Archive for November, 2009

Blue or purple hibiscus

Hibiscus are a dime a dozen where we live. It’s planted along the roads, in public gardens and parks … you name it.

So since I have limited space in the garden, it makes more sense to grow other flowering plants.

But then, when they are purple-blue and double-petalled, it’s a whole new ball game altogether.  It’s got everything going for it; it’s as gorgeous as a rose with none of the thorns, and is a fuss-free perennial.

We’ve had the hibiscus  for so long I can’t remember if we grew it from a cutting or if we bought the plant.

This particular hibiscus seems to shoot for the skies and tends to be lanky, so a periodic pruning is necessary to keep its height in check.

The hibiscus doesn’t take much effort to grow as long as it gets the requisite sunshine, warmth and humidity. Dip the ends of hardwood cuttings into rooting hormone powder to propagate.

Our blue hibiscus currently shares a pot with a miniature hibiscus. They seem to have hit it off, so we don’t intend to separate them for now.

This hibiscus is not a constant bloomer like its more floriferous relatives, but when the flowers show, they are well worth the wait.

The double petalled hibiscus looks more purple when it first blooms, but appear bluish as it fades.  I can’t tell if it’s actually more blue or purple but I guess it doesn’t really matter, does it?

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

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A bit of Old England in Camerons

Four days in Cameron Highlands and we hadn’t made any hotel reservations. The plan was to check out a few places and make a decision once we’d seen Bala’s Chalet. I had taken a look at their website and it seemed intriguing.

After making a few enquiries, we came to Bala’s.

We drove up the steep road, set our eyes on the cottage and that was it.

An old Tudor-styled building with an ivy clad façade greeted us. Pots of gay petunias hung from the eaves, while impatiens grew in abandon below. Green moss and lichen grew rampantly on the tiled roof as ficus scrambled up to join the fun.

We walked into the charming reception area. This was essentially English with plump fabric sofas and bay windows edged with clinging ivy.

“Do you have a room for us?” we asked with bated breath. They did. In fact we were given choices. My heart sang.

Bala’s was an old colonial boarding school in 1934. I spied more than a couple stocks in the garden and wondered if that was how they had punished mischievous children of that era. I don’t envy the poor kid who was caught misbehaving in class!


The tudor boarding school has since been converted into a holiday chalet, but the stocks remain. There was also an old dog house in Tudor style.

Elsewhere, I found an old discarded bathtub, a cobwebby chandelier – remnants of the yesteryears. If only these things could talk.

The chalet has remained true to its English tradition and has retained much of its old charm.

There are stone fireplaces as well as nooks and crannies typical of old English homes. Dark wooden beams run across the ceilings of the simple yet tastefully furnished rooms.

I couldn’t wait to explore the gardens. There were medinilla, fuchsias, abutilons, and geraniums.

I spied ipomoea and thunbergias grandiflora and mysorensis trailing down from the ledges above. There were even a couple of mysore raspberry canes.

I loved the flamboyant blooms of the tibouchina and brugmansia, as well as the more sedate roses, calla lilies and begonias that graced the gardens. 



There was even a wooden bird house with a resident dove. I walked up close, but the ‘dove’ remained impassive and still. Birdlovers may have to wait forever to hear it coo.     😛


There was much to see and to savour.

Near the main building, we saw a steep road and a flight of steps.

At the top, we found more rooms. Some of these had lofts and if the photos in the reception were anything to go by, they would be ideal for small families as long as one was prepared to walk up and down the steps to get to the rooms.

Set on higher ground, these rooms had a picturesque view of the place. I could sit up there all day.

Some of the rooms at the chalet are named Balmoral, Edinburgh, Windsor … after the English castles, while others are named Anne, Catherine, Elizabeth … after the queens. Ours was Evening Rose.

Our room opened out to the lovely front garden. Wrought-iron tables and chairs beckoned invitingly, and we sat there beneath the starry skies on more than one occasion.

With just a handful of guests during the low peak period, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. To me, this was bliss.

