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Archive for May, 2010

Pentas Lanceolata

My aunt in Singapore planted blood red pentas alongside apricot coloured crossandras, gentian evolvulus and sky blue plumbago. I loved the combination.

So a few years down the road, when I found myself back in my familiar backyard, I looked for the plants eager to recreate that same beauty. The last three plants were easy enough to find, but not the first …

I found white, pink, mauve, purple and dark red pentas though – these plants have a more compact and neater habit.

They may not be the same red variety my aunt had, but they were lovely all the same.

This fast growing annual blooms readily and the clusters last a couple of weeks at least. Its star-shaped flowers are reminiscent of the phlox – but are a lot easier to grow and to maintain in the tropics.

 

I love to plant the pentas on its own. But I also like to combine them with torenia, zinnia, melampodium, angelonia, balsamina and cataranthus – all of which are stalwarts in our garden.

As soon as the flowers fade, snip them off. Deadheading the plants regularly prolongs the flowering period. This is also when I take cuttings for propagation. Done regularly, I get a continuous supply of healthy robust pentas plants to take over from spent and tired ones.

So one plant goes a long way – unless laziness gets the better of me, of course. When that happens, I just get another on my next visit to the garden centre. Not a bad investment for just a couple of dollars.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to keep a lookout for the one that refuses to be found.

 

 

Care and propagation: Full sun, well-drained soil, water generously preferably in the mornings. If you have to water the pant late in the evenings, avoid wetting the leaves.

Propagate using cuttings (preferred) or seeds (these never get the chance to form as deadheading is recommended)

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“Do you want to try lemon myrtle leaves?” P asked. “I ordered some and have more than I need. I’ll send them over to you.”

The leaves arrived through the mail and I crushed them to release the citral oils. Then I googled to find out more.

The web lauded the lemon myrtle as both a culinary and medicinal herb.

There were lots of recipes and a few caught my eye – lemon myrtle pancakes, lemon myrtle shortbread, Vietnamese lemon myrtle prawns, lemon myrtle assam laksa … the list goes on! Yummy!!!

As if that was not enough, the lemon myrtle is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and therapeutic to boot. The refreshing and lemony tea soothes sore dry throats and fights against infections.

Enough said. Now where can I get a pot?

It was sometime (and a few emails) before I got one, all thanks to a lovely aunt who heard my plaintive cries.

I treated it like a prized trophy and was content just to gaze at the herb. One of my friends thought I was insane. “You haven’t used the leaves? What on earth are you keeping them for?” I could visualize him shaking his head in despair as his words appeared fast and furious on chat.

It was a year later that I finally harvested the light green leaves. I had caught a flu bug and had a scratchy throat. When I ran out of the prescribed antiseptic mouth gargle and lozenges, I brewed some fresh lemon myrtle tea. Ahhh, lovely. Why didn’t I think of it earlier?

Come to think of it, I should brew more tomorrow …

 

Lemon myrtle tea: Steep a sprig of fresh lemon myrtle leaves in a mug of boiling water. After half an hour, add a teaspoon of honey. Beautiful!

Care and propagation: well drained soil, partial to full sun; water moderately; propagate using cuttings or seeds (neither is easy, with seeds having less than 5% success rate)

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Fragrant Yam Rice

The yam was protruding above the ground and was ready to be pulled.

I had used the last few for yam cake so it was time for a change. Yam rice would be good, I thought.

Gran used to make lovely yam rice and we always had seconds.

This is one of those fuss free  recipes where everything finally goes into the pot.

Yam Rice (serves 4)

1 medium size yam, diced

1 piece pork (fist size), diced

2 chinese sausages, diced

5 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon five spice powder

10 shallots, sliced finely, fried till golden

2 cups rice

3.5-4 cups water

salted fish, thinly sliced and fried till golden and crisp

salt and pepper to taste

scallions, sliced

  1. Heat 1.5 tablespoons of oil. Sautee garlic till fragrant.
  2. Add Chinese sausages, then pork and yam. Add salt, pepper and five spice powder and fry till fragrant.
  3. Add rice and mix.
  4. Transfer fried rice mixture into a rice cooker and add water. Go easy on the water and add more only when required.
  5. When cooked, serve garnished with scallions, fried shallots and salted fish.

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‘The extracts of Stevia rebaudiana are said to be 300 times sweeter than sugar.’ When I first read about it, I was intrigued.

What a novelty, I thought.

I wanted to plant it but there was no any point scouring the garden centres as it hadn’t reached our shores then. I had to look for seeds instead.

