Thursday, September 8, 2016

HAWAII SPIDER LILY (Crinum asiaticum, Crinum augustim)

After a rainy summer the Spider Lilies are in full bloom in our community.  We have a lot of them in private and public gardens as well as fronting homes along the road sides.  It is a plant that easily takes our sandy soils and salt winds.  In fact, it is one of the few plants used on beach front properties that will survive the conditions there.




You will notice that I have given two scientific names for the Spider Lily.  Crinum asiaticum and Crinum augustim. ( Note that what we call Spider Lily in Hawaii is not the same plant they call Spider Lily on the mainland US.)  Where one starts and ends for each of the Hawaii species seems to be me to be to a little difficult to decide on.  Ausgustim we will say is bigger and has more purple/pink in its leaves and flowers, but there does seem to be a moving dividing line between them.  To make if more difficult, people in Hawaii will refer to the "Queen Emma Spider Lily" but again, it is hard to pin down exactly which form they are referring to although it is on the agustim end of the scale.  Occasionally you see a very large spider lily with super large pink edged flowers.  Is that it?  One of my memorable "National Geographic moments" was to watch a large sphinx moth slurping up nectar from a Spider Lily flower one evening.  Its "tongue" must have uncurled out about 8" at least.




On the Crinum asiaticum end of the scale you will find shorter, 3-4 ft high, plants with green leaves and smaller but strong white flowers.  I like them for the firm fragrant flowers that can be tucked in your hair or behind your ear.  ( You might want to pull off the little pollen loaded parts of the flower when you do that.)  They also do well in flower arrangements.  The actual flower will last the day but in a flower arrangement you use the whole head of flowers, removing the floppy dead flowers each morning to be replaced by new opening buds.  For my son's wedding years ago, we used these big  flower heads on low table flower arrangements The flower head was tucked in with sturdy green and yellow foliage and lots of trailing greenery.  They looked lovely on the round, white lace cloth covered, tables that were scattered around the lawn and they were all done for free beyond buying a few blocks of oasis.  With the bigger augustim flowers you will find some that are firm and beautiful while others are very floppy and look worse as they die off.  It is good to check out the parent flowers of any plant before you take babies from them.




While the purple leaved Spider Lilies will have dark purple fruit, the green leaf types tend to have rounder, green fruit but there are some that will have a redish fruit.  If gardeners and grounds crews are quick to cut off the unattractive dead flower stalks you will not see much fruit.  If you want fruit for propagation, or to add interest to a flower arrangement, you will have to put up with some dead flower heads for a while.


To propagate Spider Lilies it is easy to grow new plants from the fruit.  The whole fruit is filled with one or two bulb like large seeds.  Just lay the fruit, with skin removed or not, on some soil or potting mix and they grow.  It is also easy to divide a baby plant off that is growing up around the main stalk.  Just make sure that you are getting a few roots attached to the baby stalk as well, as you cut  the baby away with a knife.  Cut deep into the soil and do not pull too hard or you will have no roots on the baby plant and it probably will rot out and die.  A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about the Golden or yellow leafed Spider Lily. (Aug. 2014)  I have never seen them fruit so these plants are always propagated by division.

After you get the Spider Lily growing out in the garden you will have to decide how you want it to look.  Do you want it clumping?  Then allow the babies, or at least some of them, to grow up as well.  If the original plant grows too high and big for your liking you can easily cut it off at the ground and let a few of the babies grow up.  If you want just one single plant then the babies sprouting at the base need to be kept trimmed down.  After a few decades an old Spider Plant may not look so attractive and the decision can be made to replace it with a younger plant.

As far as maintenance, Spider Lilies are an easy plant to grow.  A bit of extra water and fertilizer will make it look even nicer.  The old dead leaves and flower stalks need to be occasionally removed. The plant likes sun or semi shade.  The purple leaf varieties show their color more in the full sun.  I have put up some photos of various Spider Lilies around the community for you to look at.

Aloha

PS      Well, only a few weeks after writing this post, I was out walking this morning and spied a Spider Lily with the large flowers so went back later and got the photo below.  As you can see, it is a real beauty.   The individual petals are at least 7" long and 3/4" wide.  Notice the leaves of this pink edged lily are green.  So is this Crinum asiaticum or augustim?  I have no idea.  Is this plant the "Queen Emma"?  Again, I am very unsure.  Maybe one of you readers can help on this.


