A Celebration of Flowers in Giraudel, Dominica: Nature’s Finest on Display Indoors and Out!*

The Giraudel Youth Group organized a Flower Festival for the first time this year.

The Giraudel Youth Group organized a Flower Festival for the first time this year.

It was a relief to wake up on Saturday May 9th, 2015 to intermittent rain showers after days of unrelenting heat and high winds in Dominica.  This slight change in the weather was good news for everyone. It brought some relief to parched plants and quelled bush fires that had recently erupted on the west coast of the Nature Island.

Although the higher elevations were not as adversely affected by this hot weather, I was glad of slightly cooler

I wish I could have taken this bowl of Dahlias home with me from the Flower Festival!

I wish I could have taken this bowl of Dahlias home with me from the Flower Festival!

temperatures for a planned walk from the village of Eggleston to its nearby neighbour, Giraudel.  There, the Giraudel Youth Group had organized a weekend-long Flower Festival, as the usual Flower Growers’ Show, a very grand and longstanding annual event, would not be taking place this year.

My mountain chicken (crapaud) research friend Jenny, a keen nature enthusiast, was eager and able to explore this mountainous area near Roseau with me.  As well, we have Dutch/Dominican friends, Gijs and Georgie, who live in this lovely region. We intended to drop in for tea on our way to the Flower Festival, a short distance away from their home.

This time, Jenny drove, and I had the pleasure of taking my eyes off of the road and gazing at the gorgeous views below us.  When we reached the hamlet of  Eggleston, we turned in to a long lane that lead to the beautiful and secluded Holy Redeemer Retreat Center, which is run by Redemptorist missionaries. We parked  nearby with permission from the priests on the site, as we intended to walk along some of the peaceful trails on the property after our foray to Giraudel.

These lovely anthuriums graced the entrance-way to a home on the road to the Retreat Center.

These lovely anthuriums graced the entrance-way to a home on the road to the Retreat Center.

The view across the Roseau Valley from Eggleston is one to be admired!

The northerly view across the Roseau Valley from Eggleston is one to be admired!

We trekked back up the lane we had just driven down, but this time, we both could enjoy views overlooking residential areas, the Caribbean Sea and mountains to the south of the island. Then we were back on the main road. This time, we looked over the distant Roseau Valley, to the villages of Morne Prosper on its south side and  across to Cochrane on the north side.  Jenny and I remarked to each other that we had appreciated this view from the opposite side only last weekend, when we hiked from Springfield to Middleham Falls!

As we continued along, we admired lovely hedges of flowers,fertile gardens and gave thanks for the tall shade trees on either side of the road.

Even the disco in Eggleston is named after a flower! (although I imagine it is associated with a lady's name...)

Even the disco in Eggleston is named after a flower! (although I imagine it is associated with a lady’s name…)

The main road between Eggleston and Giraudel is well-shaded.

The main road between Eggleston and Giraudel is well-shaded.

Jenny told me that this plant is Pride of Barbados.  We admired this hedge along the main road.

Jenny told me that this plant is Pride of Barbados. We admired this hedge along the main road.

After about an hour and a quarter, we arrived at Gijs and Georgie’s beautiful home.  While we were a little late for our appointment, our friends greeted us  warmly and bade us enter and rest awhile on their pleasant porch, facing the Caribbean Sea. Georgie served us mixed mint tea, picked moments earlier from her  herb garden.  Then she offered tempting sweets: tamarind balls, coconut ‘cheese’, and sweetened local gooseberries.  While we chatted and covered a broad range of topics, including mountain chickens, boa constrictors and lizards, Jenny and I cooled off from the first ‘leg’ of our walk.  After we were refreshed, we toured their  lush, fertile grounds, admired distant views across the Roseau Valley and became introduced to two of the most beautiful hens I have ever seen: Rosie and Blanche.  These tame free-range ‘layers’  roamed the property at large, cheerily clucking away as they foraged for plentiful bugs and favourite grasses.  They certainly stole my heart!

Gwendominica admires one of Gijs and Georgie's beautiful hens.

Gwendominica admired one of Gijs and Georgie’s beautiful hens. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

Giraudel's history is explained here in a nutshell!

Giraudel Dominica’s  history is explained here in a nutshell!

