Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Last Maha Chanok Mango

Picked and ripened, cut and consumed, the last mango has gone. Anticipation… craving… satisfaction… Wish for more…

The ripening process begins

Our last three Maha Chanok Seedling mangoes began their ripening process at the beginning of this month (April), maturing in order of size, smallest to largest. These were large mangoes, ranging in size from 600 grams to one kilogram, all with a skin colouring and taste reminiscent of their parent Maha Chanok fruit. What is most most impressive with these mangoes is their meat-to-seed ratio: very large fruit with very thin seeds. 

The very thin seed of a Maha Chanok Seedling mango

600 grams. April 7. The fruit will require a few days indoors to develop its full flavour
775 grams. April 13. 

A tad over 1 kg. April 15.

Last year, I attempted to sprout the seed of a mammoth 1.1 kg fruit in traditional fashion, planted in potting mix in an outdoor location, only to be disappointed. The cooling weather of April, with average daytime temperatures in the low to mid-twenties Celsius (680 to 770F), led to failure: a new tactic would be required if the late season seeds of our valued tree would be successfully grown. So, after researching the internet, I came across this video, which suggested that the mango seed could be spouted, wrapped in damp kitchen towel, within a zip-lock bag. This I did, placing the zip-lock bag in a warm, northerly facing window.

Mango seed placed in wet paper towel within a zip-lock bag:its own mini-greenhouse
To this point, I can report early success. My first experimental indoor sprouting has indeed begun to germinate, pushing out a generous tap root. The second seed, too, has begun to root. Given a few more days of development, I may be able to pot up the first seedling, keeping it indoors for a short time, until the first flush of leaves mature enough to cope with the cold of winter.

A successful beginning to the experiment

I hold no illusions about these second-generation seedlings: their fruit will likely differ from both the original Maha Chanok fruit and our Maha Chanok Seedling produce, the seeds being mono-embryonic in nature. Moreover, where to plant them? The back yard jungle is full! Growing on the second-generation presents an interesting exercise, however. 

The dimensions of the largest mango

One wonders what joys year five of this mango tree will bring!

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Friday, 15 April 2016

Lovely Lake Kenyir

It was an overcast day as we left Kuala Terengganu, our destination Tasik or Lake Kenyir, the largest man-made lake in Southeast Asia. In our rental car, we drove quite a distance, more than 60 kilometres, over some very good roads to reach the lake.  Our first impressions were marvellous: we pulled up at an intersection, short of the Tourist Information Centre, to view and photograph a glorious vista of the lake, shrouded in morning clouds. Excited by the prospect of seeing some beautiful views of the lake, we proceeded towards our destination.

Lining the entry road and at the Visitor Centre, the gardens were very beautiful and superbly manicured. Apart from an array of lovely, flowering shrubs, eye-catching orchids and strikingly-coloured crotons, we sensed an intoxicating perfume. After a little searching… and a little trespassing on to the garden beds… we discovered the source of this most delicious scent. Some dwarf ylang-ylang trees, bedecked with their spider-like yellow flowers, were hiding amongst the other shrubs… oh, to be able to grow this plant in Sydney! One can dream…

Croton... Codiaeum species

Dwarf Ylang-Ylang... Cananga odorata fruticosa

At the visitor centre, we inspected a display of the major species of lake fishes.  Some of these fish were enormous and included the river lampam, kelisa, kelah, belida, river baung and kaloi, some of Malaysia’s famous freshwater fishes. 

Kelisa fish


Finished with fish-admiring, we then made enquiries about possible tours. We were advised that, at the back of the lake, was a grand waterfall, Lasir. After some discussion, we decided to book the tour. Following a short walk from the Visitor Centre to the boat launching area, we were informed by the operators that we were the only people wanting to visit the falls. It was a very quiet day! Were we to be disappointed? A hasty phone call ensued, the operator organising to pick up another couple from a lakeside hotel to join us. Tour on!