Ha.....only just a few days after putting up that photo.....guess what I saw while at Waimea Valley botanical park today?    It was this very same plant and the plant sign said "Queen Emma Lily" and also "Crinum augsustim".  So we will go with that.  It is thought to be a plant that originated from Calcutta horticulture work and was growing here in Hawaii in the garden of the Hawaiian Queen Emma in the 1800s.   I am glad to pin the plant ID down.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

MIZUNA (Brassica rapa var. japonica)





I am not one for growing those large vegetable gardens of my childhood memories. A huge area of dug soil used for potatoes with rows and rows of vegetables is not my kind of gardening.  How would I eat that much anyways? Four Square Gardening or Key Hole Gardening is more to my liking.  Small and easy to care for but supplies your vegetable needs.  I have ended up with a container kitchen garden and tend to grow the easier and tougher plants, some of which are on the alternative side to what you find in the supermarket.  Easy growing are the operative words.  Mostly I seem to end up with green leafy vegetables like Low Cholesterol Plant (see March 2016 )  and Ong Choi ( see April 15) that I mostly cook in stir fries.  I have decided it is time to increase my supply of salad greens.  This has been problematic in the past.  Bugs and slugs made it just so frustrating plus I usually water the containers with a garden hose and end up blasting out the little seedlings. Obviously, if I was wanted to grow salad greens I was going to have to change how I did things.

Firstly I needed something easy to grow.  A few years ago I tried growing a mesclun salad mix  and the one plant that seemed hardy in the lot was Mizuna so I decided to go with that.  Mizuna is a Japanese vegetable from the cabbage family.  It has delicate leaves with a light mustard cabbage flavor.  It is very versatile and goes well in green salads as well as in soups and stir fries.




Before planting the seeds I gave into actually spending some money on a box of slug bait.  Otherwise, I knew from past experience, I would miss a few big chompers in my nightly slug hunt with the scissors.  I also perched the container for the Mizuna up on top of a crate to further discourage slugs.  Another change was that I used a spray bottle to water the spouting seeds so that they did not get blasted by the hose. I did sew the seeds in the cooler months of late winter thinking that this would be better in our Hawaii weather.  My patience was rewarded by lots of healthy Mizuna plants, and to my surprise, the plants are still going strong in the heat of summer some months later.  They do get a bit of shade in the late afternoon from the Guava tree.

I have been constantly harvesting individual leaves every few days or so for a salad or sandwich but will also throw a few leaves into my saimin soup.  The leaves last well in the fridge for a few days if wrapped in a damp paper towel and put in a plastic bag.  It will be interesting to see just how long these plants will hang on for.  I read on the internet that Mizuna is biennial and will self sow seed so we will see what happens  Meanwhile, I am very happy to have at least one good supply of salad greens.

Aloha

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Spring Gardens in New York City



High Line Park

Quiet corner on High Line Park

Tropical friends in the city street

Seen on the street

Bryant Park

The reading room in Bryant Park


Battery Park
Battery Park

Bowling Green

Lots of planters in apartment building streets.

A shot showing one of the many tiny corner gardens and trees in the streets.  Greenwich Village 

NYC buildings as seen from south Central Park

This past month I got to spend ten days in New York City.   Finally I got to visit this fabled city and I just loved it.  The first five days there were at the beginning of spring with the leaves just starting to come out on the trees and tulips in bloom.  By my last five days there the trees were in full leaf and roses were coming out.   I expected that I would spend a lot of time looking around Central Park but instead I was so enamored by the smaller parks in the city that I really only had short forays into a few corners of Central Park.  Maybe next time I will rent that bicycle and really see the four mile long patch of green.  An evening walk around Bryant Park just wowed me.  I loved the "reading room" in the middle sponsored by the library next door.  The choice of plants at Battery Park at the bottom there of Manhattan was just inspiring and the nicest evening walk in the city is along the new High Line Park that is built on a now unused elevated train line.  So here are a few photos,as usual from my trips, of some of the garden sightings around town.    

Aloha


A pond in the north west corner of Central Park.


























Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Frugal Propagation in the Home Garden


When I took early retirement a decade ago I knew that I was giving up income for the freedom of time.  That being so, I determined that the garden needed to pay for its self.  Freedom of time meant that I could now put time and energy into my garden that I was too tired to do when working.  I now enjoy growing herbs and greens in a container garden near the kitchen as well as having a small nursery area between the side of the house and the fence.  The soil is very sandy around my home so container gardening works for me.

Container gardening can be very costly but I have been able to do it on the cheap for many years with very little expense beyond fertilizer, water and a few packets of seeds.   I expect some would say fertilizer could be done away with too but the reality is that plants in containers do so much better with fertilizer and I will go with it.

Another reality about container gardens is that the containers need to be big.  Small pots do not work.  They dry out way too fast and the plant gets stressed out.  I have bought a few big containers at garage sales over the years but mostly I am always on the look out for big plastic drums that are being thrown out that can be cut down .  A 55 gallon drum can be cut in half and drainage holes made.  Curbside household rubbish waiting for pickup has also given me some treasures over the years too such as old galvanized wash tubs.