When we heard loud music playing a short distance from our friends’ home,  probably signalling the start of the Flower Festival, we said our good-byes and continued along the main road. We passed the bandstand and stopped for a snack of tuna bakes (like a deep-fried biscuit).  Then we continued up the road until we noticed a tent, where we spied flower arrangements through its opening.  We crossed the street and discovered that we were indeed in the right place for the floral display.  We entered the site by paying $5.00 ECD, and took in the lovely arrangements.  We also admired a variety of paintings by renowned local artist, Caesar Catin. Then, one of his daughters engaged us in conversation and told us about the Giraudel Youth Group and their concerted efforts to organize this Flower Festival.  Jenny and I felt that  they had done a good job, on a small-scale, although I was concerned about the strength of the tent’s supports in the high winds! (Everything was still standing when we left about an hour later.)

Some images from the Giraudel Youth Group Flower Festival 2015:DSCF4967DSCF4976DSCF4980DSCF4968DSCF4987DSCF4982

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Jenny admired ginger lilies on the rack between Giraudel and Eggleston.

Jenny admired ginger lilies on the track between Giraudel and Eggleston.

From there, we walked back through the village and headed for a shortcut that Gijs had recommended that would take us through the forest, where we would exit just above the neighbouring village of Eggleston. It was a lovely

Heliconia plants grow prolifically in the rainforest -even when it's rather dry!

Heliconia plants grow prolifically in the rainforest – even when it’s rather dry!

downhill saunter, and we paused several times to admire wildflowers, tended plants and the occasional insect!  We exited the trail after about 30 minutes and continued along the main road, returning to our starting point at the Retreat Center. By now, the clouds had lifted and the afternoon was once again, very hot.  We looked up at Morne Anglais, towering over the village of Giraudel, and wished for a few moments that we were on its peak!  (It’s a two-hour trek to the summit of Morne Anglais.  Although it can be a very steep and muddy trip, the reward at the top is a 360 degree view of Dominica and beyond).

Morne Anglais towers above the mountain village of Giraudel.

Morne Anglais towers above the mountain village of Giraudel.

My legs were now feeling rather ‘wobbly’.  We wandered along a few of the trails, but we both gave in to hunger pangs so did not fully explore the lovely grounds of the Retreat Center that day.  We seated ourselves on a wooden bench, and would have appreciated the natural solitude of this meditative place, except that the Flower Festival was now in full swing, and their  music makers’ melodies carried long distances (including to my home far below, as I later discovered!).

Pretty plants are seen along the Retreat Center Road.

Pretty plants are seen along the Retreat Center Road.

Poinsettias seem to be scarce right now, but we found this one along the Retreat Center road.

Poinsettias seem to be scarce now, but we found this one along the Retreat Center road.

The Retreat Center has plenty of places for quiet contemplation, prayer or meditation.

The Retreat Center has plenty of places for quiet contemplation, prayer or meditation.

The Retreat Center is adorned with beautiful plants and shrubs in this tranquil setting.

The Retreat Center is adorned with beautiful plants and shrubs in a tranquil setting.

These bright flowers captured our attention along the Giraudel main road.

These bright flowers captured our attention along the Giraudel main road.

Time to go home!  The drive out of the Retreat Center is peaceful and pastoral.

Time to go home! The drive out of the Retreat Center is peaceful and pastoral.

As we had been several hours ‘on the road’, Jenny and I felt content with our varied exposures to numerous

varieties of beautiful flowers that grow prolifically in the Giraudel-Eggleston area.  We also agreed that plentiful pure, clean mountain air, a good, long walk and  time well-spent with lovely  friends contributed to another wonderful day on the Nature Island!

*This piece is dedicated on Mother’s Day to my late mother, Vesta.  She truly loved nature and its beautiful offerings. She really liked hens too!

 

A Walk Up to Cochrane Dominica: Hot Farms, Warm Friends and Cool Mountains!

Jenny captures some of Dominica's verdant splendour during a walk to Cochrane from Springfield.

Jenny captures some of Dominica’s verdant splendour during a walk to Cochrane from Springfield.

