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.