The bat may look like a cuddly fur ball to some, but its association with vampires and Transylvania freaks me out.

A couple of years ago however, I adopted a few. They were the flightless Tacca Chantrieri which is vegetative; definitely not the gothic mammal I have an aversion to.

However, all the Tacca Chantrieri seedlings, bar one, succumbed to root rot.

IMG_0122bThe lone survivor bore a flower, but that first bat was a miniature. The greenish-grey bloom was no bigger than my thumb nail but had the requisite trademark bat shape and whiskers.

I moved the Tacca from the confines of its pot into a trough. And, yeaaay! Subsequent flowers had longer whisker-like bracts and larger sootier ‘wings’.
IMG_0176sThese showy bracts overshadow the buds that hang in umbels from the centre. The buds bloom in turn and the reflexed petals of the small black flowers cup the reproductive organs.

20140405_143840sSo far, however, my Tacca Chantrieri has not produced any seed pods. I’ll try pollinating the flowers when they bloom next and see if I can get some seeds.

Do I really want more plants? Well, why not?

The Tacca Chantrieri may not win any prizes for being a conventional beauty, but this bat flower can hold its own with its unique and intriguing form.


Care and propagation:

Semi-shade to full sun; light, well-drained soil, water moderately. Propagate using seeds or rhizomes.




20140426_140753sWe were in for another electric tropical storm. The rain pounded away as the thunder and lightning continued their cacophonous medley.

IMG_5356sA couple of oceans away, it’s spring. Where, the rain drizzles lightly and where tulips and daffodils are the flavours of month. But nope, we’re not getting any of these gloriously coloured jaw-dropping floral carpets.

But there is a silver lining in our storm clouds; storm or rain lilies are popping up, even out of cracks – fluted pink and chalice-shaped yellow zephyranthes.




I prefer the bright yellow ones; splashes of unadulterated sunshine that come after a storm.

When not in bloom, however, the Zephyranthes Sulphurea is about as exciting as grass. The uninspiring straps of foliage blend right in with the green surrounds. But just when you have forgotten about its  existence, the plant awakens.

And that’s what’s appealing about it. Unlike the tulip which blooms like clockwork every year, you can never tell when the zephyranthes will spring its surprise.


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



Cosmos Seashells

IMG_0001sGrowing up may have dispelled many charming childhood mysteries, but I can never resist holding a conch to my ear and listening to the sea within. I’d reach for the biggest shell in my collection today just to listen to its muffled roar.IMG_0003s

Quite recently, a friend gave me a handful of floral seashell seeds. These delicate ‘seashells’ couldn’t be further removed from the tough calcium carbonate exoskeletons that I’ve had for years.

But if there’s anything I like better than my collection of seashells, it has to be my plants. So Cosmos Seashells are definitely keepers.

IMG_0016The first batch of seedlings succumbed to the shock of transplanting so I tried again. This time I sowed directly into the trough where they made it past infancy.
IMG_0018sThe delicate juveniles surprised me by budding before they were 8 inches tall. The pinhead bud grew and burgeoned, and the sepals split to reveal a pink Cosmos Seashell. Then came the white and maroon ‘shells’.

Most of the flowers had fluted and conical petals, but not all. Some petals curved and overlapped to form a cone, yet others had regular flat petals.



I’ll sow another lot soon and this time, I’ll sow more and rake in some compost and a dose of fertilizers too.


Maybe it’s the thought of giant conches and the roar of the sea. Since I’m never going to get a murmur out of these seashells, an auditory treat is out of the question. So I’ll just focus on giving myself an eyeful of them instead.



Care and propagation: Full sun; well-drained soil; water generously. Propagate using seeds.










20130908_103111_sI’ve seen Lemon Verbena at the market and supermarket. But the herb, sold loose or bagged, was not what I was looking for. I had little need for the dried leaves; what I wanted was a potted herb.

I searched high and low but it eluded me. I scoured the internet for seeds but if anything, that turned out to be a bigger challenge.

When I finally found the lemon verbena, I was on holiday, thousands of miles from home. If it had been possible to cart one home, I would have done so.

I was transfixed. The lemon verbena shrubs were as tall as I am and were flowering to boot.

I helped myself to a sprig or two of the spent blooms. Surely there would be seeds within the calyxes? But there was none – what a letdown.

a full-grown lemon verbena in Melbourne

a full-grown lemon verbena in Melbourne

flowering lemon verbena in Ballarat

flowering lemon verbena in Ballarat

Before I left for home, I visited a friend. Lo and behold, there was a lemon verbena in her yard! Pat, bless her heart, offered to make me a cup of the herbal tea. Snip, snip, snip. She tore the leaves and stuffed them into a tea strainer. Minutes later, this contented gardener sipped a precious cup of freshly steeped lemon verbena tea.


