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Thursday, December 19, 2013

I'm a Plant-Aholic

Hello, my name is Dan (Dano) Austin and I'm a plant-aholic.


Me and my friend Bett-yeh are freaks when it comes to flowers, plants, bushes, you-name-it.

Ya know, when I was a kid, you couldn't get me to work in the garden, pull weeds, prune stuff, etc.  BLECH!!!  But, now, I find it very therapeutic, relaxing, and rewarding to the see the results of my efforts.

Back in the US of A I had a beautiful waterfront home on 1/3 acre.   It was my dream home that I had built. With bare naked land, I planted....literally....over 1,000 plants, flowers, bushes, trees.  I was in heaven.  But, after 3 layoffs from corporate America bent on out-sourcing jobs, I had to leave my paradise to where I am now....south of the border.  No...not Tijuana.....reeeeeeeeally SOUTH!!!

In Cuenca, most properties have very little outdoor space.  Homes are built a-la-San Francisco where the wall of one house is butted up against the wall of the house next door.  Front yards are pequeno (small) and back yards are usually enclosed patios encompassed by a high wall.

Where I live now, is just outside the city in an area call San Joaquin (San Wah Keen).  It's an area that's QUIET!!!   And, homes here typically have space around the house for a garden, lawn, or whatever.

When I moved into my house, the area around the house was a disaster.  Nothing but hard clay, rocks, construction debris, etc.  To put it lightly, it was a disgusting mess.  So, I went to work.  Two dumptruck loads of tierra negro (black dirt) that I shuttled with my wheelbarrow to add some life to my yard.   Grass seed.   And, so many plants I have no idea how many I've purchased.

Some people ask...'why spend your money and effort on a place you rent?'  My response is usually along the lines that I enjoy the work, the payback, the results, etc etc and with Ecuadorian prices, it's not all that much money I put into it.   Besides, if the landlords were to toss me out, I would yank up every freakin flower and take it with me.....or poison it and return the landscape to the state I received it.

There are soooooo many differences in the way-of-life here.  Back 'home', you can go to Home Depot, or the like, and buy bulbs, rhizomes, tubers, seeds, etc.   Nope, not here.   I have looked, and looked, and looked, and asked, and asked, and asked, and it's VERY difficult to find any place that sells the BEGINNING of a plant.  You can buy the PLANT, but try to find the origination of a plant and it's a mystery.

Rocks...I mean big rocks....are more plentiful here in Cuenca than Starbucks back home.  This city is BUILT on rocks!!  So, it's easy to gather up melon-sized rocks and create planters....which I've done....to a ridiculous level.  Make a new planter, gotta get plants, right?  Hmmmmm.  Want to buy more plants, just build another rock-enclosed planter!

I love Cannas, but couldn't find a place to buy the rhizome for the life of me.  One day, I was driving through Paute and saw someone's 'yard' full of Cannas bursting in color.  I stopped.  I asked her if she would sell me some of her plants.  SURE!!!    She got a pick and dug up several rhizomes for me...$2 a piece....and I went away ecstatic.

Driving down the highway from my house, I noticed a fairly large farm with, amongst many types of vegetables (you oughta SEE the size of cabbage here...we're talking bigger than a watermelon!!!), rows of Gladiolas.  Love them.  I decided to pull in and ask them if they would be willing to sell me some bulbs.  Remember....it's ridiculously difficult to find any place, any one, anywhere, that sells these things.  She said 'sure', for a buck a piece she went through her garden and used a stick to pluck up a dozen or so gladiola bulbs for me.  Then, she led me to the area where the flowers were blooming and cut several off and gave me a bouquet of glads to take home.

I asked her...where the 'F'....ok, so I didn't quite put it that way....where does one buy bulbs (bulbos) or PaPa's (collectively referring to anything of a rhizome, tuber, or bulb nature)???  She told me to go to the flower market next the the Cathedral in central Cuenca.  There, a few stalls operated by indigenous women have them for sale.  WOW.   No COMMERCIAL outlet?  Nope.

The next day, I stopped by the flower market and, sure enough, a few women had a milk-crate full of stuff yanked up from the ground.   They even knew (supposedly) what color belonged to a particular bulb.  It was like sifting through a garage-sale box of junk....dig down and find what you want.  HOW ODD!!!

I bought a bunch at .50 cents a piece.  I decided to modify a spot in my yard.   I took my pick and dug up the grass and flipped it over to create a mound.  I stopped in at a nearby home that sells bags of dirt along with sand, rock, etc.  I purchased 20 gunny sacks of dirt (at $2 a bag) and had them delivered for $7 bucks.  I emptied all 20 bags into my new creation area.

When I was in Paute last week to get my Ecuadorian drivers license (future blog story....eeesh), I stopped by several of my favorite nurseries and loaded up on my 'drugs'....plants.

So, today, I created a whole new plant area, where 30-40 new bulbs, along with a myriad of other plants including Canna's, bearded Iris's, Impatiens, Daisies, Petunias, Geraniums, Lobelia, Pansies, and others I have no clue what their name is....have new homes and I anxiously await their colorful display.

Didja know...
  • Geraniums can grow up to 6ft tall here?
  • Impatiens grow 2-3 feet tall?
  • Those Christmas flower thingies....grow year round and some are the size of TREES!
  • Plants considered as Annuals back home are used as HEDGES here!!
  • Bummer that we don't have Tulips or Daffodils here.  It doesn't get cold enough to 'snap' them during their dormant time.
  • Calla Lilies grow 4-5 feet tall!!!
  • Mom sent me a packet of yellow sweet corn seeds.  Someone told me they won't grow here.  I wanted to prove them wrong.  They were right.  Mine grew to about 8 inches and stopped.  The corn grown dang near everywhere there's an empty space here....is a white corn.
Ok, so here's the photos of my plant gardens surrounding my house.  Please don't send the folks in the white coats to take me away.


