Sunday, December 15, 2013

PANDAN ( Pandanus amaryllifolius)

We have many kinds of big Pandanus trees in the Pacific Islands, so when I say I am using a Pandanus leaf as a herb or spice people immediately think of the 4 ft long leaves of the trees that are used to weave mats and baskets.......and they look at me funny.  I have to explain that Pandan is a mini sized Pandanus that would fit into their herb garden just fine.  A student from Malaysia introduced this plant to me and I have been growing it and using it for over ten years now.  It makes my common, California grown, rice give off  the lovely Jasmine rice smell when cooking and adds a nice subtle flavor to the rice as well.  Here in Hawaii, gourmet rices are becoming big time, with the rice shelves at the supermarket expanding greatly with all the fancy international choices.  Pandan makes my cheap rice taste like a gourmet rice.  It may be my imagination, but I think that the cooked rice does not go off so quick either if it has been cooked with Pandan.

The Pandan is a stalk like plant with long slender leaves of about 1- 1 1/2 ft. long.  After a while, the mature plant gives off little offshoots so that it becomes more of clump.  Mine has not grown higher than 3 ft.  As it matures, the plant bends down with the weight and sends out aerial roots to support it.  If you do not keep an eye on it, it could go expanding out in your garden so you do need to expect it to spread out somewhat.  However, if the clump is just taking up too much room, just break off some of the off shoots to give away as gifts or to root and pot up.  After about five years, I pulled up most of my Pandan and started again with  new rooted tops as the old clump was starting to look too messy and tangled.  I do love the fragrance of the Pandan in the garden on a humid or rainy day. 

The Pandan does not indication that this plant has relied on man to reproduce it for thousands of  years.  Pandan will grow in sun or semi-shade.  It does like moist soil.  I have seen it grown in swampy areas in SE Asia, but is grows in my sandy soil OK although I do water it every few days.  I notice my plants leaf tips get burnt when the salt wind gets going but otherwise it does fine.  It has no disease problems except that I notice that slugs will eat the tender leaves of the baby off shoots when I pot them up if I leave the pots sitting on the ground.

To propagate new Pandan plants I pull off an off shoot/sucker from the mother plant and leave it standing in water for a few weeks until it starts rooting before I pot it up.  I change the water daily to keep it fresh and oxygenated.  I found this worked better than just potting up the off shoot straight away where it tended to rot and die.

Pandan is commonly grown throughout SE Asia as a herb/spice.  As I said, I add my Pandan leaves to ordinary rice to give it a subtle Jasmine rice flavor.  I suspect I may be getting added benefits of some plant goodness into my rice as well.  Some in SE Asia consider the plant to have medicinal qualities.
If you are familiar with Nasi Lemak from Malaysia, this is just rice cooked with coconut milk and a few leaves of Pandan.  The usual method is just to cut three leaves of Pandan, tie them together into a knot and throw them in the pot with the rice.  This makes for easy removal at the end of cooking.  Do not use the white part of the leaf at the base.  Leaves do keep quite well in the refrigerator.  Wrap them up in a damp cloth or paper towel and store them in a plastic bag.

Pandan leaves for sale in a Thai market. 

You can buy bottles of Pandan essence in Asian stores.  They are usually bright green in color so I eye them suspiciously.  I think green food color has been added.  I ate Pandan bread  and Pandan mochi in Malaysia that was green in color.  To tell the truth, there was more green food coloring there too than any Pandan taste that I could detect.  In Thailand I bought small pieces of chicken wrapped in Pandan leaves and fried.  It was nice chicken but I could not taste any Pandan flavor.  More a unique way of presenting food.

On looking around the Internet I find recipes for making your own Pandan juice.  Just blend 6-8 leaves with 2/3 cup of water in a food processor and discard the solids to keep the liquid for cooking.  Or you can make a Pandan paste.  Boil 1" pieces of leaves in 1/2 a cup of water and then throw it all into a food processor and use the resulting paste to add to your cakes and desserts. This sounds better than buying those bright green bottles of Pandan essence at the store.   I think I will just be sticking to throwing a few leaves into my rice pot which has become a long time habit now.  Some Nasi Lemak goes over well too....


PS   October 2019
I have been off traveling in Thailand lately.  I just want to add two photos of flower arrangements made by a lady there who was selling them for offerings at a temple.  In Hawaii people make similar "roses" out of lauhala leaves but this is the first time I have seen it done with Pandan.  Fragrant, pretty and very inspirational.

