Sunday, December 16, 2012

PINEAPPLE (Ananas comosus)

Pineapple is a fun plant to have in the tropical garden. The young children like to watch the fruits growing at an easy eye level.  I got into it several years ago when some free pineapple plants in pots came my way.  Giveaways from an elderly gentleman who could no longer look after them. Thank you.  At first I thought I should plant them out in my garden.  Within a few months I realized that I had done the wrong thing.  Out of sight and planted in our coral sand soil, they were dying from neglect.  I managed to save a few and planted them into a big old rusty tub that I picked up along the road from some some body's rubbish pile.  The tub of pineapples hangs out amongst the containers of herbs and makes a nice contrast to the little leaf green plants.  Every few years we harvest a few pineapples from it so I guess it is more for fun than for food supply.

The type of pineapple I have is sweet and very white fleshed.  I am guessing that it is what is locally called "Kona White" variety.  It has reddish leaves.  Dole Pineapple company used to have a display of different varieties of pineapple up at an intersection of the road near Wahiawa in their pineapple fields. We used to love stopping by with our visitors as part of our North Shore tour.  We would always look for our favorite-- the Samoan variety with red leaves.  The sweetest pineapple I know grow in Samoa.  Now that the fruit canneries have closed down in Hawaii, there are a lot more sweeter varieties being grown here for serving fresh at the table.  e.g. Maui Gold.

Pineapples are in the Bromeliad family which will grow in tree branches and rocky places so are a fairly tough plant.  They have a small root system so actually do well growing in pots.  I have seen them looking healthy in little pockets of soil in lava field gardens in Samoa.  I have three plants clumped a foot apart in the old tub.  They are mainly growing in old wood chip compost and soil that I add to occasionally.  They are growing in full sun and get a bit of fertilizer.  The main thing about growing pineapples is that they hate wet feet.  They like rain but must have good drainage.  They do grow very long and sharp pointed leaves so you need to give them some private space.  Some gardeners like to grow them inside old tires.

It is fairly easy to get new plants going from the pineapple you buy at the grocery store. Just twist the top off your pineapple.  I have found that the tops grow better if they have not been stored in the refrigerator so twist the top off before cooling the fruit for eating.  You also need to remove any remaining fruit flesh on the top, if you cut the top off, and also pull a few layers of the small leaves off the bottom to expose a bit more of the stem.  The usual problem in growing pineapples is that the leaves turn black.  The plant has rotted and died..  To prevent this you just need to leave the cleaned pineapple top on a bench for a week to dry out.  Once the stump has dried out you then can plant it in some loose potting mix in a 6 inch size pot and let it get rooted there before planting it out or into a bigger container.  Some people swear by putting the pineapple top in a glass of water to grow first.  Make sure to change the water every few days and once the roots start showing, get it planted.

It will take two  years before you will harvest your first fruit.  Like all Bromeliads, the mother plant will die after fruiting but will give off some suckers/keiki first.  If you leave these in place these suckers may produce more fruit in a years time.  The pineapple plantations pull up the plant after the second crop and grow new plants again from the suckers and tops.

I am trying to think of food ideas with pineapples.  mmmm  I guess it is all the usual stuff that everybody knows.  We just usually cut them up and eat them fresh.  If serving them at a party, the sliced fruit always looks nice with a piece of green banana or ti leaf placed under it on the plate.  It has become popular in the last few years in Hawaii to serve fresh pineapple sprinkled with salty Ling Mui powder that comes from China.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

TIARE (Gardenia taitensis)

I realized that I needed to grow a Tiare bush (also known as Tahitian Gardenia) in my garden when my daughter was needing Tiare flowers to put in her hair on her wedding day.  We ended up finding them in a Tahitian friend's garden.