PS...Gracie is not in this blog entry.  Whenever I work in the garden, it usually involves the garden hose and for some inexplicable reason (heh, heh, heh) she runs and hides because she THINKS I'm gonna squirt her (heh, heh, heh).


Buy a wheelbarrow and tools and start bringing in nice black dirt from the mountains.

Lots of bamboo to create a hedge to add an element of privacy.

Looking better, no?

I said I would never have roses, but ended up with 32 rose bushes back home.  Never say never.

This is one of two truckloads.

Grass seed taking hold.

Decided to frame the plant area with rocks....LOTS of rocks....to create a barrier between the grass and the flowers.  Backfilled with dirt.  But, by doing so, I created more space for plants!!!  So, I bought MORE!!! 

One of my Dahlias.

Those are my white Calla Lillies on the right.  HUGE!!!

I told myself I wasn't going to do this side of the yard, butttttt.......

My Panthees.

I love Canna's.  Most of mine are about 6ft tall. 

This is my egg plant.  Get it???

Love these grasses. A dark burgundy grass with plums of wheat color, very symmetrical, and easy care.

My Calla Lillies are over 4ft tall!

This photo doesn't do it justice.  The Geraniums are about 5ft tall...reaching up to my living room window.

My project of today.  Again, the photo doesn't capture just how much there is.  Lots of bearded Iris's.

These climbing vines can actually become a tree if not potted.  Bright yellow clusters bloom the full length.  I regulary train the vines to go where I want them to.

I have 3 hanging hummingbird feeders and 3 hanging baskets of Fuchias.

This flower is an Annual (doesn't survive winters) back home.  Here, they grow to 6ft tall and are commonly used as privacy hedges!

Love this blackish-blue plant!!

Several houses under construction in my area, thus lots of construction debris including this concrete drain pipe I  nabbed and turned into a planter.

I've been in love with Impatiens ever since I first saw them at one of my best friends (Scottie) house in Sonoma, Calif.   Here, Impatiens can grow 2-3 ft high!!


  1. $%#@(&^# Dano,you did it.You found,created PARADISE.but i miss Gracie!

  2. Dano, you have really outdone yourself, yet again. The yard looks amazing! Maybe we can get together for a cerveza and discuss possibilities for my small yard.

  3. Spectacular! Truly a beautiful paradise. Gorgeous.

  4. Very nice Dano. I am sure gardening helps with your anger management issues. Keep up the good work!

  5. What a post! All beautiful plants and flowers flowering plants Echium fastuosum, syn. Echium candicans, is also known as pride of Madeira, this plant being native to Madeira. It is an evergreen perennial plant that can reach up to 5 - 8 ft (1.50 m - 2.40 m) tall, with spikes of tiny purple-blue flowers appearing in spring. Leaves - This Echium has evergreen lanceolate leaves, that are about 8 in (20 cm) long. Flowers - Dense 2 ft (60 cm) long spikes of tiny purple-blue flowers appear in spring.

  6. Dano, I love what you've done to your yard, it's so beautiful!! How do you get Gracie to stay out of all the flowers?? Thanks for the post, and all your great pictures!!

  7. Dano, I just came across your blog. What a beautiful garden you have created!! The shrub with the red and yellow flower clusters that grows to 6' tall and they use as a hedge is a Lantana. They love the heat, are very disease and pest resistant, drought resistant, and take very little care. In the U.S. they are native to Texas and parts of the south and southwest.

  8. Hi Dano,

    That is one fine garden you have! Your landlord had better treat you right,,, or else. I like your house too. I'll bet your neighbors are wondering who that gringo with the green thumb is.

    This great post has given me a bunch of ideas for my own space. My pad is a typical Cuencan townhouse with a back yard the size of a postage stamp, and there is no way I could even envision a garden as varied or beautiful as yours. But with a little legwork and creativity I could make my small space into a beautiful little oasis. I like your hanging baskets and pots filled with bamboo and flowers. I'm motivated to get going now, and thanks for that. I need to get some pots, but the ones I've seen in Cuenca are soooo expensive. Any recommendations?

    By the way, the burgundy grass is called purple fountain grass (pennisetum setaceum), and it's beautiful and hardy. I planted a bunch of it in my house in San Diego, and I had to cut it back every month, it got so big.

    All the best to you and your green family, John

  9. I’m glad to read you again. Thanks for this post. Best for you Buddy! Merry Christmas and Happy New year

  10. your dark blue flowered plant is a Heliotrope...they smell wonderful. And WHERE did you get Bearded Iris? I want to get some! By the way, I think a short season "early" sweet corn might grow here...it requires less heat to grow and make ears :)

  11. Hey Dano, where's the best place to go for houseplants here in Cuenca.We live by loja and don bosco. Everything we find are mostly outside plants.

    1. Some of the nurseries have a section for indoor plants, mostly in their covered area. I've found some pretty good indoor plants at Coral (hit/miss) as well as Mega Hierro (next door to Kywi).


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About Me

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Palma, Mallorca, Spain
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Spain, in the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca in the middle of the Mediterranean sea!! I moved from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador, South America and lived there for 7 years before moving here to Spain in early 2018. To read about my adventures in Ecuador, check out my other blog "Ahhh Cuenca!!". I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live in Europe....across the pond.

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