Sunday, August 16, 2009

Travel in Guatemala

Mike in the greenhouse has a saying, “Everything is a perennial somewhere.” (The corollary is “Perennial does not mean eternal,” but that is a topic for another day.) This was really brought home to me last month when I spent a week in Guatemala with my dad and the Bend, OR area Habitat for Humanity group building houses.

Guatemala shares its northern border with Mexico and its southern border with El Salvador. In the 90s many US companies had textile plants in several Central American countries sewing garments. These business have now moved elsewhere in the search for cheaper labor and their economies have really suffered. Our build site was in the western highlands town of Quetzaltenango, which means “place of the quetzal,” their national bird and name of their currency. Their were about 15 people in our group. My dad, Fred, was the oldest participant at 78 and the youngest was 16. It was a great group of people and we were able to shave about a week off the normal time it would take to finish these very basic concrete block houses.

But, back to the plants...
One of my favorite tropical plants is Tibouchina urvilleana or Princess Flower. It has masses of purple flowers and velvety leaves. It is zoned 10-11 so it does not winter over here in Crystal Lake, IL. Mike and I have both tried to over winter it indoors. It makes it to January or February and then croaks. Naturally they thrive in Guatemala where I saw it planted in many town parks and plazas and about 5' tall.

Impatiens (shade) and pentas (sunny and attracts butterflies and hummingbirds) are used as annual bedding plants here. There they can winter over from one season to the next and get the size of small shrubs. I saw a New Guinea Impatiens with stems the size of your thumb. I will say there is a tradeoff. None of these were blooming in years 2 and more the way they do in year 1. I don’t know if this was because they weren’t getting fertilized or if they were just “fatigued” and needed a good pruning.

Another plant I saw reach its full potential was croton. Ann Larson sells these in the interior plantscape department. They have large yellow/bronze foliage and make a great house or office plant. I have seen them used in the borders at the Boston Public Garden to great effect. In Guatemala they were as big as small trees. Unbelievable.

Finally, because I know Lori will be thrilled to know that someone loves irisine, I saw it everywhere– in the median strip of large boulevards, at highway interchanges, everywhere where no one wanted to spend a lot of time on maintenance proving another favorite saying “Every plant has its place.”