You Can’t Always Get What You Want…But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.
Living in the DC ‘burbs, we get a little spoiled by the availability of just about anything you want. Go to Whole Foods, and you can find 20 colors of salt; go to Starbucks and you find many types of coffee and as many ways to prepare them; go to Behnke’s and you can find pretty much anything you want for your garden. Spoiled.
We were recently visiting the family’s home-away-from-home on Montserrat, one of the least of the Lesser Antilles islands of the Caribbean. With fewer than 5,000 inhabitants spread out over some 30 square miles, the selection of goods is somewhat limited.
Of course, I am always thinking of plants for the garden, and one of the things that we have been working with is screening the deck from the road. The house is on a steep slope, and the elevation of the road is above the house. We’ve planted some Areca Palms, but although they are fast-growing palms, it’s going to be a few years before they are tall enough to provide some real privacy.
We’ve been looking for some decorative pots to put on said deck for a couple of years without much success. We long for the terra cotta and ceramic pots that are piled up around Behnke’s. While taking a drive last week, I had pulled over to take a few photos from a scenic viewpoint, sort of blocking the road. As a car crept around me, I noticed that he had some big plastic urns in the back. Eureka!! Pots on the Island!! We made a beeline to Osborne’s, a building-supply store, and picked up some nice self-watering pots made in Trinidad, hoping that they hold up in the heat and sun.
Getting plants hasn’t been a problem. There is a nice nursery on the north end of the island, owned by Lorenzo Cassell. We’ve gotten some nice palms and Ixora there. We’ve also gotten nice plants from the Montserrat National Trust, which oversees historic sites, the beaches, and hiking trails among other thing. The Trust has a nice tropical plant display garden, which is always worth a visit. So: we now had pots, and we knew where to get plants. The next question was: potting soil.
I had been looking for potting soil without success. I tried the building supply stores (two); the florist; emailed the Minister of Agriculture who put me in touch with the Farmer’s Co-op…all without success. I decided I was going to have to wing it and make my own, so I met up with Map Pie, the gardener for the National Trust. The Trust sells compost, and we discussed getting a couple of bags full once he spread it out to dry. We figured I could mix the compost with sand from the river valley and come up with a mix that would drain and yet retain moisture. (Sand, gravel and rock are mined in the valley, one of the few economic benefits of the volcano; the former river and the former golf course are both buried under 30 or 40 feet of sand and rock outwash from the volcano.) “The compost will be ready Friday…no, Tuesday…probably Wednesday…we’ll call you.” I was beginning to think I wouldn’t be able to plant on this trip.
And then Map Pie said…”You know, man, you can get potting soil from Bruce Farara.” And I blinked a couple of times, trying to place the name. “Bruce Farara…the Toyota dealer.” Of course! Silly me, why didn’t I think of that???
So we drove over to Farara’s (which consists of a small office, several sea containers for storage, and about ten used Toyota SUV’s) and found out that he did indeed have big bags of potting soil in one of the sea containers!! I was in heaven. I also found out that he has dog food, cat food, diapers, microwaves and all sorts of other non-Toyota-like stuff. (“Whatever you want, I can order it!!”)
I shouldn’t be that surprised, I guess. It seems like lots of folks wear different hats on Montserrat. In addition to being the National Trust gardener, Map Pie also does hiking-trail maintenance for the Trust, and leads guided tours on the rain forest trails in his “off time.” Joe Johnson, our electrician, is also our plumber. Joe Bread replaced part of our roof, replaced our gutters, made us a new screen door, put in a new concrete slab at our entry, and made a custom picture frame. The two Joes together installed our dishwasher. Why shouldn’t the Toyota dealer also be the potting soil salesman? It all makes sense, once you start to adjust to Island life.
by Larry Hurley, Behnke horticulturist