Tuesday, October 22, 2019


For the last several weeks I have been off traveling again.  During quiet evenings at my guest house I started looking around on youtube.com at gardening videos.  This is not something I have done much before but I have realized that I was missing out on some fabulous stuff.  Even more so, I have actually clicked on the subscribe button for the very first time because of the wonderful videos put on you tube by Self Sufficient Me.  These are by Aussie gardener Mark Valencia who could also be called the Russell Crowe of gardening.  His personality and enthusiasm is very engaging.  Mix that with pure practical gardening know how and he is a winner.

Mark Valencia lives near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in a semi tropical climate so he is growing similar foods to what we grow here in Hawaii.  His gardening videos have a huge following from around the tropical world and also he has a blog at selfsufficientculture.com that you can have a look at.  Obviously I am a bit behind on such things as his videos have been on you tube for a couple of years now but if you have not seem them please check them out as they are very helpful and I know you will become a fan too.  Here are a few links to start you off.





Sunday, September 15, 2019


There is a beach only a few minutes walk, through the back yard and an empty lot away, from my house.  The grand kids refer to it as Grandma's beach because it is near the house and also because I am one of many who watch over the beach.  We go swim there.  We walk there and observe nature and watch the changes on the beach with the tides and seasons.  Most importantly, we pick up the plastic flotsam that comes in from the ocean.  I throw it with the household garbage in the collection bin which goes to H Power to be burnt for electricity.   Much of this plastic comes from the other side of the Pacific Ocean or from the fishing industry.  Most of the plastic has been in the water for a long time and may have been part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.....a giant gyre of  marine debris that sits out in the north Pacific ocean.  Some days it is just small stuff coming in but after a big storm large objects can come in like fishing crates and racks which I put to good use in my plant nursery area.  (Frugal in the Garden,  April, 2016)

Another thing that comes in is fishing buoys.  In the 60's up to the 80's it was possible to find glass blue/green buoys which make a nice collection.  It is very rare to find one of these days....maybe one gets kicked off a distant island in a storm to still arrive here.  There are plenty of plastic and Styrofoam buoys that show up now.  If I find a interesting new one I bring it home and hang it around the garden for a free decoration and it is rather interesting to see the different types.   A few years ago I looked at a New Zealand gardening book that showed pictures of quirky gardens there and some people had totally gone over board on collecting fishing buoys in their gardens.  I decided I did not want to look too crazy so I limit it to one of each type of buoy and leave the others up on the sandbank for others to take home.  There are a few gardeners around in Hawaii that use the buoys to decorate their garden.  The most popular way is to hang them in trees like baubles on a Christmas tree.  They look really good on a wide stretching tree like the Beach Almond/Kamani  Others sell them on eBay or cut them in half to grow plants in.

I am putting up a few photos to show how I use them in my garden.

We call this big barrel size buoy The Hippo.  The kids like  to balance on it.
You can see mother of pearl growing on it and it probably came from a pearl
farm in Japan that got washed away in the tsunami  of 2011.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

VARIEGATED SOCIETY GARLIC (Tulbaghia violacea "variegata")

Society Garlic is a plant that has a lot going for it.  It is tough, pretty and you can even eat it.  A good plant to have in the garden!  This variegated form has white edged leaves so it also brings color contrast to the garden.  I have mine growing in a clay pot and it seems to do well there.

Society Garlic is native to South Africa where its leaves and flowers are used in Zulu cooking while they use the bulbs more for medicine. The flowers and leaves have a peppery taste and certainly the little purple flowers look very attractive in a salad along with giving it a garlic pepper taste.  This variegated Society Garlic is a cultivar that goes by the name Silver Lace.  I have only noticed this variegated type being used in gardens in Hawaii.The plant grows up to two feet tall with its thin upright leaves and a pretty group of small flowers on a slender stalk.  Here in Hawaii it is a perennial and flowers in the summer.  Each flower stalk lasts about two weeks with a new tiny flower opening every day on the stalk.  They do well as a cut flower indoors.  Sometimes you will get a slight whiff  of garlic smell as you walk past the plant.  This plant leaf does look rather similar to a variegated liriope (August,2017) but Society Garlic flowers are very distinctive as are its bulbous roots.  It is a hardy plant that likes light soil and can survive the hot dry days although water and a bit of shade in the hot summer afternoons will keep it happier.  A bit of trimming off of old leaves and flower stalks keeps it pretty looking.  Fertilizer will up flower production.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

VINCA (Catharanthus roseus)

For several years, the only Vinca flowers I knew were the common pink ones that grew year round in Samoa.  It is a tough plant that self seeds so I would find baby plants that could be transferred around the garden.  The plants would get a bit leggy but picking flowers for a posy indoors helped to keep the plant trimmed back.  When we first moved to Hawaii I noticed the same Vinca showing off its resilience in the unirrigated and sandy soil of the local graveyard.  I always like tough plants that will carry on without people constantly fussing over them.  The plants you see still growing in neglected gardens are the ones to choose for your home garden.