Flower arrangements based on woven pandan leaves

Posies with a white lotus flower added.

Friday, November 15, 2013

STEPHANOTIS VINE (Stephanotis floribunda)


Stephanotis, also called the Wedding Flower or Madagascar Jasmine, is another of my favorite useful and tough plants.  Of course, it is useful because of its fragrant, waxy white flowers that go so well in wedding bouquets and leis but the hardy plant is also wonderful in hiding all those ugly chain link fences we have in Hawaii.

The Stephanotis vine likes to grow in a sunny place with good soil drainage.  They just love chain link fences although they tend to favor the top of the fence so you may have to position and pinch the the young tendrils to encourage them to cover the fence well.  Giving the plant some fertiliser and water will give you a lot more flowers but the plant is a tough survivor once established.  It can tolerate salty ocean breezes.  The young plant does seem to take time to get established, so just keep watering after planting it with a bit of fertiliser and soon tendrils will start reaching up and it will take off.

Stephanotis can be propagated from cuttings but I grow my plants from seed.  I pick one of the  large seed pods ( they look rather like a mango) when it is starting to turn from green to a yellow-brown and put it up on the kitchen window ledge until it fully ripens and cracks open.  Actually , it is a good idea to put a rubber band loosely around the pod so that the seeds cannot float off when you are not watching as each seed has a fluffy propeller like a dandelion seed so that it can be carried by the wind.

I always love my first look into the Stephanotis pod when it opens up.  It is one of the marvels of nature to see how the seeds and their unopened fluff is packed so beautifully into the pod.  One pod gives hundreds of seeds and they easily sprout into hardy seedlings.  These I transplant into plastic cups to get them rooted well before planting out when they start getting a tendril reaching up.

The Stephanotis flushes into flower in the spring and summer so it is good timing for bridal bouquets and graduation leis.  In bouquets, a floral pick or a bit of coconut leaf mid-rib can be used to position
the flowers.  The flowers string beautifully into leis or on knotted ribbon streamers.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Container Plants at Biltmore

Well I have been off traveling in the eastern part of the US mainland for the past month.  I was not expecting to come back with garden photos for the the blog because I figured most gardens would by dying down for the winter at this time of the year.  The trees were just starting to get their autumn colors which is always so exotic to us tropics dwellers and I got all excited about seeing walnuts and chestnuts falling from the trees.

However, as you can see from the following pictures, Biltmore Estate gardeners still had things in full show in their containers around Biltmore House.  Biltmore is one of the few real grand houses of America and was built over a hundred years ago in Asheville, North Carolina by the fabulously wealthy Vanderbilt family.  If you ever get to visit this beautiful house, make sure you visit the Italian and Walled gardens that are at the side of the house.  I also really enjoyed the farm area as well.

You will recognize several tropical friends in the following photos that seem to do well in the summer in North Carolina but I expect they get moved into a glass house for the winter.  I was surprised to see the variegated Hau (Beach Hibiscus) being used in a container but it really looked quite nice.  All the same, I am getting rid of it in my own garden as it has turned into a monster that I do not want to be hard pruning for the rest of my life.  Enjoy the following pictures and see how many tropical plants you can find in them. The last photo is not so much for the container but for the fantastic color and leaf combination of tropical plants.


PS    A very good article about the Biltmore Estate and its food production can be found at:

Friday, August 9, 2013

NEW ZEALAND SPINACH ( Tetragonia tetragonioides )

It is a funny thing, that even though I was born and raised in New Zealand, I never heard of New Zealand Spinach there.  It was not until I was living in the USA that I first heard about it and only saw it for the first time about twenty years ago when a local gardener here in Hawaii pointed it out in her garden.  I have gradually become more and more interested in this  plant and it is to be noted that I do see a few gardeners in New Zealand growing this plant now.

New Zealand Spinach  really became part of my life after I discovered that the plant has gone wild on the sand dunes in Hawaii, including along a few beaches near my house.    I can harvest big bunches of leafy tips and have nutritious greens for a stir-fry for free.  I must admit that it gives me great joy to gather free food from natures garden!  It is easy to recognize the plant in the wild because of its distinctive leaves and trailing habit.  It also has an easily recognizable tiny yellow flower and seed case.

