Friday, November 15, 2013
Stephanotis, also called the Wedding Flower or Madagascar Jasmine, is another of my favorite useful and tough plants. Of course, it is useful because of its fragrant, waxy white flowers that go so well in wedding bouquets and leis but the hardy plant is also wonderful in hiding all those ugly chain link fences we have in Hawaii.
The Stephanotis vine likes to grow in a sunny place with good soil drainage. They just love chain link fences although they tend to favor the top of the fence so you may have to position and pinch the the young tendrils to encourage them to cover the fence well. Giving the plant some fertiliser and water will give you a lot more flowers but the plant is a tough survivor once established. It can tolerate salty ocean breezes. The young plant does seem to take time to get established, so just keep watering after planting it with a bit of fertiliser and soon tendrils will start reaching up and it will take off.
Stephanotis can be propagated from cuttings but I grow my plants from seed. I pick one of the large seed pods ( they look rather like a mango) when it is starting to turn from green to a yellow-brown and put it up on the kitchen window ledge until it fully ripens and cracks open. Actually , it is a good idea to put a rubber band loosely around the pod so that the seeds cannot float off when you are not watching as each seed has a fluffy propeller like a dandelion seed so that it can be carried by the wind.
I always love my first look into the Stephanotis pod when it opens up. It is one of the marvels of nature to see how the seeds and their unopened fluff is packed so beautifully into the pod. One pod gives hundreds of seeds and they easily sprout into hardy seedlings. These I transplant into plastic cups to get them rooted well before planting out when they start getting a tendril reaching up.
The Stephanotis flushes into flower in the spring and summer so it is good timing for bridal bouquets and graduation leis. In bouquets, a floral pick or a bit of coconut leaf mid-rib can be used to position
the flowers. The flowers string beautifully into leis or on knotted ribbon streamers.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Well I have been off traveling in the eastern part of the US mainland for the past month. I was not expecting to come back with garden photos for the the blog because I figured most gardens would by dying down for the winter at this time of the year. The trees were just starting to get their autumn colors which is always so exotic to us tropics dwellers and I got all excited about seeing walnuts and chestnuts falling from the trees.
However, as you can see from the following pictures, Biltmore Estate gardeners still had things in full show in their containers around Biltmore House. Biltmore is one of the few real grand houses of America and was built over a hundred years ago in Asheville, North Carolina by the fabulously wealthy Vanderbilt family. If you ever get to visit this beautiful house, make sure you visit the Italian and Walled gardens that are at the side of the house. I also really enjoyed the farm area as well.
You will recognize several tropical friends in the following photos that seem to do well in the summer in North Carolina but I expect they get moved into a glass house for the winter. I was surprised to see the variegated Hau (Beach Hibiscus) being used in a container but it really looked quite nice. All the same, I am getting rid of it in my own garden as it has turned into a monster that I do not want to be hard pruning for the rest of my life. Enjoy the following pictures and see how many tropical plants you can find in them. The last photo is not so much for the container but for the fantastic color and leaf combination of tropical plants.
Friday, August 9, 2013
It is a funny thing, that even though I was born and raised in New Zealand, I never heard of New Zealand Spinach there. It was not until I was living in the USA that I first heard about it and only saw it for the first time about twenty years ago when a local gardener here in Hawaii pointed it out in her garden. I have gradually become more and more interested in this plant and it is to be noted that I do see a few gardeners in New Zealand growing this plant now.
New Zealand Spinach really became part of my life after I discovered that the plant has gone wild on the sand dunes in Hawaii, including along a few beaches near my house. I can harvest big bunches of leafy tips and have nutritious greens for a stir-fry for free. I must admit that it gives me great joy to gather free food from natures garden! It is easy to recognize the plant in the wild because of its distinctive leaves and trailing habit. It also has an easily recognizable tiny yellow flower and seed case.
Although there are a few New Zealand Spinach plants to be found near the beach all year long, the new seedlings really start popping up after the heavy rain of spring and fall. I watch out for them on my beach walks and know where to go back to harvest in the next few months. I usually cook the greens in a stir-fry with a bit of meat and seasoning. The plants can be seen growing in full sun, but they do seem to do better with a bit of shade. Often they will be growing amongst the fallen Ironwood (Casuarina equisetifolia ) tree needles while many other plants do not like the Ironwood leaf mulch.
When the New Zealand Spinach seedlings are just a few weeks old, I gently pull up several small plants to take home. After they have a few hours in a glass of water to perk them up, I pot them up in little 4" pots. In a week they are rooted and strong enough to pass along to other gardeners to plant in their vegetable plots. That is for gardeners who do not like the idea of free food from the beach!
