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Archive for the ‘Plants’ Category

Blueberry Picking

20160814_021828sI could never have exercised that willpower, I thought as I popped another handful of blueberries, fresh off the stem, into the mouth.

Years ago, my sister was asked to whistle as she picked the little berries packed with vitamins and antioxidants.

“Why?” she had asked, a little perplexed by the odd request.

“Because you can’t whistle and eat at the same time,” the farmer had replied with a straight face.

I’m not sure if my sister had obliged, but I was so glad the farm we were on had no qualms about us enjoying their berries. There were no ‘Eating is Prohibited’ signs and we weren’t told to whistle either.

But at just $1 a pound, the farmers probably didn’t really mind that pickers, like us, helped ourselves to as many berries as we wanted. After all, how many could we have eaten?

20160814_040113sAs it was, hundreds of overripe berries peppered the ground beneath the bushes. And despite it being the tail end of the season, there were still huge clusters of unripe blush and riper blue berries.

Armed with buckets, we went straight for the furthest bushes hoping to find those other pickers would have missed. The berries were waiting … by the thousands! The biggest berries were often out of reach on the highest branches, but our buckets filled fast nonetheless.

20160814_035537sAn hour and a half later, we made our way back to the blueberry stand, complete with berry-stained lips and fingers. Our haul tipped the scale at nine pounds! My first blueberry-picking mission was a success.

You’d think we had enough berries to last us a while, but no. We were back at the farm just a few days later for another berry picking session.

Those were happy blueberry-filled days. Nature has since set those same bushes aflame in autumn colours, frosting them over on colder mornings. And every berry has since been eaten, dried or frozen. 20160814_022844s

The blueberry season may be over up north, but the season is just round the corner for my friends down south. There’s already talk about netting their plants, protecting the berries from birds and squirrels.

Here I am, thousands of miles away, wishing I could join in the action. At best I can only start making plans for the 2018 season which can’t come too soon. Until then, the only blueberry picking I will be doing is from the supermarket shelves.

 

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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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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

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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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20140806_183145sMore minty than peppermint and spearmint, the Menthe Arvensis is an instant breath-freshener. All my friends who sampled the leaves hesitantly were amazed at how minty it really is.

The Menthe Arvensis has the trademark square stem which is characteristic of the mint family, and small, nondescript white flowers.IMG_9412s

It grows easily and spreads through its network of roots. 20140824_104622sWhile mints have a reputation for being invasive but mine is nowhere as invasive as I’d like it to be.

I thought I’d lost the Menthe Arvensis on more than one occasion but this trouper bounced back each time. I’d cover the bare stems with more soil and wait for them to spring up again. They’ve never failed me before, but I  should try to make more use of it while I can.

I’ve used it as a garnish and will probably brew some mint tea next. But, what else? Someone said she used it to flavour her chocolate mint cake. Tempting indeed. I wonder if I dare …

Care and propagation: Partial sun to full sun, humus rich soil, water generously. Propagate using runners or cuttings.

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20150531_173124sGarlic chives can go into just about anything … omelette, pancakes, fritters, soups … And what’s great about this versatile herb is that it keeps coming back so you have a constant supply. I’ve been enjoying my chives for many years now, nipping out to snip them whenever I felt like adding some to a dish.

So in my list of ‘Got-to-have herbs’, I had confidently ticked off this herb.

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what I saw up in the highlands

Then on one of my trips to the highlands, I saw the broadleaf flowering Chinese chives which I was told yielded garlic chive buds popular in stir-fries. My eyes widened at the information, I had thought the chives I had produced these chive buds … no wonder mine were a poor shadow of those I find in the market.

I couldn’t ask my host for a plant as it was a recent acquisition, so I mentally added the herb to my wishlist.

20150531_173047sThen quite recently, I saw it for sale at a floral fest. There were only two pots so I grabbed one and persuaded my aunt to get the other.

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regular and broadleaf juxtaposed

The broadleaf chives which have settled in next to the regular chives, put their more common cousin in the shade.

It surpasses the regular chives in terms of size with leaves about 4 times wider, and its plump buds are definitely bigger too.

What about taste?

It’s said that the leaves can be used in the same way as regular garlic chives but I’ve yet to try them. But it’s about time I did. After all, the more I harvest them, the more they’re supposed to grow.

Hopefully that means I will not have to wait too long for a plate of stir-fried homegrown garlic chive buds.

 

Care and propagation: Full sun; regular garden soil; water normally. Propagate by division.

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Figs

20150418_125202sFigs are a highly rated fruit, valued for their nutritional benefits as well as unique and luscious sweetness.

But it was the fig leaves that first caught our forefather’s attention and made fashion headlines some two thousand years ago when they were the basis of what was the haute couture of the day.

My first fig encounter with the Ficus Auriculata was when I was only six. The Ficus took on mythic proportions, with its massive leaves and fruit which grew from the trunk, branches and roots.

Figs have since become a lot less mysterious and a lot more appealing, especially when I realized that there 20150418_125311swere innumerable varieties of figs I could plant. Taking the local gardening scene by storm, figs have grabbed the attention of more than a few enthusiasts. Many have been buying fig cuttings and scions, enticed by the range of figs available in various colours of the spectrum; green, yellow, blush, red, purple, black and even striped ones.

20150726_105527_BlackGenoa_sMushrooming fig nurseries and websites have brought many exotic varieties of fig plants and cuttings right to the doorstep of the home gardener.

Buoyed by the tide of enthusiasm, I came back down to earth quickly when I realized how costly the plants were. The rarer varieties were way out of my budget and the more common ones were not cheap either.

My first fig was a rooted Black Mission cutting given by a school friend. Then came the Masui Dauphine and Brown Turkey a few months later. The Brown Turkey has yielded a few figs, but there hasn’t been sign of fruit on the Masui Dauphine. The Black Mission, unfortunately, didn’t make it.

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my inspiration

A fellow gardener, on the other hand, has been enjoying great success with his figs. His plants, unlike mine, have been fruiting their heads off.

I’ve recently acquired the Conadria, Black Genoa and Taiwan Golden Fig and am emulating what my friend is doing, hoping that it’ll make a difference and that the plants will swing into high gear.

And, what do you know! Little nubs of fruit are already forming on the plants; little burgeoning figs that should plump out and ripen over the next few weeks. I just can’t wait!

Care and propagation:  Full sun; light, well drained soil; water moderately; propagate using cuttings     20150221_083621b

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