Although there are a few New Zealand Spinach plants to be found near the beach all year long, the new seedlings really start popping up after the heavy rain of spring and fall.  I watch out for them on my beach walks and know where to go back to harvest in the next few months.  I usually cook the greens in a stir-fry with a bit of meat and seasoning.  The plants can be seen growing in full sun, but they do seem to do better with a bit of shade.  Often they will be growing amongst the fallen Ironwood (Casuarina equisetifolia ) tree needles while many other plants do not like the Ironwood leaf mulch.

When the New Zealand Spinach seedlings are just a few weeks old, I gently pull up several small plants to take home.  After they have a few hours in a glass of water to perk them up, I pot them up in little 4" pots.  In a week they are rooted and strong enough to pass along to other gardeners to plant in their vegetable plots.  That is for gardeners who do not like the idea of free food from the beach!

New Zealand Spinach is another of my tough plants.  It does not mind our sandy soils, salt winds and hot summers.  This plant is native to New Zealand and Australia as well as a few other South Pacific rim countries.  The Maori people of New Zealand called it Kokihi and it is usually referred to as Warrigal Greens in Australia.  Neither the Maori of New Zealand or the Aborigines of Australia were into eating it much but the discoverer Captain Cook loved it as a green vegetable to give his ships crew to prevent scurvy.  It was Captain Cook who introduced the vegetable to the rest of the world.  The leaves are an excellent source of Vitamin A but it is another one of those green leaf plants high in oxalate so it is recommended to blanch the leaves in boiling water for a few minutes if you are worried about getting kidney stones.  Even if you are not into eating it, New Zealand Spinach, with its low trailing growth, makes a good hardy ground cover for sandy gardens.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

A TALE OF TWO LEMON TREES (Citrus x meyeri) (Citrus jambhiri)

I have two lemon trees in my garden: a Meyer lemon (Citrus x meyeri) in the front yard that gives fruit in the autumn and winter and a Rough lemon (Citrus jambhiri) in the back yard that keeps me in fruit in the spring and summer.

Rough Lemon on left, Meyer Lemon on right, compared to a lemon from the supermarket.

The Meyer lemon I bought as a grafted tree and it produced fruit within a year. The fruit are huge and juicy and often grow in bunches.  Most years I expect about fifty fruit on my tree but a couple of times it has super produced so that I end up selling some.  The first time this happened was the year that Oahu had a noteworthy forty days of rain.  So....lemons like lots of water.  The second time this happened is this year. My tree is of course bigger now but there must be over a thousand young lemons on it right now.  I could not believe how the flowers kept coming out on the tree.  It may mean that I will have lots of little lemons instead of the usual big ones though.  So what do I think is causing the super fruiting this year?   Well we have had fairly good rain this spring, but the other difference is that I moved about a dozen pots of young red ginger plants under the tree to give them some protection from sun and wind.  Maybe it is because the tree is getting more consistent watering because I have to water the gingers in the pots.  Maybe there is a regular feeding coming from the pots too as the fertilizer in them leaches down into the rooting zone of the lemon tree.  If I get such good results again next year I will know I have really hit on a good thing.

Immature Meyer lemons

My Meyer lemon in the front yard

Another problem I get in the Meyer lemon tree is aphids on the new growth.  As soon as I see them I look for ant nests that they build within the bunches of fruit and blast them out with the water hose.  It is the ants that bring in the aphids like herds of milk them of their sweet body fluids.

The Rough lemon in the back yard we usually call by the Samoan name, Tipolo Pakupaku as I first got to know of this lemon in Samoa.  It is a popular lemon in many islands of the South Pacific, not only for its fruit, but also for its very fragrant leaves that are used in making tea or added to desserts along with coconut milk.  The  large bumpy fruit of the tree does not keep well when picked so I leave them on the tree until I need them.

Our Rough lemon I grew from seed so it was several years before the tree was old enough to fruit. It is a very tough thing with big thorns.  It grows in the very sandy back yard with the full force of the salt winds from the beach about 300 yards away.  I am afraid it is a rather sad looking tree because of that with about half of the tree covered with dead branches because of the salt wind.  I leave them there as a wind break for the rest of the tree.  Because the Rough lemon is such a tough tree, is is used as rooting stock for grafting in many parts of the world.

