Wednesday, May 18, 2022

AUCKLAND BOTANIC GARDENS, New Zealand

 I finally made it back to New Zealand after two years of all the travel restrictions Covid 19 brought.  It was still not easy travel but at least I got to see family again.  In the last few days of the trip I visited the Auckland Botanical Gardens.   (The name is plural but all the gardens are together in one place.)  You pass by them on the motorway just south of Manukau City.  The garden was only established in 1982 so I have been waiting for the trees and gardens to mature a bit before finally visiting.  It does not have the Wow factor of Hamilton Garden but I spent a very pleasant few hours looking around with a relative.  My favorite areas were the Edibles garden and the African Plants garden.  It was also fun to watch all the eels in the pond below the bridge at the rose gardens.  Entrance is free.  If you want more information you can go to https://www.aucklandbotanicgardens.co.nz for more info.  Below are a few photos from the day.  As usual, you can click on them to enlarge the photo to see better.


The entrance building and cafe with shaped, native
Mingimingi bushes in front.


Lake with native trees on the bank.



A mini forest of Camellia trees with lifted canopy and fallen
petals on the ground.



The Children's garden filled with a wide variety of plants
for botanical discovery.



The New Zealand native plant area.



The Worm Farm shed in the vegetable garden area.
Comfrey and Rosemary in front.



The huge lawn area at the back where dogs were allowed
to run off leash.


The African garden



I loved this rustic garden shelter.



The hard working gardeners.

Aloha

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

YELLOW WALKING IRIS (Trimezia martinicensis)

 

The flowers with a few baby plantlets forming on the stalks.

Here is a flowering plant that can add some sparkle to a tropical garden that is heavy in leafy vegetation.  I usually refer to it as the Yellow Central American Iris but the consensus on the internet seems to go with Yellow Walking Iris, so I have used it in the title.  When I think of walking Irises, I think of the Blue Flowered Walking Iris (Neomarica gracillis), which is a thicker leafed, Central American cousin also seen in Hawaii gardens, that has more of the "walking" attribute. 


Whole plant showing plantlets growing on flower stems

Walking, in the case of these Irises, is to bend their spent flowering stems down to the ground which allows the little baby plants, that sprout from the joints on the flower stems, to grow in the ground a few feet away from Mama plant.  It is these baby plants that form on the flower spikes that make this plant so easy to propagate and share with your friends.  It is a trick I learnt from the gardener of our local library.  At the time, there were about a dozen Yellow Walking Irises growing at the front of the library.  One day I noticed that the gardener had gathered a few handfuls of the baby plantlets from the Irises and stood them in a beautiful deep Chinese design bowl in the library.   These made an attractive green arrangement at the library checkout desk, while at the same time, all those little plantlets were rooting in the water.  After a few weeks they disappeared to be grown in other gardens.  Of course, you could just let the plant do that naturally in its own way, but the environment has to be right for the plants to grow.  Being able to get the babies rooted and then planted in a good loose media insures that.  This Iris can also be propagated by seed and also by dividing the rhizome and root clump.  I think growing the babies is by far the easiest method, plus you a tidying up the plant at the same time.


Plantlets that are starting to grow roots after sitting in water a few days

Yellow Walking Iris is a perennial plant that blooms all year round although it does seem to be more bountiful in Spring.  It likes lots of water but also needs good drainage.  Although it can survive full sun, it will look happier in partial shade.  It does like a rich soil so that it needs fertilizing in my sandy soil to stop the leaves bleaching out.  I have had no problems with pests on it except for the occasional bag worm hanging under the long leaves.  It does need its dead leaves and flower spikes cut off once in a while to keep the plant looking attractive.  The flowers only last one day and fold up by late afternoon but there will be other flowers on the spike to replace them next day.  The flower stalk holds up in a vase of water but remember the individual flowers will not be on show in the evening.


Several plantlets potted up together to form new planting.


Aloha

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

TI (Cordyline fruticosa)

 

The common green Ti almost finished flowering.  Notice a new head beginning at center.

