Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Shinobu Fern (Davallia)

I have a beautiful Shinobu Fern in a large pot sitting in the shade under my Guava tree.  I love to see it there and it obviously loves its spot too.  A few months ago the very same Shinobu Fern was sitting near the kitchen door and totally naked of any fronds.  This was a result of the Hau tree being cut down and taking away the fern's shade as well as reduced watering while I was off traveling for two months.  The fact that the plant is now a mass of beautiful lacy fronds shows that it may be pretty but it is also tough.  The type of plant that grows well in any garden. Even better, it is also a very useful plant as the fern fronds look very attractive in flower arrangements and the smaller leaflets are popular tied into haku leis.  I like to tuck a few leaflets in next to the ribbon bow when I am tying off a regular neck lei of any kind of flower.

I was having a look around the internet to see uses for the Shinobu Fern and there are some beautiful pictures out there of haku leis, using the fern, that could give you ideas of flower combinations,etc.  The other intriguing find was a web site that shows a nursery in Japan growing thousands of hanging balls of Shinobu Fern.  They tie the plants on to balls of moss with rope and after about a year the ball will have about twenty fronds and is ready to sell just in time for Father's Day.  Many of the plant balls have a bell wind chime hanging from the bottom and are popular as a cooling, relaxing symbol of summer.  They look just beautiful and it certainly is an inspiring possibility.

The Shinobu Ferns can be divided into about forty different species.  I think my one might be Davallia fegeensis.  This is a native from Fiji and is know for its very fine lace look.  Davallia mariesii is very popular in Japan.  The Shinobu Ferns, as a group, are known to be very ancient plants that were growing before the time of the dinosaurs.   They come from the East Asia into the Pacific area.  The rhizome tips are covered in brown hair which has lead to names like Rabbit Foot and Squirrels Foot being given to it.  The plant likes good drainage, water and shade.  It will grow in the ground, in containers or even up on tree branches or large rocks.  They make a lovely show in hanging baskets.

To propagate, the fern root mass can be divided up or you can get cut stems rooted.  The trick is to not over water them or the stems will rot. I usually put three or five stems in one pot to get a nice full new plant.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Three Years Old

Well, here we are at this blogs third birthday.  It has given me pause for reflection and I am happy to keep on with the occasional writing here.  I do aim to write once a month but I seem to miss a few months because I am off exploring the world.  Trips will usually mean some travel photos of gardens coming up.  I have gone back to some of the old posts to add on more information or pictures so you might want to look at old posts if you are wanting new info on Breadfruit or to see a photo of Crown Flower seed pods in Israel.  It is always interesting to see the stats for the blog and watch new people from new countries coming in for a visit.  Posts on the Crown Flower and on the Tiare are leading in page view numbers now.  Thank you to my followers for joining me on this adventure and I hope my writing is helpful to those who stop by searching for help on a specific plant.  Thank you and aloha to all the gardeners who, just like me, enjoy peeking into other gardens around the world via the internet.

As a birthday gift I am going to put up a photo of my favorite sighting of Sunflowers.  This is a photo taken at the town park in Hawera, New Zealand a few months ago.   They had a long line of Sunflowers that were surrounded by masses of the white flowered Salvia.  It was such a wonderful combination that showed them both off at their best. There is another plant tucked in under the Sunflower that is a host for the Monarch butterfly which added to the display.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Malabar Spinach (Basella alba, Basella ruba)

Malabar Spinach is another of those exotic green leaf vegetables that gets called "spinach" because it can be cooked and eaten like spinach.  This "spinach" is a very different looking plant as it is a vine with luscious thick green leaves.  It is a tough plant that is still growing strong in the hot summer when the other green leafy vegetables have given up.  I saw an example of this when I visited the farm vegetable garden at Biltmore House in North Carolina  last year.  There were beautiful lush green Malabar Spinach vines growing there at the end of September while the rest of the garden was turning brown.  With its climbing habit, you can grow Malabar Spinach on your chain link fence or on your patio railing.

