• Susana Funsten

Memories of Our Garden




Susana F. De Sola Funsten, PhD

The house I grew up in in San Salvador, El Salvador was surrounded by tropical plants and trees and I was accustomed to only two weather seasons: dry (no rain for about 6 months), and rainy (tropical thunderstorms for six months). In the 1950’s, my parents decided to build a house on a property that had three enormous and centenarian kapok trees (Ceiba pentandra). They instructed their architect to design the house around these trees and to provide as much open space and picture windows as possible so that one could feel as if one were part of the garden.

From an early age, I was free to roam our property and garden and to experience its many wonders. I remember the smells quite vividly. We had cinnamon, pepper, camphor, ylang ylang, and a plant that smelled badly that I think must have been a type of Venus flytrap. As a child, I was fascinated by the idea that a flower could trap insects and then eat them!


We also had some tasty trees and plants such as mango, lychee, coconut, miniature banana, bread fruit, wax apple, and macadamia nut. If I got hungry for a snack in the afternoon, all I had to do was to see if any of these trees had fruit on them. My favorite, by far, was the lychee tree. If worse came to worse, I could always eat the flowers of my mother’s many begonia plants. They had a tangy acid taste, and I was told they contained large doses of Vitamin C.

There was also spectacle and drama in the garden. I was fascinated by the Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) cactus. It had enormous and beautiful white blossoms that would only open up at night. Witnessing the blossom open up was tempered by the somewhat scary sight of tarantula spiders creeping out from the recesses of the cactus where they nested during the day.



We had a greenhouse where I liked to hang out with either my mother or our gardener as they prepared African violets and various orchids for the house. We also had lots of red and white anthuriums, bird of paradise flowers, and ginger flowers. My mother liked to make arrangements with these, but I thought they looked like they were made of plastic.

Perhaps the strongest impression/memory I have of our garden is the immense variety of orchids we were blessed to have. My parents collected all types of orchids from various parts of Central America. In those days, it was a lot easier to smuggle plants inside a sock in a suitcase than it is today. They delighted to show off their blooming orchids whenever they could to visitors, especially from other countries.

Having had this type of background, one would think that gardening would be in my DNA. Nevertheless, I do not consider myself to have a particularly green thumb (though I might have some potential). What really sparks my interest is the history of plant propagation, and anything having to do with ecology and sustainability. I am also a deeply and reverent admirer of all trees. As a child, I believed I could talk to trees; sadly, I do not seem to have this ability any more, but who knows…I might still get it back!

also had some tasty trees and plants such as: mango, lychee, coconut, miniature banana, bread fruit, wax apple, and macadamia nut. If I got hungry for a snack in the afternoon, all I had to do was to see if any of these trees had fruit on them. My favorite, by far, was the lychee tree. If worse came to worse, I could always eat the flowers of my mother’s many begonia plants. They had a tangy acid taste and I was told they contained large doses of Vitamin C.

There was also spectacle and drama in the garden. I was fascinated by the Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) cactus. It had enormous and beautiful white blossoms that would only open up at night. Witnessing the blossom open up was tempered by the somewhat scary sight of tarantula spiders creeping out from the recesses of the cactus where they nested during the day.

HANCOCK PARK GARDEN CLUB

137 N. Larchmont Blvd #720, Los Angeles, CA 90004

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