Thursday, 7 September 2017

'A Malaysian Garden in Sydney'

Starfruit Season Ends

Well, we have arrived in the first week of Spring… and the last week of beautiful Starfruits.

This week, we have harvested our last basin of Starfruits, and what a season it has been!

In Sydney, the Starfruit tree begins to produce its purple-and-white flowers in late Spring, continuing through Summer and Autumn. The first fruits can be plucked in March and April, with the main harvest period being through the cool of winter – July and August.

Now, five and a half years from planting, our seedling tree has yielded more than 100 fruit in its third fruiting year.

Starfruit trees are easy to manage. Planted in a warm aspect, with regular fertilising and watering, the tree will prosper in southern locations. It is also our experience that the Starfruit does not attract fruit fly attack.

One of the challenges of having 100 fruits at one’s disposal has been finding ways to use them. Eaten fresh regularly, made into one of the tastiest fruit juices almost every night, and turned into a most delicious jam, the Starfruit tree is a splendid addition to a small garden. And of course, the fruits have been lovely gifts for appreciative friends.

Starfruits basking in Winter sunshine

Some very large fruit were harvested

With the fruit now gathered, it is time to trim the tree. In our case, before flowering begins, simply clipping for height to facilitate harvest will be sufficient… And don’t forget the feed and water!

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Monday, 28 August 2017

'A Malaysian Garden in Sydney'

Antics at the Birdbath
A birdbath presents a setting to observe the behaviour of the local bird life.

We installed our first birdbath two years ago, placing it strategically, adjacent to a family room window. Within a very short time, we could observe the growing comfort and confidence of the Noisy Miners, in particular, who became regular patrons of the bath. Little by little, a growing number was using the birdbath… 

A family of Noisy Miners have adopted the birdbath.

For us, it has been very entertaining to sit in our lounge and watch the antics of the birds splashing around.

"Can't a bird get some privacy?"
Even the family cat loves the birdbath... We are fortunate in that she does not stalk our local birds.

Due to the success of the first birdbath, we installed a second in the front yard. The original intention was to provide a water source for the local butterflies. Accordingly, we placed a layer of rocks in the bottom of the basin… perches for the butterflies to alight upon in order to drink from the lapping water.

Unfortunately, the front ‘butterfly bath’ was overtaken by large birds, such as Crows, Magpies and Currawongs. Obviously, the arrival of these creatures became a strong deterrent to butterflies. So, going with the natural flow, we removed the rocks from the base of the bath, allowing the birds to use the bath effectively. Big mistake!

A young Currawong drinks from the 'Butterfly Bath'.

Within a short time, these larger birds had ‘driven away’ all the smaller birds. The crows, in fact, had begun using the birdbath to ‘dunk’ whole bread rolls, provided by our neighbours. Every day, we had to clean out soggy bread from the birdbath…

A large Crow, ready to dunk its bread roll.

Today, the front yard birdbath is a garden monument. Nevertheless, the birdbath has been a pleasurable and entertaining purchase for us, and a valuable source of water for our local suburban wildlife. 

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Sunday, 21 May 2017

'A Malaysian Garden in Sydney'

Jackfruit… Patience Bears Fruit

A watched pot never boils… In the case of our garden adventures, the adage has never proved so true.

Last year, through the Sydney winter, we watched expectantly the progress of ripening fruit in our jackfruit tree. It was the first fruiting season of the young tree, and it was holding eighteen fruit – in hindsight, far too many. The fruit should have been thinned to just a few.

Our expectation and anticipation were piqued by the fact that we had been told that jackfruit could not succeed in Sydney’s climate. With these challenging remarks in mind, we checked the welfare of our fruit protégés on an almost daily basis. The tree was certainly a watched pot! Molly-coddled, the fruit was covered to protect it from insect attack, a whole gamut of predatory animals, frost and prying human eyes!

The jackfruit tree today

A broken main limb in July last year, due to the weight of fruits succumbing to windy conditions, followed by a fruit rot in August, combined with the cold of our local winter saw off our remaining fruits… allowing us just a single green jackfruit to make curry. The watched pot never boiled!

