Photo Feature by Dariela Aquique
HAVANA TIMES, Dec 2 — On a beautiful Saturday morning, I prepared to make a photo report to record images of nature, especially the wonders of our flora. On the road that leads to the town of Caney is “El Jardin de los Helechos” (The Fern Garden), a scientific institution dedicated to the collection, preservation and exhibition of various plant species. This place is also included among the attractions of some tourism excursions.
However that wasn’t where I stopped. A little further on down that same road is another garden: “La Mariposa.” It’s not an institutional center, but it is unique and it owes itself entirely to the dedicated hands of its creator: Alina Machado.
It’s an environment that’s not at all formal, without the structure of a guided tour or lines delivered as if they’d been memorized by rote in the shade of some mango tree. Each of us with an aromatic cup of coffee in hand, the gardener and I talked for the first time. This is how I learned that seventeen years ago she devoted herself entirely to the art of growing plants.
This profound woman, who offers an intelligent and pleasant conversation, does not come from a rural background. She was a philologist by profession and for many years worked as a professor of literature in the Humanities Department of the Higher Pedagogical Institute. Yet, as luck would have it, she wound up becoming a gardener.
She talked about how she doesn’t believe in myths about musical spells and their effect on plants and shrubs. She employs a more personal touch: She talks with her plants just as she once did with her students. The name of the garden comes from our national flower and she regrets not having yet achieved the best specimens, it was here that she interrupted her narrative to appeal to the proverbial phrase: “In the home of the blacksmith, a wooden knife.”
Alina noted that this practice of growing and marketing plants for indoor or outdoor decorating has proliferated in Cuba with the arrival of tourists, from whom we’ve learned much in this respect because they greatly value our tropical reserves, with so many different types of species.
She explained details as curious as those related to the Aralia Parsley, which according to Afro-Cuban folklore is eaten before fighting battles and is known popularly as “Yo puedo mas que tu” (I can stand more than you). She also pointed out a beautiful cactus, one humorously called a “Cojin de suegra (a mother-in-law’s cushion). She smiled indulgently in correcting my ignorance when I mistook a gardenia for a guava plant.
These and other details filled the space of the pleasant visit. Taking pictures of each variety and walking among pots and clay figures, nurseries and the shadow of a “Saran,” I admired the epiphytes on their natural palm tree anchors.
I digitized these fascinating images of ornamental plants to share photos of the site with friends. So if at any time you wander around here in Santiago de Cuba Province, don’t hesitate to visit Alina’s garden, “La Mariposa”.
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