Wednesday, April 12, 2017

SURINAM CHERRY (Eugenia uniflora)

In the front windy and dry corner of the garden, where the soil is mostly coral sand, I have a small waist high Surinam Cherry shrub that I planted a few years ago.  I must admit that I did not have big expectations for it there.  It was mainly a shrub to help fill in the corner and, if I was lucky, I would get a few fruit.  A week ago, one of my grand-daughters took me over to the corner to look at something.  Guess what!  The whole small tree was covered with small, pale green jewels.

A month or so back we had a big rain storm and it must have sent the Surinam Cherry into full reproduction mode.  I may have thrown a bit of fertilizer around too at about the same time.  The Cherry tree would have become covered in lots of small white flowers and now here is the fruit just starting to ripen up.

Every morning I go pick the newly ripening fruit before the birds and wild chickens get them and leave the fruit on the kitchen counter to ripen for the rest of the day.  I will have a few to eat fresh but mostly I am collecting them in the fridge until I have a pot full to cook up.  It is just a matter of bringing the fruit and some sugar to the boil and then leaving it to simmer for a few minutes....just like making apple sauce.  You also need to remove the cherry pits after the cooking.  The resulting sweet/sour sauce is fabulous over vanilla ice cream. I imagine some inventive person could also make a relish or chutney out of it that would go well with meat. Some of the fresh fruit I will freeze for future smoothies.... after removing the seeds.  The beautiful jewel like fruit look beautiful as a decorative topping on desserts.  I have also seen the ruby red fruit used in breathtakingly beautiful flower arrangements.

As you can guess from its name, Surinam Cherry is native to the NE coast of South America.  It is a tough evergreen shrub that can grow up to 10 feet tall.  The small leaves have a spicy scent and coppery colored new growth.  Its growth habits make it good for hedges.  The Surinam Cherry tends to flush into flower after heavy spring and fall rains.  The 1" round and ribbed fruit are usually dark red when ripe but there is a black variety. The fruit is on the sour side but kids always love to pick and eat the cherries out in the garden. The fruit fly can bother the fruit but so far I have not had any problem with them.  Maybe picking the fruit before fully ripe has helped prevent this.  Surinam Cherry is easy to grow from seed although the resulting little tree is a slow grower.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SANSEVIERIA (Sansevieria trifasciata)

I have mixed feelings about the plant that is my topic this month.  I can always be grateful for a tough plant that will grow in dry, sandy areas.  On the other hand, Sansevieria can get a little out of hand in the garden and start spreading too far or get rather messy looking.  Good strong borders such as a cement path can help keep it in check.  The good attribute that won me over is that Sansevieria is a fabulous indoor plant.  In fact it is usually rated as the easiest indoor plant to care for.  Besides that, it is a very good oxygen provider for enclosed spaces.  It can become a win-win solution if you keep the outside plants trimmed back and pot up the trimmings for inside the house.

Sansevieria is native to tropical West Africa.  It has thick succulent leaves and sometimes it will give out small greenish white flowers on stalks in summer.  There are lots of varieties although most people will recognize the tall lance like leaves of the "Mother-in-law's tongue.  I have a green and a yellow leaf form of this.  I also have a green dwarf rosette type or "Bird nest"  Be aware that the leaves are poisonous to animals.  Sansevieria needs good drainage so go easy on watering your indoor plant.

To get Sansevieria cuttings for potting is is easy to see new baby plants growing out from the mother plant on fat finger size stolons.  Cut off a few of these, making sure that you have some root attached.  Usually I will let the cutting scar dry off for a day before I pot them up.  Three arranged together in a pot looks nicely balanced.  After growing for several months, a potted plant can get very root bound or the strong roots will even break the pot.  You may need to just throw away the plant if it gets too rambunctious and start a new one or severely chop back the roots and repot.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

PORTUGUESE CABBAGE (Brassica oleracea var. costata)

This is just going to be a quick post today but I am excited to introduce a new plant in my garden.  For the first time ever, I saw Portuguese Cabbage starts at Koolau Farmer's nursery about a month ago.  I only heard about this cabbage for the first time a few years ago.  It was an important vegetable in gardens of Portuguese workers on the sugar plantations here in Hawaii. They called it Couves.  I am thrilled to actually see what it looks like and to have a go at growing it.  After only a month of growing this single plant I am already a fan so this is why I wanted to write about it today.   Have a look at the picture.  It is a very sturdy plant and a no fuss one.  There has been a bit of leaf miner in the old leaves but I just remove them.  The plant is very similar to collard greens and apparently grows the same way......the stem just getting taller and will keep going all year long.  I have already had a few leaves in a stir fry and I look forward to just picking leaves off as needed and having a constant supply.  This is a picture of a young plant and hopefully I will be able to put up some pictures of the mature plant later on.  You can check back for later reports.

