November 23, 2008


Serenity, originally uploaded by vicequeenmaria.

When I took Fairchild's architecture class (more on that, coming soon), I learned so much about the garden's architect, William Lyman Phillips. Did you know, he also designed Matheson Hammock, Miami-Dade county's first official park? You don't really think of parks as places you "design" but just look at this photo. There is a vista, beyond the atoll, of eternity. He must've known that when he designed the enclosed pool with the palm trees in the background.

Actually the row of palms in between Fairchild and Matheson (they are adjacent properties) are supposed to tie in the entire landscape in this area of Biscayne Bay.

Matheson Hammock is a very special Miami place that everyone can enjoy. Can you believe that on the other side of this photo is the Miami skyline? It's really an urban oasis.

Living Poetry of Plants

cycad Encephalartos gratus Zamiaceae, female, collected from Malawi, on the property of the Center for Tropical Plant Research. Cycads are really fascinating ancient plants, related to conifers.

On Friday morning, my spirit shifted into a beautiful place by the simple observation of plants and the tenaciousness of life.

Surrounded by cycads, the world’s most ancient plants, right here, practically in my own back yard, was the incredible feeling of “I am complete somehow.” I could taste the salt air of Biscayne Bay on my skin and the fact that the predecessors of these plants had been around for millions of years.

Can you imagine breathing in that incredible air? Filling your lungs not only with oxygen but some living poetry? We have it down here, in Florida for sure – ancient creatures, like crocodiles and cycads. Once you tune into that cycle of nature, the breathing of the tides in the bay, the musky scent of mangroves in low tide, the lilac sunsets -- you have a real, primeval Florida that can inspire you beyond that concrete jungle and expressway tangle.

And which makes me think, this is no shallow place at all, but a place so deep -- even though you can barely dig 15 feet beneath the limestone to find water – but in spite of that you can dig and dig and never really find that treasure of El Dorado.

For me treasure is not gold, but love. And I guess plants bring me closer to this pure energy, more than anything else ever has -- total unconditional love -- love that is just present and beyond the ego.

Maybe we are all in our own little ways a little bit like Ponce de Leon looking in Florida for some fountain of youth, but maybe we should be looking for a fountain of love.

These cycads are not native to South Florida. They came here as the result of exploration and planted at the behest of Colonel Montgomery, the founder of Fairchild. Exploration is at the bottom of all this -- Fairchild was the Indiana Jones of tropical plants. Now, I can't say for sure which plant is attributed to whom-- but this is besides the point, the point is -- someone went somewhere to bring it here -- and this is precisely the spirit of tropical plant conservation that is still going on today. This passion for the plants, this passion to conserve them from extinction in our crazy world today, is the driving force behind all of this.

But let's forget the historical romance ... let me get back to my moment. Today, these cycads are thriving locally. They have not only made a century’s old journey across continents but also a genetic journey of a million years or more … is that not amazing?

And what's more, why can’t people make the same journey – together?

If I describe what I felt last Friday morning, surrounded by these ancient trees in the chill air of a cold front – I would call it pure and simple love – a love based on compassion. Being surrounded by these ancient trees brought out something in me that compelled me to an analogy, a bigger picture, something beyond me yet part of me: we are so much like plants, going through our cycles, flowering, withering and renewing.

Was it not some kind of love that planted these things in the first place?

And the most moving thing of all among these Jurassic plants was the sense of community … none of them exist in a vacuum. We depend on each other, like it or not, to thrive. We need the same soil, the same pollinators, to survive. Actually, this is a good metaphor for social media – the garden.

So it was with no surprise that while volunteering back at the nursery -- a greenhouse technologically designed to imitate the environment of a rain forest -- we found a corn snake while repotting a pineapple.

I knew then that this was a kind of Garden of Eden for me, among the slippery mud and muck of the floor, among the humidity, sweat and dirt-soaked fingers of my hands, I had found my own little paradise.

corn snake pineappleOops! This corn snake really didn't want to leave its nice warm, humid pot. You think it's hot and humid in Florida? Those special plants inside the nursery need even more heat and humidty!

FYI ... (sorry, this is the fact-checking journalist in me) Montgomery Botanical Center is located right behind the Center for Tropical Plant Conservation neither of which are open to the public. Mind you, I get to go as a volunteer. As far as I know, both institutions are not currently legally/technically related, though historically it was Colonel Montgomery who founded Fairchild. I know I said I would take a break from writing, and I have ... much catching up to do. But I was so inspired by this moment that I could not help but share and hope it will inspire readers to go to Fairchild, because it is truly something so unique to South Florida and related to the rest of the tropical plant world across the globe.

November 13, 2008

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary ...

Me in the fruit pavilion, as happy as can be. I'm always so happy in this place.

... how does your garden grow?

Some personal issues I have to deal with are keeping me from blogging. I hope to be back very soon with some posts about the wonderful classes I've taken and everything I've learned, not to mention the regular volunteer work I've done at Fairchild recently. There is so much I'm eager to share with you; I've taken volumes of notes and my appreciation for Fairchild and South Florida's gardening community has only grown deeper ... no pun intended!

It really is so truly historically rich ... I'm amazed and love this place all the more.

I just need a wee bit of time off from writing to take care of some things on the home front, but it actually pains me to not have the time/energy to write about something I love so much. I imagine this is how a tree would feel when it can't bear fruit!

Oh well. Patience, right? It's all about growing and seasons ... you see, you learn much about life when you work with plants.

Anyway, that being said, I suppose I don't have to remind readers that now with the nicer weather and all is a beautiful time to start enjoying Fairchild, Old Cutler, Matheson Hammock ...

Please stop by Fairchild's site. It's an excellent resource with info galore. Also, read my friend Doug's post on Old Cutler too. You need to take Old Culter to get to Fairchild. To me this is the most beautiful place in Miami. Hope you can enjoy it too. So much of South Florida history is tied to this special area by the bay.

So while I take my break, make sure you connect to nature in whatever way that is available to you. No harm can be done when we each take time every day to relate to nature, breathe and connect with that grounding energy of plants.

November 1, 2008

Vanilla Orchid

Vanilla Orchid, originally uploaded by vicequeenmaria.

These Vanilla planifolia cuttings from the nursery were transplanted inside the fruit pavilion recently. The vanilla orchid is both terrestial and arboreal; it has roots in the ground and in the air. As you can see, it's climbing exceedingly well inside the warm and humid environment that will hopefully help it produce some seed pods. Right next to these orchids (not pictured here) are two Theobroma cacao trees. Yes, you guessed it: chocolate growing right next to vanilla!

Vanilla is one of my favorite flavors and aromas. To me, it evokes warmth, comfort and sensuality. It's such a common ingredient in so many foods; next time you detect its rich scent, remember it comes from the tropics.

What's your favorite vanilla food or memory?