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Archive for October, 2009

Eau de Cologne Mint

IMG_0150Grandma would have loved this mint. She used to have bottles of the 4711 Eau de Cologne and would let me splash some on as a treat.

When I first heard of this mint, I thought it had an unusual name. Even when a friend gave me a couple of cuttings, I still had no inkling why it was named so. I was tempted to do a scent-test but could not bear to sacrifice any of the leaves. 

So I waited. When a leaf finally matured and yellowed, I crushed it. Its fragrance was subtly sweet. 

I mollycoddled the mint but its growth was erratic. When the two mint stems dwindled, my heart sank.

IMG_5345Then I bought a pot of un-named mint from a garden centre. The leaves were huge!

After planting it into a small trough and taking the requisite snapshot of this new kid on the block, I let it be.

It was after the arrival of this newcomer that I realized a strange but pleasant phenomenon.

Each time I watered or hosed the herbs, a sweet fragrance would linger in the air. It happened time and time again. I zeroed in on the ‘culprit’. It could only be the mint. And it had to be the Eau de Cologne.

Finally I realised why the plant was given its name. Now, whenever I water the plants in the garden, I approach the Eau de Cologne mint with a sense of anticipation …
 

Care and propagation: rich, well drained soil; shade to partial sun; water regularly but don’t overwater; propagate using cuttings or runners

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IMG_8124I love the blues. Well, those in the garden, that is.

There is something irresistible about blue flowers. So as you can imagine, I have been collecting quite a few. But there is one that stands out from the rest – the Otacanthus Caeruleus.

It gives a vivid splash of blue to liven up the floral bed and doesn’t take up much space. Its long stems weave through other plants and appear here and there to show off its blue flowers.

The vibrant blue flowers are two-lipped, with the lower lip sporting a white streak at the throat. The flowers are slightly bigger than a penny, and grow in whorls around the end of the stem.

The flowers are lovely in a vase. Whenever I pick them, the typically sticky leaves emit a pleasant scent. Some people think they smell of pine. I think they smell of camphor.

IMG_8082bThe Otacanthus is tough and relatively pest free. In fact, I can’t think of any. I have not seen any sign of caterpillars, mites or rust … and snails don’t seem to like it either.

You won’t need to fuss over the Otacanthus once you plant it. Leave it to grow at will or give the weak, lanky stems some support if you want a neater shape. Either way, the plant will make a statement in the garden.

I plant the Otacanthus Caeruleus in a mixed bed with the angelonia, pentas, asystacia, plumbago and impatiens. Try mass-planting if you want a drift of blue.

This plant is a favourite with the family. Mum likes its flowers, but she doesn’t like its name. “Can’t remember it,” she says. Maybe I should tell her it’s also called Amazon Blue or Brazilian Snapdragon. She calls it the blue ribbon flower. I don’t think the blooms resemble blue ribbons, but I do think they deserve one.


Care and propagation
: well drained soil, full sun, water moderately; propagate using cuttings

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Plumbago auriculata

IMG_2189The plumbago brings back memories of the Mediterranean Cote Azur where this plant thrives. Imagine azure coloured blooms adorning the doorways of stone buildings along the French Riviera. Simply charming.

It’s a blessing that the plumbago does well in tropical climes too and is perpetually blooming. Needless to say, it is one of my favorite garden plants.

The plumbago is just the thing if you need a plant to soften the edges of an empty corner. Imagine a rambling loose bush with clusters of sky blue flowers.

The plumbago goes out of its way to please. It’s one of the most accommodating and fuss-free plants I know. It’s a perennial, which mean no replanting is necessary – unless you happen to yank the plant out and regret doing so immediately. LOL.

IMG_8157This is a plant that can be pruned back to maintain a neat shape or left to ramble over the fence or other shrubs. Once pruned, the fast-growing plumbago springs back very quickly to fill the gap.

The plumbago can be left to grow in abandon. It also weaves through hedges and trees much like a vine and peeks out in between.

It can be relied on to fill any empty spaces in the mixed flower bed. It is the perfect border plant and does well in containers too. I could sing the praises of the plumbago all day.

I often pick sprigs of the phlox-like flowers for the vase. It’s like bringing a bit of the blue summer sky indoors. I am quite convinced the flowers turn a shade or two darker then – or is it just my imagination?


Care and propagation:
Free draining soil; full sun, water moderately; propagate using suckers (preferred), cuttings or seeds

Note: plumbago auriculata alba is a white variety

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Chocolate Mint

IMG_0051I love mints and the fact that there are so many types besides the more familiar spearmint we can get from the wet market.