Those with deeper pockets may wish to check out Ye Olde Smokehouse. This is arguably the most famous address in Camerons and is slightly further up the hill.

This English Tudor hotel sits in a beautiful cottage garden complete with a tudor dovecote, a wooden bridge and an old English telephone booth.


















More information about Bala’s Chalet:

Bala’s lies between Brinchang and Tanah Rata.

Facilities provided with our ensuite room:

–          hot shower
–          TV
–          towels
–          shampoo and shower gel sachets
–          jug kettle

(there was neither bar fridge nor phone in our room but we didn’t really miss those)

Services provided include:

–          Free shuttle to and from Tanah Rata
–          Reading room and library
–          Recreational activities include:
–          Daily countryside tour
–          Daily adventure tours, tea plantation, Gunung Brinchang
–          Guided jungle trekking
–          Orang asli experience
–          Jim Thompson’s trail from hotel grounds


For more information about Ye Olde Smokehouse:


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Charmed by Cameron Highlands

It was bliss.

Cool temps, an English Tudor setting, verdant green hills, temperate flowers, English scones, strawberries and cream… stuff dreams are made of. 

For a start, I was smitten with the holiday chalet. It was quintessentially English.

I loved its authentic wooden beams, fireplaces and timbered floors, and readily forgave the occasional creaking floorboard and stiff bathroom door.

I could have been in bonny England. Imagine, even the dog house in the garden was Tudor!

Ivy clung to the walls and window panes, while moss and lichen hugged the roof. Everything was lush and green.

Geraniums, impatiens, fuchsia, and brugmansias added splashes of color to the picturesque garden.

As the rays of the sun streamed through the foliage, it looked almost like paradise on earth. But even paradise has its thorns.

I stifled a whoop of joy when I found wild mysore raspberry canes.

The ripened berries beckoned, but their vicious thorns held me back – for a second.

I was not about to be deterred and ignored the snaring hooks as I spied a couple of ripe, plump berries.

Maybe being at a higher altitude heightened the senses. Somehow, everything seemed more vibrant and tasted better in the highlands. 

Our itinerary was simple – farms  and plant centres (and yet more plant centres) interspersed with pit-stops for meals.

The plant stops were definitely non-negotiable.

Now’s the time to take in the lovely fuchsias, camellias, roses, lavenders, herbs and more. And now’s the time to buy some too!

I succumbed to a lavandula dentata, an osmanthus, a drosera aliceae, an eu de cologne mint, a bunch of lycopodiums and a couple of African violets.

I was pleased. I had my plant-fix.

I could skip a meal if it meant I got to see another plant centre. Brave words, since I usually think or plan two meals ahead of time.

Talking about food, I was told that I had to try the scones in Camerons. I love scones, but never had any in all my visits to the highland.

So for the first time, I sampled their English scones with strawberries and cream.

I even tried fruity strawberry scones, strawberry crepes, strawberry tarts and roti strawberry.

It was a good thing I stopped short of getting a strawberry milkshake or juice or it’d probably be coursing through my veins by now.

We had steamboat, as well as fish and chips and chicken chop.

We even had bak kut teh. This was not something we had planned for, but was really good – and we had it with the most appetizing tofu I’ve ever tasted. 

On the last day, we drove to the Palas tea plantation for a breakfast of scones, tarts and apple pie.

The access road seemed trickier than I remembered, but the view from the tea centre was as lovely as it was before – at least my memory served me well there.

As I packed the bottles of ‘blackberry’ jam I had bought, I filed away treasured memories …

… a field of daylilies,

… brilliant blue strongylodon macrobotrys,

… pendants of thunbergia mysorensis,

… spectacular peach, yellow and white brugmansias,

… striking pyrostegia,

… a bed of chamomile,

… ripening apples, pears,

wild begonias and orange berries I had seen on a hillside.   

Finally, we weaved our way down the hill, passing a few indigenous people (orang asli) who had been collecting firewood.

Some of them had set up stalls selling wild orchids, lycopodiums, bamboo shoots, and parkia speciosa (petai).

