14 February 2018

Slow but sure - our plant nursery

     I was really surprised that despite the lush greenness of False Bluff the things I wanted to grow....wouldn't.
     When I first began my project here I envisioned just which blooming plants would go where and how their flowers would enhance the landscape.  After all this is the tropics; and the greenery that surrounded us was overwhelming even though almost none of it was pretty.  
     At the start, we removed most of the scrub brush, leaving sea grapes and coconut palms; and then immediately added hundreds more coconut trees.  Some of these young trees were planted in as random and natural a manner as possible; but a lot of the others were planted in locations that would outline or accent future uses, or in places that would direct foot traffic.
     And after the coconut trees I began to plant things that would bloom, things like ylang ylang trees with their showy and sweet smelling blossoms (from which, it is said, Chanel #5 was born); bougainvillea; hibiscus; a local bright-yellow-flowered shrub that bloomed apparently non-stop....at least until I planted it close to the beach.  
     None of these things I planted survived where I wanted them, where I had envisioned them blooming.  WTF!  The tropics are known for colorful hibiscus and clouds of bright bougainvillea.  So why wouldn't these things grow where I put them?  
     What I hadn't taken into consideration - what I was too stupid to even think about - was the salt in the air, blown in on that lovely and constant sea breeze.  Most of you who have spent a day at the beach remember feeling a bit sticky at the end of the day?  That stickiness is a coating of salt that's blown your way on a breeze.  
     And at False Bluff there is a constant sea breeze bringing salt to coat everybody and everything and depositing eons of salt in the soil.  
     Result?  Not a nurturing environment for plants.  
     What followed almost immediately was the decision to open a plant nursery that specializes in landscape ornamentals that would thrive in our environment. It turned out there are lists of plants that grow in places like ours, rated from "highly" to "moderate" on the salt tolerance scale.  
     So the plant nursery was born as I familiarized myself with what was available, choosing plants I'd never dealt with, selecting not only for salt tolerance but for good looks: optics ruled the decision making.  Turns out there are some stunning things available and some old familiar faces I'd not known were tolerant of salt spray.  
     A place close enough to the sea to test the veracity of the salt tolerant plant lists was cleared in anticipation of making space for the mother plants, plants that would provide offspring for us to use in our own landscaping and also for sale to other frustrated coastal gardeners.  

       Almost immediately we learned we were going to have to propagate most of our own mother plants because very little of what we wanted in the nursery is available commercially anywhere in Nicaragua.  So things are going a bit slower than they might have gone in the USA where all I would have had to do was order 100 of this or 200 of that.  
        In our case, we beg or buy a small plant or a cutting to root; and wait until it's big and healthy enough to provide cuttings or seeds for further propagation...
     Once the initial space was cleared, weed-free rows, with planned walkways between them, were marked using short pieces of 1" PVC pipe.  As mentioned in a couple of earlier posts here, we don't use wood to mark the rows anymore because termites eat the damned things almost as fast as we put them in the ground.  

     The space and number of plant rows have doubled from this beginning as our inventory has increased.