In Portugal it is an important vegetable used in national dishes.  It will work good in your Portuguese bean soup or in a stir fry or coleslaw.  It can be grown from seed but apparently you can cut the head of the stalk off , remove most of the leaves and plant that up too.  I expect the stalk then grows a few more heads....just like collard greens.  Anyways, I did want to share my excitement about this plant and maybe it is something new for you to try as well.


A month and a half latter and the plant is still surviving.  The leaf miner has not been bothering lately but those tiny round snails have to be watched for.  I also get a few white fly hanging around under the leaves so I have a habit of tapping the leaves underneath as I walk by to make things too uncomfortable for them.  One leaf is a serving for one person.  I love it in a coleslaw with grated carrot and green onion.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

HAWAII MOCK ORANGE (Murraya paniculata)

Mock Orange is a small tree that gets ignored by visitors to Hawaii as it is rather plain with small green leaves.  Add that is is usually used in hedges and it really falls below the tourist radar.  It is only when it is in flower for a few weeks in the fall that it gets noticed.  Then there is a strong fragrance wafting in the air as you walk or drive down the road and you turn your head to see where the perfume is coming from.  The small leaves of the Mock Orange are also popular with lei makers in Hawaii as the long lasting leaves are often threaded between flowers for some green contrast color in a lei.  It really goes well with the flowers of my crown flower tree.  I have one Mock Orange tree tucked up into a mixed shrub hedge that keeps me supplied for lei making.  The small Mock Orange flowers are beautiful but do not last well for flower arrangements and some find the fragrance too strong in the house.  You might not want to plant a Mock Orange too close to a house window for the same reason.

Mostly Mock Orange is used in Hawaii for forming hedges along the road front and can grow thick and high.  They are easily trimmed and shaped. Sometimes they get used for topiary. There are quite a few Mock Orange hedges in my community.  Several months ago, one very tall and wide hedge got a very severe cut back so that it was mainly bare sticks remaining.  I wondered whether the hedge would be able to recover.  I had a look at it a few days ago and took the picture below.  As you can see, it is coming back strong and in several more months should be really thick again.  Tough trees!

There is another smaller and lower Mock Orange hedge in town that I walk by on a regular basis.  This one has some problems and one of them is the salt winds that come down the street.

However, the main problem is the way the hedge has been cut over the years.  It has developed what is called "helmet hedge".  Bare branches inside and a covering of leaves on top.  This is because the sun is not getting into the plant because the hedge is cut in such a way that the top is the widest part of the tree and it shades the rest of the plant.  This can happen with any type of hedge.....not just Mock Orange.  Hedges need to be shaped so that the top is the narrowest part of the plant and the sunlight can get into the plant for good leaf growth.  Actually, every time I walk past this hedge, I want to get my loppers out and chop it down a few feet so that it will get new growth like the other hedge above.

If you are from the mainland USA you may be thinking that these pictures do not look like the Mock Orange you know.  That is because another plant is called Mock Orange on the mainland.  A good example of why we also need the scientific names for plants.

Mock Orange is a native to SE Asia and up into SE India area.  It can grow up to 25 ft tall and likes sun but will take partial shade.  It likes well drained soil but is also happier if watered during dry weather.  Mock Orange can be easily grown from cuttings but I have only grown if from the seeds in the small red/orange fruit.  I guess it is because I like playing around with different fruit seeds to see if I can get them to grow.

The main reason that I decided to write about Mock Orange this month is because of this beautiful tree I saw in a Buddhist  temple garden in Cambodia last month. As I have already said, here in Hawaii Mock Orange trees are usually just seen in hedges.  The tree I saw in Cambodia was a beautiful naturally shaped specimen of a tree that really impressed me.Why are we not using these trees more in our garden?  They are not too big.  Trim the lower branches a bit to lift the crown so you can sit under the tree in the shade. They would make a real gem to to have in the garden.  How come we are just using them for hedges?


