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20160620_171403sI had just planted a few Gloriosa tubers from my Aunt C three weeks before, and I was mesmerised by its rate of growth.20160607_175641s

It was like watching a video on a fast-forward mode; within a week, the nub on one of the tubers grew an amazing 30cm.

With each day, the spindly shoot grew taller, and within three short weeks of planting, I saw the first Gloriosa blossom.

The flower went through a spectrum of colours as it opened gradually; from a light apple green and pastel yellow, to a pale blush which gradually flamed into a hot, intense cerise.

20160615_071504sThe corollas of the Gloriosa Superba are reminiscent of orchids and, lilies; and their wavy, flaming reflexed petals resemble tongues of fire.

20160622_102715bNow as the flaming flowers of the first tuber lie spent, a second dormant tuber is stirring and showing signs of life. I’m hoping that this lethargic tuber will put up a similarly brilliant show.

If you are keen to have a go at the flaming Gloriosa, do exercise a bit of caution. It wouldn’t pay to get your fingers burnt by what is listed as one of the most breathtaking but dangerous flowers in the world.

 

 Care and propagation:

Semi-shade to full sun; garden soil, water moderately. Needs support. Propagate using tubers or seeds

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20160402_100437sThe Hat Pin plant.

Its common name brings to mind the yesteryears and legendary characters like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple or Granny Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies with their signature bonnets.

20141121_175032sThis plant which is often dismissed as being plain and uninteresting had to be rescued more than once from the garden refuse bag where it had been unceremoniously discarded as a weed.

So why does it appeal to me?

This bog dweller with its monocotyledonous green leaves has a neat habit and makes a nice potted plant.

But its charm and uniqueness belong almost solely to the pinheads, which are actually tightly clustered minute blooms that form the little pinhead. A couple of these blooms may look like hat pins, but a few dozens look more like a pincushion instead.

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What started as a waif rescued from within a refuse bag is now colonizing the trough. I  shall have to start finding homes for them, failing which I might just try a spot of guerilla gardening. The next time you see what resembles a pin cushion by the wayside, look again. It may just turn out to be a hat pin plant.

 

Care and propagation: Semi-shade to full sun; peat or garden soil; water generously; propagate using seeds

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Meyer Lemon

20160103_081246sApparently the Meyer lemon is the lemon of choice for many. I once bought what I thought were Meyers but they weren’t. What a letdown; especially when the bag was misleadingly tagged as such.

I continued to keep a lookout for them, but could only find regular ones.

Fast forward a few years ….

I was in Vegas a few weeks ago when I was told that my cousin had a lemon tree. You can pretty much guess the exchange that took place …

20160102_124213_s“Are there lemons on the tree? May I pick a few?” My cousin assured me I could but said they were not 100% lemon. “They’re a cross between a lemon and an orange,” he said.

Ding! … Ding!

I’m not a casino-goer but this must be how it feels to hit the jackpot. My cousin had the Meyer lemon!

I arrived at my cousin’s to see the Meyer. It looked like a massive cocoon, covered to protect the tender tree from the frost. “We’ve already picked most of the lemons but there are some left,” he said.

I peeled the covers off the swaddled tree. It seemed almost as momentous as the unveiling of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

20160102_132926bI gawked at the big juicy baubles before swaddling the tree once again for the night. I’d have a better look the next morning.

If the lemons had been enticing the day before, they were even more irresistible the next morning. My cousin handed me a pair of secateurs and I selected and cut a number of lemons and cuttings. Oh, joy, joy!

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So, how do the lemons compare? I find the Meyer lemon from my cousin’s tree bigger, juicier and less acidic than regular lemons. And while I always struggle to squeeze the juice from a lemon, I had no trouble at all with the Meyer lemon.

Would I grow a Meyer lemon tree? If I could, yes, without a doubt.

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Care and propagation: Morning sun, well-drained soil, water regularly. Best grafted, it is possible to propagate using seeds or cuttings

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Meyer lemon on the left, regular lemon on the right

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Mini Taro Nests

20160131_132333sDeep fried mini taro nests make a lovely snack but I find them a little overpriced. Why pay when there’s taro in the backyard and I can prepare and fry these delectable crisps in a couple of hours?IMG_9619s

I found two undersized taros – which, with some elbow grease and a hot wok, soon turned into little tempting clusters of crispy taro nests.