The name Ti is a Polynesian name for a plant used by them throughout the Pacific islands.  In the Hawaiian language it is called Ki.  As the Polynesians established themselves on new islands, Ti cuttings were taken with them to grow in their new homes.  Therefore, Ti is called a Canoe Plant, along with the other plants that were established across the Pacific by the canoe voyagers.  You do find Ti growing wild on trails in the forest of Hawaii, and I guess birds could have pooped the seed there, but probably they continue from ancient plantings.  The common Ti is a rich green color although some Polynesians also had a red Ti.  The Ti leaves had multiple uses e.g., wrapping food for cooking, thatching for houses and making clothing such as sandals and raincapes.  Of course, it was used for hula skirts, and you will still see Ti leaves used today at any island show.  The large roots of older Ti plants could also be cooked in time of famine.  Today you still see Ti leaves in use and there are small farmers that grow them to sell to the hula schools or to lei makers and florists.  Restaurants often use the leaves as attractive liners for their food platters.  The leaves also get flown to mainland markets for floral arrangements.  You can buy them on the internet.  Usually, they are grown by small farmers, but even Grandma down the road may be making some pocket money selling them to the local lei maker.


Red Ti

Anciently in Hawaii, the Ti leaves were associated with the gods Lono and Laka and still carry some mana.  Ti plants were grown around taro lo'i for protection and good fortune and are still grown with that in mind around houses in Hawaii today.  Sports fans wave green Ti leaves at University of Hawaii football games these days for good outcomes.  I love the local travel advertisement on TV where a guy is tapping the shoulder of a person with a Ti leaf for luck while he sits at a slot machine in Las Vegas.  For whatever reason you grow them, Ti are attractive in the garden and always come in handy.


My favorite Ti in the garden.  It is very hardy and has smaller leaves so that
I can use the whole head in a bouquet.


Some of the Pacific Islanders had red Ti and other colored ones are native to the Caribbean and East Asia. Around the 1920's, Ti enthusiasts started developing new hybrids and collecting the seeds so that there are now a wide variety of color and leaf shapes.  If you become a Ti enthusiast you can join The International Cordyline Society.  From my own experience, I think some varieties are hardier than others and you need to know if the variety needs more shade or sun.


A long narrow leaf, dark purple Ti in flower.


A Kahili Ti.


Ti is a perennial plant that forms heads of long, usually wide, leaves grown on slender trunks up to 10 ft tall.  Well, there are also Kahili Ti which are shorter varieties with small leaves that look rather like the feather standards (Kahili) that were used to signify chiefly position in the old days of Hawaii.  Hense their name. Ti can be grown from seed but is easily and usually grown from stem cuttings.  If a Ti is growing too tall in the garden it is easy to cut the trunk to a lower level and grow another plant from the cutting.  The severed but still rooted trunk with grow one or more new heads.  To plant the cutting part, remove the lower leaves from the head, as they will die anyways, but keep the leaves growing from the growing cells point at the top of they head.   If the cutting trunk/stem is too long you can cut it smaller.  I usually find about 12" of stem, with or without the head of leaves, is a good start size.  If you are really trying to maximize the stem you can grow new plants from 2"-3" lengths of stem but it will be longer before you have a decent size plant.  You will find Ti "logs" like this sold on the internet which hold up to being mailed and still grow after a few weeks.  Gardeners in the mainland order them and keep the plants indoors in cold winters.  You can plant a really tall Ti  cutting.  It will root fine but it needs extra effort to keep it upright until it gets fully rooted.  I always start my Ti cuttings in water.  I leave them in a bucket of water for about a week, changing the water every few days.  By then the roots are starting to grow and look like little star bursts on the stem.  I do not leave the roots to grow long but plant them up in one gallon pots once they get to the starburst stage.  Sometimes it is easy to forget which way is "up" with a bare stem. So which is the right way up to plant it?  You could just lay it level on the dirt and it will get new starts come up from the joints. (This actually works well with the short 3' logs") You can also use a trick taught to me from a gardening mentor. That is to just run your fingers down the stem.  If it feels bumpy, it is right way up.  If it feels smooth, it is upside down.


Tall Ti trimmed down to about 1 ft from the ground.


Most nurseries in Hawaii will sell different varieties of Ti.  On the other hand, your neighbors my be willing to share a headed stem of theirs.  Keep an eye out for landscapers doing any trimming in the neighborhood.  I have also grown new Ti plants from Ti that were in floral arrangement or from thrown away funeral wreaths. ( I always check the trash cans when I am at the cemetery.  They are a good source of plastic pots to recycle too.)


