TRINIS love gardening. “It keeps us grounded,” explained Dr Chancy Moll, herself an avid gardener and the author of the new book Gardening in Trinidad and Tobago: Our Style.
“We take a lot of pride in our surroundings. Anybody who can think back to their grandparents will always remember colourful things around the place. They would always plant, whether it’s a little something in a Clorox bottle.”
Moll, a past president of the Garden Club of Trinidad, wrote the text of the 170-page coffee-table book, which celebrates the club’s 25th anniversary. The vibrantly colourful book was photographed by Michelle Jorsling, Susan DeGannes, Jeannine Story and Moll’s husband Peter, a horticulturist. Marie-France Aqui, who Moll called “the queen of coffee-table books in TT”, designed and Marlene Davis edited it. All of them worked for free. First Citizens Bank donated money towards the book’s publication. The book launch took place in early December.
“In Trinidad we have such a rich gardening tradition and there’s not enough emphasis on it,” said Moll in a December phone interview. The book would not be out of place next to any contemporary garden book on the market and readers have responded with enthusiasm and pleasant surprise, she said. “What? Here? In Trinidad?’ They were shocked. They could not believe it.”
Bell-shaped pale peach and white datura flowers dangle from a leafy bush in a shady garden in one spread, with culture notes beside the photo: the shrub needs pruning and shade to thrive. Thumbnails on other pages show tender, deep-purple Oxalis triangularis leaves, scarlet spiky bottlebrush blossoms, pale lavender-coloured lignum vitae blooms, frosted sea-green succulents. The full-colour photos highlight gardens inside and outside, large and small, water gardens and shaded gardens. There are sections on wildlife, the use of garden accessories, exotics and colour.
The club meets monthly at members’ homes and has been doing a fund-raising calendar for the past 11 years. The book grew from that.
“We always wanted to do something,” Moll said. “When I was president, I realised we need to do more than sit and talk about plants, laugh and eat and leave.” This book is a useful one, not just ornamental. “We’re excited to showcase what we do but in a practical sense it teaches you how to grow. That is the distinct difference with other books on gardens.”
Our Style is dedicated to Alexander “Sandy” Gibson, a local orchid expert and enthusiast who died two years ago. “He embodied what the club is all about. He was generous with his knowledge, always willing to give talks. And a lot of fun. He personified everything the club stands for.” Of course, the book includes orchids, of which 288 named species are indigenous to Trinidad. Not all are showy, Moll said, but the book’s photos include Dendrobium superblum flowers cascading in long, bunched amethyst sprays from a tree branch, and a close up of the rich crimson, gold and purple inflorescence of the Cedros bee (Oncidium lanceanum).
But gardening is not just for beauty. “It’s not that you cut everything down and you only plant for aesthetic value,” Moll said. In Our Style she writes about pollination, the food chain and growing plants that are food for birds, insects and other animals. The book emphasises human responsibility for the environment.
Our Style showcases plants indigenous to Trinidad, such as the well-known cocoa lily (Chrysothemis pulchella), and lesser-known native bromeliads such as Aechmea dichlamydea [trinitensis], which produces a bloom with lavender petals on hot pink stems in its unimposing green foliage. “Until it blooms nobody would know what it is,” Moll said. “It is really so very plain and it has thorns.” Featured too are endemic heliconias, like the fowl foot variety (psittacorum), and bihai hybrids like the balisier which were naturally produced by bird and insect activity.
Moll said the book was important because it is a fully local production, and because it is the first book on gardening in TT. Despite the recession, people still want to garden, Moll said. “People still want to buy. They still want to plant. ‘Maybe I could do some cuttings at home.’” Gardening is a leveller. “You could have a judge, you could have a labourer. We all garden.”