A kind soul send me some. The seeds were so light I had to take care not to breathe too hard or I would have lost the lot.

The seeds germinated and soon I had stevia plants. It was some months before I could taste it. As soon as it was robust enough, I sampled a leaf.

I had expected it to taste like a spoonful of sugar but it didn’t. It was slighty sweet and had an aftertaste. But visitors to the garden are always thrilled when I let them try a leaf or two.

The stevia can now be found quite easily at many garden centres so anyone can buy a pot and grow their own. I hardly use the herb but my neighbor says she adds it to her soups for extra flavor.

So the stevia … friend or foe?

There is some debate over this small perennial herb which is purportedly banned in a few countries and advocated as a godsend in others.

In the meantime though, it remains in our garden – an interesting conversation piece even for those who profess to be averse to plants and gardening.

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

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“Would you like a red albomarginata?” a gardening friend asked. “But it doesn’t have any pitchers,” KC warned.

Would I like one? It may have been small and pitcherless, but I have a dreadful weakness for nice red neps.

So the albomarginata joined the rest of my CPs.

A red albo, I thought happily. I wanted to see it pitcher, but I knew this called for a long wait. It was a good thing the albo wasn’t my only nepenthes because we know what they say about a watched kettle.

After more than half a year, it finally threw out a few reddish pitchers.

  

The pitchers may not have the flamboyance of its neighbor the Gardentech, but I think they look quite distinguished with their signature white bands, don’t they?

Care and propagation: Filtered light; media a mix of sphagnum moss, pine bark, peat moss, sand; keep moist; optional top dressing of moss; propagate using cuttings

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Osmanthus?

I’d never heard of it before. “It’s very fragrant,” my friend insisted. “The flowers are tiny, but smell heavenly,” he added. “… but make sure you get those from China.”

This was new to me. I wasn’t even familiar with the osmanthus, much less those from China.

So, I googled. Good thing my friend had posted something on it in a gardening website, so that helped.

It goes without saying that I caught the fever. I looked everywhere for the plant – everywhere within 30km of my home that is. But the plant remained elusive.

Then finally some 300km away and a good 1800m above sea level, I saw it.

I was at my favorite highland resort and finding the osmanthus there was the icing on the cake.

I touched the humble handwritten label. There was no mistake. “Where is it from?” I asked. “China,” the man responded. Ahhh, sweet osmanthus indeed.

I bought one and planted it as soon as I touched base. But Dad looked at it with disdain. “You bought a chiku?” I was mortified but I guess there was some resemblance.

I gave the osmanthus morning sun and shielded it from the blazing afternoon heat.

The flowers came; first just a few sparse ones and then finally a decent panicle of four-lobed ivory coloured blooms.

I am waiting for the day when I can harvest the blooms and brew some osmanthus fragrans tea.

Now, that would truly be sweet ambrosia.

 

Care and propagation: slightly acidic to acidic well-drained soil; morning sun; moderate watering; propagate using medium wood cuttings

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 I love ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos. They tell a story and speak volumes of potential and promise. Here are my own before and after shots – well, not of me, but of my plant.

before

after

This is how it all began…

I was with a couple of gardening friends when we saw a few pots of sarracenias at a local garden centre. Ironically, we got excited, not because the plants were lovely, but because they were not. You see, we were planning to bargain and buy the sad-looking specimens at reduced prices.

A pot of sarracenia is normally tagged at US$7 upwards here. I managed to get five for $5.

One of my friends identified a couple of them. “This is a flava, and that’s a stevensii.” He said. “They should recover if you take care of them properly.”

I wasn’t too sure about my abilities then, but I figured that even if only one survived, it would still be a bargain.

Another friend thought I had poured my money down the drain. “They look like they’re going dormant. It won’t be easy getting them past that stage …” He knew that I was new to all this.

He was right. I lost one after another as I couldn’t store them in the fridge as advised. That would have raised some fierce objections from my Minister of Home Affairs.

But there was a trooper amongst the lot. This sarracenia had a few pitchers. But only two of these looked decent; the rest were either brown at the tips or had been snipped off.

At first, nothing happened.

Then the pitchers started to grow in number. One of them had a promising blush so I decided to move it to full sun.

And the transformation began.

First, the veins turned red. Then the entire pitcher followed suit. Now I have an entire pot of deep red pitchers.

Would I be right to say that this is a purpurea x flava? For now anyway, I’ll just call it a ‘beef

steak’ – medium rare.

And …. now I do have a name for it. Allen Phoon from petpitcher forum identified it for me as Sarracenia Chelsonii which is a purpurea x rubra. Many thanks, Allen!  🙂

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