A Gardener’s Diary

Gardening is a bit like weather forecasting (based more on probability than certainty). Its successes and failures are a consequence of the interpretive skills of its practitioners. Today is not for remembering the failures but forgetting them. Today is for planning tomorrow’s successes. For me it is a time for thanking my lucky stars for a profession which became a hobby, for continued health, and for my family. I wish you all the same wealth.

I have been asked many times to give an opinion on the health of a fern called Polypodium aureum popularly known as the Breadfruit fern (because the shape of the leaves is similar to those of the Breadfruit tree). It is enormously popular in Guyana for growing in hanging baskets, as well as on walls and on the ground in rather shady areas. Many people become very concerned as periodically the leaves get hundreds of light brown spots on their underside which are often mistaken for a severe attack of scale insects, and are then sprayed regularly. These brown scales on the underside of the leaves are nothing more dangerous than ‘seed’ or spore cases which contain millions of spores which are released into the air when they are ripe. Many gardeners take off these leaves and place them (spore case down) on an old log or a clay brick in a damp shady place so that when the spores are released they fall onto the damp surfaces and eventually germinate and form new fern plants.

Some ingenious gardeners have learned of the virtues of the Breadfruit fern leaf as a means of making concrete pathways a little more attractive. The leaves of the fern are pressed firmly but gently into really wet cement, and produce a very attractive pattern when the cement hardens. Many other kinds of leaves can also give concrete a bit more of an interesting look.

All gardeners know that the tremendous diversity and beauty of plants cannot really be appreciated when one is soaked to the skin and covered from head to foot in mud. There are only a few things more depressing to the gardener than having to stand under the shed looking at the rain bucketing down, and not be able to get stuck into something other than mud. Over the past few days, dashing out in the lulls between the downpours has enabled me to do little more than prune my bougainvillea hedge which, because of its growth during the rain, had threatened to engulf the entire garden. I have a couple of plants of Acalypha ‘Java White’ which are presently showing the virtues of good drainage. One is planted on a slight rise we created some years ago using brick rubble. It is superbly drained and ‘Java White’ is not finding the production of its leaves at all difficult. It is already filling out nicely. The green leaves are fresh and gloriously mottled with large blotches of cream and white. It is a good plant to use as a visual barrier, like so many of the Acalyphas. The other ‘Java White’ plant which started off the same size as its partner is showing just how badly affected plants can be when their roots are unable to grow properly because of the sodden ground conditions. It’s still only just over 15 inches high and will not make much further progress until the dry weather comes.

At this time (I know I have mentioned this before) house plant gardening is understandably a favourite hobby, and it’s always a good idea to keep a stock of plants growing in pots and containers. At the moment we might not be able to get out to have a close look at the plants too often, but we can certainly arrange things so that they can come inside in order that we can see them. Any young palm trees will do the trick, but especially the Golden palm or the MacArthur palm. Even young coconuts can be pressed into service to break up the severe angle of a corner.

Meantime, take care on our splendid new roads, and may your God you with you.

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