New Zealand Spinach is another of my tough plants. It does not mind our sandy soils, salt winds and hot summers. This plant is native to New Zealand and Australia as well as a few other South Pacific rim countries. The Maori people of New Zealand called it Kokihi and it is usually referred to as Warrigal Greens in Australia. Neither the Maori of New Zealand or the Aborigines of Australia were into eating it much but the discoverer Captain Cook loved it as a green vegetable to give his ships crew to prevent scurvy. It was Captain Cook who introduced the vegetable to the rest of the world. The leaves are an excellent source of Vitamin A but it is another one of those green leaf plants high in oxalate so it is recommended to blanch the leaves in boiling water for a few minutes if you are worried about getting kidney stones. Even if you are not into eating it, New Zealand Spinach, with its low trailing growth, makes a good hardy ground cover for sandy gardens.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
I have two lemon trees in my garden: a Meyer lemon (Citrus x meyeri) in the front yard that gives fruit in the autumn and winter and a Rough lemon (Citrus jambhiri) in the back yard that keeps me in fruit in the spring and summer.
|Rough Lemon on left, Meyer Lemon on right, compared to a lemon from the supermarket.|
The Meyer lemon I bought as a grafted tree and it produced fruit within a year. The fruit are huge and juicy and often grow in bunches. Most years I expect about fifty fruit on my tree but a couple of times it has super produced so that I end up selling some. The first time this happened was the year that Oahu had a noteworthy forty days of rain. So....lemons like lots of water. The second time this happened is this year. My tree is of course bigger now but there must be over a thousand young lemons on it right now. I could not believe how the flowers kept coming out on the tree. It may mean that I will have lots of little lemons instead of the usual big ones though. So what do I think is causing the super fruiting this year? Well we have had fairly good rain this spring, but the other difference is that I moved about a dozen pots of young red ginger plants under the tree to give them some protection from sun and wind. Maybe it is because the tree is getting more consistent watering because I have to water the gingers in the pots. Maybe there is a regular feeding coming from the pots too as the fertilizer in them leaches down into the rooting zone of the lemon tree. If I get such good results again next year I will know I have really hit on a good thing.
The Meyer lemon came from China and is thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin or an orange. I try to make sure the tree gets enough water and I fertilize it a couple of times a year at least, especially in the early spring to push the flowering. Because the soil in our garden is so sandy, not enough iron in the soil can be a problem and the leaves on the tree get a bit yellow. To solve this problem I do something that I learned while visiting coral atoll islands in the South Pacific. They have the iron deficiency problem there too so they will leave rusting iron objects in the garden area to feed iron into the soil. So anytime I find an old crumbled rusty iron pipe or can, I take it to bury under my fruit trees.
Another problem I get in the Meyer lemon tree is aphids on the new growth. As soon as I see them I look for ant nests that they build within the bunches of fruit and blast them out with the water hose. It is the ants that bring in the aphids like herds of cows...to milk them of their sweet body fluids.
The Rough lemon in the back yard we usually call by the Samoan name, Tipolo Pakupaku as I first got to know of this lemon in Samoa. It is a popular lemon in many islands of the South Pacific, not only for its fruit, but also for its very fragrant leaves that are used in making tea or added to desserts along with coconut milk. The large bumpy fruit of the tree does not keep well when picked so I leave them on the tree until I need them.
Our Rough lemon I grew from seed so it was several years before the tree was old enough to fruit. It is a very tough thing with big thorns. It grows in the very sandy back yard with the full force of the salt winds from the beach about 300 yards away. I am afraid it is a rather sad looking tree because of that with about half of the tree covered with dead branches because of the salt wind. I leave them there as a wind break for the rest of the tree. Because the Rough lemon is such a tough tree, is is used as rooting stock for grafting in many parts of the world.
I expect my uses for lemon are much the same as yours so I really cannot think of any exceptional way of using them. I like squeezing lemon juice in my ice tea, on my breakfast papaya, and on salads and fish etc. You can freeze lemon juice in ice trays and then bag the juice cubes to freeze for future use, although my two trees keep me supplied all year. Home made lemonade is just right on a hot summer day and if you want something really special, try adding a bit of ginger root tea to the lemonade. The leaves of the Rough lemon make a beautiful tea so that is worth trying.
As an end note, I also want to comment on how the two lemon trees are part of nature in our little part of the world. Both of the lemon trees get lots of visits from the Citrus Swallowtail butterfly which I enjoy seeing in the garden and I do not see any damage to the tree from them. The two trees are also very popular for nest building by the little red wax billed rice birds. There are several of their tunnel door nests in the trees and they will add on to them the next year. I am glad that they find needed protection in my loved lemon trees.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
I have been off traveling again. This year my exploring trip was five weeks of traveling around Israel. This included two weeks in Jerusalem which is so packed with things to see. As usual, I was taking an interest in all things to do with garden and agriculture. The northern two thirds of the country, with its Mediterranean climate, has much more agriculture, but there was a lot going on in the dry rocky desert areas of the south as well through the miracle of drip irrigation. I found out that it was Israel that actually developed drip irrigation and gave it to the world. Cherry tomatoes were apparently also a gift to the world from Israel. All of us that live in the tropical world really appreciate that. They are so much easier to grow in our climate.
