Easter weekend gave me a chance to take a break from house-building work and spend a little time in the garden. I haven’t really touched any of it since all the bush-cutting I did last year and so Orange Field has simply become a rather messy building site. Armed with pick, mattock, spade and machete I set to work tidying the banana grove and planting bougainvillea cuttings along the southern boundary. The first task was to tidy up the public trail that runs beside it and clear some of the trees and bush that had encroached from the neighbouring woodland. It was rewarding work as I uncovered wild heliconia, eucharist lilies and amaryllis. A huge bunch of green bananas was ready for picking and I planted out several new suckers in an attempt to migrate the grove a little farther to the west. By the time the church-goers returned from their Sunday service the trail was transformed and they were so delighted there was lots of hand-shaking and invitations to come along and worship with them whenever I want. Ahem ..
The southern boundary is becoming a nursery of sorts until I manage to clear bush and wild grass from other parts of the garden and the building site eventually recedes. So far, in addition to the bougainvillea hedgerow I’m trying to create, I have white ginger lilies, arabica coffee, queen of the night, tree fern, clerodendron and nutmeg all planted here. Some of it will move on later.
I think some thought I was a bit silly doing planting given the long kawem (the dry season) had parched the landscape so much. Funny thing was that it rained properly, all night, for the first time in about two months after I had finished planting – so now I look like some kind of gardening genius
There’s a hell of a lot to do in the garden – I think it’s going to take a very long time – but I love to see it developing little by little.
Up at Bellevue Chopin visiting my pal Roy Ormond today. His herbal garden is an education, I always enjoy taking a tour with him, and I try to remember at least one new thing if I can. This is lantana camara, known locally as Ma Bizou, and is used for colds, chills and high blood pressure.
Roy had some saplings for me – cinnamon and coffee – which I’ll be planting up at Orange Field tomorrow. Looking forward to that.
Here’s an interesting comparison of Orange Field’s eastern boundary before and after we set to work with machetes (mine’s on the branch in the foreground). Both the southern and eastern boundaries are now clear of jungle though there are still quite a few roots to dig up and I have seven rather large fires to burn. But it’s all good and I’m looking forward to being able to enjoy my reward now – lots of creative planting.
We think work will begin on our house some time in August so the western and northern boundaries, plus the middle, of course, will all have to wait until after construction.
My pal (and mentor), Roy Ormond of Harmony Garden in Bellevue Chopin, is supplying me with a few interesting trees and shrubs to be getting on with: jack fruit, mangosteen, cinnamon, coffee, and a few tree ferns. I have one nutmeg in place already and I’m going to add another (they say you should always plant two, just in case one doesn’t bear fruit). I also have a couple of dwarf coconuts and heliconia cuttings all waiting to go in.
It was pouring this morning and interesting to experience Orange Field in the rain for the first time. Using my new pick mattock I spent a couple of hours on the southern boundary, digging up the soil and pulling out some of the stubborn roots and stumps left over from the machete work. It was tiring but the rain kept me cool and helped wash some of the mud from my hands, arms and face (how did it get there?). It was also nice to to plant something. I’ve spent so many weeks destroying and clearing bush, that it was a refreshing change to take the first steps in creating the garden.
Right up in the top corner, where the eastern and southern boundaries meet, I planted a nutmeg tree. It was a great moment.
There were plenty of bananas coming and so I cut down a hand of fig which is now hanging up in our utility room and should ripen over the next few days. There are three avocado trees around the banana grove. I’ve been waiting to see if any of them will bear fruit and today I noticed that the one right in the south west corner has plenty coming. I took an unripe one home with me as a memento.
More bush whacking tomorrow if the rain holds off.
We’re making great progress. Most of the bush has been removed from the southern boundary and we’re half-way across the eastern boundary, where the majority of the jungle and fallen trees are located. We have four rather large piles waiting to be burned (I think I feel like a boinfire party, cold Kubulis and a cook-up for that occasion) and some rather snaggy bush, elephant grass, and dead trees to negotiate. But we’re getting there.
One of the guys helping me, Michael, has lost the bravado of a month ago when he announced he was impervious to red ants and bete rouge (chiggers). After several weeks of itching, he now needs coaxing to get in there. Today I noticed he had been raking for an hour, so I sharpened a machete, gave it to him and nodded towards the bush. “Ayee, bete rouge in there, for sure!” he protested. Honestly.
It’s funny. From time to time I come across a plant I’d like to leave alone. Today it was a young tree fern growing on the bank along the eastern boundary. I cut around it carefully, pulling everything else away to leave it standing proud of the weeds and free to grow. Half-an-hour later, it had gone. I looked across at Michael; he was swinging a machete to zombie music, lost in his own world. I grimaced and felt sorry for the bush (or anything else for that matter) lying in his path.
The bush cutting goes on up at Orange Field. We had to fell a bois canot tree yesterday – making sure it landed where we wanted was a chance to put theory into practice. Fortunately it worked. The rest of the time was spent swinging machetes and raking out vines. It’s incredibly tough work and I don’t want to use any kind of chemical weedicide. I was alone up there this morning when a woman using the trail to get from the village to church stopped to have a chat. “Are you doing all this by yourself ?” she asked. “I have help sometimes,” I replied. “Ah well, you white people like all this kind of work in any case,” she said. “Is that right ?” I grinned. “Yes, oui,” she smiled, setting off again. “But I’ll whisper a little prayer for you anyway.”
I thought about what she had said and, whatever her reasoning, she did have a point. After years spent in a big city office, getting sweaty and muddied up on my own piece of land did indeed feel like some sort of salvation.
Half an hour later, dragging thickets and vines to a pile for burning, I heard the sound of hymns coming from the church. I took a breather and listened. Everything felt good.