Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tropical Research Station and Montoso Farms...

After some disappointing trips to regular nurseries looking at ho hum regular stuff I began my quest for some unusual plants. I am a hard core gardener into the wild and weird. In Duvall, WA I had a windmill palm, hardy banana, bamboo, 2 types of kiwis, fig, passion flower, jujubee shrub, musk strawberries and much more...all stuff people in Washington usually don't see let alone grow. Our yard already has spectacular tropical fare, things I've only ever seen as houseplants, but the possibilities for a gardener such as myself are truly endless here. Besides that, with 2 acres I have an arboretum full of specimen plants already sketched out in my little mind! So the quest began with a trip to the Tropical Research Station at the University of Mayaguez so I could begin to identify the types of specimens I would like to have in my little arboretum. They have got some huge trees, many different palms and best of all lots of things are labeled with the real name. The folks sitting where you check in were very helpful and passed along some fruit info I could keep.
Then a week later Jeff, myself, our friend Toni and her neighbor/friend Lourdes all went to a true find -- Montoso Gardens! This fabulous spot specializes in Heliconias, gingers, exotic fruits, palms and bromeliads. The knowledgeable leader of our pack took us on a tour through the farm pointing out interesting species along the way and answering many questions I had. He recommended a book I had already seen but not gotten yet (I have it now) called Arboles fruitales exoticos y poco conocidos en Puerto Rico by Juan Rivero and Bryan Brunner (Montoso Gardens owner). The book is in Spanish, but is set up like all plant books with mature size, spread, years to fruiting etc and is a great inspiration for me to learn more Spanish! After the tour I bought a few things and am plotting which things to get next! The Gardens are only 4 miles above our house in Maricao, but it is at least 45 minutes and an elevation gain of 1000 feet. I forget the exact name of the Heliconia below, but it is something like Rostata or something, an absolute must even though it is one of the more common ones they had. I love that color scheme and it is flashy and big and bright! Below that is a consideration for the area near our gate. When Toni and Lourdes missed our house someone told them to go to where the coconut trees and garbage can are...that just won't do. I'd rather be located by "go to the really weird thorny tree trunk - they live up there!"

Here's our little group with pack leader David Brunner on the left, myself, Lourdes, Toni and Jeff is taking the photo. Back to the thorny tree - it was a scary, thorny, evil looking way cool tree! It might be hard to have in the front though due to pruning issues. While it is small it could be difficult to weed whack around and open and close the gate. Back to the drawing board.

The photo below is at the research station with Jeff in front of a huge palm. We actually
have room for things of this size and I will have to really plan distances between things now that I see their full potential. I have also figured out that I can stick a stick in the ground and it will have leaves in a week as long as there is rain - things really grow here. The plan is to plant specimen things, and then more understory type plants once the main plant creates a little shade.
Here's Jeff holding a machete bean from the tree behind him. I forget the machete bean story but remember the name since it is a cool one. Look at Jeff and that bean - he looks so natural.

This photo is another "must have," it was a King Kong Heliconia. The flower was about 20 inches long, furry, and the little hairs were really soft! Maybe it was the she - Kong, I'm sure, but a "gotta have it" for sure. It is on the Montoso website under pendulous heliconias.

Here is another Heliconia. There are many many color combinations, styles, sizes etc. Expect a Heliconia book from Bryan soon!

Look at the fur! I just love nature.

This is one of the purchases we made - a Cannonball Tree! It gets to be 100 feet tall and gets these odd gourd-like fruits on it. The flowers smell heavenly and look like really big orchids. The balls grow on the trunk which is divine and interesting. Ours of course is a little pencil right now but it will be bigger soon, and is in a prominent spot as you come up the driveway. Out of all the things we saw this is the one that Jeff was most interested in!

This is the other purchase we made. These are beehive ginger flowers. The flowers start out gold and as they mature turn red. The more sun there is the redder they get. I've decided to conquer an 80 degree slope by terracing a few of these in. Once they create shade a ground cover will go in and our hill will be transformed! They get to be 6-8 feet tall. Many Heliconias and gingers get taller than that. I got three which are staggered on the slope. Can't wait until they bloom! A tree on my list is rambutan and another is mangosteen. We are clearing areas a small bit at a time so we can maintain them planting as we go. All in all very exciting and I recommend trips to both spots!

2 comments: said...

Those are all so cool! I too love weird and wonderful plants, and was going to plant kiwis this summer but the nursery was out of them. They are on my list for sure, and I will have to see if they have some of your other WA plants too! :) I know I couldn't get any of these wonders!

Anonymous said...

Jeff and Katrina,

Thanks for sharing those photos, they are amazing! Here is a link to a page with a couple of trees that you will learn to recognize in a few months when they start blooming.

The flamboyan produces machete beans as well. There is a blue flamboyan (very rare) at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez. There are yellow ones as well, I have seen them going up to Isabela on Route 2.

I don't know if you like ferns, but there is a giant variety that grow up in the mountains of PR where they get plenty of rain and grow taller than people.

Good luck with your new plants/trees, I know they will do great!

H Jr.