Sunday, November 30, 2014

'Song of India' (Dracaena reflexa 'variegata')



The name of this plant, 'Song of India', always intrigued me.  Whispers from exotic movies watched as a kid I expect.  It was interesting to find out, when doing an internet search on the name, that there is actually an old Big Band performance on You Tube of a composition called 'Song of India'.  Was the plant given its English name from that piece of music?  Further research also told me that this plant is not actually native to India.  It is native to islands like Madagascar and Mauritius in the the Indian Ocean though.



'Song of India' is another one of my loved tough plants.  It is not fussy about soil as long as it has good drainage.  It thrives in my coral sand soil.  It is high drought tolerant and will grow in partial or full sun.  It grows slowly and is upright in growth although it widens out in the middle as it gets older.  It will grow 4-5 meters high if allowed to grow naturally.  Mine is above the height of our house and is part of the boundary hedge planting.  Actually, it is one of the few 'Song of India' plants that I have seen that has been allowed to grow to full height.  Most are kept cut down to lower than five feet. The mature tree has small white flowers early winter and then a few yellow/orange berries.  I have never seen disease or insect problems with it.  Strong salt winds may mean some dry leaf drop with lots of dry leaves to rake up on the lawn but the tree does not look bare from it.  I like these dry, long lasting dropped leaves to use as mulch in my container plants.  I notice that the thick foliage growth of the tree makes it a popular place for birds nests.




The wild native Dracaena relexa is plain green in color so the 'Song of India' is a variegated variety grown by nurseries.  There is another variety grown by nurseries called 'Song of Jamaica' which has leaves with stripes of two shades of green.  I also have that growing in our boundary hedge and it grows the same way as the 'Song of India'.






'Song of India' is very popular here in Hawaii for tropical flower arrangements.  Strong, upright branches are needed for this so the naturally shorter curled branches of my old tree do not work well.  Instead, a shrub must be kept topped at easy reach height and  then the vigorous  new growth harvested when it gets to the required size for selling to floral shops.



We gathered huge amounts of 'Song of India' several years ago to decorate the big white tent for my daughter's wedding reception.  We tied clumps of floral oasis on the tent poles and filled them with 'Song of India' branches, big Laua'e fern leaves and long hanging strands of Asparagus Fern.

The leaves of the 'Song of India' are also used in lei making here in Hawaii.  The attractive leaf colors contrast well with other foliage and flowers.  Although the leaf is a little stiff and pokey it works well in certain styles of lei such as the haku lei and lasts well.



To propagate 'Song of India' I have always used cuttings.  I will usually put several cuttings cuddled up together in a large pot of potting media and then leave it in a shady place for several months to grow strong roots.  They seem to do better this way than in individual pots.  One thing to remember with this plant is to just remove the leaves from the bottom of the cutting but do not trim the upper leaves back as usually done with cuttings.  Those leaves will not grow back and the resulting plant will not look so good or you will have to wait for the plant to grow taller for new nicer leaves and then remove the lower cut leaves. I also dip these cuttings in rooting powder to help them get going.




Aloha

Monday, November 3, 2014

Looking Over Moss Covered Walls in Reykjavik


My recent three week trip to Iceland was a big change from visiting warm countries in recent years and the bleak but beautiful landscape of Iceland was very different too.  Much of the island is rock covered in moss or heath with a few birch forest areas that grow low because of the cold winds.  The Viking settlers who arrived in the 900s  cut down much of the native birch forest for firewood while their sheep nibbled down the low growing ground covers.   It is only in the last few decades that there has been a dedicated effort to grow new forests and stop soil erosion.

The weather is too cold for fruit trees but potatoes and rhubarb were introduced to sunny slopes behind houses over the last few centuries.  In the mid 20th century the Icelanders also began harnessing the heat from the hot water springs to heat glass houses so that now they can grow a lot more vegetables and flowers on island. Still, like Hawaii, much of their food is imported apart from the local dairy products, meat and fish.

