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Homegrown Heritage

Adding outdoor elements reminiscent of your homeland can reconnect you to your ethnic roots

Spice up your garden

Variety truly spices up life when it creates a space where Latin flavors thrive. Consider hot peppers. While some Spanish-speaking countries still boast unique peppers, plants were often traded across borders and given new names. Ají cachucha, an aromatic pepper Cubans add to black beans, thrives and can even grow into a tree in the Miami area. But Puerto Ricans and Dominicans call it ají dulce and say it’s perfect for flavoring sofrito (sautéed garlic and onions).

Cuban oregano, Mexican oregano, and Jamaican thyme are all the same thing. Yet “it’s not even an oregano,” Mejides notes, “but it tastes like oregano, it smells like it, and it makes a nice house plant for northerners. You can use it to flavor any kind of chicken dishes, or pork or beef.”

For those of Cuban descent intent on a tropical garden, Mejides recommends butterfly ginger, the island’s national flower, which does well in South Florida and can grow in large planters farther north when taken indoors during winter. And it can do triple duty, he says. “It’s a very beautiful flower, it’s very fragrant, and the roots can actually be used like ginger.”

When choosing your plants, keep in mind how much time you’ll have to tend them, says Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of gardens and growing at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin. She recommends starting with just a handful of plant species. “It may not be as interesting [at first],” she says, “but that’s when you grow your garden along with your time commitment and level of interest.”

Add the Simple Touches

Once you’ve got the plants in place, add furniture and other design elements to complement the theme. Gone Caribbean? Try hammocks and bamboo or rattan furniture. For a hacienda-style garden, invest in leather sling chairs and a central or wall fountain. Tight budget? A pond lined with brick can provide a less-expensive water feature. And instead of period furniture, invoke the hacienda-inspired idea of painting garden walls in oxblood red, yellow ochre, or other traditional colors.

Now you’ve created tasteful, colorful memories to come home to.

You may also like: The art and science of composting.>>

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