A Garden Variety Confession.
Early retirement in Colima gave me the opportunity to finally live every day with my husband, but just as importantly it also provided me with the opportunity to feed my addiction.
For this reason, I must confess; it’s a bit embarrassing and shameful, but it’s true. Here in Colima, I can satisfy my magnificent obsession on a level that I could not in Chicago.
Quite honestly, I have avoided writing about this affliction because it’s difficult to admit the painful truth that since about the age of ten…I have been addicted to…Plants. All kinds of plants. I love trees, vines and flowers.
In Chicago my growing season was limited to a pitiful three months and my plot of land was confined to my balcony.
Those poor plants suffered on a windy corner where the climate was equivalent to summer in Siberia. It was gruesome. Consequently, I was limited to a few low mosses; a couple of alpine shrubs and an occasional ivy. However, I never stopped jonesing for more. Some have described gardening as Baby Boomer/Gen-X heroin;if true, dear God hit me up!
Happiness is a flower.
Colima is a plant junkie’s paradise;it’s like unleashing an addict in the poppy fields of Oz.
Gardening is sensory overload. There is only thing that does not grow well in Colima – grass. Here I am speaking strictly about good old fashion Kentucky Bluegrass; not the other kind (wink – wink). Everything else grows like crazy. The types and varieties of plants are immense and best of all the costs are very reasonable.
First, a few of the basics.
It’s hot in Colima. It’s the only place I have experienced nasty sun burn. Bright sunny days in Colima, destroyed my delusion that dark skin would protect me from sunburn. To all of my fair skinned, red haired freckled face friends – you have my sympathy. Now I understand.
High temperatures in Colima range from about 89 degrees in the depths of winter to about 91 degrees in the height of summer. There are two distinct seasons: rainy season and dry season. The rainy season usually starts in late May and trails off by late November; the dry season lasts from December through May. It is extraordinary.
While I had read about tropical downpours and storms, I had not experienced it until I moved here. The Midwestern severe thunderstorm or occasional spring tornado pale in comparison with the rainy season daily tropical deluge in Colima.
I have seen the equivalent of white water rapids form on the streets after a quick 15 minute cloudburst. Thunderclaps are so loud and forceful that our front door and windows rattle. I became so concerned one evening that I researched whether or not thunder could shatter glass (it cannot). The winds bend trees like a slinky.
Decide on a strategy; have a plan.
Here there are vines, flowering vines, flowers, shrubs, trees, flowering trees, fruit trees, cactus, palms, orchids, topiary, bamboo and crazy stuff like this weird plant name Ponedora.
It develops seed pods that look like chicken eggs.
Don’t make the same mistake I made and try to recreate the Gardens of Versailles. I felt like a God;not a good thing. Be sure you locate and visit nurseries (Viveros) several times before making a purchase. The selection, quality and prices of plants vary greatly. In Colima / Villa de Alvarez there are four large nurseries near our home and two roadside stands. I love them all.
You can apply the restaurant rule. If there is a line of people then you can be relatively assured the nursery is decent. The nursery I patronize uses organic growing methods and the staff is very attentive and helpful. The plants are arranged into two principal areas: sun and shade.
I was overstimulated the first time I visited and bought bamboos, flowering birds of paradise, and a weird looking grass called cola de caballo (mare’s tails). I was determined to recreate an earthly paradise in my patio. After two months, nearly everything died. Fortunately my neighbor gave me some guidance and helped manage my addiction.
This is another benefit of engaging your neighbors and living in a genuine neighborhood. In addition to being an incredible painter, my neighbor, by the way, is an addict as well – a big time plant head.
My neighbor’s impact on my addiction.
I always wanted an Angel’s Trumpet tree. Chicago is too cold and too far north to grow this plant.
The first time I saw this flowering tree was as a child visiting my uncle in San Diego. Dazzled by its splendor, I wanted to have one. In fact, I needed to have one. I searched far and wide for this tree in Colima, but no one knew of “El Árbol de las Trompetas de las Angeles” as I called it.
I went to great lengths to describe it in my best Spanglish. Unfortunately, I think my interpretation came across as trumpets of Los Angeles – the city. My husband said he never heard of it.
He shrugs, “They probably only grow them in Los Angeles; we don’t have them here.” It’s one those perfunctory responses I get when no one understands my interpretation. I showed him a photograph on Google and he oohed and aahed, but the fact remained he had never seen any such plant in Colima. Sigh.
He helped me convince myself, that it wasn’t to be found here and I set aside my dream.
Gardening and Gossip.
In our neighborhood, it is customary to sweep your driveway and water plants at the end of the day. Truthfully, this is just a facade. It’s actually time to gossip about your neighbors.
Like clockwork, my neighbor Doña Ana and my husband meet up every evening to gossip about the loud people across the street or the messy lawns of our neighbors. “Did you hear the loud music last weekend?” She asks. “Yes, they are so loud, I think the husband was drunk, too,” my husband whispers.
Doña Ana leans forward and says, “When the door was open, I could see marijuana plants growing in their patio.”
“Really?” my husband gasps.
This went on for about an hour every night. Once she discovered that I was a plant addict she invited us to her patio to see all of her exotic secret treasures.
El Jardín de Eden – The Garden of Eden.
My God, she is growing a Garden of Eden. I had never seen such an array of beautiful and vibrant plants. She had water lilies and bright red feathery things – a riot of color and smells and in the middle of her patio…there it was – my tree – the Angel’s Trumpets!
“That’s it!” I pointed to the tree and exclaimed, “Trompetas de los Angeles – Brugmansia!” Carlos, gave me the side eye, I could tell he was thinking, “What the hell is he talking about, now?”
“This tree?” Doña Ana asks.
“Sí, I have been looking for this tree forever.” I say.
“Oh,” she replies, “here it is called Floripondio. They grow like weeds. I have to constantly cut the branches so that it doesn’t get too big.”
“There are so many flowers that it smells like perfume; it drives my husband crazy,” she continues.
There it was; beautiful and heaving with yellow and rose colored flowers – straight outta the Garden of Eden. I was transfixed. It was the black tar heroin of plant addiction – the best. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes.
Dreams Do Come True.
“Do you want one of these?” Doña Ana asks me.
“They have them by the side of the road near my mom’s house out in the country. I’ll bring you a couple of them.”
Did she say something to me? All I could see was a glory emanating from the tree….my tree. “Sid?” Carlos says, “You can finally have your tree…aren’t you happy?”
I was speechless. He was annoyed and nudged me. “Really, Doña Ana? You can get one of these for me?” I babbled.
“Yes, they’re cheap…I will bring you two of them.”
I hugged her.
That’s always a slight problem. I keep forgetting. I defy the stereotype of the thin, athletic gay man (think Will and Grace) . On the contrary, I am 6’2”, stocky and 240 pounds –in the US I would be called a bear; here in Colima I am Lurch from the Addams Family. I could hear her grunt as I squeezed her in a tight embrace.
I hope she was still breathing.