The above Ti cut into cuttings for replanting.


Ti grows best in slightly acidic soil that is moist.  They like to be watered.  They do not do well in strong or salty wind.  Ti prefers morning sun.  Too much strong sun will bleach the leaves.  The lower leaves naturally turn yellow and die, but if it seems there are too many yellow leaves, the plant needs more nitrogen.  It is recommended that you fertilize with 20-10-20 every 3-4 months.  Recently I read an article in a farm to table magazine about some virus that was is also causing yellowing of Ti leaves.  Scientist are trying to find a way to solve this problem for Hawaii Ti leaf farmers.  The Ti leaves in my garden get yellow easily but mostly I blame it on my sandy beach soil.  Any Ti plant needs it dead lower leaves pulled off or picked up of the ground.  I cut them up to add to the compost or to make a cooling mulch for my container veges.


Ti stems that have been standing in water and showing their starbursts/new roots.


In the rainy season the Ti goes into flower.  The common green Ti has a spray of tiny white flowers while the pink/red to dark purple leafed will have flowers from pink to purple in color.  Similarly, the resulting berries will be green to red in color.  This year the Ti plants in my town went gangbusters.  As I rode my bike around town, I could see flowers on every Ti  in every garden.  I kept meaning to take photos of them, delayed doing it, and suddenly the flowering was over. I have a few photos I took here but the flowers were half finished at this point.  I know I saw Ti flowers in bud around January 20 when I was gathering leaves to line food platters for a big family party. By the time I got my camera out, around Feb 6th, the flowers were on their way out. So, the flowering just lasted a couple of weeks.  The flower spikes only last a few days in a vase of water but are quite attractive indoors.  After the Ti flower dies off, it seems that the plant lets the old leaves die off while it starts a new head or two at the growing point. It will mean lots of yellow leaves for a few months after the flower dies. It seems a good time to trim down a tall Ti to start new cuttings.


Aloha



Wednesday, February 9, 2022

COMPOSTING

 

I would never call myself a hard-core composter.  My thought for many years was that compost just happens.  You rake up the breadfruit leaves under the tree and just let them do their thing.  I did have to put some coconut logs around the tree to stop the wild chickens from scratching them back all over the yard again.  If I needed some well-rotted compost, I just dug down into the leaf pile.


Gradually, I upped my game.  For one thing, as my two breadfruit/ulu trees grew, there were times that I needed to find another space for all those extra dropped leaves.  At the same time, I decided that it really was wrong to be putting my kitchen vegetable and fruit scraps into the trash bin.  I needed to put them back into the earth of my garden.  I was able to buy some fence wiring from ACE and made a four-foot-wide cage for my back yard.  It was now time to get more serious about composting.




I knew that a good compost needed both brown, dry as well as green, fresh organic matter.  The ulu leaves quickly supplied the dry brown.  I hear that some people have a hard time getting enough brown so use crumpled cardboard to lighten up the compost.  Although I do throw in some cardboard stuff like egg flats and paper roll tubes, I am happy to send most of my scrap paper and cardboard packages off to H power in the city trash bins.  Recyling it for our island's electricity seems just as important.  The dry, curled leaves of the ulu do a great job in giving air space in my compost.


The vege scraps, peelings and papaya skins etc. from my kitchen are now collected in a covered pot on my kitchen bench.  I take a daily morning walk out to the compost heap to deposit this green waste amongst the ulu leaves.  The wild chickens quickly caught on to my routine and hover by the compost cage looking hopeful.  I might throw them a few papaya seeds but most of the scraps still go into the compost.  I have a wire top over the cage to keep the chickens out.  At one time, I tried covering the compost pile with big cardboard sheets but within a few weeks I found a family of baby rats sheltering under it so decided to keep the compost open to the elements.  I do push the kitchen scraps down into the ulu leaves, so they are not up on top to attract flies and birds.  I have never noticed any bad smell coming from the heap.




