Saturday, December 31, 2016

HAWAII MOCK ORANGE (Murraya paniculata)

Mock Orange is a small tree that gets ignored by visitors to Hawaii as it is rather plain with small green leaves.  Add that is is usually used in hedges and it really falls below the tourist radar.  It is only when it is in flower for a few weeks in the fall that it gets noticed.  Then there is a strong fragrance wafting in the air as you walk or drive down the road and you turn your head to see where the perfume is coming from.  The small leaves of the Mock Orange are also popular with lei makers in Hawaii as the long lasting leaves are often threaded between flowers for some green contrast color in a lei.  It really goes well with the flowers of my crown flower tree.  I have one Mock Orange tree tucked up into a mixed shrub hedge that keeps me supplied for lei making.  The small Mock Orange flowers are beautiful but do not last well for flower arrangements and some find the fragrance too strong in the house.  You might not want to plant a Mock Orange too close to a house window for the same reason.

Mostly Mock Orange is used in Hawaii for forming hedges along the road front and can grow thick and high.  They are easily trimmed and shaped. Sometimes they get used for topiary. There are quite a few Mock Orange hedges in my community.  Several months ago, one very tall and wide hedge got a very severe cut back so that it was mainly bare sticks remaining.  I wondered whether the hedge would be able to recover.  I had a look at it a few days ago and took the picture below.  As you can see, it is coming back strong and in several more months should be really thick again.  Tough trees!

Photo taken December 2016
Inserting another photo in here a year later so you can see how the hedge above looked a year later.  I was very impressed with how tolerant the trees were to the hard pruning and how fabulous it looks now.

Same hedge, December 2017

There is another smaller and lower Mock Orange hedge in town that I walk by on a regular basis.  This one has some problems and one of them is the salt winds that come down the street.

However, the main problem is the way the hedge has been cut over the years.  It has developed what is called "helmet hedge".  Bare branches inside and a covering of leaves on top.  This is because the sun is not getting into the plant because the hedge is cut in such a way that the top is the widest part of the tree and it shades the rest of the plant.  This can happen with any type of hedge.....not just Mock Orange.  Hedges need to be shaped so that the top is the narrowest part of the plant and the sunlight can get into the plant for good leaf growth.  Actually, every time I walk past this hedge, I want to get my loppers out and chop it down a few feet so that it will get new growth like the other hedge above.

If you are from the mainland USA you may be thinking that these pictures do not look like the Mock Orange you know.  That is because another plant is called Mock Orange on the mainland.  A good example of why we also need the scientific names for plants.

Mock Orange is a native to SE Asia and up into SE India area.  It can grow up to 25 ft tall and likes sun but will take partial shade.  It likes well drained soil but is also happier if watered during dry weather.  Mock Orange can be easily grown from cuttings but I have only grown if from the seeds in the small red/orange fruit.  I guess it is because I like playing around with different fruit seeds to see if I can get them to grow.

The main reason that I decided to write about Mock Orange this month is because of this beautiful tree I saw in a Buddhist  temple garden in Cambodia last month. As I have already said, here in Hawaii Mock Orange trees are usually just seen in hedges.  The tree I saw in Cambodia was a beautiful naturally shaped specimen of a tree that really impressed me.Why are we not using these trees more in our garden?  They are not too big.  Trim the lower branches a bit to lift the crown so you can sit under the tree in the shade. They would make a real gem to to have in the garden.  How come we are just using them for hedges?


Monday, November 21, 2016


I have been off traveling in Cambodia for a month.  I went mainly because I wanted to see Angkor Wat  which turned out to be just a part of a huge archaeological area full of history.  I found Cambodia just fascinating.  A good country to go to for an adventure.  The countryside is just beautiful.  I fell in love with the wooden country houses on stilts and could have photographed every single one of them.The cities are just crazy with a "wild west" energy as everybody hustles to make their living out on the streets.

My favorite thing to do was riding down dirt roads out in the country in the back of a tuk tuk.  All around were rice padi with sugar palms or coconut palms silhouetted against the sky.  By the road is a picturesque red roofed farm house with banana trees and a few white cows in front. In the distance are a few blue hills with the gold spire of a temple.   Just stunning!

Here, as usual, are a few garden related photos from my trip.

At a Buddhist temple in Siem Reap the following notice was posted.  I think gardeners and grounds crew workers might enjoy reading it and agree with the writer.