As we drove, we saw evidences of landslides caused by the monsoon rains.

The scars were fresh, but thankfully we had near-perfect weather throughout our stay.

In this rainy season, that was nothing short of a miracle.

Bala’s Holiday Chalet lies between Tanah Rata and Brinchang

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IMG_2882If you want something that adds zest to your  garden as well as your meal, then you can’t go wrong with the cosmos caudatus and sulphureus.

The plants bloom their heads off and create bright splashes of colour, while the young leaves can be added to salads or eaten straight.

Cosmos caudatus has pale pink flowers – but it is mostly grown for its leaves. The young shoots taste refreshing. A friend likened its taste to that of a mango, and he’s right.

If your intention is to harvest the young leaves and shoots, don’t let the plant flower. It tastes best that way. If you have a few plants, harvest shoots from all but one, allowing that to set seed.

IMG_3715bI’d gladly eat a whole bunch of cosmos caudatus – it is that tasty, and more so since it is said to improve blood circulation, lower uric acid, reduce body ‘heat’ and is a good source of fibre. (http://herbs.ourborneo.com)

Unlike the pale pink of the caudatus, the flowers of the cosmos sulphureus are a bright orange or yellow. If you have the space, try planting lots of it since an expanse of blooming cosmos sulphureus is like a bed of sunshine. These eye-catching flowers also attract butterflies.

IMG_4707The Tawny Coster butterfly (IDed by Green Baron of Green Culture Singapore) loves the cosmos and always visits when the plants are in bloom. There must be something about the cosmos sulphureus that enthralls the Tawny Coster. It hovers over the flowers for what seems like an eternity, and ignores me as I attempt to photograph it from all angles.

The leaves of the cosmos sulphureus are also edible. The taste is however, very different from that of the caudatus. Try it and see.

Which would emerge the victor in a face-off between the caudatus and sulphureus? It all depends.  While I prefer the orange and yellow flowers of the cosmos sulphureus, the taste of the cosmos caudatus wins hands down.

Care and propagation: well-drained soil; full sun; water moderately; propagate using seeds.


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IMG_0243_vftMy pink venus loves the sun.

Since moving it to the front of the garden where it enjoys the sun all day, it has responded well and thrown out more leaves and traps. Even the colour has deepened.

baby vftThe plantlet that grew from a leaf I had stuck into the sphagnum moss is growing as well, and  is currently about 1 cm across.  

Now I’m quite tempted to pull a few more vft leaves …   😀



Here’s an update on the baby after 2 months:

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Mobile plant kiosk


I hone in on this car wherever I visit the market. It’s there rain or shine.

Depending on the circumstances, the plants are either packed in the car or displayed by the road. Either way, I’d check everything out.

There is always something to see – flowering plants, herbs, orchids, fruit tree saplings, adeniums … Sometimes I even spot plants that are not offered at garden centres.

IMG_0108It was here that I saw my first pedilanthus bracteatus with its bird-like blooms. The only thing that stopped me from getting a plant right away was its price.

It was also here that I found the bulbine frutescens with its unusual citrusy coloured flowers.

I had never seen that beautiful plant before so, as you would have guessed, I held onto the pot before anyone else could take a fancy to it.

IMG_7698_Bulbine frutescensThat’s the thing. This mobile kiosk can only carry as many plants as can fit into the boot and the interior of the car.

So this means she may only have a single pot of a particular plant. If I see anything I like, I have to grab it before it’s taken.

IMG_7696I hate to miss anything. I’d peek into the open boot, as well as the back or passenger seats.

The lady who runs this business uses every nook and corner of her car. She even hangs plants from the boot lid and balances pots on the roof. If you need a packet of fertilizer, look in the boot.

Once I took a closer look at what seemed like a covered dish of perlite on car. “What’s she selling now?” I wondered. What I thought was planting medium turned out to be the lady’s breakfast instead.

So much for my hope of getting another new plant! But then again, maybe she will have something new tomorrow.


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