On a beautiful March day during Dominica’s ‘dry season’, Jenny Spencer and I took a long uphill walk from Springfield Plantation to the mountain village of Cochrane.  I had arranged a visit with Karen Sutherland of Roots Farm so that we could have a good look at her  nearby organic garden.  Jenny is a volunteer  researcher from the Zoological Society of London who is assisting  the local Forestry and Wildlife Division  with efforts to save the critically endangered mountain chicken (Crapaud) frog.  She was curious to discover the origin of some of the delicious produce that she had enjoyed during her sojourns on the Nature Island and I was happy to take her there!

We set off in bright early morning sunshine and steadily climbed  a smooth but steep back road located  a short distance  west

A westerly view of high hillson the back road to Cochrane.  The Caribbean Sea is somewhere just beyond those massifs!

A westerly view of high hills from the back road to Cochrane. The Caribbean Sea is somewhere just beyond those massifs!

of Springfield.  In days gone by, I had walked on this road and its connectors to the Middleham Falls trail-head, which is situated above the village of Cochrane.  During that era, I could hike directly to that beautiful cascade and back to Springfield in about five hours return. Of course, it is shorter and more  easily accessible from the Laudat area, but I’ve done it recently from that side. I think that I should go there from Springfield again very soon, and take Jenny along for the fun! Maybe I can convince Karen too, however, I know that it is not easy to take a day off from all that is required for the smooth manual operation of an organic farm on a tropical island!

Jenny pauses at four corners just below our destination.  While we were headed for Roots Farm, we wer also close to the road to the Middleham Falls trailhead.

Jenny pauses at four corners just below our destination. While we were headed for Roots Farm, we were also close to the road to the Middleham Falls trail-head.

As we trekked upwards from the edge of the rainforest at 1,200 feet to our destination of 1,600 feet, we paused in a few places to take in the wondrous sights around us: mountains in all directions, swathed in all shades of green contrasted perfectly with the stunningly blue sky and cottony clouds on that lovely day in paradise.  After about 45 minutes, we approached Karen’s home and surrounding garden.  She noticed us on the nearby track, and ran out to meet and greet us, with a big smile and a warm hug for each of us!

We chatted in the shade for a few minutes, met the farm dogs and then walked around the corner of her house to admire the awesome view before us.  While the mountains were shrouded in clouds at that moment, the cool breezes that blew directly  from  the pristine Morne Trois Pitons National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) immediately refreshed us. Karen pointed to an area at a higher elevation where her partner Roy and a worker were toiling in another section of their farm.  In the wind, she said she could hear voices coming from that direction.

White cottony clouds shrouded the mountains in teh area around Middleham Falls, as seen from Karen's back yard.

White cottony clouds shrouded the mountains in the area around Middleham Falls, as seen from Karen’s back yard.

From there, we commenced our garden tour. When Karen started to tell us about the prolific plants and trees around us, we were interrupted by squawks and

A Jaco Parrot perched above us as we tourd Karen's organic garden.

A noisy Jaco Parrot perched above us as we toured Karen’s organic garden.

shrieks overhead. We looked up and Karen pointed to a Jaco  (Red-Necked Amazon) Parrot, perched on a leafless (seasonal) tree a short distance away.  She told us that this endemic bird and its numerous feathered friends had made plenty of noise lately.  She suspected there was a special reason for the ruckus, possibly mating season, but we would have to confirm that with a Forestry Officer.  In any event, Karen said it was entertaining to observe their antics, despite the clamor. This particular breed, whose numbers were once declining seems to be making a come-back, which is certainly an encouraging sign.

This lovely papaya tree in the Root Farm gardenseems to have perfect symmetry!  Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

This lovely papaya tree in the Roots Farm garden seems to have perfect symmetry! Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

We admired a beautiful papaya tree in the brilliant sunlight, while munching on an assortment of basils, which thrive in this mountain garden. As we carefully walked through it and Karen pointed out various plants in various stages of growth, she picked various leaves

Holy Gteen Basil grows prolifically in the Roots Farm garden.  It is renowned as a botannical health remedy.  Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

Holy Red Basil grows prolifically in the Roots Farm garden. It is renowned as a botanical health remedy. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

for our taste enjoyment of this particular herb.  We savoured several flavours from some basil varieties: Cinnamon, Holy Green, Holy Red, Malaysian, East Indian, Lemon, Thai, Anise and even Blue Spice that tastes like bubblegum! I definitely got my quota of daily greens during that garden tour!

As Karen shared her phenomenal knowledge about plants, it was apparent that operating a small organic farm

Karen has a genuine love for her work and a firm belief in healthy environment and way of life, for the good of the planet and everyone who lives on it!

