Monday, December 4, 2017

CHAYA (Cnidoscolus chayamansa)

Chaya is a plant that I am slowly starting to appreciate although I also have my concerns about it too.  A gardening friend gave me a 2 ft. cutting of it ten years ago along with the warning that the leaves must be cooked as it is poisonous to eat it raw.  That made me a little apprehensive but, after all, there are other plants like taro leaves and cassava that have to be cooked too and I still eat them.  The cutting was planted in my kitchen garden and within a few months it took off like crazy.  Now I was getting worried about the plant taking over my kitchen garden area so I decided to pull it out before it had total control.  I dug the plant out and propped the main central branch against a coconut trunk at the back of the yard while I decided what to do with it.  Did I want to keep it or not?  Well within a few weeks that branch had sent down roots and established itself in that place despite the sand soil and the salt winds of the back yard.  So there it is still, now a tree of ten years growth and about 10 ft. high.

There are times when it gets too bushy and I just snap some of the easily breakable branches off.  The bountiful, large green leaves give green bulk to the nearby compost heap.  However, I always make sure the branches go into the green waste bin to be chipped so they do not get a chance to sprout into more trees.

I have grown to admire the Chayas survival skills.  I joke that it will be the tree that feeds us if our island goes down because of a huge hurricane or nuclear attack.  Increasingly I hear of medicinal benefits from this plant.  Especially for people with diabetes.  Google around on the internet for more information if you are interested.  Meanwhile, the Chaya is an attractive small tree in the back yard and the butterflies like the small white flowers it produces.

The Chaya is native to the Yucatan peninsular in Central America and part of the food and medicinal heritage of the Maya who live in that area.  The Chaya leaves are very nutritional in minerals and vitamins with even a 5.7% protein count.  The thing that the eater must understand is that this plant has a high content of toxic hydrocyanic acid (cyanide) so it must be cooked for at least 15 minutes to release the toxins.  That being said, some claim that a few raw leaves a day are not going to bother you but why tempt fate.  The plant also chemically reacts with aluminum so do not not use aluminum pots or serving plates for it.  After these precautions, you will get a bountiful, tasty and nutritional vegetable to add to your soups and stews.  If you want to use the leaves in green smoothies or salads you will need to cook them first.  The leaves are used to make medicinal teas but soup is going to do the same for you.

Note leaf shape and the white sap oozing caused by leaf removal.

The Chaya tree has rapid new growth and likes good drainage in the soil.  It is easy to grow and easy to keep trimmed down for harvest of the leaves.  One tree is enough to supply your families needs.  This is a plant that does not need to be watered or fertilized once rooted.  The large soft green leaves are shaped rather like a maple leaf and because of that it sometimes gets mixed up with another tropical alternative vegetable called Lau Pele or Edible Hibiscus (June 2015) which is related to Okra.  It is easy to distinguish between the two.  Just snap a branch tip off.  The Chaya will bleed a white sap while the Lau Pele/Edible Hibiscus oozes a clear slimy sap like Okra.  I do find the white sap of the Chaya to be a bit irritating to my hands so I wear gloves when trimming the Chaya tree.


Thursday, November 2, 2017


I have been off traveling around Ireland for five weeks and, as usual, I have a few photos to share with you.   The countryside of Ireland is famous for its beauty and rightly so.  On the other hand, it was hard to find any home gardens that stood out.  Most had just a few shrubs and maybe a pot of flowering plants by the front door.  From my perch in bus and train, I saw little evidence of vegetable gardens beyond a couple of community allotments near towns.  Maybe the weather puts the Irish off gardening or I was there too late in the season.  On the other hand, I noticed the gardening book section in book stores was very maybe that tells it all.

In the cities, some of the pubs were notable for hanging baskets of colorful flowers and towns might have a garden of flowers at an intersection.  The one thing that really surprised me was how much New Zealand native plants had become part of the landscape.  Cabbage trees/Ti Kouka, NZ flax/Harakeke and Hebes/Koromiko were everywhere.  Similar weather I guess.  The Fuchsia, a native of Chile, had also become very much part of the countryside in gardens and hedges and was in flower while I was there.