In the nursery area I use lots of small 4",6" and one gallon size pots.  There are many gardeners out there that have stacks of these sized plastic pots in their shed that they never use use but were unwilling to throw away because they are useful.  I let everybody know that I am happy to take those pots off their hands whenever they are next cleaning out the shed and every few months I seem to have a box of pots showing up on my doorstep.  Thank you.  I am thrilled to be able to reuse them.  If your community has a local Free Stuff Facebook site this is a good place to find used pots.  I am also on the look out for large plastic containers that were once used for yogurt and cottage cheese etc. and there are family members and friends who save theirs for me too.  Another source of especially 6" plastic pots is the the trash bins at our local small town graveyard.  Lots of dead plants getting thrown out there!  If I am lucky the potting mix will still be in the pot and I can use that too.  Much better than it all going off to a landfill.  A great substitute for 4" pots is those red cups that are popular for parties.  I am always happy to re-purpose those after the party.

Pots

More pots

Did you notice this guy in the photo above?
Little Red Cups!

Potting mix is just too expensive for my budget.  I have a few compost heaps in the garden that I use to boost the vegetables and herbs. The main basis for my media mix in the containers and nursery is composted tree trimming chips.  I have free access to some well rotted wood chip piles and this I mix with a bit of used  potting mix from the graveyard trash can finds and maybe a bit of soil.  To label my seedlings and plants I cut up plastic gallon milk bottles for the markers.

Labels
In the actual nursery/propagation area I just started with a few old laundry soap buckets for the potting mix and just sat the potted plants on the ground.  Now I like to have old carpet under the pots on the ground to stop the weed growth and many of the pots are now up on large plastic trays perched on upturned plastic crates.  Those plastic fish trays and crates come as gifts from the ocean as they float into our beach during storms.  I am happy to find and use them but it is sad to see how much plastic trash there is out there in the Pacific Ocean from the fishing industry.  An old abandoned wood work bench has become my potting table.





As for the actual plant material: much of what I grow is from cuttings of plants in my garden and some gathered seeds.  My tools are simple and old.  My most used tool in the garden is an old kitchen knife that fits my hand comfortably.  As I said earlier, I do buy fertilizer and another bought item is a bottle of rooting hormone.

So I guess the point of all this is to say that most of what I use in propagating and growing container plants is Free Stuff!  I am always amazed at what some people will pay for all the tools, equipment and plants in their garden.  My advice to those seeking to be frugal gardeners is to not be drawn in by all those fabulous pictures in Home and Garden magazines.  (And if you are frugal you will be looking at them at the library.)  We do not need to be so consumer driven.  Make your garden heroes the old eccentric and frugal gardener down the road..... you know the one.....or the new immigrant family next door who is growing all those exotic vegetables in their back yard.

By being frugal in the garden I keep the cost down of having a garden.  That way, when I sell a few plants, or some of the extra fruit from the garden, it covers the cost of fertilizer and water plus a few extras like new garden chairs or a new grafted fruit tree.  I know some backyard propagators who hold plant sales a few times a year to cover their garden costs.  I have heard of one old guy who planted extra lemon trees in his yard and had a steady extra income from selling lemons during his retirement.  Another guy dug up his front lawn to grow rows of green onions to supply a restaurant for extra income.  It is rather fun thinking of ways to be frugal and make the garden pay for its self.  Especially if you can have fun in the garden at the same time.

Aloha

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Moluccan Spinach (Gynura nepalensis)



Just looking at some of the names of this plant you can tell it comes from  Asia and that its territory stretches from Nepal to beyond Indonesia.  A more common name for it here in Hawaii is Low Cholesterol Plant as it has a reputation for helping lower your cholesterol levels if you eat several leaves every day.  Others say it can help lower your blood sugar.  I can find no proof of either on the internet but there are folks who say it worked for them..Obviously, sellers of the plant are less likely to make unproven claims so Moluccan Spinach is what I see it named at the plant stores.  It has a cousin plant out there called Okinawan Spinach that some people give similar properties.  ( See my blog post June, 2011)   Moluccan Spinach certainly has it fans in some Asian countries where it is used as a medicinal vegetable.  We do know that plant sterols help block the absorption of cholesterol in the bowel so eating any plants is all for the bodies good.