I, of course, expected to see things like olive trees, dates, pomegranates and wheat growing in Israel but the amount of agriculture in the country was just astounding. When I went to the markets and asked where the produce came from the answer was always, "Here in Israel" They put Hawaii to shame. It is estimated that about 85% of our food here in Hawaii is shipped in from outside the state. I loved the real tasting nectarines in Israel and they had a lovely small skinny cucumber that was really nice too. It is the first country I have ever been to that always has a fresh salad as part of breakfast. Tomatoes and cucumbers were always part of that. I was surprised to see the amount of bananas being grown in the country. Huge fields of the crop and most often grown under huge net covers to keep out the birds and insects.
A few places I saw a Hawaiian friend which always gives me a little thrill. These were tough native Hawaiian plants that were used in public gardens under hot dry conditions. Just showing that they can handle it with a bit of that drip irrigation. This included the shrubs Hau 'Ula, 'A'ali'i and 'Akulikuli as a ground cover. These plants are native to Hawaii but also have a wider presence in the Pacific.
A usual I was taking photos of gardens as I traveled around and I will share a few of them with you to give you a feeling of the country and maybe they will give you a few ideas for your own garden.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
I was getting prepared to write a new post for this blog when I suddenly had to go to Samoa for a week. So instead of talking about a plant this month I will put up a few more travel pictures. I thought you would like to see a few views of food gardens near where I stayed in Samoa. In the Samoan traditional way of growing, crops are mixed up together in a much more natural way .....you know, like we gardeners in western countries are just learning about in permaculture. Being a hot, rainy, tropical island in the South Pacific, Samoa has very lush green gardens. Of course the weeds and diseases can grow really well too. So do the invasive African snails who love those lush green leafy vegetables.
I love walking around Samoan plantations and food gardens. To me it has the awe and peace of a sacred place as I walk along dirt paths through all the tropical growth. Maybe you will get a feel for the place too as you look at these photos. The plants shown include: Taro, Sugar Cane, Pineapple, Eggplant, Lemon Grass, Lau Pele (an edible hibiscus leaf) as well as the fruit trees......Papaya (Paw Paw) Breadfruit, Citrus and Bananas.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
It has taken awhile for me to get around to thinking of Purslane (or Pigweed as we call it in Hawaii) as a vegetable. I have known it was edible for many years, even that it was high in Omega 3, but I have gone on thinking of it as a survival food weed that shows up in my garden in the spring. After seeing it being sold at the market on Corfu, in Greece, I looked at it with a little more interest and even more so after seeing it being grown in Jordan a few years ago. The final push was when I recently saw that the local Hawaii gourmet greens grower was selling Puslane at the farmers market. That was when the cheap me thought "Heck, I could grow it for free"
So finally Purslane has become a regular vegetable in my diet. I toss it into salads and sandwiches and it is really nice with a bit of rice and wrapped in a piece of nori....like a roughly made sushi. Not only is it providing cheap me a free green vegetable but it is saving me from buying Omega 3 supplements. I also like it in a yogurt and cucumber salad while some people prefer to saute their Purslane.
Rather than harvest from the back yard lawn, I pulled up one healthy Purslane plant and potted it up to keep in my container herbs area. It grew huge and got lots of yellow flowers that seeded into the pot. When I pulled out the old mother plant, hundreds of little plants came up and I have decided to treat them as micro greens. I just trim the tops of the Puslane off with scissors to harvest it for my salad.
Puslane is loaded with nutrients. It is high in vitamins A and C. It is also has the highest amount of Omega 3 of any leafy green vegetable. It does however, have a high amount of oxalic acid so not so good for people who get kidney stones. The plant is originally from India but has now spread around the world. It is a popular leafy vegetable in many countries such as Greece, Mexico, India, and throughout the Middle East. Note that these countries all have a drier climate so this is a tough plant.
In Aqaba, Jordan, the town had a community vegetable garden in a long strip of land between the town center and the beach. I suspect that it once may have been a promenade park but has now been put to a much better use and still provides a restful green belt for the town. The gardener/farmers were looking after small table size plots that were edged by dirt ridges and tiny irrigation ditches. Just like irrigated fields in miniature. Here Purslane and other vegetables were being grown. The harvested vegetables were pushed up to the nearby town market on wheel barrows where the barrows now served as vender tables. I thought the whole system just wonderful and will add a few photos of the setup in in Jordan for you to see.