Like many of you, the last few years have been quiet on the travel front. My girlfriend, her family and I have a tradition of going to Mexico every year around the holidays, at the end of my landscaping season, which hasn’t been possible for a long time. Don’t go thinking that I dislike our Canadian winter; I love it! In fact, if I were offered the opportunity to spend my winters in the south, I would prefer to stay here in Quebec and enjoy some snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. But I also like to get away from it all and discover the fauna and flora of other regions. Not to mention the local culture!
I must admit that I was very happy to find again the warmth and the generosity of the people of the Yucatan Peninsula. This year, we spent some time in the small fishing village of El Cuyo. Located a few hours drive from Cancún, El Cuyo is on a narrow strip of land (more like sand), squeezed between the Gulf of Mexico and the lagoons of the Ría Lagartos Nature Reserve.
The Gardens of Yucatan
Although there are 74 km of beaches, I prefer fishing and exploring to sunbathing. So I sometimes left my girlfriend on the seashore to satisfy my desires. I spent a whole day on a real fishing boat with William May and his crew, real local fishermen, and I brought back some nice catches that the family ate for dinner. The pride of the hunter-gatherer!
I also went to explore the gardens of the village of El Cuyo. I’m not talking about public gardens, but rather small spaces that, like us, the people of the village, fill with greenery or leave to nature. I soon realized that what unites these gardens are certain plants, typical of the area, either because they are indigenous or simply because they are available in garden centers.
How would you like to bring a bit of the Mexican coast to your garden? I’ve chosen a few of these plants to create a Yucatecan corner in your garden. Of course, these are not cold-hardy plants. In some of our regions, they’ll have to spend the winter indoors. I also based my choices on the availability of these plants in garden centers or online. And no, coconut trees are not on the list since it’s very difficult (but not impossible) to grow them without a lot of heat and humidity.
I’m not talking about the blue agave (Agave tequilana), indigenous to western and central Mexico, and the main ingredient of tequila, the national drink. Walking through the streets of the village, I discovered sisals (Agave sisalana) in the medians at the foot of the coconut trees. This agave, with its long blue-green serrated leaves, is probably native to the Yucatan Peninsula or the state of Chiapas, but it’s also cultivated and naturalized throughout the world. Until the 1970s, its fiber was used to make twine and it’s still used today as a construction material or in crafts, among other things.
No, you probably won’t be able to find sisals in Canada, but maybe in Europe or in some American states. In any case, do you really want an agave with prickly leaves 2 meters high and wide in your living room? However, there’s a wide range of mini-agaves available on the market here. Find out more in Julie Boudreau’s article Loving Mini Agaves.
Here are some practical guidelines in case you decide to adopt an agave. In general, they prefer bright light, but tolerate dry air. Use a draining or cactus and succulent potting soil, which you’ll let dry between waterings. In fact, it’s best to reduce watering in winter when growth slows. An all-purpose fertilizer can be added during the growth period. Repotting is done in the spring; you can leave an agave in a small pot to slow down its growth if needed. It’s also normal for dry leaves to accumulate under the rosette. You just have to remove them.
My walk also brought me across a few species of palm trees, but mostly it was the Chamaedorea cataractarum, commonly known as Cat palm.
This small palm tree native to southern Mexico, including the Yucatan, appears to have no trunk and forms clumps 2 to 3 meters wide on the outside. It is used as an informal hedge because of its tendency to spread out, which allows it to root better and thus protect itself against the movement of water during floods. Its 4 or 5 erect leaves measure up to 2 m long, 1 m when grown indoors.
Although it’s a very resistant palm tree outdoors, the cat palm can suffer from dry air when grown in our homes. But it’s best to let its soil dry out slightly between waterings. Fertilize with half the recommended amount of all-purpose fertilizer during the growing season. Since there are usually several specimens in each pot at the time of purchase, it can be multiplied by separating them. Otherwise, the cat palm is produced by seed.
This palm, common in the 1970s, is harder to find now. If you can’t find it commercially, the more popular and easy-to-grow Majesty Palm (Ravenea rivularis) will give your patio a tropical feel in the summer, as well as greening your home in the winter.
You may already have some variety of dracena at home. If not, you must have seen them in public spaces such as offices or businesses. The reason for their popularity is simple: they tolerate the harsh conditions of our buildings, with little light and humidity. Some species are even said to be indestructible.
The first of these plants that I noticed in the landscapes of El Cuyo is the snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (Dracaena trifasciata), especially the Laurentii variety, with its green leaves streaked with dark green and yellow margin. It’s used in many ways: on its own, as a low hedge, to hide unwanted elements, in containers, etc. Its foliage contrasts particularly well with the omnipresent sand in the village.
I also spotted several green and white variegated Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans) that were over 5 feet tall. This dracena is easy to find and is easily grown indoors. These two varieties are native to Africa, but have been naturalized in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Although I didn’t see a Madagascar dragon tree (Dracaena marginata) on my expedition, I have one in my bedroom that lulls me to sleep each night and would be right at home in this type of garden.
All three types of dracenas tolerate low light, but much prefer more light. They will love spending time outdoors in the summer. They also accept dry air, but again, a moist atmosphere is best. Let their potting soil dry out between waterings. Snake plants can even go several weeks or even months without water during its resting period. For this reason, a draining potting soil is preferable, as these plants tend to rot if watered too much. In addition to adding an exotic touch to your terrace in summer, these are easy to grow indoor plants for your home.
I’ll be back next week with more suggestions for adding a touch of the Yucatan to your yard as well as some landscaping elements! Until then, hasta luego amigos!