Any beautiful gardens of note were always a big private garden at a historic house that was opened to paying visitors and who hired gardeners to look after the place.  There were two historic gardens that I visited that I would highly recommend to anybody visiting Ireland.  One was the long narrow medieval garden behind Rothe House in Kilkenny.  The other was the Victorian walled garden at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara.  They were both so beautiful and also so interesting as part of the history of gardening.  I also loved Muckross Farm Museum at Kilarney.  A lovely country walk around three farms peering into farmhouses of the past.


Kilarney House

Walking street planters, Dublin

A pub in Kilkenny

Lawn area that also doubles as a helipad for Dublin Castle.

Town flowers,  Kilkenny

Mowing the lawn,  Kilkenny

Crab apples at Trinity College, Dublin

City garden by public stairs, Drogheda

Container plants in courtyard at Kilarney House

Farm house,  NE from Galway.  Notice the old potato ridges running up and down the field behind the house.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


A long side of my house I have a rocks and stepping stone path.  It works well for all the rain water that falls off the roof above it as there is no rain gutter.  ( I was inspired to make this path after seeing a similar entry way floor made of rocks and wood planks in a Japanese house.)  The problem with it has been the weeds growing in it.  I am not ready to use weed killer there so in the past I just got down on my knees and pulled  out the weeds.

I now have a way easier way to kill the weeds.  BOILING WATER!  It means several loads of a filled kettle from the kitchen but it does the job easily and instantly.  Yay!  My old knees are happy about this.


A few days after.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017


The variegated Liriope in my garden is grown as an edging to a stony walkway on the side of the house where I also have my mini nursery area.  I have no strong emotional ties to this plant.  I acquired baby starts of it at least 20 years ago: planted them, and they are still going strong.  So I guess they have proved themselves as another tough plant to have in the garden.

I think I have talked about my theory on selecting tough plants for the garden before.  I will tell it again for the newcomers to this blog.  When choosing tough survivor plants for your garden, you do not look at those beautifully maintained gardens. You check out semi abandoned properties that have not had good care for years.  The plants that are still growing there are the ones you want to grow in your garden. It will save you a lot of time and frustration in the future.

Variegated Liriope is native to Asia.  It grows in clumps with narrow leaves that grow up to 18" long.  In the late summer it can send up a slender stalk with tiny white flowers.  The clump will gradually enlarge by sending out underground rhizomes to make new babies on the side.  It can grow in full sun or light shade and handles most types of soil.  Liriope is a popular ground cover or edging plant.  Remember to give it some space for expanding of the clump when you plant it along a cement curb.

As those clumps enlarge it is easy to slice off a few baby plants with a big kitchen knife.  Make sure that you get a baby with a few roots on it so you will have to cut into the soil with the knife.  These babies are easily potted up.  Usually I cut the leaves down to about 8" for easily handling and I will stand the baby in water for one or two days before potting it up.

Sometimes the variegation stripes of the Liriope will disappear.  A new baby in the clump will revert to its ancestors characteristics and send up only dark green leaves.  Unless I am actually wanting a green type to plant elsewhere, I just cut out the baby that is upsetting uniformity of the edging.

Sometimes my Liriope will look a bit ragged with brown tips, especially after salt winds.  I usually go along the border with my scissors and trim off the worst.  I read on the internet that on the mainland they will mow mass plantings of Liriope once a year which rather boggles my mind.  I guess a mature plant would survive a lawn mower or a weed eater and should have got over its bald look after a few months.  About once a year it is good to pull off all the dead leaves that are under the plant.  If I am grooming a plant in a pot to sell, I am very careful to just cut off the really dead part of the leaf tip as any cutting in the greener part of the leaf will only look really  brown and horrible the next day.

Apart from being a good edging plant, I enjoy adding a few leaves of variegated Liriope to small flower arrangements and even looped to be included in a lei.