It was a lengthy ride, of about 30 minutes, in the canopied motor boat, cruising over still waters with scenic views completely surrounding us. Close to our destination, we could see the mountain backdrop to the waterfall. The enshrouding clouds still hung like a white curtain over the rainforest-clad hills: the trip was becoming exciting.

When we arrived at our destination, we were not disappointed. The lower drop of Lasir Waterfall was instantly attractive. We clambered from the boat where the powerful torrent of the falls entered the lake, scrambling over rocks to a pathway which led us to many viewpoints for the multi-tiered falls. 

Further on, we spent time on a suspension walkway and in an observation hut. The scenery was superb and the further we trudged up the hilly pathway, the more spectacular the falls became! Photo opportunities abounded.

Horsfield's Baron

Some time later, making our way back to the boat, we watched two men spin-fish unsuccessfully in a large pool. Then, arriving back at the boat, we came across a family cast-net-fishing below the lower falls. Did they catch anything? I am not sure… Regardless, the observation of locals enjoying their fishing experiences, added to our satisfaction with the excursion.

Visiting Tasik Kenyir and Lasir Falls had been an absorbing tour. With our usual good fortune, we appeared to have arrived on an unusually quiet, July day. According to reports, Lasir Falls, the most powerful falls within the lake complex, is the most popular venue with tour operators, and can become rather busy during peak times.

Unfortunately, we had allocated only one day for our excursion to Tasik Kenyir… it deserved more!

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Tulasi… or Holy Basil

One of our close friends has gifted us, at different times, with two interesting Asian plants. My first reaction was that these plants would be wonderful ‘little’ additions to our Malaysian-style food garden… I stress the word ‘little’! There is an irony in the fact that both plants, clearly in love with our residential micro-climate, have become rampant nuisances. I hesitate to use the word ‘pests’ because both are clearly beneficial: they simply require strict management… like naughty children.

Some weeks back, I posted about the Pea Eggplant, which has required major surgery to prevent it over-running its corner of the yard. This week, I am writing about one of Asia’s most revered plants, the Holy Basil, otherwise known as tulsi for Hindu people, and as tulasi in Malaysia. The scientific nomenclature of this fascinating plant is Ocimum tenuiflorum.

When we were first given this beautifully fragrant little plant, I did my reading before planting. Many sources claimed that it would grow to perhaps 60 centimetres in height. However, there was one photograph of an Indian tulsi plant in Wikipedia which showed a rather larger specimen. Despite the pictorial clue, our baby tulasi went into the ground, next to our prized Maha Chanok seedling mango. As the tulasi grew, I treated it like lemon basil and horapha, the other Thai basil plant, simply removing the flower heads as they appeared: of course, some were missed and set seed. The tulasi continued to grow… and grow… and grow. It was thriving in our garden, reaching up over two metres and with an equivalent spread.

The poor Maha Chanok… it has had a struggle to succeed. First, overrun by a raging tulasi plant which reached more than two metres within a two-year period, then subsequently muscled out by the flourishing Pea Eggplant.

Our decision was easy, although the removal of a healthy plant is always regrettable. The tulasi plant had to go: it had become too large for its station. Out it came. Shortly after its removal, literally hundreds of little tulasi seedlings popped up in the vicinity of the original plant… and where I carried the tulasi branches along pathways to our green bin, it liberated its tiny seeds from dried flower heads as they brushed against the walls of the home, against other plants and against the timber retaining wall. Soon, baby tulasi plants appeared along the trail, in our crushed stone pathways and in neighbouring garden beds.

Flowers of the tulasi plant

This was two years ago… I know, my dear readers, what you are all thinking. Plant revenge! How could I take secateurs, saw and shovel to one of the most revered plants in Asia?

Over the past month, I have still been removing them, potting up ten adventitious, little tulasi plants. Do you think my friends will want them?

