Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Warm thoughts and cool plants

Temperatures plunged back below zero overnight in Victoria.  It seemed like a good time to scroll back through the images from November in Merida. I swear that just daydreaming about the place makes it easier to get through the winter here.

Meeting Juanita in person was a highlight of the fall trip. We initially connected through a remarkable series of coincidences. Like us, she and husband Jan lived in Victoria before making the move to Merida. Their names came up while I was researching my recent article about Victorians making their homes in Mexico. That same day Juanita happened upon this blog and sent me a note. Things came together and we had a great chat over Skype. Her words stuck with me long after our conversation. I completely identified with her memories of layering up against the grey chill of Victoria winters. I admired their courage, letting go of the familiar life they had built here, and starting over in a new country.

When we got together, Juanita invited me to join her on a short jaunt to the charming village of Cholul, just beyond the city's northern edge. We made a stop at a vivero, or plant nursery. The plant selection is a nothing like the nurseries  in Canada. One plant's leaves were so enormous that Juanita looked like a pixie standing next to it.

I had been anticipating but also slightly dreading my first visit to one of these roadside tropical plant emporiums. I have been a slightly obsessed amateur gardener for years, always collecting new and strange things, with diversions into succulents and evergreens and groundcovers, grasses and bamboos. I've tried native plant gardening, xeriscaping, zonal denial, edible landscaping, gardening on pavement. Each spring I'd line up early outside the local "plantaholics" sales with friends, feeling the dizzy rush of adrenaline and craving as the gates opened.

In the past couple of years, in a concession to time constraints and sore joints, most of those plants were dug up and given away. Surprisingly, I haven't really missed them. I'm forgetting their Latin names. Househunting in Merida, I deliberately looked for a smallish lot to keep the garden maintenance to a minimum. I was thinking of an expanse of gravel and maybe a bougainvilla/bugambilia and one or two other tough specimens.

Our side trip to the vivero definitely shows this will be a hard resolution to keep.Juanita pointed out a particularly prized variety of palm in one of the crowded displays - and I immediately found myself wanting it, needing it.


  1. As a fellow northerner, I understand your fascination with the viveros here in Yucatán. They are amazing places, and soooo different from what we grew accustomed to in our home latitudes.

    I have a lot of palms. When you get back here, I will give you one.

  2. Thanks Marc! I would love to take up your offer but I don't think I can provide the necessities of life for any plants at the house just yet. Soon, I hope to set up a little irrigation system with a timer to keep things alive when I'm not there.
    You have an awesome garden, judging from your photos.

  3. I understand trying to ween yourself by reducing lot size. We're trying to liquidate 100 acres of farmland so we can trade it for a modest winter home in Merida. And we're getting closer, but still have some distance yet to go.

    We found a cute spot we like: very small yard — but well planted with greenery — sadly, the deal is stalled, perhaps permanently. Trying to garden in such tiny quarters would probably be good for containing my excesses. Is that what they mean by "container growing?" (My current organic garden is at least a quarter acre, but I garden with a friend who has a roadside stand for our overage.) I think I'm more than ready for growing tomatoes in buckets! But, as we intend to remain NoB for summers, the addiction to grander growing will likely remain for a time.


  4. One of the great things about many of the houses in Merida is that it is possible to grow really lush and beautiful tropical plants in a very small area, such as between the walls and terrace or pool. I have even seen photos of fairly large palms growing in planters. And, from what I can tell, it doesn't take long to have a mature garden. Can hardly wait!

  5. I just found your blog. We live in Langley, BC and are moving to Merida this summer. I lived in Louisiana 33 years and so I'm excited about getting into tropical gardening again. Your pictures from the vivero left me breathless and weak in the kness! I'd love to communicate with you off blog. ~Gail at syrphidae2007atyahoo.com

  6. Hi Eric, your northern "rancho" seems like a heavenly place to spend summers out in the garden. I hope the snag over the Merida house you found gets resolved. Our house was tied up in uncertainty for six months before the sale could proceed, because of discrepancies over the property boundaries. I remember wondering and sometimes doubting if we'd ever get it. Good luck.

  7. John and Alan, I could tell you have the gardening bug too. Thanks for sharing that terrific article on Yucatan plants and trees on your blog the other day, I learned quite a few things. Looking forward to learning about your plans for your own lush tropical garden, as I detected a hint that you've indeed found your dream house.

  8. Welcome Gail, thanks for visiting. Can't wait to hear about your plans and to share what scant knowledge I've gained so far about Merida. I'm sure you'll find this a very warm place, in terms of its residents as well as its tropical climate. And the plants are awesome.

  9. Hi Debbie, thanks for the warm welcome. We are in BC only on temporary visas. We are excited about living at sea level in Merida. We've been at altitude in Michoacan since 2005 and although it's not a problem for the vast majority, unfortunately it hasn't worked out for me. We love the mountains and will miss them very much, but we're excited to try out life in Merida. Hope to meet up with you there one day!~Gail