Monday, November 21, 2016


I have been off traveling in Cambodia for a month.  I went mainly because I wanted to see Angkor Wat  which turned out to be just a part of a huge archaeological area full of history.  I found Cambodia just fascinating.  A good country to go to for an adventure.  The countryside is just beautiful.  I fell in love with the wooden country houses on stilts and could have photographed every single one of them.The cities are just crazy with a "wild west" energy as everybody hustles to make their living out on the streets.

My favorite thing to do was riding down dirt roads out in the country in the back of a tuk tuk.  All around were rice padi with sugar palms or coconut palms silhouetted against the sky.  By the road is a picturesque  red farm house with banana trees and a few white cows in front. In the distance are a few blue hills with the gold spire of a temple.   Just stunning!

Here, as usual, are a few garden related photos from my trip.

At a Buddhist temple in Siem Reap the following notice was posted.  I think gardeners and grounds crew workers might enjoy reading it and agree with the writer.

Six Benefits of Cleaning a Temple Ground

1  It creates a clear mind for oneself.
2  It brings a clear mind to others.
3  It attracts the protections from celestial beings.
4  It causes a good complexion.
5  It causes one to be reborn in the heavenly realm.
6  It is a good example.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

ROSEMARY (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary is an easy grown herb in my Hawaii garden.  It loves warm weather and sandy soil.  Actually the Latin name for it tells all.  Dah!  How come I never noticed the word "marinus" in the name before.  It is native to Mediterranean coasts and so that is why it happily grows in the alkaline coral sands of my garden.  It even grows in the worst corner of the garden where the soil was just coral rubble.

I first grew Rosemary in a container just to have it as part of my collection of herbs.  After seeing how tough the plant was I tested to see if it could handle my coral rubble garden corner.  Now I admire the plant even more for its tenacity along with the yellow flowered Lantana and the Aloe Vera that will flourish  there.  Every time I rake fallen leaves off the lawn I dump them in this garden to try and build up the organic matter there and the soil is gradually improving although very sandy.  Horse manure, composted wood chips and old Comfrey leaves also get thrown in.  I can understand why I sometimes see Rosemary planted in road medians in hot dry countries.

Over many centuries of Western history Rosemary has also become a symbol for fidelity and remembrance so that it sometimes gets used as part of weddings and funerals.  It was thought provoking to see Rosemary planted in the cemeteries  of WWI ANZAC soldiers who died at the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey.

There are claims for medicinal use of Rosemary but I suspect you need it in high concentration to work.  Hopefully the small amounts of good we get in adding this herb to our cooking is all to our health too.  When you pick Rosemary fresh it has a rather strong pine fragrance but this softens out in cooking.  It has been long associated with roasted lamb and potatoes but is also good in breads, soups, casseroles and with other roasted meats like chicken and pork.  It is a popular garnish as well although I suspect that you are going to be paying extra for that steak when it has a spear of Rosemary sticking out of it at a fancy restaurant.

Rosemary usually has lots of small blue flowers in springtime.  When I travel to New Zealand I see Rosemary in gardens there just covered in flowers but I have next to nothing on my plants.  I am not sure if it is because I live in the tropics or because I keep them trimmed down.

If I want to propagate some new Rosemary plants from cuttings I will first pinch the tips off all the young vertical stems on the mother plant.  Months later, when the the vertical stems now have branched out, I cut the stems off, remove leaves from the bottom few inches, and plant them up in a pot.  Usually I give the cuttings a few hours to perk up in water first and a dip in rooting hormone before planting as they are not easy growers and my sucess rate with Rosemary is not fantastic.  At least a few will root and live out of about a dozen cutting.  The new branching growth from the pinching of the tips gives the new baby plant a nice tree shaped growth.


PS   Feb. 20017.
Recently read about a study that found that even just sniffing the scent of Rosemary can help your memory.  mmmm.   Well, if a free sniff of my Rosemary bush will help my aging little grey cells, I guess I can do that on my morning inspection walk around the garden.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

HAWAII SPIDER LILY (Crinum asiaticum, Crinum augustim)

After a rainy summer the Spider Lilies are in full bloom in our community.  We have a lot of them in private and public gardens as well as fronting homes along the road sides.  It is a plant that easily takes our sandy soils and salt winds.  In fact, it is one of the few plants used on beach front properties that will survive the conditions there.