January, 2020

The salt winds and rains really got to the Liriope this winter so that the leaves look really terrible with their brown ends.  Plus the plants are really growing too big and starting to take over too much space along the path.  For the first time ever I have attacked the  plants with the scissors to cut them to a few inches from the ground.  I then attacked them with my gardening knife, cutting each root mat to half its old size.   Now I am waiting to see what the damage will be.  Hopefully they will grow back in a less intrusive way but I do have some potted babies to put in to replace them if this does not work out.

A big ragged plant in the back and a cut down one in front that still needs to be downsized..

Thursday, July 6, 2017

SOURSOP (Annona muricata)

Soursop fruit was first introduced to me many years ago in Samoa.  The Samoan family I was staying with had a Soursop fruit sitting in their wood and fly screen food safe where it was softening up ready to be eaten.  Such an exotic looking fruit and what a wonderful flavor when we finally got to eat it.  I have been a big fan of this fruit ever since.  Luckily there are a few trees in my community here in Hawaii so I still get to eat them  You do see Soursop fruit showing up at farmers markets here too although there are still many people who are not familiar with it.  The Soursop tree is native to Tropical America but I think is one of those tropical fruits that has gone around the globe and gone commercial in juices and ice-cream etc.

A mature fruit almost ready to pick. 

The Soursop tree is an attractive tree with its glossy green leaves .  It can grow up to four meters high but is still a decent sized tree to have in your yard.  It does tend to low branching so you would need to trim off the lower branches to lift the crown if you want a tree you can sit under.  The tree is tolerant of most soil types.  Our neighbors had one for years that was quiet resilient to our sandy soils and salt winds.  There does seem to be some sort of disease that affects the leaves as you will see if you look close at the photo above but is does not seem to bother the tree or its fruiting. It is really easy to grow Soursop trees from the seed although you will have to wait several years before you get fruit.

In the summer the tree gets large yellow/green flowers that turn into spiky green heart shaped fruit.  These will grow from 4-12 inches in length and 6 inches in width.  The fruit is ready when its color changes to a lighter yellowish green and the spikes change from being curved over to straight out.  The fruit then needs to sit on a bench for a few days to soften up before eating.  If you put it in the fridge the skin will turn black and unattractive although the inside will be still OK.  When the fruit is ripe it is just a matter of cutting up the fruit into wedges and spitting out the seeds and discarding the skin as you eat it.

See the green bud and the yellow/green flower just below it on the right.
while on the left is a young spiky fruit.

Soursop makes wonderful drinks.  I like to make a cool drink in the blender using Soursop, lemon juice, sugar, ice water and ice.  Others make it into a milk shake with added spices.  Just make sure to remove the seeds and skin.  This was always a messy job until somebody told me to use a knife and fork, like you are cutting up meat, to separate the seeds out. So much easier!  I also freeze small bags of the prepared fruit to have later in smoothies.

Soursop fruit, like most fruits, is a good source of vitamins to promote health.  However, you also hear a lot about other medicinal potential from the fruit and especially the leaves.  It is easy to find all sorts of cancer cure claims on the internet and I know people in my community who promote its use.  When my neighbor chopped down his tree to make room for house expansion, two ladies came and collected every single leaf from the tree to freeze for future tea making.  There are several recipes for the tea if you google for them.  However, there are also warnings on other sites on the internet that say that too much Soursop can hurt brain cells and cause Parkinson's like symptoms.....meaning the body will not do what the brain is telling it to do.  The toxic ingredient that causes this seems to be in high amounts in the seeds so that is why it is important to remove the seeds when making drinks in the blender.  Of course, lots of people around the world eat lots of Soursop with no problem.  As to the teas made from the leaves; I am willing to withhold judgement.  I have two friends who have talked to two people that claim the teas cured them of cancer.  It definitely sounds like there is some active chemicals in the plant for sure but it needs to be handled very carefully. Am I getting some sort of cancer prevention perk from eating the fruit?   Will those who drink the teas  to cure cancer get Parkinson's later on?  Lots of questions!

 Meanwhile I am going to keep on eating the luscious fruit.  In moderation.