There is something alluring about names like eu de cologne mint, ginger mint, variegated apple mint, chocolate mint, swiss mint, old fashioned mint … but they remained out of reach. Until recently, I only had spearmint in the garden.

And then a lovely friend sent me some cuttings of some of her mints. And the garden centres started to bring in some new mints too. I had a gala time.

My collection grew slowly and not without some hiccups as a few mints refused to live up to their reputation of being as rampant as a weed.

IMG_7554Then recently my aunt offered me some of her chocolate mint runners. I was ecstatic and almost drooled over them.  Never have a bunch of roots been so precious.

I planted the mint in a trough beneath a mulberry bush and hoped it would be happy. I watched over it carefully … so far, so good. The runners have been throwing out shoots and the mint has been growing steadily.

I picked a leaf the other day just to see if what they say about the chocolate mint is true. They say it tastes like After Eights mint chocolate. Mmm …. to be frank, I’d pick a pot of chocolate mint over a tray of mint chocolate any time.   

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Clitoria ternatea

IMG_0023aClitoria ternatea or butterfly pea brings to mind the yummy nyonya blue glutinous rice cakes one of my aunts  make.

Hers is speckled with vividly dyed royal blue rice grains and served with an equally delicious homemade egg-coconut jam. Ahhh, food … but I’m getting side-tracked.

The clitoria ternatea vine will grow and bloom happily as long as it gets full sunshine and something to climb on to.

P1070584Clitoria ternatea come in a few colours; blue, pale blue (some may say purple) and white. However, the Clitoria ternatea is mainly grown for its edible royal blue dye.

As such, most gardeners plant the blue variety. We pick the flowers when they are in full bloom and dry them. I have never tasted the seed pods before, but apparently they are edible too.

IMG_0025 Sow mature seeds to get the next generation of plants and remove the older plants once they get straggly and unkempt. Clitoria ternatea is a perennial, but is usually grown as a biennial.

We used to grow the single-petalled variety until we discovered the Clitoria ternatea var. peniflora. The double-petalled flowers are gorgeous and we grow it mostly to enjoy its glorious blue beauty.

 Care and propagation: Not fussy with soil, full sun, water moderately; propagate using seeds or cuttings

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IMG_0091I love it when the Grand Duke of Tuscany blooms. The perfume is just incredible and I can’t get enough of it.

So when it flowers, I either look like a besotted idiot or a hopeless flower addict.

The first jasminum I planted was the one gran had – the single-petalled variety which yielded lots of flowers every day. We’d pick the blossoms off the bush and transfer its perfume indoors.

But the fully double-petalled bloom of the Grand Duke of Tuscany is extra special. It is unlike other jasmines; almost an aristocrat in its ivory perfection. And each bloom measures about two inches across.

IMG_3839When I first saw the Grand Duke of Tuscany, I knew I had to get a plant. But I settled for a cutting instead. Fortunately, jasmine cuttings root easily and grow fast too.

Before long the plant bloomed and its branches needed a pruning.

Now we have more than a couple of Dukes tucked here and there in the garden.

Every now and then, we’d find a few plump ivory buds waiting to unfurl and spill their sweet perfume…

 

 

 

Care and propagation: well drained soil; water moderately; full sun; propagate using cuttings

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Gomphrena globosa

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Gomphrena globosa, globe amaranth, bachelor’s buttons.

I like the last of those names best but while I understand where ‘buttons’ come from, I can’t figure out the ‘bachelor’s’ bit.

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The gomphrena was one of the first plants I could grow successfully as a kid, and I’ve never grown tired of its button-like flowers all these years.

Gomphrenas come in purple, pink and white. All three are lovely and grown together, they are even more so.

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I can’t decide which I prefer; the vividness of the purple, the subtley of the pink or the purity of the white. 

When in doubt, I’d plant all three.  😀

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And then some time ago, I found strawberry colored ones. ‘Strawberry Fields’ comes in a delicious strawberry tone, just as its name suggests.

The flowers are sparser than their more robust siblings, but they look good enough to eat.

But I’m glad the other three just bloom their heads off. I could cut handfuls of their cheery flower heads and still have lots to spare.

Gomphrena flower heads are added to teas and is said to cleanse and detoxify, stop coughing, relieve tension and stress, and nourish the skin too.

IMG_6956I’ve never tried using those from the garden for this purpose but with all those health benefits, maybe I should try making a gomphrena infusion too.

And maybe it’s not just the flowers that can be used. The birds help themselves each time the flowers set seed, having what seems like a raucous seed party. I wonder if that means the seeds are edible for us too?   😉

 

Care and propagation: not fussy about soil; full sun; water moderately; propagate using seeds (self-seeds easily)

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