Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Whilst friends in the north are busy gathering in their harvests, preparing gardens for winter and eagarly awaiting the arrival of seed catalogues, which they will mull over in front of the fire with a steaming cuppa, we in the tropics have no such defined rest period.

Moon phases, anticipated hurricanes and the possibility of drought aside, we soldier on all year round.

A bonus - we can continue to plant and grow in a seemingly endless cycle of mango season,  avocado season, citrus season and so on, with the few stalwarts like bananas, which continue to produce ceaselessly - green gold indeed (as they came to be known in the boom days of St Lucian banana growing, before changes in EU trading agreements with Andean and Central American growers pulled the proverbial rug from under them - but that's a whole other story for another time).

What to grow within limited space, and within limited time available each day to spend nurturing seedlings and saplings? For one downside of living within the Tropic of Cancer, are the comparatively shorter days to my fellow gardeners living beyond. We have pretty much equal day and night, both summer and winter with a slight variation of about one hour between the seasons. No gardening well into evening for me, as I did in my previous gardens, especially in the North of England during the summer months.

Local Lucian folk grow produce for nourishment, pleasure and even pain.  I have vivid memories of my own Grandmother, who sadly passed away at the grand old age of 103 in 2003 (fulfilling her personal quest to outlive the Queen Mother, albeit by a slim margin), and her arrray of "special ingredients" that she kept in her kitchen - a veritable nature's pharmacy.  Dried ginger root for tummy ache and period pain; cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves for colds and toothache;  bay leaves, rosemary, lavender for headaches, dizziness and fainting; and pawpaw (papaya) seeds for diarrhea .....and so the list goes on and on.  The one item that I cannot recall what it was used for (or perhaps never knew) was the ever present dried skin from pomegranates that hung on a hook beside the dried citrus peel - perhaps someone out there knows and could enlighten me? 

The practice of making use of such items has come full circle and we see these ingredients, alongside echinachea, aloe vera, noni and of course coconut water, which now enjoys the status of 'magic elixir', join mainsteam products on the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies all over the world, readily available and accepted by the masses as the norm. However, when I was growing up, it all sounded rather weird and slightly bonkers, though we could not argue with the fact that these remedies seemed to work rather better than any doctor's medicine.

So, my Physic Garden already includes ginger, rosemary, basil, sage, aloe vera and mint and the pomegranate trees are planted.  I will continue to search for other magical ingredients as I go along - all in the quest for growing produce to bring pleasure and alleviate pain.

Which brings me to my final point.  This week, I engaged two gentlemen from the country to come and slash and burn the all-pervading elephant grass in the lower garden that will become the vegetable plot.
"You got rosemary" said the younger of the two, as we passed the herbs.
"Yes", said I, "it's very good for headaches and cooking too".
"It makes good poison" he says, in matter-of-fact way.
"Poison" says I, "poison for what?"
"To poison people" he says, and continues to walk on down the garden..........