Wednesday, March 14, 2018

PUKEKURA PARK, New Plymouth, New Zealand

I have just got back from a few more weeks in New Plymouth, New Zealand and so here are a few more travel photos.  I joined a free garden walk there that I saw advertised in the local paper.  It was a walk around Pukekura Park and was led by park volunteers.  As you can see, it was a beautiful day and lots of retirees like me came out.

Pukekura Park is an iconic park situated just a few blocks behind the city center.  Bless those early settlers who reserved a scrubby gully to become a community park and for the many donors and volunteers as well as the paid gardeners who built up and expanded the gully to become the premier botanical garden of today.  It is now almost 130 acres of park filled with bush walks, playgrounds, a cricket field, lawns, glass houses, a tearoom by a lake, as well as a small zoo and the popular Brookland's outdoor amphitheater used for performances. It is very worthy of a visit if you are in town.  These photos were all taken at the town entrance end of the park.

Main entrance to the park with the cricket field in the background.

All us retirees enjoying the garden tour.

Highest view point.

Queen Elizabeth fountain in lake.
One of the many shady dells.  The palms are the native NZ nikau palm.

Shady paths, some easy access like these and others were less tame.

Inside one of the glass houses.

The tea house by the lake.  A good place for lunch.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

ARUGULA (Eruca sativa)

I had vaguely heard of Arugula, (or Rocket, if you are from British background) for many years.  Something the foodies were in to.  It did not really enter my life until ten years ago when I spent several weeks traveling around Italy.  As usual, I was traveling on a low budget and staying at hostels etc.  I was always on the lookout for cheap eats and various deli/bakery type places sold sandwiches I could eat on the street or sitting on a park bench.  It seemed that a savory filled sandwich like cheese or ham would always have several Arugula leaves added in such a way that half the leaf hung out from the bread and then when they wrapped the sandwich in plastic film the leaves wrapped over the bread and made it look more attractive and healthy.  I was rather intrigued by this and like to do it at home now.  I got used to the peppery taste of Arugula on that trip and started growing small batches of Arugula in my container kitchen garden when I got home.

At first I was not sure how well Arugula would grow here in Hawaii, but after several years experience I can assure you that it does well here.  I do start growing it in the cooler months and into the summer until really hot weather overpowers it.  I grow it from seed.  Just a small teaspoon of seed scattered over the soil in the wide container and patted down into the soil.  This last time I used seed from a partially used packet that had been in my fridge for five years.  I was not sure if it would be still viable but up it sprouted in a few days time.   When the plants come up I start using them as micro greens but soon I have a good supply of leaves several inches long.  I use it along with Mizuna leaves (July, 2016)  in sandwiches and adding to green salads.

Arugula has been popular since the days of the ancient Greek and Roman empires.  It is an annual and a member of the mustard family.  It loves rich, moist but well drained soil.  It likes sun but tolerates some shade, especially when it gives some protection from hot afternoon sun.  I saw a suggestion on the internet that Arugula would make good ground cover, especially under a tall plant in a container.  I could really see this working in a patio garden for apartment dwellers.  The plant does tend to bolt into seed when the weather gets hot.  Apparently it is an easy plant to gather the seed from so I need to keep a few old plants going this year to get the dry brown pods and try to do that.  Free seed is good.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

GOLDEN ELDORADO (Pseuderanthemum reticulatum)

Golden Eldorado, which often is just referred to by its scientific name, is a common shrub through out the Pacific islands.  In my mind it it always associated with Samoa where the children usually have Golden Eldorado flowers included in their small bouquets that they carry to school to decorate their classrooms.  The shrub is probably native to the Melanesian islands of the western Pacific but it is such an easy and attractive shrub that it has now been taken up by the tropical zones around the world.

The Golden Eldorado is very popular for hedges.  Although it can grow up to 10 ft. or so, it is an easy shrub to prune and shape and will even tolerate a very hard prune.  Actually, if left untrimmed, the center of the bush gets rather woody so a good trim promotes new growth and a more leafy appearance.  It likes the sun but will also grow in partial shade, although the leaves will stay more greener than the bright yellows that show up on the new growth in the sun.  Golden Eldorado is also a good shrub for growing in beach side towns as it can handle sandy soils and ocean breezes, although I would not be planting it right on the beach edge.  The spikes of small white flowers with a purple center are attractive and nice to add to a small jar of flowers in the house.  Although it is a tough plant it will look happier with occasional fertilizer and extra water. Remember that it comes from humid, rainy islands.

