A plant shopping excursion to El Valle

El Valle
There are a few larger operations, and the place may be known for Millionaires’ Row, but actually there are many small and micro plant nursery business where the informal economy thrives there.

Shopping for plants to start a new farm

Photos, captions and story by Eric Jackson

The 10-hectare Lazy Man’s Farm having been sold and the move to a smaller spot closer to Penonome, John Douglas is taking the organic permaculture methods that he taught when he was with the Peace Corps to the new location. The business model will change a bit, from less of a teaching and tourism farm more to sales of plants. As with the old place, his new farm will go a long way toward feeding him.

This was a trip into El Valle in search of ornamentals to propagate and sell, northeast from Penonome uphill to Altos de La Estancia, then down the treacherous winding road from the ancient volcano’s rim down into El Valle, which is the crater of a place that last blew up 10,000 years ago. (No seismic activity in this area like around Volcan Baru, which erupts once or twice a millennium and is overdue, but there is still SOMETHING going on that makes the warm mineral water springs flow.)

One nursery that John knew and intended to visit was out of business,  but the neighbor has a good one, too. A selection that filled half the bed of his pickup will yield many sorts of ornamentals for HIS nursery, to go along with the many food plants that he’s already producing on the new farm.

Perhaps the most important crop he’ll be growing for those of us who eat out of our planter boxes? Earthworms to improve the quality of the mixtures of dirt, plant stubble and compost we add to refresh our gardens.

(This reporter took home the beginnings of a new herb garden, some different varieties of beans, cucumbers and lettuce, and a big jug of liquid earthworm droppings. The planter boxes’ soil will NOT die of exhaustion.)

If you are interested in what John Douglas is doing and producing, call him at 6435-7686 or send him an email at Johnarthurdouglas@yahoo.com.


The Bird of Paradise variety of heliconia. If you wear your mask neither plants nor birds should fly up your nose.

Turn on your German electronic music and live your tangerine dreams. Or wait a few weeks when these will be on just about every fruit vendor’s table.

Water under the bridge. As in, coming down from a cool mountain spring, running under the road and watering the nursery you are seeing and the downstream neighbors. The mountain springs are a natural resource that drive the informal plant economy in El Valle. Here we see reflections of the trees on the other side of the bridge off of the water.

If you are an old flower power hippie, you just MIGHT want to retire in El Valle.

When the palm nuts flower, as they were doing on this day, the bees take great interest. Evolutionary biologists get lots of work studying which bees pollinate which flowers, and using DNA and fossil records are ever more documenting how plants and insects with symbiotic relationships have evolved together.

There are the chemical nurseries, but the more natural ones are surrounded by trees and the plants and placed according to the sun they need (among other considerations). The trees are valuable productive plants in and of themselves, strata for orchids and other epiphytes and perches for birds that will control insect predators by eating them.

Soon to burst out in colorful blossoms.

Is that an old volcano in the background? Most natural historians believe that Panama arose from the sea as several sets of volcanic archipelagos that were jammed together by several tectonic plates, changing ocean currents and the world climate when the gap between North and South America was closed. 

Said to have hallucinogenic properties. This reporter has not tested them.

Contact us by email at fund4thepanamanews@gmail.com


To fend off hackers, organized trolls and other online vandalism, our website comments feature is switched off. Instead, come to our Facebook page to join in the discussion.


These links are interactive — click on the boxes