I knew, from earlier experience, that getting Tiare plants growing from cuttings is very hit and miss.  Maybe only one in twenty cuttings would grow roots for me.  I also knew of a Tiare bush that had big golf ball sized, seed filled, fruit on it, so thought I would have a go at growing Tiare from seed.  I gathered a couple of yellowish colored fruits and left them for a few weeks on the windowsill to ripen up to a squishy orange.  There are many seeds in the fruit and so I got a whole tray full of seedlings from the experiment.  As I transplanted them and re potted them, I found them to be quite hardy and forgiving of lack of care when I was away.  I planted one of the babies in my garden where it is now a very healthy bush supplying me with lots of flowers despite being in a place where it gets our salt winds.  It does get well watered though from the down pipe run off from the neighbor's roof.

The Tiare bush can grow as high as 12 feet high but most people keep them trimmed down lower for easy flower picking.  They have wonderful large glossy green leaves that show off the pure white flowers.  Leaves do tend to turn yellow and drop off if they do not get enough water though.  The flowers are very fragrant.  In Tahiti, where it is the national flower, the flowers are used to perfume coconut oil to make body oils.  The flowers look so beautiful tucked up in a woman's hair or strung into a lei.  All the hotel resorts in French Polynesia greet their guests with Tiare leis.  A Tiare flower was even given to me as I went through immigration on arrival in Tahiti.  (Hawaii immigration take note!)  The Tiare flowers are also put to use to freshen the air in restrooms throughout the islands.   Party or hotel hosts have an attractive small arrangement of Tiare by the sinks to greet guests using the toilets.

Many new comers to Hawaii get excited about being able to now grow tropical flowers.  The first one they all seem to want to grow is the Gardenia.  If they are growing it our part of the island they will find that over several months their new plant just dies.  The leaves will turn yellow and get covered in sooty mold and aphids.  This is because Gardenias need rich soil to grow and in our town the soil is mainly composed of coral sand....high in calcium and low in iron.  However, this is just the sort of soil that  the Tiare is happy to grow in.  They will also tolerate salt winds too although I am not sure I would put it right on the beach.  It does need plenty of water to be healthy and produce lots of leaves and flowers.  So if you have sandy soils you can still grow Gardenias.....only it is the Tahitian Gardenia.

The Tahitian Tiare is well known throughout the Pacific Islands but some of the islands have their own form of Tiare. eg. the Cook Islands.  Even here in Hawaii, we have the Na'u which is a Hawaiian species of Tiare.  Only now is it starting to show up in nurseries and gardens as it is being brought back from the brink of extinction.  It is thought by some that the Hawaiian and Tahitian Tiares were all canoe plants taken out to the Pacific Islands by the Polynesians.  A lot of attention is shown to canoe plants like Taro and Breadfruit but I am willing to guess that those Polynesian women going out on the voyaging canoes were wanting to take their favorite lei flowers as well.

The usual form of Tiare flower has seven petals and this is the form shown on Tahiti print fabrics etc. but it can actually have anywhere between five to nine petals.  While I was traveling in French Polynesia last year I found myself counting Tiare petals everywhere I went.  I found that on Tahiti island the flower was usually seven petaled but up on Bora Bora most of the Tiare had six petals.  A few years ago I gave my daughter three of the young Tiare bushes I had grown from seed.  They now make a nice show in front of her house.  Of these three shrubs, all give seven petaled flowers but one will sometime throw out an eight or nine petal flower and another will sometimes give a six petal flower.  The third shrub is absolutely loaded with  Tiare fruits although the other two never have any.  I am thrilled to know I have a source of future Tiare seeds as Tiare fruits are hard to find although I have never been able to figure out why.  I think that the three plants all being grown from seed has helped them all be a bit alternative.....on the other hand the one in my garden, that was from the same lot, is completely normal.

I hope I have sold you on another one of my favorite hardy and useful plants to have in the garden.  I love my Tiare bush that is growing next to where I park my car.  As I head out to a baby birthday luau or a wedding reception, I will pluck a Tiare flower to tuck behind my ear to feel a little more festive for the occasion.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Container Gardens in Urban Malaysia

 A few months ago I had my annual trip to a foreign country that I have not been to before.  As usual, it was done on a tight budget which means staying at hostels and cheap guest houses, eating street food and using public transport.  This year it was two months in Malaysia, including a few days in Singapore and Brunei along the way.