Friday, June 9, 2017


Over the years I have made occasional attempts at growing tomatoes but with no great success.  New gardeners in town, who were tomato kings back in California or Utah, have given up in frustration and passed their tomato cages to me so I do not feel so bad.  However, after retirement, it seemed that it was time to get more serious about growing tomatoes and see if I could be a bit more self sustaining.  After all, I do eat a lot of tomatoes.  So, in April of last year (2016), I once again squished the biggest and best of the tomatoes I had bought that week and, after a day or two of drying it out, planted the seeds in a small pot.  The local tomato farmers grow only cherry and grape tomatoes so I decided to go with grape tomatoes this time.  Fruit flies are such a problem in Hawaii that growing large tomatoes is just a waste of time unless you are going to bag every protect it.  I have found the golf ball size cherry tomatoes to be a bit difficult in the past too.

After getting a few small grape tomato plants growing I transferred a few into large container pots on in the kitchen garden area where they would get full sun.  Only one of these actually was alive a month later and eventually starting flowering and then producing tomatoes.  Not huge amounts.  Maybe a dozen or two a week.  But here is why I am writing about it.  Over a year later the same tomato plant is still chugging along and still giving me fruit.

It is a skinny vine plant that has small leaves.  Its old leaves turn yellow and die off.   At first I thought it was diseased but after a while I realized it was just its habit of growth.  On doing a google search I find out that tomato plants are of two types.  Determinant and Indeterminant.    The description of the Indeterminant fits my plant to a T.  A long lasting vine which CTAHR says is the best for Hawaii growing conditions.  The Determinant plants tend to have lots of lush and fast growth of leaves and fruit but do not last long.  I have seen that happen with some plants that I bought.

So now I have figured out a tomato that I can grow I am going to up my game and try and grow more plants and also some of those gourmet different color types.  I am sticking with grape tomatoes though.  I do like these little tomatoes and they freeze very well too.  I cut them in half first.  Easy to throw fresh tomatoes in a salad.  The frozen ones get thrown into a frying pan for stir fries or into a stew.   Tomatoes along with an egg, Portuguese sausage and slices of cooked breadfruit all fried up in a pan is my favorite breakfast for dinner meal!

Tomatoes of course are known for their Vitamin C and Lycopene.  Tomatoes plants like rich soil and lots of sun.  I see them grown in cages or tied up on string.  Mine  is grown on dead branch props..  They like fertilizer, especially Phosphorus, at planting and flowering time.  Because my plant is in a container and long living, I fertilize my plant every month.  They need to be watered deeply but allowed to dry out between waterings.  Not getting the leaves wet while watering helps prevent disease.  I have to  pick the tomatoes after they start turning yellow or the birds and wild chickens will beat me to them.  It means getting the enjoyment of looking at a row of ripening tomatoes on the kitchen window sill.


PS  Aug, 2017
 Have a look at the netting cage a friend built for her tomatoes so that she could keep the birds from eating them and she could have vine ripened fruit.

PS  July 2019

Recently noted in a nutrition book that the smaller the tomato fruit the more surface to mass it has.  Because most of the good stuff for you is in the skin of the fruit, the more nutrients you are going to get eating small tomatoes rather than a large tomato.  I knew that I liked these  grape tomatoes!

Another new thing that I am doing in growing tomatoes.  This idea came from a  guy on a Facebook gardening group that I follow.  Instead of spending a lot of time preparing seed from tomatoes you just slice the tomato in thin slices and lay the the slices on the soil.  A few days later you will have tomato plants.  When they get a bit of growth on them you decide which are the strong ones that you want and cut the others down with scissors.  Easy peasy.

Saturday, May 27, 2017


I have just recently had three weeks in New Zealand, visiting family and doing some exploring as well.   Bell Block is a historic community in north Taranaki and now mostly is a suburb of New Plymouth.  Here are just a few garden related shots as I was walking around that may be of interest to you.

Not a garden shot but all this produce is from a Bell Block garden.  

