted out by the property wall, and I anticipate a nice stand of pole cacti there in a few years —  if I live so long.

The little bugger.

Being a newbie, it needs a little support from string and a stick.

Following these two chores, I only had to water the potted plants on the verandah, dust the shelves and sweep the floor.

The only other labor for the day will be cooking pasta and broiling salmon. After that, it’s a café Americano negro on the downtown plaza, watching the beautiful tourist babes.

It will be a Good Friday. Even if I’m not a Christian.

Man versus beasts

Photo shot April 12, 2017. Almost high noon.

IT’S SPRINGTIME, and the two banes of my life are muscling up in the yard, threats sans mercy. Monster thorns.

On the left is what I imagine is the world’s biggest nopal tree. Perhaps I should notify Guinness. On the right is the bougainvillea that, of the four in the yard, I let fly out of control.*

It’s hardly the biggest in the world, however. Bigger ones abound in my town. They never, ever stop growing.

I inserted myself into the photo to provide perspective. I planted both the beasts when they were tiny tykes.

Click on the photo for a closer look. Yes, the grass is mostly brown due to our being in the dry season. All is dark and dusty. The sky is not dark. It’s blue and beautiful.

The house is off to the left. The pastry kitchen and Nissan carport are off to the right. The sex motel is behind that wall. It’s what appears to be a white stripe. Actually, it’s yellow.

* * * *

* The other three I keep firmly under my green thumb.

An utter calm

Fan palm towers behind the sour orange bush.

ROUNDABOUTS noon on a spring day is the perfect time to sit in the yard with an electronic book.

If the natives have nothing to celebrate, which happens often enough, you’ll find a smooth calm. The air will be cool. The sky will be blue. The breeze will be blowing stiff enough to wiggle the wind chimes hanging in the nearby veranda.

Bottle brush

At this hour the hummingbirds will be dining about the bottle-brush tree and so will butterflies. Sparrows will be chirping.

I’ll be sitting in a mesh chair next to the glass-top table, and I’ll be shaded from the sun, which grows a bit brutal in spring, by the big brown umbrella. It’s a good mix altogether.

Two things might disturb this scene. One is that I doze off, which is common, no matter how engaging the book. This does not affect the calm. It simply renders it moot for moments.

The other is that a freight train will blow by, but this lasts no longer than 60 seconds, and the calm returns. The butterflies and hummingbirds don’t seem to notice.

Even on a calm spring midday, I like the passing train especially since it’s brief. It sounds of vagabonds, a life that appealed back when I was very young.

This midday peace is broken when my child bride comes out of the house and says she’s ready to go to the restaurant.

She looks very pretty.