My poor windblown  Jambhiri Lemon tree in the back yard

I expect my uses for lemon are much the same as yours so I really cannot think of any exceptional way of using them.  I like squeezing lemon juice in my ice tea, on my breakfast papaya, and on salads and fish etc.  You can freeze lemon juice in ice trays and then bag the juice cubes to freeze for future use, although my two trees keep me supplied all year.  Home made lemonade is just right on a hot summer day and if you want something really special, try adding  a bit of ginger root tea to the lemonade.  The leaves of the Rough lemon make a beautiful tea so that is worth trying.
Immature Jambhiri Lemons

As an end note, I also want to comment on how the two lemon trees are part of nature in our little part of the world.  Both of the lemon trees get lots of visits from the Citrus Swallowtail butterfly which I enjoy seeing in the garden and I do not see any damage to the tree from them.  The two trees are also very popular for nest building by the little red wax billed rice birds.  There are several of their tunnel door nests in the trees and they will add on to them the next year.  I am glad that they find needed protection in my loved lemon trees.


PS   February, 2015
Well I am still getting lots of flowers and lemons on my Meyer Lemon tree so I have decided that having the several pots of newly propagated ginger kept under the lemon tree is really giving the tree a boost with the constant water and fertilizer from the pot plants going to the lemon tree as well.  Last week I had another surprise in my lemon tree too.....have a look at this photo!

Yep....this is a huge swarm of honey bees that showed up.  It was at least two feet long. The whole thing is just made up of bees surrounding their queen bee. They have split off from a hive and are looking for a new home.  A bee man was very happy to come and get them to build up his hives.  It all caused quite a bit of excitement around here!

PS July, 2016
I am very sorry to have to tell you that my Rough Lemon tree has died.   It has always had a tough life out in the back yard because of sandy soils and salt winds coming off the ocean.  Last year it was hit by really big winds a few months before Christmas which left the tree almost naked but it grew new leaves in and still looked good.  Then a few months after Christmas we had another big salt wind session and the tree just did not have the energy to grow new leaves all over again and has died.  I will miss my source of lemons in the spring time so I guess I will be freezing lemon juice from the Meyer Lemon to keep me going in between seasons.  I have also  grown several baby Rough Lemon trees from the seed so hopefully there will be more fruit in the future.

August, 2017
Rough lemon number two is now growing out in my back yard and big enough to at least provide fragrant leaves for tea making even though it will be five years or so before I get some fruit.  This time I have planted the tree closer to the crown flower tree for protection from the salt winds.  I have been trimming the crown flower tree to grow out on one side to give more protection.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Garden Notes From Israel

I have been off traveling again.  This year my exploring trip was five weeks of traveling around Israel.  This included two weeks in Jerusalem which is so packed with things to see.  As usual, I was taking an interest in all things to do with garden and agriculture.  The northern two thirds of the country, with its Mediterranean climate, has much more agriculture, but there was a lot going on in the dry rocky desert areas of the south as well through the miracle of drip irrigation.  I found out that it was Israel that actually developed drip irrigation and gave it to the world.  Cherry tomatoes were apparently also a gift to the world from Israel.  All of us that live in the tropical world really appreciate that.  They are so much easier to grow in our climate.

I, of course, expected to see things like olive trees, dates, pomegranates and wheat growing in Israel but the amount of agriculture in the country was just astounding.  When I went to the markets and asked where the produce came from the answer was always, "Here in Israel"  They put Hawaii to shame.  It is estimated that about 85% of our food here in Hawaii is shipped in from outside the state.  I loved the real tasting nectarines in Israel and they had a lovely small skinny cucumber that was really nice too. It is the first country I have ever been to that always has a fresh salad as part of breakfast.  Tomatoes and cucumbers were always part of that.  I was surprised to see the amount of bananas being grown in the country.  Huge fields of the crop and most often grown under huge net covers to keep out the birds and insects.

A few places I saw a Hawaiian friend which always gives me a little thrill. These were tough native Hawaiian plants that were used in public gardens under hot dry conditions.  Just showing that they can handle it with a bit of that drip irrigation.  This included the shrubs Hau 'Ula, 'A'ali'i  and  'Akulikuli as a ground cover.  These plants are native to Hawaii but also have a wider presence in the Pacific.

A usual I was taking photos of gardens as I traveled around and I will share a few of them with you to give you a feeling of the country and maybe they will give you a few ideas for your own garden.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Samoan Food Gardens

I was getting prepared to write a new post for this blog when I suddenly had to go to Samoa for a week.  So instead of talking about a plant this month I will put up a few more travel pictures.  I thought you would like to see a few views of food gardens near where I stayed in Samoa.  In the Samoan traditional way of growing, crops are mixed up together in a much more natural way know, like we gardeners in western countries are just learning about in permaculture.  Being a hot, rainy, tropical island in the South Pacific, Samoa has very lush green gardens.  Of course the weeds and diseases can grow really well too.  So do the invasive African snails who love those lush green leafy vegetables.