I did keep one seedling plant when the original plant was dug out. It was potted, again growing quickly, lankily and woodily. It was potted on. One metre high, with woody stems and with leaves only on the top-most parts, I sought out some buds, pruning it heavily just above these. Halved in height, the tulasi has finally begun to look rather beautiful in its glazed blue pot. It has produced attractive, fragrant new growth, sitting proudly in a dappled shade position near our kitchen with its herbal friends and a kaffir lime tree. It is fed either with pelletised chicken manure or fish emulsion on a fortnightly basis.

The lessons have been learned with this wonderful plant. Prune it hard. Remove the flowers stems as they appear. Feed it well.

Tulasi will produce many flowering stems. Remove these to keep the plant compact.

So, why is this plant so revered overseas? Put simply, for Hindu people, it is religiously significant, the plant being equated with ‘an elixir of life’. From its origins in India, the plant has been carried along the Asian trade routes into other Southeast Asian countries, its reputation for healing, health-giving and for promoting longevity carried with it. For information on the perceived health benefits of tulasi, please go to this Malaysian blog

Importantly, the evergreen Tulasi or Holy Basil should not be confused with Thai Basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora), which is a much smaller plant. In the Sydney climate, the latter will need to be replanted every spring.

Tulasi or Holy Basil

Selasih or Thai Basil

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Colinas… Where did it Start?

So, who or what is Colinas?

The home nameplate under construction in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Colinas is an acronym. It is an acronym for a home… a partnership… a combination of our two names. It means ‘Hills’ in Spanish, which is indicative of our approximate location in Sydney.  Our garden is also a fusion, just like the name - a fusion of our cultural and national backgrounds… one born in Malaysia, who loves the sweetness of tropical fruits and the intoxicating perfumes of celebrated Asian flowers, trees and shrubs… the other born in Australia, with a similar love for the same Asian flora, but with a consideration for the local wildlife. These, then, became the themes of the garden: a productive and self-supporting Asian garden, which can sustain and attract the local insects, birds and reptiles. In fact, during the planning phase for the garden, we referred to it as our future ‘hutan’ or jungle.

Over the years, we have had many curious, surprising, even astonishing moments in the garden. Often, events in the garden will take one back to the very beginning… thoughts of ‘Where did it really begin?’ So, where did it start for us?

For her, it began with beautiful flowers. For me, it started with a chilli plant!

The better half has lived in Sydney since 2001. She was inspired by her mother: Mama created a tropical garden, luxuriant with herbs and fruit trees, all with varying leaf forms. From this green oasis in Muar, her Nyonya grandmother would utilise the abundance of the garden to create her unique Peranakan dishes. Ah Mah also tended a patch of annual flowers which she used as decorations for her traditional hair bun.  As a teenager, she, the better half, was introduced to gardening by Ah Mah, casting these annual seeds on to the soil, waiting patiently for them to sprout, grow and bloom. She carried these teenage skills to the United Kingdom, where she raised a lovely indoor garden -  a spider plant, a miniature syngonium, an English ivy plant and a potted monstera deliciosa - in her Nurses’ Home room.

Moving out into her own home, she was able to expand her garden and hone her gardening skills. Without a doubt, her favourites were the tall, flowering plants suited to the English climate like roses, hollyhocks and foxgloves, the floral influence of her Ah Mah still prevailing.

The Malaysian, Chinese and other Asian flowers, the floral and scented highlights in the Colinas garden, have their roots in Muar, Malaysia.

A gorgeous red ixora plant at the Tanjung Emas Park in Muar

A young Flame of the Forest at the Tanjung

I can blame my Dad for my love of gardening. Among his many home-grown flowers and veggies, he grew a Cayenne chilli plant. You know, it was one of the few varieties of chilli which could be purchased in Sydney all those years ago. I loved the profuse glossy fruit, first green, then gradually changing to red. Every pendant fruit had its own size and shape. Fascinating! For me, it was prettier than flowers. And it ‘flowered’ all summer and autumn too!