While in New Zealand I found a fun gardeners book while looking around a thrift shop.  It is written by a Kiwi landscape architect about her small Wellington garden.  "Life (and death) in a Small City Garden"  by Philippa Swan.  I am writing out a few paragraphs from her book.....see if you recognize yourself.  ☺

 Real Gardeners are a breed of their own.  I'm sure they have a bent chromosome or something which accounts for their eccentric behavior.  A Real Gardener always sleeps badly on a windy night--even when they are in Bali, and their holiday snaps are of the bushes flowering around the swimming pool.  Their first question on ringing home is always about the weather................... A group of gardening ladies is a nightmare at the pictures, especially when it's a Merchant Ivory period drama with lots of roses and wisteria.  A chorus of plant names erupts every time a bloom appears, followed by a messy dispute at to what sort it was and who's got one at home.

Gardeners have a unique navigational system.  When being directed to their house, you will be issued with instructions like, "Turn left at the red-flowering gum tree and we're three doors down from the dogwood."   ..................When a gardener comes for dinner they do things like check whether your magnolia-patterned curtains are anatomically correct and stuff the garnish from the French rack of lamb into their handbag because they've never grown pizza thyme before.  When they go collecting for charity they arrive back with a collection bag full of cuttings, and their consumer choices at the supermarket are made on the basis of what comes in a container most suitable for potting up the hosta seedlings.  Gardeners are never happier than when a friend arrives with a bag of smelly old panty hose.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

SURINAM CHERRY (Eugenia uniflora)

In the front windy and dry corner of the garden, where the soil is mostly coral sand, I have a small waist high Surinam Cherry shrub that I planted a few years ago.  I must admit that I did not have big expectations for it there.  It was mainly a shrub to help fill in the corner and, if I was lucky, I would get a few fruit.  A week ago, one of my grand-daughters took me over to the corner to look at something.  Guess what!  The whole small tree was covered with small, pale green jewels.

A month or so back we had a big rain storm and it must have sent the Surinam Cherry into full reproduction mode.  I may have thrown a bit of fertilizer around too at about the same time.  The Cherry tree would have become covered in lots of small white flowers and now here is the fruit just starting to ripen up.

Every morning I go pick the newly ripening fruit before the birds and wild chickens get them and leave the fruit on the kitchen counter to ripen for the rest of the day.  I will have a few to eat fresh but mostly I am collecting them in the fridge until I have a pot full to cook up.  It is just a matter of bringing the fruit and some sugar to the boil and then leaving it to simmer for a few minutes....just like making apple sauce.  You also need to remove the cherry pits after the cooking.  The resulting sweet/sour sauce is fabulous over vanilla ice cream. I imagine some inventive person could also make a relish or chutney out of it that would go well with meat. Some of the fresh fruit I will freeze for future smoothies.... after removing the seeds.  The beautiful jewel like fruit look beautiful as a decorative topping on desserts.  I have also seen the ruby red fruit used in breathtakingly beautiful flower arrangements.

As you can guess from its name, Surinam Cherry is native to the NE coast of South America.  It is a tough evergreen shrub that can grow up to 10 feet tall.  The small leaves have a spicy scent and coppery colored new growth.  Its growth habits make it good for hedges.  The Surinam Cherry tends to flush into flower after heavy spring and fall rains.  The 1" round and ribbed fruit are usually dark red when ripe but there is a black variety. The fruit is on the sour side but kids always love to pick and eat the cherries out in the garden. The fruit fly can bother the fruit but so far I have not had any problem with them.  Maybe picking the fruit before fully ripe has helped prevent this.  Surinam Cherry is easy to grow from seed although the resulting little tree is a slow grower.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SANSEVIERIA (Sansevieria trifasciata)

I have mixed feelings about the plant that is my topic this month.  I can always be grateful for a tough plant that will grow in dry, sandy areas.  On the other hand, Sansevieria can get a little out of hand in the garden and start spreading too far or get rather messy looking.  Good strong borders such as a cement path can help keep it in check.  The good attribute that won me over is that Sansevieria is a fabulous indoor plant.  In fact it is usually rated as the easiest indoor plant to care for.  Besides that, it is a very good oxygen provider for enclosed spaces.  It can become a win-win solution if you keep the outside plants trimmed back and pot up the trimmings for inside the house.

