Tuesday, 4 September 2018

'A Malaysian Garden in Sydney'

Where Have All the Butterflies Gone?

With our big move to the Mid North Coast of New South Wales happening, this is the appropriate time to provide a round-up of the butterfly sightings we have made in our little Sydney garden over the past six years. One might be surprised by the variety of our sightings, but disturbingly, in our last season there were far fewer sightings of these beautiful insects.


Firstly, let’s blame the removal of specific food trees for the butterflies in our immediate neighbourhood. Secondly, however, the rampant over-development taking place in the Sydney Basin, and particularly in our locale was a major negatively-impacting influence. The loss of suburban backyards to more-upon-more so-called Granny Flats, to increasing numbers of Duplex developments and to burgeoning high-rise, apartment-living developments have led to the clearing of traditional home gardens and native vegetation, both of which provide habitat and fodder for butterflies and other urban wildlife.

I wonder when this insane and unsustainable development will ever stop!

Common Crow Butterfly
Over the years the Common Crow has been our most regular visitor. However, over the warmer months of 2017-18, sightings were few and far between, perhaps due to the removal in our local area of oleander shrubs, a known fodder plant for the caterpillars.
Blue Triangle
Seen feeding on a China Doll shrub, this beautiful creature was a regular visitor in 2016 and 2017. However, last summer, we had no sightings: a fodder tree for Blue Triangle caterpillars, a Camphor Laurel, had been removed from an adjoining garden.
Tiger Moth
A regular visitor over the years, sightings of the Tiger Moth actually increased over 2018. In fact, many were lured indoors through opened doors, attracted by interior lighting, on balmy summer evenings.
Painted Lady
 Over the years, a frequent visitor to the flower garden of our front yard, the Painted lady was rarely seen in 2018.
Meadow Argus
Normally easy to find in meadows, as the name suggests, or parkland areas, the Meadow Argus could regularly be seen in our front flower garden. 
Orchard Swallowtail
Very rarely seen in our neighbourhood and only once photographed, this Orchard Swallowtail was found on the leaves of our macadamia tree.
White Banded Plane
Previously unsighted, the White Banded Plane made infrequent visits to our home in 2018.
Common Dart
Members of this group of butterflies, noted for their swift flight, were regular visitors to our backyard home orchard of sub-tropical trees and Asian vegetables.
Yellow Admiral
Also noted for its swift flight patterns, it is a challenge to photograph a Yellow Admiral. An infrequent visitor during the warm seasons of 2016 and 2017, but not sighted during the summer of 2018. This animal was photographed on a Lemon Basil plant.
Caper White
Photographed taking a drink from a damp path. Caper White butterflies are infrequent visitors to Sydney. However, when sighted, one is likely to make multiple sightings of this beautiful member of the butterfly family.
Mottled Emigrant
Photographed in 2016 on our China Doll shrub, this was our one-and-only sighting of this creature.
Pencilled Blue
Apologies for the poor quality photograph. However, this was our only sighting of this butterfly over more than six years. Here, it is feeding on Alyssum.
Schistophleps albida
Seen and photographed only once, Schistophleps albida is resting on a ripening mango
Pieris rapae
Last but not least, the ubiquitous and damaging Cabbage Moth, photographed here on a Lemon Basil plant. Without a doubt, the Cabbage Moth was the most frequent visitor to our home garden where it would sometimes wreak havoc upon our Choy Sum plants.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Saturday, 18 August 2018

'A Malaysian Garden in Sydney'

Cabramatta… A Sydney Gardener’s Best Friend

Located in the south-western suburbs of Sydney, the suburb of Cabramatta is home to people of diverse backgrounds. Most of these people trace their ancestry to a number of Asian nations, the strongest representation being Vietnamese, but also comprising those of various Chinese ethnicities, and others from Lao, Thai and Cambodian heritage… and the list does not end here!

Because of this cultural diversity, Cabramatta has acquired a reputation as a centre for purchasing all things Asian, including a wide range of fruit and vegetable offerings. For those, like me, who have an interest in growing Asian-origin fruit and vegetables, this accessibility is a real attraction: you never know what delicacies you might find for sale in the shops and stalls of Cabramatta.

And the gardener has a very real opportunity to secure some unusual, but valued, seed-stock for the Asian garden.

With our time in Sydney drawing to a close, and a move to a new garden in a warmer, more northerly and less frenetic clime ahead of us, the Better-Half and I made many excursions to Cabramatta during the warmer months. Here, we were able to purchase many wonderful fruits for the table, with the added bonus that we could extract the seed to grow our own trees for the new one-hectare property.

Now, don’t let anyone tell you that seedling-grown fruit is difficult. Grown the way nature intended, the trees may take a year or two longer than grafted trees to bear their prized fruit. However, they will grow very strongly on their own roots. And the seeds cost you only the price of the purchased fruit… 

Now there’s a bargain!

Be careful, though! Some mango and avocado varieties will not bear fruit true to the original type. The advantage of these varieties, such as Keitt mango or Hass avocado, is that you might even produce a very worthy mango or avocado differing in some respects from the original fruit.

