Nibbling at the Edges

Staring at the formless void of the entire job, my husband looked a bit bleak. I had spent hours imagining various landscaping ideas. But as our friend Bill Salomon said of housebuilding, in the end, it builds itself. Form follows function. One day at a time, Poco a poco. Whatever.

We decided on two driveways; one upper one lower. The bottom entrada needed a ramp, so we made one using a bulldozer. That created the need for two retaining walls.  “Huh, that looks messy and if water comes down that gully it will erode the driveway. Bet some rocks would help.”

The first one I built myself, laying one rock on top of the other, puzzling out how they fit together solidly until somehow it became a sitting height wall. Then we backfilled it and started planting.

Francelin looked at it, smiled kindly, or maybe smirked,  and started making more walls where earth might otherwise slide or an edge needed tidying.  Needless to say, his are much finer than mine, especially since he can maneuver rocks weighing  more than he does with the delicacy and precision of a Japanese netsuke master, using only his hands and a large baretta.

I walked in one day and there where there had been only a weeded slope was a tidy little bench terrace. So I filled it with walking iris, succulent flowering sedum, and pineapple plants. Then we put in a massive dry rock wall to hold the driveway, and it seemed logical to terrace and put in a bed to use the earth that had been between the rocks.  The place that is windiest seems a good place for lavender, but further in, I need to start some things to eat, like kale and lettuce, and then there need to be some things to hold the slope, and my friend has some coffee plants that a client is ripping out, that are bigger than mine. A jump start on having our own coffee. So bit by bit the area around the road in is taking shape.

Thanks to photographer Gloria Davis

Semillas and Hijos

Semillas are seeds, but the top of a pineapple is a semilla, because you strip off the bottom inch of leaves and plant it. Some people here say you can only plant the small side shoots that occasionally appear on pineapples, like a pineapple with two or even five little tops on it. I have never seen them in the US, so perhaps they are removed before shipping.

Ok so abandoning the zapallo/pumpkin as cover crop idea at least amongst the bananas. The coffee I seeded last year is ready to be interplanted, and pumpkins would drown them. Plus I am putting in pineapples. I spent the morning planting pineapples from scavenged semillas along the edge of our most dramatic vegetable garden-dizzying cliffside river view. Some say the tops are all you need; others say only the small extra shoots on the tops of the pineapples are any good. My semi controlled experiment is going. I lifted a particularly miserable looking one I planted last week and the roots are just started, so I stuck it back.
My friend Annemiek showed up on her motorcycle and walked around with me looking at the various projects, then whizzed off and returned with a bag of cuttings which we stuck in along the terrace garden behind my rock wall- as opposed to the superior rock walls made by Francelin Tacuri, our man of all work. I love people who love working.
She is pulling out some healthy mature coffee plants for a client and I wondered if they could be transplanted if they are that big. It would give us a jump on the homegrown coffee dream we have.

Pedasos are cuttings, or “pieces.” Here the climate is so perfect that if you stick a piece of a plant in the dirt during the rains, it will grow. It’s magic.

That’s how we grow our living fences, the cercas. Ours is made of the 1-2 inch thick branches that are trimmed off mature fences made of porotillos. Porotillos are leguminous- pea family- and have bright red flowers and scarlet beanlike seeds. They are much favored by hummingbirds.

Everybody in the world probably knows you can stick a coleus in a bottle of water and it will root, and of course succulents are unsurprising that way, but here I just make a hole in the earth with a piece of rebar I keep on hand, and slip in a cutting and keep it watered for a few days. All kinds of marvelous flowers work that way. Golden Glow, Frangipani, crotons, ciruelas, Joshua trees, poinsettia. There are less exceptions than not. I have been told Bougainvillia is impossible, although I did root one in a wine bottle. We will try with Rootone, which is generally unknown here. I am told that a slurry of germinated and fermented lentils will work.

But first you have to make the beds, and we have about the rockiest soil I have ever seen…..

Letters Home


Today I picked up rocks and piled them for an hour, then walked around planting cuttings of some kind of pretty sedum and also some croton and a lovely vine that grows huge and has big blue trumpets. Then I went to check on Francelin, who had cleared an area under the faique trees right by the river. He was throwing the rocks off the cliff when I saw that there was a sort of topography that we could line the rocks along and make some irregularly shaped terraces. We had it roughed out in under an hour and it looked magical. It was just about quitting time and we were discussing what to do the next day. I was remembering the enormous spreading avocado tree at the Rendez Vous B and B in Vilcabamba, so I said we should plant a big avocado tree. Francelin thought a mango would be better for shade. I decided we should plant a non-grafted mango, one that will grow to full size. Francelin reminded me that it would be years before we saw fruit, but we have plenty of room to plant grafted trees, and I have a pit-grown sapling ready to go. I said, let’s plant that one, and it can fruit after we are dead. They get as big as an oak. Who would eat the fruit, he asked, your kids? I don’t know, I hope so, but I hope it will someday be an enormous dark green tree covered in sweet rosy mangoes.



All I really need is for the river to allow me two trucks and a bulldozer. Maybe three trucks. I need gravel (grava) and coarse sand (arena gruesa) for the foundation of the toolhouse, and fine sand (arena fina) to mix mortar. My bricks will be fired in ten days, says my ladrillero, so no rush on the fine sand, says the maestro. I say rush, as the river may abate on a day that the road is blocked by a landslide, or the bulldozer operator has a toothache, or there is a week-long fiesta. The bulldozer has to carry all of our leftover supplies from building the pumphouse up to the bodega site, and tidy up all the mess at the site.  After that all the bulldozer has to do is flatten a few areas, push a few piles of rocks, and dig out some terraces.

All it has to do, say I, with desperate optimism. Actually I am pretty nervous about the terraforming. The topography of the land is rather lovely, but it doesn’t hold the water long enough, so the objective of the bulldozing is to help with permaculture, but without wanton destruction and burying of topsoil.  There are two driveways; one at the bottom and one at the top. The rock piles from the building of the road present the first dilemma. Either they should be shoved over to the boundary fence, which is made up of live young porotilios, for eventual use on a stone boundary wall, or they should be pulled down to the next level to broaden the top of the hill. The downside of the first option is that I may hurt the porotilios, which were planted last year and will be a live fence, in order to plan for a stone wall that I may never get around to. The downside to the second option is that the breadth I add to the top of the hill may need years to stabilize, and may just be a big mess. I’d like the top of the hill to be a possible home site, because the view is spectacular, and it is convenient to the road so we wouldn’t need to big driveway destroying land.  So that is something I hope will be resolved by facts I don’t have yet.

About 20 meters in from the top entrance, the land drops a little. If I were to flatten the whole area, it would make for a pretty homesite. However if we did less damage, it would make a lovely split level site, which the property really lends itself to. My conclusion on this is that if we do less damage now, we can change our minds later. So all I really need to do is deal with the big row of rocks from the road building that was done years ago, and flatten the area enough to start landscaping the entrance.


We managed to get one more day in before the rains swelled the river again. All the materials have been carried up from the lower site where we built the pumphouse. All sand. coarse sand, rocks, and bricks have been delivered. We had to break the bricks into half loads in a smaller truck so that we wouldn’t exceed the bridge’s 5 ton limit.


Bodega built, small argument about a price increase on the roof welding, doors and windows fabricated and installed.