I guess I first became interested in Moluccan Spinach because of its low cholesterol claims.  Having grown it now for over ten years; I love it for its hardiness.  There are several alternative "spinaches" that I am a fan of but Moluccan Spinach and Ong Choy ( blog post April 2015) get my highest praise for ease of growing.  Just get a cutting growing and you have a perennial plant that just keeps on living and producing leafy green food for free.   My current Moluccan Spinach plant is at least 9 years old and grows in a large tub.  Every so often I have to trim it way back to keep it under control but it always comes back.  I will give it a bit of fertilizer then.  The most important thing to know about this plant is that slugs LOVE this plant.  It is one reason why I like to grow it in a container and off the ground.  I used to do slug patrols at night with the scissors of death in my hand but these days I have given in to having to pay some money for slug bait.   Sometimes I get thrips hanging out in the budding leaf tips which is signaled by the buds turning a lighter color.   A bit of soapy water and shooting the plant with strong water pressure from the hose is all I do for it.

The taste of Moluccan Spinach is not strong or unpleasant.  Because the leaves are thickish I will chop them into small pieces to add to a green salad.  I love it in stir fry and use it often.  I know a few people who add the leaves to their green smoothies.

I have never seen my plant produce flowers or seed but it is super easy to grow from cuttings.  I usually put the cuttings in water for a day or two and then plant them up before roots have started to form.  One mature plant will supply you all the leaves you need.

Aloha

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Agave Americana var. medio-picta alba



The white striped Agave Americana is so large and dramatic that you will not find it in my garden. You find them in public gardens of our town and I have had some experience in the past growing them. The wild native Agave Americana is bluish in color and from Mexico.  It is famous for the tequila that is made from the cooked plant hearts.  This large white striped form of the Agave is of horticulture origin and it is the Agave you see most in Hawaii landscapes.  It gives a large strong contrast against the tropical greens.  The white striped Agave grows 3-4 feet tall with large stiff leaves that grow out in a rosette formation.  Those leaves have a very sharp tip that really hurt if you get poked with them so you need to keep the plant away from pathways. The plant is tough and is able to take hot sun, dry conditions, poor soil and also our salty trade winds.



One of the names that this plant gets called is Century Plant.  It seemed like a century before this plant flowered and then died.  In actuality it does not take that long to get around to flowering but it might take 20-30 years before the flower stalk appears and at least 10 years.You are going to need some room for the flower as it shoots up as tall as a flagpole and then will be covered with thousands of flowers in clumps.



After the Agave Americana flowers the plant dies off.  It does not look so impressive now so the gardener needs to come and remove the old plant and put another in to replace it.  However, if you take your time in removing the plant you may get several baby plants growing out of the old plant base which you can detach with a knife and pot up for future use.


 Other times you might find baby plants growing up nearby from stolons....rather like the Sansaveria produces.  Another way you can get lots of baby plants going is just pick up those stiff little flowers that drop down from the "flag pole" and pot them up in 4" pots to get started.  This is an easy way to get some baby plants if you are a "stealth gleaner" of seeds or cuttings.  Nobody is going to miss a few of those flowers dropped on the ground at the public park.  Of course as they grow bigger you will need to transplant them into bigger pots but the plant does better if grown in smaller size pots so that the soil dries out between watering.



 I would not bother to fertilize an Agave Americana out in the landscape and only water it to get it established. The one job in taking care of this plant is to trim away the old dying leaves at the base of the plant to keep it looking its best.  This is easier said than done with all those sharp spikes ready to get you.  Good strong gloves and a sharp curved knife with a very long reach is needed.  Some eye protection might be a good idea too.

The photos above were taken a few weeks ago.  Lucky that I snapped them then as the grounds crew decided it was time to remove the old Agaves that had already flowered and they are now gone.

Aloha

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Garden Views from Turkey



The last few months I have been traveling around the west half of Turkey.  I did it all by bus and I have to say that the bus system in Turkey is just fabulous.  So many buses going everywhere and frequently.  It was fall in Turkey so autumn leaves were just starting to drop when I arrived there and the first snow fell in the north just before I left.  On the Aegean coast it was still sunny enough to enjoy the blue Mediterranean views with olive trees covering the rocky hills.  Inland the shepherds were leading their flocks of sheep to eat the remaining crop stubble before the farmers plowed  up the fields. Fruit trees were being harvested, grape vines were being trimmed and firewood being stacked for winter fires.

Miles and miles of plastic tunnels covered a few coastal towns where they grew  the vine ripened tomatoes that showed up at every meal.  In towns, large olive oil cans were recycled to be plant containers by the door for chili peppers or herbs.  In the country, many houses had walled gardens with fruit trees, vegetable gardens and a chicken coup.  I wandered around peeping over garden walls as usual.  I loved having fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, having the super cheap mandarins in my bag to snack on and eating the sweetest fresh figs ever.

Here are a few garden related photos from the trip.

Aloha









Notice the grape vine growing up the wall to shade the rooftop patio.











These lovely ladies are filling big jars with homemade pickled vegetables.