So, the seasons passed by, from spring and on to summer. In December, I decided to lop the tree, jackfruit trees being remarkably vigorous growers, even in a temperate climate. As I reached towards the top of the tree with the extendable lopper, I noticed a medium sized fruit, sitting almost at its peak… too high to cover, too high to molly-coddle this time around.

The lone fruit received four buddies during our hot summer. This season, we neglected the growing fruit: no ritual checking, no pest covers, the fruit were left to their own devices. No watched pot this time around!

One of the 'buddy' jackfruits

On Friday, we were blessed with consistent rain allowing me to plant a new purchase, a variegated Alpinia ginger. Therefore, the following morning, I collected the garden tools and made my way to the sun-side of the jackfruit tree, to put in the new ginger. There, lying on the ground, just two metres away, was a gold nugget, a jackfruit. From that distance, I could see that it had marks on its skin, and had two divots, gnawed presumably by a marauding possum. Prepared for further disappointment, I trudged over to pick up the fallen fruit, thinking that it had rotted in the tree.

The local possum obviously liked the taste

The perfume was overpowering. So sweet!

Despite the external blemishes and a little rot on the stem end, the fruit was soft, appearing to be ripe and ready to eat. I rushed inside to show off the prize to the Better-Half, then cut it in half for inspection. The fruity aroma was overpoweringly delicious, and the arils were glowing yellow, the colour of autumn sunshine: it was ready to consume.

And it was sweet, crunchy and faintly juicy… the flavour and texture, just as we know them, from the delightful honey jackfruits of our many Malaysian sojourns. The unwatched pot had boiled deliciously!

So, it is possible to grow and fruit jackfruits successfully in Sydney’s marginal climate! However, questions remain.

Were we lucky enough to choose the correct seed variety to plant? Will all seedling varieties achieve sufficient ripeness, remembering that each variety has its own season for setting fruit and for maturation? Jackfruits are not all the same… Perhaps our second tree which sets fruit in the autumn and winter, rather than summer, will provide an answer in the years to come.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

'A Malaysian Garden in Sydney'

From Fresh Fruit to Fresh Fruit Juice

It has been a productive month in the Sydney garden…

The last of the tasty mangoes ripened, and was consumed eagerly, within the past fortnight. This rounded off the mango harvest at 10… a satisfactory number for the third bearing season of the Maha Chanok seedling tree.

The last of this season's mangoes

At the same time, we cut a bountiful bunch of Pisang Awak bananas, so bountiful that these were shared with family, friends and neighbours. Eaten fresh during the day, and consumed as dessert each evening in the form of banana sticky rice and banana fritters, there was no need to visit the greengrocers for some weeks.

The continuing autumn harvest of sweet mangoes and the golden treasure of the banana tree provide a lesson in the productive possibilities of a small suburban backyard. However, the mangoes and bananas are not the end of this fruit tale…

In its third fruiting season, the starfruit has ripened occasional fruit through both spring and summer. However, with a massive flush of branch-clasping, purple and white flowers in late summer, the tree has very quickly filled with bunches of tiny stars. Maturing through early autumn, we are just beginning to pick an abundant crop of fruit… and family members are placing their orders for evening starfruit juice!

One of a number of bunches of juicy, developing starfruit 

An enormous starfruit sits alone in its part of the tree.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Sunday, 23 April 2017

It’s Ginger Time

As the days shorten, it is time to consider the harvest of one’s ginger plants. Harvesting in April, Sydney-time, will produce young roots of Zingiber officinale, which are fragrant and mildly spicy in flavour. However, allowing the green stems to wilt and the roots to mature through the winter months will produce an older, drier, spicier ginger… the ginger which one normally encounters in the shops.

Last August, we took advantage of unusually low prices for older ginger root at the local green grocer’s. Buying a kilo of ginger, some was sliced and frozen for later use. The rest – the pieces with well-developed ‘eyes’ or stem growth buds - was planted in a well mulched and fertilised part of the garden.

The flower of a common ginger plant

Throughout the season, the ginger has grown strongly, producing a splendid crop of young roots. Some, we have dug for their young and juicy roots to use with pork and fish dishes chiefly. As a neutraliser of strong smells in meat, it is second to none. The rest will be lifted later, and the best rhizomes will be retained for next season’s crop.

Baked fish seasoned with slices of young ginger. The fish is dart, a common fish of the beaches of New South Wales.