Propagation is usually done from cuttings.  In fact if you are new at plant propagating this is a good shrub to start out on for cuttings as they have a very high chance of rooting for you.  Take cuttings from the upper stems that are no longer soft and floppy.  Stems that are about the thickness and length of a pencil work well.  Always make the cutting about half an inch under the node or joint as this is where the new roots will grow from.  The cuttings will easily grow in some loose potting mix and can be transferred out into the garden within a few months.  The slugs rather like the new shoots on the cuttings so be on guard for them.


Monday, December 4, 2017

CHAYA (Cnidoscolus chayamansa)

Chaya is a plant that I am slowly starting to appreciate although I also have my concerns about it too.  A gardening friend gave me a 2 ft. cutting of it ten years ago along with the warning that the leaves must be cooked as it is poisonous to eat it raw.  That made me a little apprehensive but, after all, there are other plants like taro leaves and cassava that have to be cooked too and I still eat them.  The cutting was planted in my kitchen garden and within a few months it took off like crazy.  Now I was getting worried about the plant taking over my kitchen garden area so I decided to pull it out before it had total control.  I dug the plant out and propped the main central branch against a coconut trunk at the back of the yard while I decided what to do with it.  Did I want to keep it or not?  Well within a few weeks that branch had sent down roots and established itself in that place despite the sand soil and the salt winds of the back yard.  So there it is still, now a tree of ten years growth and about 10 ft. high.

There are times when it gets too bushy and I just snap some of the easily breakable branches off.  The bountiful, large green leaves give green bulk to the nearby compost heap.  However, I always make sure the branches go into the green waste bin to be chipped so they do not get a chance to sprout into more trees.

I have grown to admire the Chayas survival skills.  I joke that it will be the tree that feeds us if our island goes down because of a huge hurricane or nuclear attack.  Increasingly I hear of medicinal benefits from this plant.  Especially for people with diabetes.  Google around on the internet for more information if you are interested.  Meanwhile, the Chaya is an attractive small tree in the back yard and the butterflies like the small white flowers it produces.

The Chaya is native to the Yucatan peninsular in Central America and part of the food and medicinal heritage of the Maya who live in that area.  The Chaya leaves are very nutritional in minerals and vitamins with even a 5.7% protein count.  The thing that the eater must understand is that this plant has a high content of toxic hydrocyanic acid (cyanide) so it must be cooked for at least 15 minutes to release the toxins.  That being said, some claim that a few raw leaves a day are not going to bother you but why tempt fate.  The plant also chemically reacts with aluminum so do not not use aluminum pots or serving plates for it.  After these precautions, you will get a bountiful, tasty and nutritional vegetable to add to your soups and stews.  If you want to use the leaves in green smoothies or salads you will need to cook them first.  The leaves are used to make medicinal teas but soup is going to do the same for you.

Note leaf shape and the white sap oozing caused by leaf removal.

The Chaya tree has rapid new growth and likes good drainage in the soil.  It is easy to grow and easy to keep trimmed down for harvest of the leaves.  One tree is enough to supply your families needs.  This is a plant that does not need to be watered or fertilized once rooted.  The large soft green leaves are shaped rather like a maple leaf and because of that it sometimes gets mixed up with another tropical alternative vegetable called Lau Pele or Edible Hibiscus (June 2015) which is related to Okra.  It is easy to distinguish between the two.  Just snap a branch tip off.  The Chaya will bleed a white sap while the Lau Pele/Edible Hibiscus oozes a clear slimy sap like Okra.  I do find the white sap of the Chaya to be a bit irritating to my hands so I wear gloves when trimming the Chaya tree.


Thursday, November 2, 2017


I have been off traveling around Ireland for five weeks and, as usual, I have a few photos to share with you.   The countryside of Ireland is famous for its beauty and rightly so.  On the other hand, it was hard to find any home gardens that stood out.  Most had just a few shrubs and maybe a pot of flowering plants by the front door.  From my perch in bus and train, I saw little evidence of vegetable gardens beyond a couple of community allotments near towns.  Maybe the weather puts the Irish off gardening or I was there too late in the season.  On the other hand, I noticed the gardening book section in book stores was very maybe that tells it all.