Six Benefits of Cleaning a Temple Ground

1  It creates a clear mind for oneself.
2  It brings a clear mind to others.
3  It attracts the protections from celestial beings.
4  It causes a good complexion.
5  It causes one to be reborn in the heavenly realm.
6  It is a good example.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

ROSEMARY (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary is an easy grown herb in my Hawaii garden.  It loves warm weather and sandy soil.  Actually the Latin name for it tells all.  Dah!  How come I never noticed the word "marinus" in the name before.  It is native to Mediterranean coasts and so that is why it happily grows in the alkaline coral sands of my garden.  It even grows in the worst corner of the garden where the soil was just coral rubble.

I first grew Rosemary in a container just to have it as part of my collection of herbs.  After seeing how tough the plant was I tested to see if it could handle my coral rubble garden corner.  Now I admire the plant even more for its tenacity along with the yellow flowered Lantana and the Aloe Vera that will flourish  there.  Every time I rake fallen leaves off the lawn I dump them in this garden to try and build up the organic matter there and the soil is gradually improving although very sandy.  Horse manure, composted wood chips and old Comfrey leaves also get thrown in.  I can understand why I sometimes see Rosemary planted in road medians in hot dry countries.

Over many centuries of Western history Rosemary has also become a symbol for fidelity and remembrance so that it sometimes gets used as part of weddings and funerals.  It was thought provoking to see Rosemary planted in the cemeteries  of WWI ANZAC soldiers who died at the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey.

There are claims for medicinal use of Rosemary but I suspect you need it in high concentration to work.  Hopefully the small amounts of good we get in adding this herb to our cooking is all to our health too.  When you pick Rosemary fresh it has a rather strong pine fragrance but this softens out in cooking.  It has been long associated with roasted lamb and potatoes but is also good in breads, soups, casseroles and with other roasted meats like chicken and pork.  It is a popular garnish as well although I suspect that you are going to be paying extra for that steak when it has a spear of Rosemary sticking out of it at a fancy restaurant.

Rosemary usually has lots of small blue flowers in springtime.  When I travel to New Zealand I see Rosemary in gardens there just covered in flowers but I have next to nothing on my plants.  I am not sure if it is because I live in the tropics or because I keep them trimmed down.

If I want to propagate some new Rosemary plants from cuttings I will first pinch the tips off all the young vertical stems on the mother plant.  Months later, when the the vertical stems now have branched out, I cut the stems off, remove leaves from the bottom few inches, and plant them up in a pot.  Usually I give the cuttings a few hours to perk up in water first and a dip in rooting hormone before planting as they are not easy growers and my sucess rate with Rosemary is not fantastic.  At least a few will root and live out of about a dozen cutting.  The new branching growth from the pinching of the tips gives the new baby plant a nice tree shaped growth.


PS   Feb. 20017.
Recently read about a study that found that even just sniffing the scent of Rosemary can help your memory.  mmmm.   Well, if a free sniff of my Rosemary bush will help my aging little grey cells, I guess I can do that on my morning inspection walk around the garden.

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.


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 augustim".  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.

April 2018
Well, I thought I had the Queen Emma Lily question answered but a few weeks ago I was at Fosters Botanical Garden in Honolulu and they had a sign that said Queen Emma Lily next to a Spider Lily that looked like the  thinner pink flower one up near the top of this I guess  any Crinum Augustim can be called Queen Emma Lily and just accept that there is some variety in flowers.  I think I would rather just use the name for the beautiful big flower type though.

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.


PS   Feb. 2017
So this plant is almost a year old now and still going strong.  Well that is, a few of the plants are still going strong.  The many small plants have been thinned out by me and by nature's selection to just three very large and strong plants that have bigger and longer leaves.  These three plants keep me well supplied with greens and I am still a big fan of this plant and am recommending it to everyone.  Here is a picture of one of the plants. All three are in one big tub container.  The white root gets very large and fat..  I have had to watch out for those tiny round snails lately....the ones about the size of your small fingernail.  The plant does tend to wilt very easily even though I usually water it every 2 or 3 days.  In fact it really collapses down under the mid day sun which really had me worried.   However, after doing this for weeks and still looking perky by late evening I am just letting it go.  If the container was not so heavy I might have moved it into heavier shade but now I figure the plant can handle it.  It just means that I need to pick my greens in the early morning.

PS July 2017
Sorry to announce that this plant died on me a few months ago.  Somehow the holes in the bottom of the container were not draining properly and after a major rain storm the poor plant suffocated in the water.  I will be growing it again when the weather gets cooler.

August 2019

This summer my Mizuna is doing much better and has been going for several months now.  I moved the container from full sun to partial sun under the curry leaf tree that protects it from the hot late afternoon sun.  I inspect the plant daily every morning...picking off the old leaves, removing any of those tiny little round snails that seem to like it, and picking the nice bigger leaves to wash and store in the refrigerator for lunch.  It is still one of my favorite greens.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


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.  


A pond in the north west corner of Central Park.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


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.


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.

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.