Malaysia was a really lovely place to go see. I am always interested to see how another tropical place uses the same plants that we have but in different ways.  In Malaysia there are three main cultures: Malay, Chinese and Indian so it really gets interesting as each contributes into the mix.

In the cities, most people live in apartments or in terrace houses that may be over a small business.  Despite living in cities, many residences would have a few pot plants around the entrance and some were very creative and beautiful.  A few herbs like Pandan, Curry leaf tree and Lemon grass were popular.  So also were plants that had red flowers or leaves.  Red is a lucky color for the Chinese.  Often you would see red ribbon bows or some other red decoration tied on to the plants for the same reason.  Today I am just going to share some of my favorite photos of urban gardens in Malaysia.  Maybe it will give you a few ideas for your home garden.



Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pak Wahn, Katuk, Sweetleaf Bush (Sauropus androgynous)

Pak Wahn is a plant that I was introduced to some ten or more years ago by a gardening friend.  It is one of those "alternative" green leaf vegetables that are easily grown.  It is a bush that just grows and you harvest the leaves.  My kind of lazy vegetable gardening.

I had heard that Pak Wahn was native to Malaysia so I was eager to see it growing while on a recent trip there.  I saw it very rarely in Peninsular Malaysia (Malaya) but it was in all the markets in East Malaysia ( Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo).  It seemed that it was especially grown by the Aboriginal people of the Borneo forest as I saw many plots of Pak Wahn growing near their homes.  I expect that it is a native to their forest as it is a bush that will grow in part shade.

My Pak Wahn shrub started out in a large container but the roots are well into the ground now.  I have seen it grown as a short hedge as well as individually.  It is a fairly easy plant to grow from semi-woody cuttings.  You will also find volunteer babies coming up from the roots of mature shrubs that can be cut away with part of the root and potted up.  A bit of high nitrogen fertiliser and watering during dry weather will keep it growing well.

To harvest the leaves and the soft tip stems for eating you need young fresh growth so the one bit of work you need to do every few months is to hard prune the bush.  In a month or so you will have lots if young growth to harvest.  The more the shrub is pruned, the more it forms new branches and so expands its output.  If the bush is not kept trimmed it will grow several feet high but keeping it at about 3-4 feet makes for easy harvesting.

Pak Wahn has good nutritional value.  A half cup (100 g) of fresh leaves provides 4.9 g of Protein, 51 mg of Calcium, 2.7 mg of Iron, 1122 IU of Vitamin A and 83 mg of Vitamin C.  You can see that this is a good plant to let the kids pluck and chew on the leaves whenever they are out in the garden.

The leaves and soft shoots have quite a pleasant flavor.  Rather like eating snow peas.  Everybody that I  introduce the leaves to say, "Oh, I can eat that.  It tastes nice."  The young fresh leaves go well in a garden salad.  I usually mix them in with a base of romaine lettuce and then add some other colorful vegetable in such as orange bell peppers.  The older leaves  are good in a stir fry but my favorite way to cook them is in a pasta.  The plucked leaves are the right size so do not need cutting.  I just saute them in olive oil along with garlic and grape tomatoes and  then stir in the cooked pasta.  You can add some cooked chicken or a can of tuna if you want a meat meal.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Past the One Year Mark

It is over a year now since I started this blog and I am pleased to find that I enjoy doing it so I guess I will be sticking to it. One blog a month is about my speed though so you do not need to check in too often.  I wrote in the beginning that one of the reasons I wrote this blog was to see where it would take me.  It has been a big surprise to find out that there are lots of people in Europe and Russia who are interested in tropical gardening and especially that they are interested in Okinawan Spinach.  Who knew?  Okinawan Spinach is way ahead as a googled subject.  Guavas come up second with Breadfruit almost catching up to them.  Interesting.  The new joy of my life is to be able to tell my family what new country was looking at my blog this week.  Thank you to all you readers who have come by to visit my garden and a big aloha to my three followers.  It is lovely to be able to share my passion for useful tropical gardening with others.  Thanks to the Internet, it can mean new friends on the other side of the world and not just old friends in my little town or garden club.