 Iceland is a country that has changed remarkably since WW II gave them airports and opened up their world.   A hundred years ago, most of the population still lived on farms and lived off the land and sea.  Half of the population was still living in sod covered houses.  Now, most of the population lives in the modern city of Reykjavik.

In Reykjavik I really enjoyed just wandering around the streets of the older parts of town looking at all the styles of houses with their lace curtains in the windows.  Gardens were usually simply done with lawn, trees and shrubs.  There were lots of red berries and rose hips to celebrate the end of summer and everywhere there was moss growing.




















Actually, I think my favorite garden in all of Iceland was a simple one that I saw in the town of Hveragerdi.  It was a very ordinary square house set in a landscape composed of three kinds of plants....a grass lawn, native birch trees and clumps of the native angelica.  It was so very simple and bare that it gave a delightful natural feel to the garden as well as being very simple to maintain.  It made me think how one could replicate a similar feeling in a tropical garden.  I could see it being done with lawn, Ohia trees and ferns in upland Hawaii but I am not sure what I would use here in the sandy lowlands.  Maybe Beach Heliotrope trees but what would go with them?  Anyways here is a picture of my favorite yard there although it does not show the whole effect of the place well.



And just to finish off my post on Iceland:  Here is a picture of the native Iceland Poppy that was growing next to the footpath just down the road.  This is the native original that all the commercial garden varieties were developed from.


Aloha

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Community Garden on Bainbridge Island


Last month I was off traveling and as part of the trip I had a few days in Seattle.  Seattle is becoming one of my favorite cities on the mainland US.  Now that their light rail train runs right up to the airport it is so easy to get to downtown so that Seattle is a wonderful city for us Hawaii travelers to arrive in and have a stop over when we go to the mainland.
I am a big fan of ferry boat rides so on this visit I went for a ferry ride over to Bainbridge Island for a days outing.  It is a lovely boat ride out on the Puget Sound with good views back to the city.  The small town out on the island is a lovely wooded community to walk around and I enjoyed viewing the first autumn colors as well as gorging myself on wild blackberries that were in full fruit on every vacant lot.

There is an old Congregational church in the middle of the town that has a wonderful community vegetable garden in its grounds.  What a good idea for making the most of the church property and that garden was the highlight of my day there as I inspected all that was growing and sat on a garden seat in the quiet to eat my sandwich lunch.  There were lots of interesting plants to inspect as well as lots of bees to watch and also a few hens in a wire pen to talk to.  The age and multi-headed size of all the kale was very impressive.  Anyways, here are a few photos I took in the garden and if you are ever over on Bainbridge you might want to go stop by and have a look as well.


















Aloha

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Golden Spider Lily (Crinum xanthophyllum)


Our little beach community on Oahu is one of the few places you will find Golden Spider Lily growing in Hawaii.  That is because a few lily bulbs were brought here around four decades ago by a new resident  moving  from a South Pacific island and those bulbs have greatly multiplied around town now....including three clumps in my garden. You do see lots of green and purple leaf Spider Lilies in Hawaii but you have to hunt to find the yellow leaf ones. I should note here too, for people living on the mainland US, that there is another plant on the mainland that also gets called a Spider Lily.  You may need to compare photos of the two types.  In my mind I always associate Golden Spider Lily with South Pacific islands like Tonga, Samoa or Rarotonga where they are growing in almost every garden.  It was a bit of a mind shift when I saw them growing at the Singapore Botanical Gardens.  Was it native to Asia or the Pacific?  Research on the internet tells me it is from Melanesia, so I expect that means Papua New Guinea which is the origin of so many useful tropical plants.



I am a big fan of Golden Spider Lily because it is so easy to grow and will survive tough conditions like our sandy soil.  It is also a perennial patch of bright color that I can place around the garden.  I have one in a container that does very well.  One home in our town has a dramatic display of them lined up along the roadside against a rock wall.



The Golden Spider Lily will grow 3-5 feet in height with leaves growing 2-4 feet long.  The plant needs to be in the sun to turn bright yellow.....and no....the yellow leaves do not mean it has a nitrogen deficiency.( That was my first thought when I saw it for the first time many years ago in Tonga.)  It is a clump forming plant with lots of babies growing out from the side of the stem for you to share.  Just cut off one of the babies with a bit of root attached and plant it in soil.



