We moved to this property in the foothills of El Yunque National Rainforest with very little to the house and the land. The acre we live on was just cut grass with a few trees struggling after Hurricane Maria. I can say that the jungle is strong, fast growing, and resilient. Much of my time in the beginning was spent cutting grass that grew inches overnight and to heights of 4-6 feet if you turned around too long. With a weed wacker and a mower in hand, I dressed in full coverage with eye and face protection because it is that insane. I wanted to not have to cut as much grass, especially on the hills. I came from Chicago where everyone was eager to get rid of grass and have prairies in their yards. Here, not much gardening was happening. Nurseries and plants in stores were poorly, if at all, labeled. No real resources existed, besides neighbors. So, I turned to them, the internet, and a few gardening in the Caribbean or Tropical India books that I could find.
So started the planting. Red ginger was the first plant that caught my eye. My neighbor up the road (who, by the way, gardens and pulls vines most days of the week and has a beautiful established garden of 17 years) gave me “babies” from her plants, as well as a slew of heliconias she had growing in her yard. I planted the gingers on the first slope and the heliconias where I thought they would be ok to run. I waited, and I filled in the spots in between with hibiscus, Mexican petunia, spider lilies, gardenia, canna (which is near impossible to find here, few bags at Costco and some seed from Parkseed), caladiums (also, only available at Costco at certain times if you are lucky), coleus (some great ones I got just recently from my leatherback turtle patrol leaders), ti (varieties coming from friends), and orange cosmos (which I love because it reseeds and just is cheerful).
I finally feel that this area is coming into its essence. Three and a half years in and the plants are full and flowering. It took at good year and a half for things to even really take root and start growing more leaves. Surprising, but I am glad they did. We are moving back to Illinois in a few weeks. I sit out and look at the once vacant slopes, and I now see them filled with hummingbirds, tropical birds, bees, butterflies and a multitude of blooming and full plants. I know that I have left this spot better than I found it. That is worth it to me.