Well to be honest I already knew, but Hubby the Un-Gardener genuinely had no idea. He hadn’t really given it much thought, but was of the misguided understanding that they grew underground.
This time a couple of days ago (as I write) we found ourselves in a volcanic crater, on a stinking hot, yet humid day on the island of Moorea in Tahiti. It was a great time to be in a tropical climate as we managed to escape the first two weeks of winter in a style I wouldn’t mind being accustomed to.
We weren’t in the crater the whole time – but when the opportunity presents itself to go on a three hour Botanical and Agricultural Walking Tour, we jumped at the chance. Well I did and Hubby the Un-Gardener reluctantly followed along. But having said that – earlier in the day I went with him swimming with sharks and stingrays. Now why on earth would anyone willingly want to do that? He thought that about the garden tour. And for the record stingray are creepy and slimy and I did a lot of girly screaming before getting out of the water. Ordinarily I’m really very brave.
After a busy season and hectic start to the year we headed off on a 10-day cruise around Tahiti and surrounding islands. It was the perfect time as there was nothing going on in the garden – unlike the time Hubby the Un-Gardener booked a holiday during the last frost, planting out weekend one spring a few years back. Let’s just say he won’t be doing that again! Tahiti was magical. The islands are beautiful, the people are friendly and the French language made it seem even more exotic. The water is so clear and so blue, the conditions were pleasantly hot and the fellow passengers were such lovely travel companions.
Oh and the food was fabulous, all the tropical fruit and French cuisine. Except the snails. Yup I did try them, however I wouldn’t recommend snails on stormy seas – that just doesn’t go together. As much as I hate snails in my garden I wouldn’t go so far as to eat them – no matter how many Michelin stars the chef had. (For the record it was 2 and the rest of food was incredible.)
So back to the gardening stuff:
They show us everything we needed to know about vanilla. It is an orchid and takes 9 months from flower to harvest. The vanilla bean should be supple when stored correctly, so if yours is a little crispy, pop it into some sugar or alcohol.
As we wandered further into the garden we were shown many plants that I could only wish to grow. The starfruit trees were laden and the strong winds on the day I tried the snail had shaken many to the ground and it was littered with a golden hue of fragrant star shaped fruit.
The candlestick plant is such a beautiful plant with a rich yellow bloom. I can’t remember for the life of me if the guide said they were to feed the cows or if they were planted around the edge of the field because the cows wouldn’t eat them. I should have taken notes – there was so much to take in. But without the need for cows, this would make a magnificent garden feature planted in bold drifts. I need to find out if we have it here… probably not.
There were also coffee plants, breadfruit (which actually tastes of not really a lot with a starchy texture and I’m not really sure what to make of it), noni, passionfruit, bananas, papaya, lychees, grapefruit – eaten green, limes, guavas and soursop to oohh and aaahh and marvel over.
But the pineapples were quite spectacular. Fields and fields of the architecturally striking, spiky plants with a razor sharp edge to their leaves that would make harvesting these delicious fruits a task for the very brave. Pineapples are a bromeliad that grows not a lot taller than knee high from the ground. It takes about 18 months before they begin to fruit and will continue to do so for up to 8 – 10 years however which each passing harvest the fruit gets smaller and smaller. Commercially they stop growing them after 6 years.
Replacing the spent crop couldn’t be easier in the tropical climate, as like how strawberry plants grow runners, pineapple plants take care of their next generation in abundance. As the fruit develops so do small ‘pups’ around the base. Harvesting is a multitasking job as the infant plants are removed at the same time and set aside for a few days to dry out and will prevent them from rotting in the ground when planted. During this time roots begin to grow from the base of the pup where it was separated from the mother plant.
I have to say fresh pineapple, harvested ripe, and not shipped long distances, tastes incredible and sweet and only vaguely resembles what is on offer here at home. Although if you eat far too many you do get that fuzzy lip feeling, but it was worth the effort to find out just how many it takes.
And now I am back in my garden, embracing the chill of winter with half the temperature of what I’ve become acclimatised to, yet raring to go to get into the garden and plant garlic, sow onion and re-organise my strawberries and see if any frost has touched my peppers yet. It would seem the weather will indulge me by being sunny all week.
Come again soon – gardening in any weather is a good thing.
Sarah the Gardener : o)