This lily usually flowers around August in Hawaii.  It has large fragrant white flowers but the petals are a bit floppy so it is not so good for flower arrangements or to tuck in your hair.  The long yellow leaves can be used in flower arrangements and also used in Tongan style leis.  I have never seen fruit grow on it.  The Golden Spider Lily likes well drained soil and average water amounts.  It it does not get enough water it gets little rust colored bruise spots in the leaves.  Funny enough, when I first saw these I thought it was a rust colored fungus growing because I was over watering them.  They look a lot happier these days after a horticulture teacher explained the true reason to me.!

Aloha

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Manila Palm (Veitchia merrillii)


I am rather fond of the Manila Palm even though it is very common here in Hawaii.  If you have a small garden but still want that palm filled, tropical garden look, the Manila Palm is an easy choice to make.  It has a lovely mini coconut palm look without the hassle of dangerous coconuts falling or bulky dead fronds to dispose of.  The Manila grows to about 20 ft and has fronds that are about 6 ft long.  It also has the added beauty of its flowers and the resulting 1" long red skinned nuts that give the palm its other name of Christmas Palm.  The name Manila Palm will tell you what part of the world it is from, although it is not actually native to the Manila area of the Philippines but to the southern islands of Palawan and Danjugan and down into the Sabah area of Malaysia.



The Manila is an easy, trouble free palm.  Well ...except in Florida, where they are having problems with Lethal Yellowing disease.  Hopefully it does not come to Hawaii.  We have enough new bugs and diseases arriving here already.  The Manila Palm has flowers and fruit all year round.  The fruit do drop on the ground and some grounds crew workers like to trim off the flowers and fruit so they do not have to bother with raking them up.  I like seeing the red fruit and the birds and wild chickens like to eat the red skin off the nut.  Some of the dropped fruit will sprout and root but they are easy to pull up out of the ground while still small.

The tree is self cleaning, meaning that the dead fronds drop off the tree rather than clinging to the trunk and needing to be cut off.  Sometimes I do need to use my long breadfruit picking pole to hurry the dead leaf down because the base has caught in the flower fronds.  The Manila Palm like sunny, warm and humid weather...just like they have in their homeland.  I am extra fond of it because it does tolerate sandy soils and salt winds from the ocean although it would not be able to handle being right on the beach.

The Manila Palm does well in a container.  One plant or three together.  The height of the palm will be stunted somewhat depending on the size of the container.  It also does quite well inside as long as the room is well light.

To propagate palms I used to just put a few of the nuts in potting soil and they would sprout and grow.  These days I tend to just pull up a few mature self seeded nuts from under the mother palm. They will have grown about a foot in height.  I put them in a cup of water for a few hours to revive them and then plant them up in pots and leave them in a semi shaded area to grow new roots.  At about the two foot stage I transfer them into a three gallon size pot and fatten them  up some more before planting out in the garden.  Newly planted out young palms do tend to sit and rest for a year or two before they really start to shoot upwards.  Just keep them watered and give the occasional fertilizer.  Palms like a bit of extra magnesium too.


 Many years ago, we lived in a condo unit that had a lovely drive way lined on both sides by Manila Palms.  They really made a majestic entrance. The downside was all the kids in the condos throwing the nuts at each other and all over the place!  In my garden now, I have my oldest palm by the front entrance and three more on a front corner.  I grew all of them from seed so I feel rather motherly towards them.  The group of three are of various ages, the plan being to eventually have a nice grouping of Manila palms of various heights there among  shrubs.  One Manila Palm sitting in the lawn by itself looks a bit skinny and sad.  They really need the company of more palms or other plants.  Sometimes you will see groups of three and five Manila Palms grown tightly together.  I expect they started out in a container together.  If you live in Hawaii or a place of similar weather, start watching out for Manila Palms and notice how they are being used in the landscape in both home gardens and commercial spaces.

Aloha

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.

Aloha

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.



Aloha