Vinca in a hotel garden, Nadi, Fiji

Today I have several Vinca in my garden to add some color.  It shows that I am going soft in my old age because for a long time I just wanted useful plants.  Now I am appreciating having a "prettier" garden with splashes of colorful flowers.  The older pink type has been replaced by modern Vinca varieties bought from Home Depot which come in a wide range of colors from white, pink, red to lavender.  I notice that Home Depot in Honolulu seems to be only selling potted flowers in 6" pots now and not in the 4" starter pots.  I'm sure the growers make more money this way, but it does make for a stronger plant with a bigger root system.  I expect it means less stressed plants at the store during hot summer months too when store attendants get behind on their watering schedule.  Just lately there is a new Vinca cousin that has been showing up at Home Depot.  It sells under the the name of Catharanthus but it is a Vinca with an extra ruffle of petals coming out of the center which looks promising.

Vinca is a tropical plant.  It needs temperatures above 70 degrees to keep on flowering.  On the mainland US it is referred to as an annual but here it grows for longer periods.  There is also a creeping Vinca grown on the mainland but I have not seen it here.  Vinca likes full sun to partial shade.  It prefers acid soils but it does fine in our sandy soils.  It does need good drainage.  It can get root rot and branch blight, especially in the rainy season so it should not be over watered and it is recommended to water the soil rather than the leaves to help prevent branch die back because of blight.  Vinca is actually a medical hero plant because the chemo drug Vincristine is extracted from the plant to treat leukemia in children.

Vinca flowers on older plants produce little slender pods of seed which I have grown a few plants from in the past but I have only had success with wilder pink variety.  It takes careful timing to get the seeds as you need to gather the pods when they are starting to turn yellow but before they burst open.  You can pick the pods and put them in a paper bag to finish drying off and collect the seeds from the opened pods.  The plants can get a little tall and leggy but a bit of trimming back makes for a more attractive plant.  A bit of fertilizer  a few times a year will give them a boost too.


Saturday, June 1, 2019


As you saw from my last post, I was off in New Zealand for a few weeks recently.  On this trip I decided to stop in Hamilton for a few days so that I could see the Hamilton Gardens.  Now when I lived there in the early 70s , Hamilton was known for its rose garden up by the lake and then another nice but ordinary, rose garden was built near the main road south during that time.  It therefore was a bit of a puzzle to me as to what the Hamilton Gardens actually were that I have been hearing about over the last several years.  Obviously something big had been happening if Hamilton had become well known by tourists and Kiwis alike for its garden.

I was able to get to the gardens by local bus from the central bus terminal in the city.  It only goes every two hours or so but the bus drives right in to the park buildings past the extensive lawn, forest and lake area that are behind the rose gardens up by the main road that I mentioned before.  Actually, at this point I made a detour as the very first sign I saw as I got off the bus was an arrow pointing to boat rides on the Waikato river.  I had always wanted to go on the river but never did so here was my chance. Off I went to do this for an hour before I actually started looking around the gardens.  A lovely boat ride to the city center and back.

I still did not really know what I was going to see at the gardens so it was really eye opening when I went into the visitors center and saw a map of what was there.  This area between the river and the main road has really been a waste land area that was badly used for many years,  Now a miracle is happening there and there are big plans for the future still.  The main area of attraction is the area of enclosed gardens.  Imagine huge garden rooms each designed to show the garden of a different culture or time period.  It was really stunning.  You need at least a few hours there and you could stay all day.  To make it even better, admission is free!  There are donation boxes, a small gift store and a lovely cafe by the lake if you want to contribute.  If you want to learn more about the place you can have a look at their web site.   www.hamiltongardens.co.nz

Here are a few photos taken that day. Remember you can click on them to make them bigger to see the detail.  I will have to go back in a few more years to see what new is done....plus I did not get up to the old rose garden area which is now called the Victorian Flower Garden. There are walks around the lake still to do too. I just ran out of time.

Japanese Garden of Contemplation

Indian Char Bagh Garden (the bees loved this one)

Italian Renaissance Garden

Te Parapara Garden  (Maori garden for growing kumera/sweet potatoes)

Walled Kitchen Garden

Tropical Garden

The Lake 

The boat and jetty on the Waikato river for the boat ride.