I have a first anniversary gift for us all.  Check out this fabulous article that was on  It is about making a Keyhole Garden and it is the most practical and wonderful small vegetable garden that I have ever seen and it will work for any kind of place and climate.  If you have not seen you might enjoy having a look around there.  Many of the subject areas are viewed by subscription only but the tropical gardening forum is free ( Dave lives in Hawaii on the Big Island so this is a subject after his own heart.) Every day there are two new gardening articles to read that is like getting a free gardening magazine.  Best of all, his plant and insect files are free areas so are always available for ID information.  His website is is a meeting place for gardeners from around the world

Just to give you something to drool over, here are  a few photos of Desert Rose and Bonsai taken at the Penang Floral Festival that I attended in June while traveling around Malaysia for a few months. 


Friday, April 20, 2012

Aloe Vera

I think that Aloe Vera is a plant that is recognised , grown and used around the world.  Although it is a  native of the dry climate of North-East Africa and the Middle East, it grows easily in tropical gardens as well.  Even the most anti-herbal remedy person is usually willing to concede that Aloe Vera has its medicinal use.

The Aloe Vera in my garden is grown in containers as well as in the ground.  Aloe Vera looks lovely in the used clay pots that I pick up for cheap at garage sales.  These can be taken indoors for a hardy indoor plant in a well lighted room.

The Aloe Vera that I have growing in the ground got there as a last resort.  I had a hot, dry, sandy area of garden that left any other plant I tried there dead.  So I broke off a few of the very big Aloe Vera plants from the containers and planted them out in the problem area.  With an occasional watering, they have taken off and now have babies growing up from the stems so that they are on the way to being a hardy ground cover.  The Aloe Vera has the advantage of being a little bit poky so it keeps the wild chickens from scratching in the area.

As the baby Aloe Vera plants grow bigger, I harvest a few and plant them in 6" pots for a gift or for selling.  These transplanted babies can turn rotten and die if they get too much water before their roots grow so keep them fairly dry and under watered.

Aloe Vera is, of course, well known as a herbal remedy for healing burns.  Cut a large leaf of the plant, peel off the skin and smear the cool, soothing inner gel over the burnt area.  It is good when you get a hot fat or water burn in the kitchen and it is wonderful to smear over sun burnt shoulders.  It is also used as a healing agent for cuts and lesions of the skin.

I have also heard claims that Aloe Vera is very good for the digestive system and is helpful for stomach ulcers and inflammation of the bowel.  I do notice that Aloe Vera juice in cold drinks is becoming main stream now and not just in health food stores.  Several  brands of Aloe Vera drinks can be bought  now at our local supermarket as well as at the gas station store.  If you are thinking of trying it out, one can easily add fresh Aloe Vera into a fruit smoothie at home for much less cost.  Just add about a 3" piece of a peeled leaf to the blended juice.  When I have tried it there is very little Aloe Vera flavor beyond that of the blended fruit.  I like it in a mix of papaya, ice water and a bit of lemon juice.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

All Saints Day in French Polynesia

Well, another travel related blog today.

Last November I spent  four weeks in French Polynesia.  It was wonderful to visit five different islands during the trip and finally see what French Polynesia was like.  I have visited many Polynesian islands and the tropical island landscape was familiar, but the Tahitian and French cultures add something to these that is different and interesting.  Now in case you are wondering how I could afford to have a month in French Polynesia, remember that I travel as a frugal backpacker.  I was not staying in those overpriced bungalow resorts built out over the lagoon.  I was sleeping in a bunk bed in a hostel dorm room for about US$30 a night and living on French bread.  The month stay cost me about US$2000 total.  This is not including my plane ticket there from home, but does include inter island ferries and a plane ride.  If you are not willing to go that cheap, you can find lots of Bed and Breakfast places there, called Pensions, that cost around US$100 a night.  That is where the French tourists stay.