Karen has a genuine love for her work and a firm belief in a healthy environment and way of life, for the good of the planet and everyone who lives on it!

without machines or chemicals of any kind is definitely very hard work.  Even though Karen was dealing with a back challenge that day, she never stopped moving while she took us around the plot.

 Foreground: Asian greens, Fennel, Sweet Peppers, Culantro, Basil Background: Shimonita Scallions, Basil (vartious types) Visible trees: Cherry, Carambola, Moringa, Sapodilla, Papaya

Foreground: Asian greens, Fennel, Sweet Peppers, Culantro, Basil
Background: Shimonita Scallions, Basil (various types)
Visible trees: Cherry, Carambola, Moringa, Sapodilla, Papaya

An Avocado tree in flower attracted bees and bananquits  to its blossoms.

On the Cochrane Back Road, a fragrant Avocado tree in flower attracted bees and bananaquits to its blossoms.

 

Sometimes, she harvested a long bean, occasionally, she pulled a weed, once, she righted a plant that had toppled.  But it was clear that she truly loves what she does and I and many others on Dominica are so grateful to partake of the pure fruits of her labours! She also seems

These jicama shoots hold promise for goodness to come!  I think Karen is the only person on Dominica who grows this tasty vegetable.

These jicama shoots hold promise for goodness to come! I think Karen is the only person on Dominica who grows this tasty vegetable.

to have some fun experimenting with plants that are not endemic to Dominica, such as strawberries. I bought a plant from her several months ago, and even though I live almost at sea level where it is much warmer, it is actually bearing fruit! Her seeds are organic and non GMO, of course!

THis young pumpkin has a way to go before harvest.  I have seen Roots Farm pumpkins that weight more than 20 lbs!

This young pumpkin has a way to go before harvest. I have seen Roots Farm pumpkins that weigh more than 20 lbs!

Her pumpkin variety is sweet and flavourful.  Many people rave about its wonderful taste!

I simply marveled at all that she and Roy had done as I admired the abundance that surrounded us  at  Roots Farm garden that fine day.

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Karen says this is a weed — likely Horehound Family, but I think it’s really pretty, even if it is not a flower!

Snake Gourd flower. Kind of cool!

A Snake Gourd flower. Kind of cool!

Pretty pineapples flourished in the Roots Farm garden in Cochrane.

Pretty pineapples flourished in the Roots Farm garden in Cochrane.

Interestingly, when queried by Jenny, Karen did mention that she has seen  worrying changes in the environment  over the years as evidenced in a number of ways on the farm.

She mentioned that plants may flower more quickly, and are  then too young to have the foliage to support their flower/fruit/seed production, as one concern.  Karen also noted that there is typically no longer a clear distinction between the wet season and the dry season in Dominica.  This makes it very difficult for farmers to plan what to plant when, as some crops need to mature in dryer weather. “If  [the] historical probability of dry weather is no longer valid, there is a risk for the farmer of losing that crop,” which results in greater total risks (financial, logistical, emotional, etc.). Her examples suggest to me that climate change/global warming is having an adverse effect on the planet, no matter where one lives. That pronouncement certainly gave me food for thought as I reflected on my lifestyle and its (hopefully mostly beneficial) impact on the earth.

After a couple of hours of reverie in this delightful place, Jenny summed up our experience  at Roots Farm this way: “Every minute in the garden was awesome – the plants, bees, parrots, sunshine and fresh mountain breeze – no wonder the Roots Farm produce tastes so good!”

We parted company with Karen after a brief meditation facing those incredible mountains in Dominica’s interior.  While walking down the Cochrane Back

Karen and Jenny pose in Karen's back yard, with Morne Micotrin in the distance.

Karen and Jenny pose in Karen’s back yard, with Morne Micotrin in the distance.

Morne Micotrin (Macaque) figures prominently when the clouds lift, as seen from Karen's corner of upper Cochrane Village.

Morne Micotrin (Macaque) near Laudat figures prominently when the clouds lift, as seen from Karen’s corner of upper Cochrane Village.

Road en route to Springfield, we shared  our  mutual feelings of respect, admiration and appreciation for Karen and Roy’s exceptional efforts to promote and realize organic  agriculture on the Nature Island .