 

Here’s what you need:

1 small taro

1 tbsp sesame seeds

Some coriander leaves

1 teasp 5-spice powder

½ teasp salt

Dash of pepper

1 tablesp rice flour

¼ teasp cornflour

 

Here’s how:

  1. Shred the taro into strips.
  2. Coarsely cut the coriander leaves.
  3. Mix the taro strips with all the other ingredients.
  4. Heat up some oil in a wok.
  5. Shape the taro into little clusters or nests and drop into the oil.
  6. Deep fry till golden brown. Store in an airtight container when cool.

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20151122_112142sI’ve never given much thought to the black jelly drink the locals call ‘xian chao’ or ‘cincau’ – up until recently anyway. That was when I discovered that it originates from a plant; … which is, I now realise, why some people call it ‘grass jelly’!

My interest was piqued when I found out that there was also a green grass jelly. A friend who was given a bunch of Cyclea Barbata leaves, lost no time in making some green jelly.

“Was it good?” I asked.

He was hesitated for a split second. “Tasted of chlorophyll,” he said. “… and it was a murky green,” obviously not overly impressed either by its taste or appearance.

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Image taken from wikipedia.org/wiki/Grass_jelly#

 Yet when the chance came for me to get a plant, I didn’t need to think twice. Mine, however, is the Platostoma palustre which yields the black jelly.

20151122_112450s The plant has been growing well in its pot and appears to be fuss-free – so far at least.

I hope it won’t be long before I start harvesting some Platostoma palustre leaves for the kitchen. For now, the plan is for the plant to grow a bit more since more leaves mean more jelly.

In the meantime I’m reading up on the plant, as well as on the preparation of the jelly. Something tells me that it’s going to be fun experimenting with all the possibilities!

Care and propagation: Full sun, garden soil, water moderately. Propagate using cuttings or seeds.

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the Platostoma Palustre when I first got it

Patchouli

20150831_092421sOur guide at the French perfumery talked us through the distillation process of perfumes and essential oils from flowers and plants.

One stood out in particular – the Patchouli or Pogostemon Cablin Benth. Not because it was a plant I was familiar with, but more because they said it could grow where I lived.  And that was what got me started.

20150831_093010sFor years thereafter, every plant that looked remotely like the Patchouli came under close scrutiny. I would furtively pick the leaves hoping to get a whiff of what was supposed to be a sweet earthy scent. But each time they turned out to be fool’s gold.

In retrospect, I realize how foolish I’d been. I was just fortunate none of the plants turned out to be stinging nettle or worse, or I’d have to pay for my folly.

This obsession may have carried on if not for a friend who told me that he had found the elusive Patchouli. Finally, finally …!

20150831_092918sIt was only a matter of time before cuttings made their way to my garden. True to form, they had square stems and ovate-eliptic shaped leaves with soft-toothed margins.

So what do I think of the Patchouli, one of the most important plants used in perfumery? Actually the fresh leaves smell ‘vague’ with none of the intensity I had expected. Since I can’t distill its perfume, I’ll going to dry the leaves instead. But no, I’ve no intention of starting a home perfumery or a Patchouli farm any time soon.   :)

 

 

 

Care and propagation: Partial sun; garden soil; water moderately. Propagate using cuttings.

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Jacaranda

P1100138s“Are you sure you want to plant those?” my friend S looked at me in disbelief when I showed her the Jacaranda seed pods I had picked from a tree down the road. “The leaves are so small they get into everything!”IMG_0527s

Yes, I’d seen the confetti of jacaranda leaves on S’s lawn, how they had peppered the pathways and found their way into the smallest gaps.

But sound reasoning was clouded by the enticing descriptions of the Australian outback in novels, with the ubiquitous purple Jacaranda and singing cicadas.

20141024_071415sI was tempted to have a small slice of that heavenly purple but was not prepared to house a 40-foot giant in my own yard.

I assured S that if the seeds ever germinated, I’d prune them so that the leaves wouldn’t have the chance to be a nuisance.

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20150823_180917bThe Jacaranda seedlings are now more than 2 feet tall, each with hundreds upon hundreds of the finest leaves.

With their reputation for being vigorous growers, I’d better start shaping and training them … fast!

I’ve always wondered if Jacarandas made good bonsais …  and I suppose now is as good a time to find out as any.

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Care and propagation: Full sun, preferably well-drained soil, water moderately. Propagate using seeds or cuttings (not tried this myself)

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