I love walking around Samoan plantations and food gardens.  To me it has the awe and peace of a sacred place as I walk along dirt paths through all the tropical growth.  Maybe you will get a feel for the place too as you look at these photos.  The plants shown include:  Taro, Sugar Cane,  Pineapple, Eggplant, Lemon Grass, Lau Pele (an edible hibiscus leaf) as well as the fruit trees......Papaya (Paw Paw) Breadfruit, Citrus and Bananas.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

PURSLANE ( Portulaca olearacea )

It has taken awhile for me to get around to thinking of Purslane (or Pigweed as we call it in Hawaii) as a vegetable.  I have known it was edible for many years, even that it was high in Omega 3, but I have gone on thinking of it as a survival food weed that shows up in my garden in the spring.  After seeing it being sold at the market on Corfu, in Greece, I looked at it with a little more interest and even more so after seeing it being grown in Jordan a few years ago.  The final push was when I recently saw that the local Hawaii gourmet greens grower was selling Puslane at the farmers market.  That was when the cheap me thought "Heck, I could grow it for free"

So finally Purslane has become a regular vegetable in my diet.  I toss it into salads and sandwiches and it is really nice with a bit of rice and wrapped in a piece of a roughly made sushi.  Not only is it providing cheap me a free green vegetable but it is saving me from buying Omega 3 supplements.  I also like it in a yogurt and cucumber salad while some people prefer to saute their Purslane.

Rather than harvest from the back yard lawn, I pulled up one healthy Purslane plant and potted it up to keep in my container herbs area.  It grew huge and got lots of yellow flowers that seeded into the pot.  When I pulled out the old mother plant, hundreds of little plants came up and I have decided to treat them as micro greens.  I just trim the tops of the Puslane off with scissors to harvest it for my salad.

Puslane is loaded with nutrients.  It is high in vitamins A and C.  It is also has the highest amount of Omega 3 of any leafy green vegetable.  It does however, have a high amount of oxalic acid so not so good for people who get kidney stones.  The plant is originally from India but has now spread around the world.  It is a popular leafy vegetable in many countries such as Greece, Mexico, India, and throughout the Middle East. Note that these countries all have a drier climate so this is a tough plant.

In Aqaba, Jordan, the town had a community vegetable garden in a long strip of land between the town center and the beach.  I suspect that it once may have been a promenade park but has now been put to a much better use and still provides a restful green belt for the town.  The gardener/farmers were looking after small table size plots that were edged by dirt ridges and tiny irrigation ditches.  Just like irrigated fields in miniature.  Here Purslane and other vegetables were being grown.  The harvested vegetables were pushed up to the nearby town market on wheel barrows where the barrows now served as vender tables. I thought the whole system just wonderful and will add a few photos of the setup in in Jordan for you to see.



Some time has passed since I wrote this post on Purslane.  The "letting it grow and cut with scissors" has not worked out in the long run as the pot gets too crowded and the leaves get too tiny as a result so I have made some adjustments...and when I look at the Jordan pictures may be similar to how they are harvesting it there too except for the thinning out.  First I need seeds, so I can gather them from wild Purslane or just grow one or two plants in the pot until they are mature and their seeds drop into the pot.  Then I let the seeds grow but when then get about half and inch high I pull most of the seedlings out and leave maybe a few dozen to grow.  In a few more days they are 3"-4" high and are ready to be harvested by just pulling them out.....roots and all.

  I rinse the dirt of the roots and leave the seedlings in a cup of water to keep them fresh until use later that day.  I love the leaves in egg or tuna sandwiches. Usually there are still plenty more seeds in the pot so that more will be coming up within a few days and I start the whole process again.  This just gives me small amounts from my small pot so if you wanted large amounts you might need a big tray sort of container to grow them in.  One of my beach find fish boxes would work well for that.

PS  April 2020
I have been spending time surfing around in the internet. Like most people, I am isolating at home during the corona virus pandemic.  Anyways....I came across an article about edible flowers and they said that Purslane flowers are as good to eat as the leaves.  You could pop a few flowers on top of your salad to make it more interesting.