Every several months I would dig down into the one compost cage to scoop out the compost in the bottom if I needed it for the garden.  The garden plants that got the compost were so much stronger and those in my kitchen containers looked fabulous.  At the beginning of 2021 I decided it was time to up my composting game again so I would have a bigger supply of compost for the garden.  I went over to ACE and got more wiring (now considerably more expensive) and made another cage. I know lots of folks around here make their compost bins from free wooden pallets, but I wanted something I could work with and move easily.  Now composting is becoming more of a science for me.  I have checked a few books out of the library on the subject and I am more concerned about the brown and green ratio.  Compost breaks down quickly in the tropics so that I find I can pile up the organic matter for 4-5 months, then leave it for the same amount of time, to get the black gold....a rich, well-rotted compost for my garden use.  Having two compost cages has really improved things. One I am collecting in, and one is sitting and composting down.  The ulu leaves are big and loose so I can pile them up to the top of the collecting cage and then a few days later I can add big armfuls again as the older leaves compress down.


Just like with our bodies, the more different foods we eat, the wider range of nutrients we get.  The more variety of organic waste going into the cage; the richer the compost will be in nutrition for the garden.  Just keep those junk weed seed pods out.  A small compost heap is not going to get hot enough to kill them and you do not want the seeds going into your flower beds.  I love to gather the nitrogen rich green leaves of the haole koa weed trees to add in.  Then there are all of the hedge clippings, young weeds etc. from your garden. Some put their lawn clippings into the compost, but I prefer to leave mine on the lawn to nourish the grass. Comfrey leaves are another excellent addition, and some gardeners grow it especially for this purpose.  In rainy weather, there is a wide amount of wild green growth that can be added like the plantain weeds.  I also like to pick up bits of seaweed that I find washed up on the beach to add in some extra minerals. (This past week I also found two dead small fish on the beach, and I brought those home to bury under some fruit trees.)


To encourage the composting organisms to set up home I occasionally throw a bit of soil into the heap.  When I clear out a composted heap, I throw some of the organism rich compost on to the new pile to get things moving.  In dry weather I will water the compost heaps when I water the garden with a hose.  Turning the compost is good too for good aeration so all those little worms, bugs and bacteria have oxygen to do their job.  Some people will shovel their pile from one bin to another, while others use a plastic barrel to make their compost in and roll it to turn the pile over.  Early last year I went out to the compost cage with a garden fork determined to turn the compost.  Instead, I badly pulled my back which resulted in a few months of physical therapy to stop the pain.  So, guess what?  I no longer bother with turning the compost.  I just hope all the dry ulu leaves are making air pockets.  I do poke a stick into the pile every few weeks and that is about as much aeration labor I will do.  Despite that, compost still happens!


As the rotting heap gets low in the cage, and almost ready for use, I have another trick up my sleeve.  I open up the top of the cage and throw in some papaya seeds. Next thing the wild chickens are in there scratching to find those seeds and are giving the compost a good last stir up.  Hopefully they are also adding a bit of extra nitrogen as well.  The chickens do not know that I refer to them as my food storage.  If a zombie attack happens, they will find themselves trapped in my compost cage.  I am just priming them for the event!


Now that I have the two cages it is so much easier to just lift the cage off the composted heap and shovel the rich compost into my wheelbarrow to distribute in my yard.  Most of it will go to the kitchen garden which is mostly in containers.  Really, having a compost heap and growing a tree are the two biggest things that us gardeners can do in our little home spaces to help the planet that we live on.  Both will also give us practical rewards and joy.


Aloha



Friday, December 17, 2021

BLUE BUTTERFLY PEA (Clitoria ternatea)

 

Blue Butterly Pea showed up on my radar in 2019 while visiting Thailand on the way home from a month in Nepal.  On previous trips to Thailand, I had seen no evidence of it, but suddenly every tourist restaurant was advertising Blue Butterfly Pea drinks and even making blue rice with it.  During our past covid years, the fad seems to have made its way here to Hawaii.  It shows up on Facebook groups and I have seen plastic containers of flowers being sold at the Kapiolani Farmers Market.  When I enquired about them, I was told that the Waikiki bars buy them to make blue drinks.



About a year ago I was delighted to see a Blue Butterfly Pea vine growing by the lanai of a local restaurant.  And it had mature seed pods on it!  All gardeners will understand the next step, and now I have two beautiful vines growing on a chain link fence.  I get great pleasure at seeing the perky blue flowers as I go out my kitchen door.  It has been educational to watch their growth.  This plant likes to spread out and the vines stretch out to reach ti plants or bushes to grow up and over them.  Something to think about as you decide where to plant them.  It may need those twining tips cut back to keep it under control.  The flowers only last one day and within a few days you will see the narrow 4" pods forming.