As a kid fifty years ago, Mum and Dad would wake me early and abruptly, ‘dragging’ me to the Flemington Markets, not necessarily kicking-and-screaming, but the dawn-awakenings were a trial. Mum and Dad would shop for bulk fruit in those old wooden crates… apples, oranges, nectarines, peaches, mangoes… The fruit would not last long with a family of hungry human fruit-bats, and Dad would recycle the timber into nests for his beloved budgies and finches. I loved the markets, but not those early mornings. Inadvertently, however, I was being taught rich lessons in nutrition, recycling and care for nature.

One of those days, Dad took me to the markets via the flower market. I was captivated… I had never seen anything like it. A chilli plant with three-coloured variegated leaves and purple fruit! This became my first plant and the start of my gardening adventure… The winter frosts might have killed my first beautiful chilli plant, but I was hooked. Gardening had been firmly implanted as one of my interests from that very moment.

Purple Tiger Chilli... my first plant

Chilli plants were part of my family’s arsenal in the south. My three boys even catalogued our forty-odd varieties of chilli, collecting the seed, naming ‘new’ varieties and storing them in brown-paper bags over the frosty winters. The chillies had become a family tradition, which continues in the Colinas home garden.

Potted chillies in the southern NSW garden

I have been back in the temperate, summer-rainfall climate of Sydney since 2010, after spending more than 30 years in the Mediterranean climate of southern New South Wales. During a number of those 30 plus years, I would struggle to ‘resuscitate’ the garden during relentless, parching, baking summers. Even in those times, I loved all things sub-tropical. However, the aspiration to plan and plant a green paradise had to be set aside… this, certainly, was not the environment for the colour, scent and flavour of the tropics.

Today, however, the opportunity is there… the opportunity to replicate the flavours, fragrances and forms of the East. As planned, the Colinas garden has essentially become an Asian garden ‘hutan’…

The Colinas Garden as it appears today

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

A Season of Butterflies

It is one of life’s luxuries to be able to spend quiet time in one’s own garden. Even in your ‘down’ time, you might be hard at work, weeding, pruning and planting… You might be deep in blissful contemplation, relaxing on a garden seat… You might even be allowing any disquieting thoughts to be blown away with the breeze - that same gentle breeze which carries pairs of bejewelled, fluttering wings.

This spring, summer and autumn have brought us many butterfly visitors, some almost daily, some once in a while, others rarely…

Common Crow Butterfly
A pair of delightful Common Crows has visited us almost every day, feeding busily on our Grevillea and on our Kasturi Lime tree, but especially on its favoured China Doll shrub (Duranta erecta). These butterflies are wonderful photographic subjects because of their relaxed nature when feeding.

Blue Triangle
The Blue Triangle has been flying in our street for much of the summer. However, it discovered our China Doll plant at the end of February. Since then, it has been a constant house guest, feeding two or three times per day. It is a difficult subject to photograph, because of its rapid wingbeats, and because it settles only briefly at its food source flower. Almost neurotic in nature, the Blue Triangle must be a tasty meal for birds!

Caper White
The Caper White is not a common butterfly in Sydney. They visit our city when hot westerly winds blow them off course during their inland, northern journey. During November, this specimen stopped to take a drink from our back path.

We only recorded one sighting of the Monarch butterfly… close to Christmas. It has landed on the bush rock pathway near our fish pond.

 Meadow Argus
On the second last day of summer, we made our only sighting of the Meadow Argus butterfly. As a child, this was a common visitor to my father’s Sydney garden. Like other butterflies, it was attracted by the blue and white flowers of the China Doll tree.

 Common Dart
A pair of Common Darts has been sighted regularly in our backyard since mid-March. As the name suggests, they are rapid fliers. However, they appear happy to perch on the leaves of fruit trees for longish periods, making them easy to photograph.

White Cabbage Moth
Not necessarily a welcome visitor, the White Cabbage Moth has been at home in our yard throughout the warmer months, feasting on some of our Choy Sum plants. Without a doubt, this is the most common butterfly in our yard… Such an honour?