Malabar Spinach at Biltmore House, Asheville, NC

Not only is Malabar Spinach beautiful to look at but it is high in nutrition.  100 gm. of fresh leaves and stem will supply 8000 IU of Vitamin A and 102 mg. of Vitamin C.  It is also a good source of minerals.  The red stem Basella ruba is higher in anti-oxidants than the green stem Basella alba and the red stem does look a little more exotic in your garden.  It has tiny mauve flowers that give way to pretty purple berries that can be used in making a natural dye.  Malabar Spinach is native to tropical Asia and the leaves and soft terminal stems are used there in curries and the usual stir fries.  It is easily sauteed and can be added to any dish that you would use spinach in.  The leaves drip mucous a bit when cut so I would use them in a cooked food where it is not noticed rather than in a salad.

Malabar Spinach likes moist, fertile, well drained soil.  It can be grown from cuttings.  Here in Hawaii, bunches of the spinach vine tips are sometimes sold at farmers markets and you could easily get a few plants growing from them.  I find that the little purple fruit dropping on the soil self seed enough to keep me supplied in babies.  They are tough little seedlings that are easily transferred.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Garden Arches in New Zealand

I am back home again after spending two months in New Zealand visiting relatives and playing tourist.  It was the end of their summer so many gardens there were not showing their best for photos.  One thing that I did love looking at was all the garden arches used there in home gardens.  They can be seen though out the country.  They are often simple home made structures, using 4"x4" and 4"x2" lumber, but really add to the character of the garden.  Others can be more expensive bought arches.  As I traveled around, I started to take pictures of them and I have put up several of them on the blog for you to have a look at and maybe be inspired by.  All of these pictures show the archway as part of the garden entrance way but they could also be freestanding.

A few years ago, after another trip to New Zealand, I decided that I wanted a Kiwi style garden arch in my garden here in Hawaii.  Living in the tropics, building wooden structures in the garden is just asking for a termite invasion.  I looked at the new recycled plastic pretend lumber and the new white vinyl fence material to see if that would work but it just did not look like the New Zealand wood arches.  Instead I decided to go with the more expensive redwood lumber which is a bit more bug and weather proof.  The wooden corner poles were not buried in the soil but attached to metal bases that were cemented into the soil to further keep termites away.  So far so good.  Here is a picture of my garden arch in the front garden.  I have a type of passion fruit growing on it....the sweet, orange leather skinned type that grows wild up in our mountains.  It never seems to want to climb to the top of the arch.  I think it knows there is too much salt wind up there.  Lower down it is protected from the wind by the surrounding bushes.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Moa (Psilotum nudum)

I have an interesting plant that will pop up in odd corners of my garden.  Although it is considered a Hawaiian native, it is also native to much of the tropical world.  This plant is an unusual primitive plant called a Whisk Fern, or Moa if you call it by the local Hawaiian name.  The plant establishes itself from minute spores that float around in the air.  It will grow in most soils, sun or shade, even in rocky areas and up in the forks of the trees, so that it can be seen as a weed in both rural and urban areas.

Years ago I was inspired from seeing a large Moa plant in an attractive container at a flower show in Honolulu.  It has a strikingly different beauty.  From then on I never considered it just a weed in the garden.  I pulled up a few of the wild growers and potted them up in a nice cement container.  This I have placed by the kitchen steps where it gets the hot afternoon sum and where I enjoy seeing it every day.  It has proved to be a tough survivor plant.  It does get watered by me and I give it a bit of fertiliser occasionally.   About once a year I pull out any dead brown stems and also cut any stray ones off that are growing up from under the pot from the drainage holes.

Young green whisks of Moa

A small mature spray of Moa showing the tiny yellow sporangia.

As you can see from the pictures, it is not a big leafy plant but is formed by skinny stems or "whisks".  It does not have flowers but forms tiny yellow balls or sporangia on the stems.  In the old days, the Hawaiians used to gather these sporangia and pound them into a white powder that they used like talc powder under their malo (loin cloths).  I imagine a new tapa cloth malo would be a bit scratchy.  Today Moa is still used in flower arranging.  It is lovely mixed in with a small posy of flowers and gives added interest to a haku lei.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Red Ginger (Alpinia purpurata)

The Red Ginger is grown extensively throughout Hawaii and the other islands of the Pacific although it is a native of the Malaysian and/or Melanesian areas of the west Pacific.  I expect the flowers are sold throughout the world because they are a good long lasting tropical flower for the export trade.  Actually it is the bright red bracts of the flower that are the showy part.  The real flower is that tiny white flower you sometimes see peeping out from the red bracts.  Bundles of three or five flowers are commonly sold in Hawaii for putting on graves or to have in a vase in the house.  Of course they go well into big public flower arrangements too.  If you look at my blog for April 2012, you will see pictures of lots of Red Ginger being used in floral arrangements in Tahiti.  The red bracts of the flower can be pulled apart and the separate bracts used in lei making as well.