In the cities, some of the pubs were notable for hanging baskets of colorful flowers and towns might have a garden of flowers at an intersection.  The one thing that really surprised me was how much New Zealand native plants had become part of the landscape.  Cabbage trees/Ti Kouka, NZ flax/Harakeke and Hebes/Koromiko were everywhere.  Similar weather I guess.  The Fuchsia, a native of Chile, had also become very much part of the countryside in gardens and hedges and was in flower while I was there.

Any beautiful gardens of note were always a big private garden at a historic house that was opened to paying visitors and who hired gardeners to look after the place.  There were two historic gardens that I visited that I would highly recommend to anybody visiting Ireland.  One was the long narrow medieval garden behind Rothe House in Kilkenny.  The other was the Victorian walled garden at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara.  They were both so beautiful and also so interesting as part of the history of gardening.  I also loved Muckross Farm Museum at Kilarney.  A lovely country walk around three farms peering into farmhouses of the past.


Kilarney House

Walking street planters, Dublin

A pub in Kilkenny

Lawn area that also doubles as a helipad for Dublin Castle.

Town flowers,  Kilkenny

Mowing the lawn,  Kilkenny

Crab apples at Trinity College, Dublin

City garden by public stairs, Drogheda

Container plants in courtyard at Kilarney House

Farm house,  NE from Galway.  Notice the old potato ridges running up and down the field behind the house.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


A long side of my house I have a rocks and stepping stone path.  It works well for all the rain water that falls off the roof above it as there is no rain gutter.  ( I was inspired to make this path after seeing a similar entry way floor made of rocks and wood planks in a Japanese house.)  The problem with it has been the weeds growing in it.  I am not ready to use weed killer there so in the past I just got down on my knees and pulled  out the weeds.

I now have a way easier way to kill the weeds.  BOILING WATER!  It means several loads of a filled kettle from the kitchen but it does the job easily and instantly.  Yay!  My old knees are happy about this.


A few days after.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017


The variegated Liriope in my garden is grown as an edging to a stony walkway on the side of the house where I also have my mini nursery area.  I have no strong emotional ties to this plant.  I acquired baby starts of it at least 20 years ago: planted them, and they are still going strong.  So I guess they have proved themselves as another tough plant to have in the garden.

I think I have talked about my theory on selecting tough plants for the garden before.  I will tell it again for the newcomers to this blog.  When choosing tough survivor plants for your garden, you do not look at those beautifully maintained gardens. You check out semi abandoned properties that have not had good care for years.  The plants that are still growing there are the ones you want to grow in your garden. It will save you a lot of time and frustration in the future.

Variegated Liriope is native to Asia.  It grows in clumps with narrow leaves that grow up to 18" long.  In the late summer it can send up a slender stalk with tiny white flowers.  The clump will gradually enlarge by sending out underground rhizomes to make new babies on the side.  It can grow in full sun or light shade and handles most types of soil.  Liriope is a popular ground cover or edging plant.  Remember to give it some space for expanding of the clump when you plant it along a cement curb.

As those clumps enlarge it is easy to slice off a few baby plants with a big kitchen knife.  Make sure that you get a baby with a few roots on it so you will have to cut into the soil with the knife.  These babies are easily potted up.  Usually I cut the leaves down to about 8" for easily handling and I will stand the baby in water for one or two days before potting it up.

Sometimes the variegation stripes of the Liriope will disappear.  A new baby in the clump will revert to its ancestors characteristics and send up only dark green leaves.  Unless I am actually wanting a green type to plant elsewhere, I just cut out the baby that is upsetting uniformity of the edging.

Sometimes my Liriope will look a bit ragged with brown tips, especially after salt winds.  I usually go along the border with my scissors and trim off the worst.  I read on the internet that on the mainland they will mow mass plantings of Liriope once a year which rather boggles my mind.  I guess a mature plant would survive a lawn mower or a weed eater and should have got over its bald look after a few months.  About once a year it is good to pull off all the dead leaves that are under the plant.

Apart from being a good edging plant, I enjoy adding a few leaves of variegated Liriope to small flower arrangements and even looped to be included in a lei.