Schistophleps albida
I am unsure of the common name of this pretty, little, yellow-striped white insect. It landed on our prize mangoes in early March. From my research, I believe that this moth is not common in Sydney.

 Some Other Visiting Moths and Butterflies

Oecophorine Moth
You will need your magnifiers for this one... Click on the photograph to enlarge. The Oecophorine moth was photographed resting on a young jackfruit.

Unknown Moths

I would love some feedback on the identity of these moths...

Caterpillar of White Tussock Moth
Munching away on the young fruiting body of a jackfruit tree...

Unfortunately, I was unable to photograph some of our prettiest visitors. These included...
  • Dainty Swallowtail, which frequents citrus trees 
  • the Tiger Moth 
  • the little Pencilled Blue
  • and the Common Grass Blue. The two Blue butterflies liked to feed on our small bedding flowers. I encourage you to view these lovely creatures online.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Asian Winged Beans… Successful Failure

Yesterday marked our first harvest of the delectable Asian Winged Bean. Known in Malaysia as Kacang Botol (See Kak Tao or Sei Lim Dao are its names for the Chinese residents), it has been an absolute excitement to pick our first seven pods.

Why, you ask? Well, seven packets of seeds were purchased on-line between us and our close friends, three years ago. Following the seed-merchant’s instructions, the seeds were soaked in hot water before planting. Once they had swelled, they were taken outside and planted against a warm west-facing fence. Then we waited… and waited… We tried again with another packet of fifteen seeds, following the same procedure. And we waited with baited breath again. This time, one plant popped up. Throughout the growing season, it struggled and when the first winter frost came, it died. We promptly forgot about it. Our attempt at growing these most delicious of vegetables was a total failure… and our friends reported similar results in their attempts to grow the plants. We presumed that it was not possible to grow the plants in Sydney.

We were resigned to purchasing the expensive Kacang Botol during our occasional shopping expeditions to the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta. It would become a once-a-year-treat!

Just to tease us, the little Kacang Botol plant poked its head out of the soil the following spring. Again, it struggled to survive, promptly disappearing when the cold weather returned.

Then, this season arrived. The Kacang Botol plant appeared for the third consecutive season. We gave it a liberal feed of pelletised chicken manure and promptly forgot about it. It grew… and grew… and grew… I was forced to erect a rudimentary wire trellis so that it could climb. Two weeks ago, it climbed on to the roof of the neighbour’s garage! I was beginning to wonder whether these were the seeds from the children’s story, Jack and the Beanstalk! Maybe, I should simply have thrown the seeds on the ground like Jack’s mother… They seemed to thrive on neglect!

So, yesterday was a red-letter day. Only seven pods, 12 to 15 centimetres long, were harvested but there are many more exceptionally beautiful blue flowers and juvenile beans appearing on the vine. This is why we are so excited: no need to drive to Cabramatta in the hope of coming across a feed of delicious four-angled beans.

Now, to answer the key question. Why have the beans thrived this season after failing for the first two years? Simple! We erected a new dividing fence… This probably sounds irrational to you. However, when the old ram-shackled fence was removed, with my trusty mattock, I was able to stump out large stands of one of the most abhorrent noxious weeds from the neighbour’s side of the fence. Green cestrum (Cestrum parqui) has pretty tubular yellow flowers but it is highly toxic and highly invasive. In addition, it stinks! Clearly, it was exhausting the nutrients of the desirable plants on our side of the fence. Once the stumps of the villainous shrub had been surgically removed the Kacang Botol thrived. Failure turned to success!

Winged beans begin to flower as the length of daylight shortens. Our first beautiful flowers appeared in mid-March. Two weeks later, the first beans reached harvest maturity. The persistent warm weather this season has helped the flowering and fruiting of this most desirable plant.

In a conversation with a Cambodian friend yesterday, we learned that the Kacang Botol prefers a shady location in her homeland. As the season progresses, we will allow some of our pods to brown off in order to collect the seed. Next year, we will follow her advice, putting a second plant in a new, more shaded location.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…