Monday, April 14, 2008

heliconia madness

Heliconia madness
The east garden is almost purely ornamental, mostly bromeliads and heliconias, a delightful pond with lilies and lotus, two big trees draped with epiphytes, bromeliads and orchids. The weather in the last 10 days has wrecked havoc on the land – a week of hot sun with no rain then a night and day of heavy rain with wind. Half the heliconias are bent over under the weight of flowers and leaves, beaten down with rain. I spent 6 hours working through the beds with my clippers removing leaves, cutting stalks, trying to decide which flowers to leave for the hummingbirds. The flowers last for weeks and weeks gradually turning into mini ecosystems of their own as each flower fills with water and old vegetation and becomes home to mosquito larvae and tadpoles. Further down, or up, the stalk the younger flowers still provide nectar for hummers and bees. I hate to cut a flower which is still active and productive. And yet they were in a sorry state. Each stalk produces a flower, once the flower finishes the stalk dies – when one cuts the flower one should cut the stalk. The flower lies below three or four leaves and oftentimes we cut the leaves above – both to alleviate the weight on the stalk and to see the flower. Usually there is only one leaf below the flower. In my cutting yesterday I removed so many leaves to reduce the weight on the stalks that in some places they no longer look like plants but a storage area for Chinese lanterns. From a distance it’s spectacular, but up close looks shorn and sad. I will have to pay more attention to the beds here. It’s interesting, I enjoy the beauty and the openness of this garden but I haven’t really connected with the plants here. I spend most of my work time raking and weeding and presuming the flowers will take care of themselves, but yesterday showed me otherwise.
I was rewarded in my work with three beautiful encounters. There’s a hummingbird nest in a young guabo tree on a limb which reaches out over the river. One day I’ll have a camera that can take good pictures from a distance. The nest is immaculate, 2/3rds the size of my fist and very round. It’s so well put together it looks like a growth on the tree as though a limb had fallen off and lichen and moss had covered the stump. It’s a patchwork of liverwort and bright moss. So pretty. I watched as a parent (I think a Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer) fed two young. The little ones were ½ the size of my thumb and had orange beaks. It’s quite something to maneuver those long beaks in a small nest.
The second experience was with a lizard in the smallest cherry tree. I saw his tail from the corner of my eye and thought it was a snake, so long, perhaps 3 times as long as his body. I’ve never seen his kind before – he had eye sockets like a chameleon, but the eyes were smaller and heavily lidded. He had no back crest or ridge, but a frill between his jaw and chest. He was striped like an iguana, but subtly in lichen and green. He had 5 regular lizard toes, long and thin. When I first saw him his body was long and sleek but when I approached him he seemed to swell up, become shorter and extended his crest. I say he though I have no proof, I could see no sex, just a flap below his tail, but he did have a nice frill, so I think he was male. He moved like a mantis – slowly back and forth mimicking the movement of wind amongst leaves. Oftentimes he did not use his back legs but allowed them to hang there while he pulled himself forwards with the front. I couldn’t see any muscles moving as he went with those two skinny forearms pulling all his weight. His tail was grey unlike the green of his body. Looking in the book later I think he was a canopy lizard, but can’t say for sure, the book isn’t so very thorough.
The third was in the bed behind the pond and I almost cut him in two seeing him just at the last minute before I closed my clippers. He was a tree frog but not the spectacularly coloured varieties of the postcards. He was like a dead leaf, his body so flat yet textured with ridges and crinkles. His feet were camouflaged so well that I could barely tell what was him and what was heliconia stem. He had bumps and points on his head and the most startling eyes, big cream and marbled with dark brown. The slits were vertical. He was fairly broad but very flat, almost rectangular shaped and so still – the only movement was a very rapid and visible heartbeat below his ample jaw. He wasn’t in the book, no matter he was wonderful.