You will notice that I have given two scientific names for the Spider Lily.  Crinum asiaticum and Crinum augustim. ( Note that what we call Spider Lily in Hawaii is not the same plant they call Spider Lily on the mainland US.)  Where one starts and ends for each of the Hawaii species seems to be me to be to a little difficult to decide on.  Ausgustim we will say is bigger and has more purple/pink in its leaves and flowers, but there does seem to be a moving dividing line between them.  To make if more difficult, people in Hawaii will refer to the "Queen Emma Spider Lily" but again, it is hard to pin down exactly which form they are referring to although it is on the agustim end of the scale.  Occasionally you see a very large spider lily with super large pink edged flowers.  Is that it?  One of my memorable "National Geographic moments" was to watch a large sphinx moth slurping up nectar from a Spider Lily flower one evening.  Its "tongue" must have uncurled out about 8" at least.

On the Crinum asiaticum end of the scale you will find shorter, 3-4 ft high, plants with green leaves and smaller but strong white flowers.  I like them for the firm fragrant flowers that can be tucked in your hair or behind your ear.  ( You might want to pull off the little pollen loaded parts of the flower when you do that.)  They also do well in flower arrangements.  The actual flower will last the day but in a flower arrangement you use the whole head of flowers, removing the floppy dead flowers each morning to be replaced by new opening buds.  For my son's wedding years ago, we used these big  flower heads on low table flower arrangements The flower head was tucked in with sturdy green and yellow foliage and lots of trailing greenery.  They looked lovely on the round, white lace cloth covered, tables that were scattered around the lawn and they were all done for free beyond buying a few blocks of oasis.  With the bigger augustim flowers you will find some that are firm and beautiful while others are very floppy and look worse as they die off.  It is good to check out the parent flowers of any plant before you take babies from them.

While the purple leaved Spider Lilies will have dark purple fruit, the green leaf types tend to have rounder, green fruit but there are some that will have a redish fruit.  If gardeners and grounds crews are quick to cut off the unattractive dead flower stalks you will not see much fruit.  If you want fruit for propagation, or to add interest to a flower arrangement, you will have to put up with some dead flower heads for a while.

To propagate Spider Lilies it is easy to grow new plants from the fruit.  The whole fruit is filled with one or two bulb like large seeds.  Just lay the fruit, with skin removed or not, on some soil or potting mix and they grow.  It is also easy to divide a baby plant off that is growing up around the main stalk.  Just make sure that you are getting a few roots attached to the baby stalk as well, as you cut  the baby away with a knife.  Cut deep into the soil and do not pull too hard or you will have no roots on the baby plant and it probably will rot out and die.  A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about the Golden or yellow leafed Spider Lily. (Aug. 2014)  I have never seen them fruit so these plants are always propagated by division.

After you get the Spider Lily growing out in the garden you will have to decide how you want it to look.  Do you want it clumping?  Then allow the babies, or at least some of them, to grow up as well.  If the original plant grows too high and big for your liking you can easily cut it off at the ground and let a few of the babies grow up.  If you want just one single plant then the babies sprouting at the base need to be kept trimmed down.  After a few decades an old Spider Plant may not look so attractive and the decision can be made to replace it with a younger plant.

As far as maintenance, Spider Lilies are an easy plant to grow.  A bit of extra water and fertilizer will make it look even nicer.  The old dead leaves and flower stalks need to be occasionally removed. The plant likes sun or semi shade.  The purple leaf varieties show their color more in the full sun.  I have put up some photos of various Spider Lilies around the community for you to look at.


PS      Well, only a few weeks after writing this post, I was out walking this morning and spied a Spider Lily with the large flowers so went back later and got the photo below.  As you can see, it is a real beauty.   The individual petals are at least 7" long and 3/4" wide.  Notice the leaves of this pink edged lily are green.  So is this Crinum asiaticum or augustim?  I have no idea.  Is this plant the "Queen Emma"?  Again, I am very unsure.  Maybe one of you readers can help on this.

Ha.....only just a few days after putting up that photo.....guess what I saw while at Waimea Valley botanical park today?    It was this very same plant and the plant sign said "Queen Emma Lily" and also "Crinum augsustim".  So we will go with that.  It is thought to be a plant that originated from Calcutta horticulture work and was growing here in Hawaii in the garden of the Hawaiian Queen Emma in the 1800s.   I am glad to pin the plant ID down.