Sansevieria is native to tropical West Africa.  It has thick succulent leaves and sometimes it will give out small greenish white flowers on stalks in summer.  There are lots of varieties although most people will recognize the tall lance like leaves of the "Mother-in-law's tongue.  I have a green and a yellow leaf form of this.  I also have a green dwarf rosette type or "Bird nest"  Be aware that the leaves are poisonous to animals.  Sansevieria needs good drainage so go easy on watering your indoor plant.

To get Sansevieria cuttings for potting is is easy to see new baby plants growing out from the mother plant on fat finger size stolons.  Cut off a few of these, making sure that you have some root attached.  Usually I will let the cutting scar dry off for a day before I pot them up.  Three arranged together in a pot looks nicely balanced.  After growing for several months, a potted plant can get very root bound or the strong roots will even break the pot.  You may need to just throw away the plant if it gets too rambunctious and start a new one or severely chop back the roots and repot.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

PORTUGUESE CABBAGE (Brassica oleracea var. costata)

This is just going to be a quick post today but I am excited to introduce a new plant in my garden.  For the first time ever, I saw Portuguese Cabbage starts at Koolau Farmer's nursery about a month ago.  I only heard about this cabbage for the first time a few years ago.  It was an important vegetable in gardens of Portuguese workers on the sugar plantations here in Hawaii. They called it Couves.  I am thrilled to actually see what it looks like and to have a go at growing it.  After only a month of growing this single plant I am already a fan so this is why I wanted to write about it today.   Have a look at the picture.  It is a very sturdy plant and a no fuss one.  There has been a bit of leaf miner in the old leaves but I just remove them.  The plant is very similar to collard greens and apparently grows the same way......the stem just getting taller and will keep going all year long.  I have already had a few leaves in a stir fry and I look forward to just picking leaves off as needed and having a constant supply.  This is a picture of a young plant and hopefully I will be able to put up some pictures of the mature plant later on.  You can check back for later reports.

In Portugal it is an important vegetable used in national dishes.  It will work good in your Portuguese bean soup or in a stir fry or coleslaw.  It can be grown from seed but apparently you can cut the head of the stalk off , remove most of the leaves and plant that up too.  I expect the stalk then grows a few more heads....just like collard greens.  Anyways, I did want to share my excitement about this plant and maybe it is something new for you to try as well.


A month and a half latter and the plant is still surviving.  The leaf miner has not been bothering lately but those tiny round snails have to be watched for.  I also get a few white fly hanging around under the leaves so I have a habit of tapping the leaves underneath as I walk by to make things too uncomfortable for them.  One leaf is a serving for one person.  I love it in a coleslaw with grated carrot and green onion.

July 2017
Well my Portuguese Cabbage is still alive  after five months and I am still enjoying a few leaves from it every week.  It is now a head  of leaves on a stalk.  The white cabbage butterfly have become interested in it so I keep it covered with a bit of netting made from the net bag I bought some avocados in.  It does seem to discourage the butterflies but it may just be that they are now more attracted to my neighbors cabbages.

July 2018
Well, the cabbage is still alive but seems to get lots of aphids attacking it.....I try to remember to shoot the leaves with the hose when I am watering to make it less attractive to them.  The stalk has become at least 4 ft tall now and is leaning over a bit so that I have propped it up a bit so that the plant does not pull out of the ground.  Now I have a new development.....a few baby cabbage heads growing out of the stalk.  Maybe I could chop the top off and let it become a multi headed plant, or maybe I can cut these mini heads off and grow new plants from them.....I think I will try that first.  Maybe that is how the grower got my original plant growing  rather than by seed which is what I would have expected.

Nov. 2018
Well, I made a bad move....the cabbage plant was getting so tall and leaning over so much that I decided to cut the top two thirds off before I went on a trip.  Came back a month latter to find it dead.  Not sure if it died because of stress or because of so much rain that got in the stem and made it rot.  Maybe next time I should put a tin can over the stump like they suggest when cutting papaya trees so that rain does not get into the trunk.  I did get a few of the babies going that I cut off and planted up.