Looking back over my records of A Gardener’s Diary I note that in March 1998 we were suffering a prolonged period of drought and were concerned about conserving all the water we could. It all seems a bit of lottery, with times of plenty and times of severe shortage. Now no sooner are we through the ‘traditional’ time for the Christmas rains than we are almost into the time for the May-June rains. Almost makes you weep I can tell you, and even more so as there are poor souls still under water from the great flood of some years ago.
At the back I have a smallish coconut tree which is now supporting growth of the giant passion fruit (Passiflora quadrangularis) with its large fruits, and which, by the way, are preceded by the most spectacular flowers most gardeners ever see. They are like the small passion flower, but far more outstanding. They can also be sown from seed using ordinary seed compost. I have just been listening to the Test Match Special radio commentary, and there has just been a lively discussion about breadfruit trees. No one seems to have any idea whence they came, which I find astonishing. I had thought everyone on the planet knew story of Captain Bligh and the mutiny on HMS Bounty by Fletcher Christian. The cargo of breadfruit seedlings collected from Tahiti which were meant for the West Indies were dumped overboard and the mutineers made their home on an island now known as Pitcairn. Bligh survived, but the seedlings did not and so another shipment was collected and eventually arrived in the West Indies. They were not very popular, but there are still trees to be found in the islands which get to quite a size. They form beautiful trees which have a habit of shedding branches after heavy rains, which is why they are not recommended as street trees. I have examined quite of few of these trees (which had shed limbs) and nearly all of them had internal problems which could have been corrected a long time ago had they been regularly looked at. The main problem seems to have been caused by decay resulting from breakage of limbs due to heavy rains. In parkland trees can be inspected frequently as they ought to be; in the small park in the Promenade Gardens, for example. It is strange to me to think that breadfruit trees were thought to be suitable for the West Indies by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew who sent a man out with Bligh to make collections of the seedlings.
Now a word about sowing seed. Ordinary seed compost ought to pass through an eight-inch sieve. It will then be fine enough to make contact with any of the seed you sow. Seed sown using fine seed compost will of course have to be sown sparingly, and will then make contact with soil as soon as they start producing roots. It is always important to assist young seedlings by getting water to them evenly and in sufficient quantity.
Probably the best way to do this is to stand the seed trays in shallow water and allow it to move upwards (by a process called capillary attraction) until the soil is wet, rather than by watering the soil and seedling from the top with a watering can. By using a watering can you can easily wash seed to one side of the tray or pot, or even miss some altogether. Very small seed can be washed away altogether by applying water too heavy-handedly. If you have a lawn and it is moist, then let me suggest that you get your garden fork and spike it thoroughly all over as deep as you can. This will help the water to go deeper and hopefully, will encourage roots to go deeper as well and give you protection from drought. And may your God go with you wherever you are in this beautiful country.