While I was there, French Polynesia celebrated the public holiday called All Saint's Day that falls on November 1st.  On this day, the islanders pay their respect to their dead relatives by cleaning up the graves of the departed.  They give the graves a fresh coat of paint and place flower arrangements on the graves.  Although many families make their own arrangements, there are also people selling flower arrangements in the market places and along the road side.

Below are some photographs taken on the islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora and Raiatea of the decorated graves and the flower sellers.  As you can see, the Red Ginger is a very popular flower there.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

CUBAN OREGANO (Plectranthus amboinicus)

Cuban Oregano, also known as Indian Borage, Mother of Herbs and a host of other herbal sounding names, is a handy herb to have in the tropical garden.  In the past, I grew a more upright, green variety but now the lower growing, variegated variety, seems to be the common type grown locally.  I grow mine in a container and it hangs over the sides nicely.  I also see people growing it on rocky slopes as a pretty, as well as useful, ground cover.  When it is grown in sunny, dry conditions, the leaves are smaller and lighter in color so you might want your plant shaded from the intense afternoon sunlight.  Baby plants grow easily from stem cuttings.

The Cuban Oregano has large, fleshy leaves and is different from the Mediterranean oreganos which makes some people hesitant to use it at first but you will be a fan after you get used to it.  It gives you that same oregano flavor.   Think of it more as a tangy vegetable leaf as you chop up several leaves to add to your chili, stew or stuffing.  My favorite way to use it is to chop lots of leaves to add to a Teriyaki marinade which is the common type of BBQ sauce used in Hawaii.  Combine Cuban Oregano, garlic, lemon juice, soy sauce, oil and brown sugar.  Soak your chicken in it overnight before the BBQ.  A few sprigs of the plant also make a nice decoration when serving meat.  Tuck a few leaves around your Thanksgiving turkey or on the meat platters.


PS     August, 2015

In the past year I have got back into another variety of Cuban Oregano and thought I should post a picture of it so that you know that there is another choice in this wonderful herb.  The older picture above shows a low growing, variegated form of Cuban Oregano while this one is plain green in color and grows more upright.  I think the leaves are a little larger and more plentiful too.  Both plants have the same Oregano flavor and look nice as part of the landscape as well as for kitchen use.  The plant may  need a little trimming or pinching of tips to keep its growth more compact.  Do not be afraid to really use this herb even though it has big fleshy leaves.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The USA National Botanic Garden

Well I think it is about time for a travel/garden post.  I plan to do a few of these each year and this will be my first.

 About this time last year I was able to have two weeks playing tourist in Washington DC.  I stayed at the wonderful HI Hostel there.  This is where the backpackers stay and you share a dorm room but it meant that I was in easy walkable distance of the National Mall at a cost of about  $450 for the whole two weeks.  This included breakfast and there was a kitchen I could use to cook meals if I wanted.  There was also easy access to transport and helpful staff. 

I was there just at the end of Winter with the last scattered piles of snow on the ground when I arrived.  Of course I checked out all the historic and national buildings and museums etc. but it was too early to really enjoy the outside gardens yet.   However, there was one gardening marvel to be seen and one that, I have to admit, I had never really heard much about before going there.  This was the US National Botanic Garden.  The garden was set up by the early planners of Washington DC as a national plant information resource placed on the front east corner of the Capital Building to balance the Library of Congress that sits on the back east corner of the Capital.  Back then knowledge of growing plants was a serious matter equal to book learning!

If you go today you will see huge glass conservatories with a native plant garden outside of it.   The outside garden was still brown and bare from Winter but inside the glass conservatories there was a warm magical wonderland.  It may have been freezing outside but inside there were humid tropical forests, dry deserts full of cactus and cacao trees loaded with their fiery pods of beans that make chocolate.  There was one conservatory dedicated to Hawaiian native plants but unfortunately it was closed for repair so I missed that.  Because everybody was tired of Winter, the most lovely thing there was their group displays of Spring flowers that just took your breath away with their beauty.

So here are some of my pictures taken at the US Botanic garden from that trip.  I hope it gets you to want to go check it out when you are next in Washington DC.  Our tax money is paying for it so entrance is free.