A tour of Yucatán’s viveros as we plan our garden spaces

jurasico3The house we bought had a jungle out back, and although we tried to preserve some of the trees, only one survived the construction process. Now it is time to replace all the greenery we destroyed to build Casa Nana, so we went to visit some of Yucatán’s viveros, or garden nurseries. (Expat pro tip: Don’t pronounce it VIV-uh-row like I did. You’ll get laughed at. It’s viv-AIR-oh, and be sure to hit the roof with your tongue when you get to the r.)

I have wanted to see a tropical garden center ever since I started to read about them on other blogs, and we certainly got a well-rounded tour. We set off at 7:30 in the morning to get an early start for the drive to Mocochá. I barely know a maple from an elm, much less plants of the Yucatán, so were glad to be accompanied by an expert who had a garden design in mind.

A lily pond goes here below the caño. The recycled doors open to our TV room.

A lily pond goes here below the caño. The recycled doors open to our TV room.

First, about that garden design. Everywhere we could, we created courtyard spaces for air flow. In the old house, we removed the ceilings from two adjacent windowless rooms, creating an inner courtyard that runs the width of the house. That’s where we will put a lily pond with a caño and a decorative tree, and the kitchen, mom and dad’s bathroom, and the media room will open to it. The ponds won’t have filters, which break down constantly. We’ll be stocking them with guppies and mollies to swirl the water about and eat the mosquitos.

The new-construction casita out back doesn’t entirely hug the rear walls. The structure jog in from the garden walls in three spaces, leaving two small courtyards flanking the master bath and a tiny terrace up top. The courtyards will have trailing vines and one will have a small, square water pond fed by a caño. The other spaces will be great for potted plants. The walls defining the roof terrace have planters cut in. Some plants will be chosen for privacy, but we want to reserve some of that space for herb gardens. Back at the main house, the rear terrace has deeper planters left and right to create separation from the neighbors. And the service roof along the street needs potted plants. Oh, and the yard itself … there’s a lily pond there, too, and we want at least a palm tree for shade and an Indio lime tree to keep our survivor tree, a sour orange, company. Our courtyard design calls for a decorative tree that can’t outgrow its space. We also considered some ground cover. Gravel and grass are out, so we’re looking for something different.

Naturally, this requires an expert. (Update: OK, OK, I’ll spill it: Josefina Larrain was our trusty field guide!)

So in Mocochá, with our garden expert leading the way, and quizzing the proprietor, and with nothing to contribute to the conversation, I found myself taking pictures with my new Canon Rebel, thinking about photo essay possibilities. A few minutes later, I felt a tingling on my left ankle. I looked down and my foot was covered with tiny red ants. Something about the shoe was a magnet for them. Yes, this is the real outdoors. They were easily shaken off and I kept following our garden guide.

Troughs demonstrate lily pad possibilities in Mocochá.

Troughs demonstrate lily pad possibilities in Mocochá.

We wandered up and down the paths of this massive tropical nursery in the countryside. I have to admit I have little to communicate about this visit. I had only the vaguest idea of where I was, what I was looking at, and what to think. The deeper we get into this project, the more familiar this sensation becomes. It didn’t help that this particular vivero was unmarked, having recently changed hands. We asked for a card, but we never got one. Nothing is labeled and there are no price tags. This is definitely not the cash-and-carry garden center we’re accustomed to along the pike in farm country back home.

After a few more errands, we went to a garden center in Cholul, a nice little village with a peaceful square and an art gallery just east of Mérida’s northside shopping centers while feeling miles away. At Vivero las Orquideas, we saw some cactus and some lily pond options, something with smaller pads, and maybe a papyrus stalk.

Later, on the periférico, Vivero Eduardo was where we went to look at vines, including the variety we want for the “green cube” of vines we’re installing in the tiny courtyard of rock walls and chukum outside our master bedroom.

The entrance to the Jardin Jurásin in Kanasín.

El Jardín Jurásico in Kanasín.

Finally, the big finale. We went to visit Vivero El Jardín Jurásico in Kanasín, an immense park-like sanctuary on Calle 21. A young guy on a bike approached the large gates as we approached. We then strolled wide open spaces with endless varieties of palms, some very unusual and rare. One tree had a feathery trunk that felt like raw silk threads. But be careful where you touch. At one point, Paul’s hands became red and inflamed. Should he not have stroked the feathery texture of that tree’s trunk? The cause was a mystery, but the symptoms subsided within 20 minutes. This is touted as one of Mexico’s most comprehensive nurseries dedicated to all varieties of palm trees.  There, we decided which variety palm would be best for our limited space: something that grows high but with a stunted canope. It will be a challenge to want sun for the pool and our fruit trees, but with some areas of shade. Like I said, we’ve enlisted an expert. Who is this expert? She’s married to our architect.

All shall be revealed very soon.


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  1. Years ago I had a small (3′) pond with water hyacinths and 2 goldfish. That little space gave so much pleasure in my tiny yard. Seems as though you’ve got so many hidden and not so hidden spaces at Casa Nana that you will have beauty waiting around every corner.

    Just don’t forget a lime for those G&T’s…

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