2007 included a sad milestone in the form of the passing of Claire's mother Carmen, back in February. She lived a full and productive 92 years, just about, and her accomplishments and grace will always serve as an inspiration for both of us.
One of Carmen's life-long passions was gardening, and we can't help but be inspired by that. Here in the sub-tropics, where you stick something in the ground and stand back out of the way, the challenges are a bit different from those in northern New Jersey. And our "gardening" is more in the form of edible landscaping than a traditional vegetable garden. But we're sure growing stuff, even orchids.
After the hurricane two years ago, we re-landscaped extensively, to the point of taking out a considerable amount of lawn. After a few false starts—we've been taking a Darwinian approach and going with whatever survives—we have managed to create a jungle in the back yard, where there wasn't much of anything before, and have become at risk of having our house devoured by a vine that just won't quit in the front. It's a good thing we own a machete.
When we bought this house, the back yard, small and fenced, was half covered by a ground-level wood deck and a roofless gazebo, which we think shaded a hot tub at one time. Two medium sized palms (a Traveler and a Queen) along the fence also provided shade, and the rest of the ground was covered with red(!) mulch. (Dyed wood chips are a big seller in these parts. Red is quite common, but blue—truly—is also available.) The deck was about half rotten, and the wood privacy fence probably was, too. It, at least, was held up and together by three kinds of vines, Confederate jasmine, Alamanda, and Pandora. The jasmine is by far the most prolific, and it needs watching so that it doesn't strangle everything else. But at least it's still holding up the fence.
After the hurricane, we ripped out the gazebo and deck, put in a small brick patio for the grill, and replaced the red mulch with natural. The palms and vines stayed, and they've been joined by four varieties of banana and two of bamboo. There's also a Monstera philodendron that's finally getting a foothold, and maybe it will have fruit (which are edible) soon.
The bamboo are interesting and a little scary. We ordered them from a local grower, who offers dozens of varieties, none of which are the "running" kind that takes over a yard. Nonetheless, the ones we chose to be on the small side and decorative are filling the planters we constructed for them. And they're remarkable growers—when conditions are right, they can put out shoots that grow a foot a day, shoots that are over an inch in diameter.
We also ordered our four different bananas varieties from a local grower, and just now we're waiting to see what one of them tastes like. A healthy looking stalk is maturing, and soon we're going to have more six-inch fruit than we know what to do with. It's helpful that all of them, prolific growers like the bamboo, are easy to manage. If they need pruning, we simply use a bread knife.
When we bought this house in 2005, it was supposed to have (we think) a sort of French country look, replete with awnings, various cutesy decorations, and—wince—a blue and white color scheme. After the hurricane tore up the shade trees and (for which we are forever grateful) didn't topple the two large palms in front onto the house, we changed things. With better colors, a large arbor in front for privacy, and various small trees, we feel much more at home now. The unkempt look provides a nice contrast to all the carefully manicured greenery down here.
We put in a small lemon tree last spring, and it seems to be grateful for having been rescued from the nursery, because it's already productive, ripening one big, juicy fruit at a time for us, as if to be polite. On the other hand, the carombola (star fruit) seems to have liked the nursery better—but we still have hopes for next year.
(Carambola update, 2009: No, it was just settling in. Now it's fine and producing, literally, bushels of star-fruit each year. Anybody want some?)