Like our other gingers, common ginger seems to prefer a part-sun or filtered-sunlight situation: ours grow in the company of a macadamia tree, chilli and basil plants. Furthermore, in such a position, protected from strong winds, its longish, pencil-thin stems will produce plenty of flavourful rhizomes for the wok and the pot.

Behind the flower of the Dancing Lady Ginger are the close-planted stems of common ginger, Zingiber offinale

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

'A Malaysian Garden in Sydney'

Early Season Mangoes of Malaysia

April in Malaysia… just after the opening of the full mango season. What varieties are available?

Our trip to Malaysia, on this occasion, was brief. Limited to two destinations, we did not experience the full range of available mangoes. However, there were enough tasty varieties on offer to have an enjoyable and tasty time.

Below are some of the tasty mango (mangga) varieties which we encountered this April...

A gold-skinned variety of Thailand's Nam Dok Mai mango. Its name is Lily, a semi-translation of the Thai name (Water Lily). We purchased this tasty specimen in Ipoh, but they were plentiful in Klang as well.

Mangga Susu (Milk Mango), a popular mango, appears to have a long fruiting season. These (pictured) are not fully ripe, and have a pale yellow-coloured flesh when ripe. These were also widely available.

Originally, a Thai variety Black Gold mango (Mangga Mas Hitam) is also very common. It has a satisfactory flavour. However, there are other superior mangoes available at this stage of the season. It takes its English and Malaysian names from the dark green skin (black) and the golden, almost orange, flesh (gold) These were purchased at a night market in Klang.

Mangoes for sale at a Klang night market... Lemak Manis, Mas Hitam and Lily

Like Mangga Susu, Mangga Lemak Manis, appears to have a long fruiting season. Originally, a Thai variety, Lemak Manis has become more widespread in Malaysia in recent years. One of our favourite varieties, it has dark green skin and primrose-yellow flesh when fully ripe. It is very sweet. Even when crunchy and green, it is a very tasty mango.

These specimens are not fully ripe, and at this stage, can be rather sour. However, when allowed to fully ripen, Rainbow is a delightful mango: its juicy flesh has a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Its name is derived from its ripe colouration: predominantly yellow, with a pinkish red blush on the sun-facing shoulder. These fruit had been imported from its origin in Thailand, where it is known as Maha Chanok.

Ripened 'Rainbow' or 'Maha Chanok' mangoes

In fact, if there is a stall of ripe Rainbow mangoes at a Malaysian or Thai market, you are likely to smell them before you see them: they have the most magnificent aroma.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Harumanis Seedling... New Mango First Fruit

It is certainly an exciting time when a young tree produces its first fruit. So, it has been for us…

Over the past three weeks, we have enjoyed the delicious mangoes from our original Maha Chanok Seedling mango tree, and we continue to pick its luscious produce. At the same time, however, in the third week of March, we picked the first fruit from our Harumanis Seedling tree: just one, about 550-gram fragrant green fruit.

Green, its skin may have been. Yet, with just a couple of days of indoor ripening, it was ready to consume. Sweet. Juicy. Flavourful. And still green!

Ready to eat... Fragrant, the green skin colour 'yellowed' slightly, the white lenticels prominent
Deep orange-coloured flesh

Polyembryonic Seed. Note the segmentation

The tree was grown from a kitchen-filling aromatic fruit given to us by a close friend. The polyembryonic seed was sprouted in February 2013, and the seedling tree was planted into position the following spring. Following its first flowers in October last year, we have been delivered a first fruit from this sturdy little tree. 

The Harumanis Seedling grows strongly, and I suspect that it will require regular pruning to keep it in bounds

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

First of Our Season: Seedling Mangoes

Our local Sydney stores are draining of succulent mangoes. Home gardeners have plucked their bounty of famous Kensington Prides, while the last of the KPs in the shops are super expensive. There are still some Keitt mangoes for sale, as well as the Brooks variety, which is the latest maturing commercial variety in Australia. Essentially, the end of the mango season is nigh for another year.

A pair of late season Brooks mangoes

How lucky are we then to have luscious home-grown mangoes at season’s end? Our bounty is just beginning…

Over the past two weeks, we have harvested the first of this season’s crop from our Maha Chanok Seedling tree. In its third fruiting year, the small, head-height tree holds ten mangoes: two small fruit, the rest are absolute thumpers, our first two fruits weighing above one kilo! Each!

