Most definitive tropical horticulture book

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Most definitive tropical horticulture book that took years to write

In 1964 I was fifteen and my father, having just returned from a month’s expedition to the hill country of northeast Ecuador, was in the US Army, so I helped him work on the small house he had built in the steaming jungle, and that I still live in today. I helped him dig a well. That was my first introduction to tropical horticulture: the water was so murky that even in the center of the well we had to dip our buckets in, then out into the bucket again, then up into the bucket and back down. My father was meticulous in making sure every brush root, flower stem, tree limb, were all cleared from the well before digging, in case the well should become dry. You would think that I’d have more sympathy with today’s new counter culture notions of composting, vermicomposting, super composts, organic gardening, and rain barrels, but the truth is my dad would have yelled at me if I had done such a thing, and I believe he had a good reason. He had his life in the jungle. He had stories to tell and crops to nurture and would not allow anything in his plants’ garden to make it more difficult for them.

But also I had only a smattering of English and was brought up in a Chinese family in upstate New York, and in Ecuador, at that time, the only educated people in that country were Catholics, and the idea of using anything organic or even agricultural to keep the soil of any sort healthy would have horrified us. But my dad would rather walk over burning coals with a shovel full of dirt than give up his garden. It was the most organized garden I have ever seen in my life. He loved flowers. My mother didn’t.He gave himself entirely to growing the plant the Yahtzee of his life, and he did it in every conceivable way, creating well fertilized soils that brought forth beautifully balanced and bountiful flowers.

My father never ceased his manic efforts to make a garden out of the river bed of the Pacaya River, on the side of a mountain, without any assistance. He was a master gardener. His efforts can be seen at He often spent his spare time sitting by his flower garden when I was young. He would take me by the hand and gently lead me through, showing me how his flowers thrived in that difficult place where there was little soil, very little vegetation and no breeze.

He grew such fascinating plants as giant alfalfa, a variety of okra that we harvested with hands dipped into tubs of lime slush, and watermelons.

He would spend hours working in his garden, sometimes alone and sometimes with my mother, but often even when he had friends over we would spend time just looking, playing a ball game, or sitting.

On these expeditions, there were always three things I looked for: a flower, a fruit and a tree. My dad would tell me to pick the flowers, and my mother would tell me to take the fruit, and he would point out the trees and what they produced. We often climbed them to see how high they were and whether they had to be supported by a thick wall.

So I had no need to study botany, no need to memorize Latin names, no need for long trips to the botanical gardens, and no reason to go and see the snails, butterflies, bats, lizards or other animals or birds. I just sat with him in the garden. His voice and his hands took me to another world.

Growing up in that garden taught me many things, chief among them the importance of perserverence. When I was around 12, I remember the doctor in the nearby town at the time wanted to grow herbs, but his wife said that if they had to climb the tree to get the herbs they’d be crushed.“Well,” he told me, “if you want it done right, then do it yourself.”

I can only guess at how many years I sat by my father’s side in that garden, and can only say that I cannot begin to explain the feel of a good, well-fertilized garden, the feeling of contentment. It was in that garden that I learned about patience and understanding and all the rest of it that makes for a happy garden.

My dad and I would sometimes drive into the hills of Quito, especially in the rainy season, so I could watch him while he and my mother and I planted seeds. We would stay for about a week and then return to our house. I have been to many gardens on many continents. Ecuador was the first and only time I have ever seen a garden like that. And my dad was also the first gardener I ever met.

That book is


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