Sunday, May 12, 2019


 A few days ago I was exploring Hamilton, New Zealand.  In the center of town they were using Swiss Chard in the city gardens.  It is called Silver Beet in New Zealand.  The name would have been given at time when Swiss Chard was only seen with white stalks.  Now we have these beautiful rainbow stalks and look how beautiful they look in the city landscape.  Maybe it will make you think about where you could plant your next lot of Swiss Chard.  We are used to seeing ornamental kale in public gardens these days and I remember seeing town gardens in Anchorage, Alaska full of lush parsley several years ago.  I am sure there are lots of  other beautiful vegetables that could make the transition too.

 Silver Beet is almost like a national vegetable in New Zealand.  The boiled leaves are served up often on the dinner plate  along with meat and potatoes.  You see it growing in kitchen gardens everywhere.  One of those  easy care plants that can be continually harvested.


Thursday, April 11, 2019

CALAMANSI ( x Citrofortunella microcarpa)

Citrus always seems to grow in our area of Oahu, Hawaii despite the sandy soils and the salty trade- winds.  I have three types of Citrus in my garden.  The two older trees, Meyer and Jambhiri/Rough lemons I have written about before,  (June, 2013) but today I want to talk about my Calamansi tree.  I have only been getting fruit from it for about three years now but I love it.

The Calamansi tree came as a free Arbor Day giveaway from Waimea Falls Park.  I guess it was seed grown because I waited several years for it to finally fruit. It grows next to the compost pile so hopefully its roots are sucking up some goodness from the compost.  I actually have another Calamansi in another part of the garden that was given to me as a gift later on and I am still waiting for that one to produce.  The fruit are a lovely small size being less that an inch in diameter.  Just right for squeezing into my ice tea or on my breakfast papaya.  I have heard them referred to as a Filipino sweet lime but to me there is not a lime taste.  I just think of it as a mini lemon although it does have its own unique taste.

This last year the tree was absolutely loaded so that I made several jars of Calamansi marmalade and also gave lots of fruit  to jam making friends.  They were making mixed fruit jam; Calamansi with strawberry or with pineapple etc. I had to admit that the jams tasted very nice, but my English heritage keeps me a purist and I just use citrus for breakfast marmalade.  Early in the fruiting season, the fruit were just turning yellow and the marmalade had a green tinge while the marmalade made at the end of the season, with very ripe orange fruit, turned into orange colored marmalade.

Calamansi juice has more of a kick to it when the fruit is just starting to ripen and is still a bit green.  I used to cut the fruit in half, just like you would for a lime, when squeezing the fruit into my tea or on my food.  Now I am smarter and I just cut a cap of skin off one end of the fruit and then squeeze.  It means much less mess and  less juice all over my hands.

I find the Calamansi seeds quite easy to grow and they pop up after a few weeks.  I usually soak the seeds in water for a day first.  I believe you can also grow the trees from cuttings as well.  Calamansi is native and very important economically to the Philippines and used often in traditional Filipino cooking.  The tree is fairly small, growing 3-6 meters, so it is a good tree to have in home gardens. Like all Citrus, it likes being watered.  Being a citrus fruit, Calamansi is high in vitamin C and has many uses. eg.  lemonades, marinades, seasoning, marmalade etc. Calamansi lemonade is sold in cans commercially here in Hawaii. Use scissors to cut the fruit off the tree when you harvest Calamansi.  The fruit has very thin skin and it will tear if you try to just pull the fruit of the tree.  I find that the fruit will last up to a month in a bowl in the fridge while those left out on the kitchen bench will soften and go off after a week.  My tree is bare of fruit now, (it fruited December to March, after the rains arrived) but I still have some fruit in the fridge that I picked when the last of the ripe orange fruit were dropping to the ground.  Because the skin of the Calamansi is so thin the wild chickens like to eat the dropped fruit and the birds will eat the ripe ones on top of the tree.  We all get our share.

While I was at Eilat in Israel several years ago, I was intrigued by the use of shaped citrus trees on all the bedroom balconies of a white hotel building there.  They looked very elegant...the green against the white of the building plus the small gold fruit.  I wouldn't mind betting that they were using Calamansi trees.  There is a picture of it in my (June, 2013) post about gardens seen in Israel during that trip.


PS  May, 2019
My Calamansi tree sits in a neglected corner of my back yard.  It is out there in the sandy soils and salt winds that come from the beach 300 yards away or so.  It sits next to a wire cage compost bin and it and a few other plants are sheltered slightly by a big overgrown crownflower bush.  Last week, suddenly, my Calamansi was on show because the neighbors held a wedding reception in their back yard and would be sitting very near my tree. I decided it was time to spruce it up so it looked more presentable and took my loppers to cut off all the small lower dead branches that result from salt wind burning.  Then I put a few low pot plants around the bottom of the tree and in front of the compost heap.  My Calamansi looked ready for a special occasion  after that.  I was pleased to see some of my stephanotis vine ( Nov. 2013) incorporated in the wedding decorations.