Luckily, there are three of us to consume these monsters… a mango face each for two lucky householders while the third person gets to munch on the abundant flesh around the super-thin seed. Mildly aromatic, fibre-free, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth… Mmm!

1.2 kilos... Dessert for three!
Because of its over-sized, sensationally-sweet fruit, our seedling Maha Chanok has become the supreme tree of our small suburban garden. A risky experiment turned highly successful! But why?

Across the internet, there is a lot of ‘bad press’ about growing seedling mango trees. Some of this ‘bad press’ emanates from the belief that seedling mangoes take many more years to fruit than their grafted cousins. This, however, is not our experience, having grown three seedling mangoes in this garden, all of which have begun to bear first fruits in the third year after planting.

Another bone of contention is related to the type of seed.

Some mango varieties produce seeds with more than one embryo (polyembryonic). Many of the Asian mangoes, as well as Kensington Pride, produce polyembryonic seeds, which will generally grow more than one seedling shoot, most of which are true-to-type. This means that if you plant a Kensington Pride seed, the chances are that the resultant seedling tree will also be a Kensington Pride.

Other mango varieties produce seeds with a single embryo (monoembryonic). Monoembryonic mangoes will produce a single seedling bearing the characteristics of two parent trees. Herein lies the problem… the seedling will differ, in some ways, from the original mango.

But is this a bad thing?

Growing mangoes from the seeds of monoembryonic varieties can be risky for the backyard gardener. Obviously, you will know the mango cultivar from which you extracted the seed. But will you know the other parent pollinator? With limited space in a home garden, does one want to grow an inferior mango?

However, growing a monoembryonic seedling does not guarantee an inferior tree: it is just one of many possibilities, including perhaps, growing a superior tree.

The super thin seed shuck of the Maha Chanok seedling

A typical monoembryonic mango seed

Maha Chanok is a monoembryonic Thai mango variety. Our seedling tree is not genuine Maha Chanok. It has the growth habit, the fruit colour, the flavour and eating quality of its famed parent, but differs in the fruit size and shape.  Despite its differences, it is wonderful in its own right: a mango which simply cannot be purchased in a shop. A talking point… and a very tasty, exotic talking point at that!

More to come...

Now, we await our next experimental seedling. This is another monoembryonic mango, the American variety, Kent. At the moment, it stands happily and proudly in a large pot, and I suspect that it will have its first flowers in October. Here’s to the progeny…

Standing with it potted friends
So, is the planting of a seedling mango worth the risk to you? It certainly has been for us!

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Entopia Penang… Butterfly Haven

Entopia, formerly the Penang Butterfly Farm, is an interesting and educational attraction. Located at the northern end of Penang Island, near the small township of Teluk Bahang, Entopia can be reached by bus from Georgetown for a few ringgit, if you do not have access to a hire car. Local tours can also be arranged, but ensure that these allow you sufficient time to explore this fascinating establishment.

Tickets to the complex are expensive by Malaysian standards, but, upon entry, one can see that the fee is merited: the complex was newly renovated in May 2016 and is very, very impressive. 

One follows a beautiful trail of water features and tropical flowering shrubs from many parts of the world to see the multitude of fluttering colour attracted to these feeder plants.

Yellow Glassy Tiger feeding

The trail is well-signposted with guides to both the flowering plants and local butterflies.

A Guide to the Tiger Family of Butterflies
Butterflies attracted by Hibiscus blooms on a butterfly-shaped stand

In addition to the comprehensive display of Southeast Asian butterflies, Entopia also has some enclosures of frogs and reptiles and a display of Malaysian dragonflies and other bugs, even a bird or two. Furthermore, there are educational activities and displays suitable for children... and for the young-at-heart.

For those who will drive to the complex there is ample parking… and perhaps, the seller of delicious red rambutan will be waiting for you, adjacent to the front gate.

Below are some images of the beautiful residents of Entopia...

Tree Nymph

Green Banded Swallowtail
Great Orange Tip
Great Mormon
The Chocolate Albatrosses were in abundance feeding upon potted flowering shrubs
Common Bluebottle

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…