The Red Ginger is very popular in Samoa and has been taken on as a symbol of Samoa.  There it is called the Teuila and every year the country holds the Teuila Festival with lots of fun activities.  The plant grows well there in the hot and humid climate.  There is a very interesting note in Isobel Field's
1937 autobiography, "This Live I've Lived", about how she introduced the Red Ginger to Samoa for the garden up at Vailima and how it got its Samoan name.  Isobel was the step-daughter of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson who, along with his family, established a home in Samoa around 1890.  While there Isobel was given the name Teuila by the Samoans as she liked to beautify people and place.   To quote Isobel:

     "Believing that lovely flowering plant, the sweet-scented ginger, would grow at Vailima, I sent to Honolulu for some roots.  Soon they were blossoming everywhere, and the natives, admiring their perfumed beauty, paid me a pretty compliment.  To this day the sweet-scented ginger, that grows so luxuriantly in Samoa, is called the "Teuila flower"  I like to think of this, and that "my flower added a new fragrance to our dear Island."

As I have already noted, Red Ginger likes warm moist weather It likes full sun but will accept light shade.  It loves rich soils with lots of organic matter so give it lots of compost and mulch.  I have a problem with growing them in my garden because our sandy soil tends to make the leaves a bit yellow but the flowers still grow.  At my daughter's house they have a long line of Red Ginger growing along the side of the house where the rain falls of the roof.  It keeps the plants well watered without effort or cost most of the year.  Several years ago, I tended a  row of Red Ginger that must have been over 100 ft. long at least.  We left a soaker hose running through the plants which we connected up to the hose bib to water frequently......the water oozes out of the whole length of the hose.  Red Ginger flowers all year long but produces more flowers in the summer.  Giving a balanced fertiliser every few months will increase flower production.  Mature plants can grow as high as 10 ft. so keep that in mind when you place that small 2 ft. plant you bought from the nursery in the ground.  Red Ginger plants make a really good tropical screen for an ugly fence.

The one mistake that newcomers to Red Ginger make is in how they cut the flowers off.  Each stalk the plant grows produces one flower.  To harvest the flower or to trim of the dead flowers, cut the stalk at ground level.  If you cut the stalk half way down you will have ugly, and dangerous, sharp stalks with dead leaves left on display.  If you are harvesting the flowers to use in flower arrangements, the more stalk left on the flower the longer the flower will last.  The leaves are usually cut off the stalk with the top few leaves trimmed to make them smaller for better presentation.

There are many varieties of Alpinia purpurata.  The red flower is the most common but there is also a pale pink version.  In recent years, two other varieties have become popular in flower arrangements in Hawaii.  They are the Kimi, which is a fat pink flower with a lighter color center, and the Raspberry which is a darker pink and very attractive.  There is a Tahitian variety that you see often in Tahiti.  With this variety, the small flowerettes that can grow on the mother flower as part of vegetative reproduction form into a huge compounded flower the size of a football and looks spectacular in the garden.

young plantlet starting to grow on the old flower

plantlet and potted plantlets growing

Seeds are usually not formed in Red Ginger flowers although I have found some on the Kimi variety and have grown them.  The plant naturally produces by growing a plantlet on the mature flower. As the mother flower and stalk dies off the plantlet gets lowered to the ground, sends out roots and a new plant is grown.  To grow new Red Ginger plants, it is just a matter of collecting these plantlets and potting them up.  This is when you like lazy gardeners because if the gardener is diligent in keeping the plants trimmed and looking nice you are not going to find any plantlets growing on dying stalks.  The bigger and healthier the plantlet before you cut it off the better it will succeed in growing.  I usually stand the plantlets in water for a few days before I plant them up.  They do need to be placed in the shade while the roots get established and you will gets some dying of the leaves until this happens.  Then it is just a matter of watering and a bit of fertilizer to get the new plants growing to a few feet high and they are ready to be planted out.  It will take a year or so before the first flowers show up.  The adult plant can also be reproduced by dividing up the the rhizome base and transplanting them.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pandan ( Pandanus amaryllifolius)