Yet, there would be no lemon verbena plant for me – not for a long while.

I tried numerous cuttings, some of which grew and then died. I just couldn’t get it right. Other gardening friends who have tried growing this pernickety plant threw in the towel. “It’s not worth the trouble,” they said.

I may take their advice one day since there are other herbs with a more intense lemon scent. The lemon verbena is a punishing herb if your clime isn’t suitable for it.


Mine seems to be doing okay … for now. I am just hoping it can grow into a more sizable plant without dying prematurely.

Will it ever bloom? I hope it does; if only to try my hand at pollinating it although I know now that lemon verbena flowers are sterile after all.


Care and propagation: Dappled to full sun; well drained soil, water moderately. Propagate using cuttings.


Camellia Azalea

20140117_103650_s“Three?! You bought three?” my friend’s voice shot up a few octaves.

No one would have batted an eyelid if it had been the angelonia, pentas or even brunfelsia. But I suppose the Camellia Azalea was a different kettle of fish altogether.

For a start, the Camellia Azalea had cost between SGD200 and SGD500 for a modest plant a little more than a year ago. But no, I didn’t pay a prince’s ransom for mine. I had been advised to wait and so I did. More than a year down the road, I found them at a fraction of the initial price.

IMG_9331sI grabbed one first and then another two … all within an hour.

What’s the fascination? Apparently it’s the only camellia that will bloom in our hothouse conditions.

Our previous camellia plants had never bloomed before, aborting all their buds prematurely. So we gave them away and stopped buying … until the Camellia Azalea came along.

20140117_103257csSo now I have three. But any hope of propagating more plants was dashed even before I could begin. The Camellia Azalea is known for being notoriously difficult to propagate.

All the plants I see in the market have been grafted onto other more resilient camellia rootstock, but they are still relatively rare.

I shall be contented with the trio, the first of which bloomed about ten days ago.

Imagine the scarlet of the camellia against a foil of yellow melampodium. My grandmothers would have loved it; all red and yellow in the days leading up to the lunar new year.

The Camellia Azalea is definitely my plant of choice for the festive season.


Because it’s red hot; firecracker hot.


Care and propagation: full sun, well-drained mildly acidic sandy loam; water moderately. Propagation is tricky; grafting recommended.




Camellia Azalea at Gardens by the Bay


the ever-blooming Camellia Azalea at GBB

20131130_094654sI wonder who named this plant; am curious since the plant is nothing like its names suggest.

The Rondeletia odorata or Fragrant Rondeletia, also known as the Panama Rose is definitely not scented and the flower does not bear any resemblance to a rose.

20131130_094654closeBut I’m not complaining. Its yellow-centred orange flowers may be small but they are bright and vivid. The fact that they come in clusters make them even more eye-catching.

When I first saw the Rondeletia odorata I thought it was a variant of the lantana. But it wasn’t.

I have never come across the plant before, but the lady at the garden centre assured me that it’s local. I wonder if that’s really so – Wiki says it’s native to Cuba and Panama. But why waste time splitting hairs. All that matters is that one has found its way to my garden!   ;)

IMG_9218szApparently the Rondeletia odorata can grow up to 10 feet tall; a little hard to believe when I look at the small potted specimens and their even tinier blooms.

But this diminutive beauty came with a big price. Should I or should I not? I debated for no more than 10 minutes before making the obvious decision.

Any regrets? Not at all; especially when the buds burst into clusters of vibrant candy coloured hues. They may not be edible, but they sure look a treat!



Care and propagation : Full sun; garden soil, water moderately; propagate using semi-hard wood cuttings (will be a while before I get to try this)





20130930_180811sI rarely buy a plant for its foliage, so it was quite out of character for me to get this.

The gardenia is known for its lovely waxy, ivory blooms and the Gardenia Jasminoides Variegata is no different.

Yet it was the green and ivory variegated leaves that caught my eye first; a gorgeous blend of greens and ivory; each leaf a unique monochromatic artwork.

Surprisingly, the plant was inexpensive.

The Gardenia Jasminoides Variegata has great potential as a focal plant, so I removed a waterlily tub in the centre of the garden and planted the gardenia in its place.


20131003_072412sThe gardenia grew for close to half a year before anything happened. In fact, I didn’t even know that the gardenia was budding and almost missed its first bloom until I saw a flash of white amidst the leaves.

And then I noticed swirls of buds; much like the top of a Cornetto ice cream. And like the ice cream, it was irresistible. I took multiple photos of the buds – I just couldn’t get enough of its unique swirls

If anyone asked me which has the x-factor, I’d say it’s a close fight between the variegated leaf and the bud.

But what about the flower? … I think in this case, it may just be a little outclassed.


Care and propagation – full sun; garden soil; water generously. Propagate using cuttings.






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