As pretty as this vine is, the main reason people grow the Blue Butterfly Pea is to use the flowers to make tea.  It has an ancient history in India as a health-giving plant.  Even in our modern times, we know that blue foods from nature have health giving antioxidants.  I will let you google all the health claims for it on the internet.  A plant that gives both health and beauty seems like a good one to have in the garden.  It takes several flowers steeped in boiling water to give the health filled blue tea.  It has no taste so is usually combined with lemon grass on lemon juice to make it more interesting.  Some combinations with acidic drinks can make purple to pink variations for fun. You can find videos of it on You Tube. I add one flower every day to my afternoon green tea.  I make the tea in the morning then keep it in the refrigerator for an ice drink later when I will also add a squeeze of lemon.  Not enough flowers to turn the tea blue but I figure it is an easy daily habit I can stay with.  I have discovered that the flowers will stay fresh and open for several days if picked in the morning and put in the fridge in a Tupperware container lined with a damp paper towel.  Who knows?  Maybe you can make some pocket money selling them to a nearby Thai restaurant or bar.




Blue Butterfly Pea is a perennial vine that is native to tropical Asia.  It really likes to sprawl out and can easily take up 10 feet of width on your trellis.  It is not over fussy about soil, but it does need good drainage.  It can be grown from cuttings but is easily grown from seed.  Wait until the seed pods have turned brown on the vine.  The seedlings start popping up in a week and are ready for transplanting in three.   I have noticed the Bulbuls (fruit loving birds) eating a few flowers but so far, they have left plenty of flowers still on the vine.  The recent salt winds of winter got at the leaves a bit, but the vines are protected from the worst by the house.


Aloha, and Merry Christmas

PS Jan. 2022

I see in the newspaper today an article about blue mochi being the new big thing in Japan.  The blue is coming from this Blue Butterfly Pea flower.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

AUTUMN IN HISTORIC CONCORD

     Autumn was in full swing when I recently spent five days at Concord in the state of Massachusetts, USA.  For those of us who live in the tropics, it could not get more exotic.  Concord is out in the country.  I got there from Boston by commuter train which took about 45 minutes.  There were lots of pockets of woods with all their beautiful autumn colors as well as those trees in home gardens around old New England style wood houses.  I went to Concord to pay my respects to all the Transcendental writers like Emerson, Thoreau and Alcott who have influenced my life and to see the place that they had lived.  The town also is important in US revolutionary history so I visited those historic sites as well.  Here are a few garden connected photos from Concord for you.  Remember you can click on one to enlarge them.


Autumn decorations with the Old Hill Burying Ground up behind.


Autumn decorations 


The Colonial Inn


Hugh Cargill Community Garden plots


Apple trees and home of Alcott family.  Also the setting for "Little Women"


Autumn decorations at W Concord house.


Landscapers at work


House and garden


Waldon Pond through the trees.

Aloha

OCTOBER IN BOSTON

Yay!!!  I finally got off the island last month.  It has been a long 18 months of no travel.  Getting my booster Covid vaccination made me braver to sit on that plane with lots of other people.  My daughter and I went to Boston for 5 nights, then she had to come back for work, but I stayed on for a further 5 nights out in a country town. This was our first time there and we quickly decided that we really liked the city. Despite moving around the city, a lot by tube and bus, we still walked our feet off as we visited all the historical sites.  We were there in the last weeks of the month, so it was fun to see all the decorations for Halloween and Thanksgiving.  It was interesting to see how everybody seemed to incorporate flowers into their Halloween decorations.  The nurseries that sell potted Chrysanthemums must make a killing during the holiday.  I was surprised to see a tropical thin leaf red Ti and orange leafed Crotons being incorporated into the Halloween displays.  Below are a few garden related photos from the trip.  Remember you can click on one of the photos to see it bigger and in slide form.


Boston Common with the State House at the back.


Street display using Crotons for autumn color.


Home doorway garden


Boston library courtyard



A business entrance display


Ready for Halloween


Harvard  Yard


An old cobbled street on  Beacon Hill

Aloha