We have many kinds of big Pandanus trees in the Pacific Islands, so when I say I am using a Pandanus leaf as a herb or spice people immediately think of the 4 ft long leaves of the trees that are used to weave mats and baskets.......and they look at me funny.  I have to explain that Pandan is a mini sized Pandanus that would fit into their herb garden just fine.  A student from Malaysia introduced this plant to me and I have been growing it and using it for over ten years now.  It makes my common, California grown, rice give off  the lovely Jasmine rice smell when cooking and adds a nice subtle flavor to the rice as well.  Here in Hawaii, gourmet rices are becoming big time, with the rice shelves at the supermarket expanding greatly with all the fancy international choices.  Pandan makes my cheap rice taste like a gourmet rice.  It may be my imagination, but I think that the cooked rice does not go off so quick either if it has been cooked with Pandan.

The Pandan is a stalk like plant with long slender leaves of about 1- 1 1/2 ft. long.  After a while, the mature plant gives off little offshoots so that it becomes more of clump.  Mine has not grown higher than 3 ft.  As it matures, the plant bends down with the weight and sends out aerial roots to support it.  If you do not keep an eye on it, it could go expanding out in your garden so you do need to expect it to spread out somewhat.  However, if the clump is just taking up too much room, just break off some of the off shoots to give away as gifts or to root and pot up.  After about five years, I pulled up most of my Pandan and started again with  new rooted tops as the old clump was starting to look too messy and tangled.  I do love the fragrance of the Pandan in the garden on a humid or rainy day. 

The Pandan does not indication that this plant has relied on man to reproduce it for thousands of  years.  Pandan will grow in sun or semi-shade.  It does like moist soil.  I have seen it grown in swampy areas in SE Asia, but is grows in my sandy soil OK although I do water it every few days.  I notice my plants leaf tips get burnt when the salt wind gets going but otherwise it does fine.  It has no disease problems except that I notice that slugs will eat the tender leaves of the baby off shoots when I pot them up if I leave the pots sitting on the ground.

To propagate new Pandan plants I pull off an off shoot/sucker from the mother plant and leave it standing in water for a few weeks until it starts rooting before I pot it up.  I change the water daily to keep it fresh and oxygenated.  I found this worked better than just potting up the off shoot straight away where it tended to rot and die.

Pandan is commonly grown throughout SE Asia as a herb/spice.  As I said, I add my Pandan leaves to ordinary rice to give it a subtle Jasmine rice flavor.  I suspect I may be getting added benefits of some plant goodness into my rice as well.  Some in SE Asia consider the plant to have medicinal qualities.
If you are familiar with Nasi Lemak from Malaysia, this is just rice cooked with coconut milk and a few leaves of Pandan.  The usual method is just to cut three leaves of Pandan, tie them together into a knot and throw them in the pot with the rice.  This makes for easy removal at the end of cooking.  Do not use the white part of the leaf at the base.  Leaves do keep quite well in the refrigerator.  Wrap them up in a damp cloth or paper towel and store them in a plastic bag.

Pandan leaves for sale in a Thai market. 

You can buy bottles of Pandan essence in Asian stores.  They are usually bright green in color so I eye them suspiciously.  I think green food color has been added.  I ate Pandan bread  and Pandan mochi in Malaysia that was green in color.  To tell the truth, there was more green food coloring there too than any Pandan taste that I could detect.  In Thailand I bought small pieces of chicken wrapped in Pandan leaves and fried.  It was nice chicken but I could not taste any Pandan flavor.  More a unique way of presenting food.

On looking around the Internet I find recipes for making your own Pandan juice.  Just blend 6-8 leaves with 2/3 cup of water in a food processor and discard the solids to keep the liquid for cooking.  Or you can make a Pandan paste.  Boil 1" pieces of leaves in 1/2 a cup of water and then throw it all into a food processor and use the resulting paste to add to your cakes and desserts. This sounds better than buying those bright green bottles of Pandan essence at the store.   I think I will just be sticking to throwing a few leaves into my rice pot which has become a long time habit now.  Some Nasi Lemak goes over well too....