By RICHARD HATCH Guest Columnist
I recently spent a month in Nepal, following my kayaking son from Kathmandu to remote river camps near Tibet and the shores of Lake Fewa in the west. Many of the plants in Nepal were familiar to this Floridian. At 27 degrees north, Nepal sits in latitudinal line with Orlando and cultivates many of the same varieties of plants grown in South Florida.
The Nepalese, who grow tall poinsettias, know nothing of Christmas. The big red blossoms shine in mid-December at the top of spindly twelve-foot tall trunks. As a boy in Carolina I remember the poinsettias inside the Raleigh governor's mansion, short with old stout trunks. "Bonsai," the guide said, explaining an Asian style of pruning." Back in Asia's Nepal there is little evidence of pruning. One January in Key West, we planted several healthy poinsettias purchased from the MARC House. They lived for several years but never came close to their amazing height in Nepal.
Plants like bougainvillea grow wild in Nepal. I'd love my overflowing bougainvillea at Blue Heaven to get wilder but Keys Electric keeps it at bay.
Oranges grow ripe along the battered roads with steeply terraced hillsides behind them; grand amphitheaters for growing rice in the Himalayas. This ancient country is north of India and south of China.
Settled around 300 B.C. the bustling capital Kathmandu, population 4.5 million, is located in a mile high valley cloaked in smog. One hundred fifty kilometers to the northwest the second city of Pokhara offers great trekking in the foothills of the towering Annapurna Mountain range with much less pollution.
In my four-day trek in the Annapurna foothills we hiked through huge forests of Tolken-esque rhododendron trees. The Appalachians have rhododendrons and mountain laurels but lack the size of these Nepalese trees and the wild monkeys that inhabit them. Huge gnarled trunks reach fifty feet high with scaling bark like gumbo-limbo trees. Twisting limbs make magical sculptures and the exposed and polished roots provide steps for trekkers. My guide Raj said when the rhododendrons bloom in early spring their many pinks is the prettiest sight in Nepal. Along the hike I saw a relative of our Mexican Flame vine covering whole walls of guesthouses.
I visited the Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal and walked through a village with stunning yellow fields of mustard and groves of banana trees. The bananas were tasty like our small Cuban-style bananas.
We stayed five nights at Borderlands River Camp on the Bhote Koshi River 16 kilometers south of Tibet. A huge Hibiscus bush grew just outside our safari style tent. The frilly red flowers opened from 11:30 a.m. until around 2 p.m. when the sun pierced the bottom of the river valley. A small scarlet sunbird with an inch-long curved beak stayed busy feasting on the plant.
The marigold is the flower most grown and cherished in Nepal. Strands of marigolds adorn Hindu statues, restaurants, homes, dead motorcycles, businesses and our guesthouse in Kathmandu. They hang in strings over doorways and float in bowls of water as a daily offering to Buddha.
All the roofs of Kathmandu are accessible and busy. Black water tanks, clotheslines and potted plants of marigolds, hibiscus, poinsettias and crotons liven these vantage points for looking at the distant Himalayas at sunset.
Rice and beans are not grown in Key West but are on our plates here. Dahl bat, rice and green curried lentils, powers Nepal. Rice grows on centuries-old curved hillside terraces some barely wide enough for the water buffalo to pull the plow. Monday morning West Martello volunteers would appreciate their level work surfaces.
Finally, in downtown Pokhara, the revered banyan trees are allowed to let their aerial roots wander into the streets and like the sacred cows, they are not bothered.
The guest columnist today is trekker Richard Hatch who recently visited Nepal. He operates Blue Heaven and Salute Restaurants. This column is part of a series developed by the Key West Garden Club. For more information visit www.keywestgardenclub.com.