Our excursions to Cabramatta were bountiful. Most prized among our finds were the various Asian mangoes. With luck on our side, we have been able to sprout successfully Nam Dok Mai, Chokanan and Falan mangoes, all of which should grow true-to-type from seed. One needs to be careful, however, to source fruit which has not spent too much time in cold-storage, as this will inhibit germination. Our local friends have advised us that the best time to shop for the freshest fruit is on Tuesday morning in season. Of course, if you should fail at the first attempt, keep trying… Keep eating those deliciously-sweet, ripened Chokanan and Falan mangoes and pop the seeds into some potting mix: there appears to be no chance of purchasing trees of such mango varieties in Sydney nurseries.

Chokanan mangoes are always sold as ripened fruit, making their seed relatively easy to grow.

Keow Saveoy are the most famous of Thailand's green-eating mangoes. In Cabramatta, it is always sold green. Because of this, it is a much more difficult proposition for growing from seed.

Fortunately, we have not only sourced mango seed, but also the seed of luscious longans and lychees, custard apple, juicy jackfruit, starfruit and even Malaysian chiku (sapodilla)… all successfully grown for the new garden.

Starfruit seedlings

Beautiful longan seedlings

Now, if you are considering a move to Far North Queensland, you might even consider growing rambutan and Musang King durian from the seeds of locally-purchased fruit. In the diverse suburb of Cabramatta, it becomes a possibility…

Shopping in Cabramatta is not like shopping in a major supermarket. There is a myriad of fruit stalls throughout the shopping precinct, and so, you will need to take your time to inspect each of the stalls, which carries its own particular range of fruit and vegetable products, making it a little difficult to source some varieties. For example, I know of only one stall which carries Falan mango in season. Consequently, you will need to know exactly what you are looking for, and search diligently! Good luck in your quest…

Falan mangoes are delicious when ripe. However, they are sold as green-eating fruit locally. You will need to be patient: ripen your fruit in rice and hope for the best when you extract the seed for planting.

A seedling of Falan mango

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Sunday, 22 April 2018

'A Malaysian Garden in Sydney'

Jackfruit… First and Last

The successful fruiting of jackfruit trees entails a little luck in the marginal climate of suburban Sydney. Luck comes with the early spring flowering of the tree: later summer flowers will likely lead to the rotting of the fruiting body during the cold of winter.

Last May, our first and more precocious jackfruit tree gave up its first ripe fruit. Working in the garden, my curiosity had been piqued by a sweet smell emanating from the vicinity of the tree. There, lying on the ground, was a fallen jackfruit, fully tree-ripened, but showing signs of rot and animal damage. Once opened, the fruit was intensely sweet and delicious. “So, it can be done…”

This season, our second more compact jackfruit tree produced just one fruit. We watched the little fruit develop throughout the summer months and into autumn. It was a race against time.

It was a race against time, not because of the cooling days, but rather, because we were intending to move. The old Colinas garden would be moving from Sydney’s western suburbs to the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

So, the first week of April had come around, and the home had been moved. One last visit from the North to the old home and garden would necessitate the harvesting of the burgeoning jackfruit… and our first crop of red pomelos… before the new owners would take possession.

The jackfruit, which appeared to be on the brink of ripening, took its 400-kilometre journey to the new home where it was placed into a large brown paper bag with some bananas. The theory was that the ethylene produced by the ripening bananas would assist the green jackfruit to reach maturity.

And ripen, it did! Within four days.

Today, we cut open the jackfruit, a yellow crisp variety, sweet with a slightly-lemony flavour. This was a very different flavour from the super-sweet fruit produced by our first tree. More importantly, the fruit provided a surfeit of seeds for a new tree, or two, on our small acreage in new northern climes. So, in a way, the tree travels with us to a new home.

It may have been the first and last fruit of this tree. But really, it won’t be the last…

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Thursday, 8 February 2018

'A Malaysian Garden in Sydney'

Durian Musang King
Is it an experiment doomed to failure?

Life is full of surprises. Lots of surprises…

We have been trawling through the fruit markets of Cabramatta, Sydney’s home for many people of Vietnamese heritage - and others of Southeast Asian extraction - for some years. The many fruit stalls hold a million surprises… surprises unlikely to be found in most other shopping concourses. It is well-known throughout Sydney that, if you would like to try some tropical fruit treats, a stroll through the streets of Cabramatta, should satisfy your desire.

Even today, there are still new experiences… As Sydney’s burgeoning Asian population continues to climb, the demand for products from the ‘old’ countries increases in equal step.

Over the years, we have seen the stalls of frozen durian, usually the product of Thailand, but some more expensive fruit imported from Malaysia, also frozen. For the Better-Half, a connoisseur of the King of Fruits, the prospect of frozen durian is a damp prospect: it is durian, but it cannot compare with the fresh item, consumed in abundance by her on our annual jaunts to Malaysia.

And this was our latest Cabramatta surprise, a Christmas surprise : Malaysia’s most famous durian, the legendary Musang King lazing proudly on a portion of a local stall! Not frozen, but fresh. Absolutely fresh! Expensive by Australian fruit standards at around $30 per kilo, but here it was… The King of Kings! It sat in equal company with another Malaysian durian, D24. But, alas, D24 was frozen.

As we were to learn from the stallholder, Musang King durian is now grown in Northern Australia.

If you are a lover of durian, you can imagine the delight etched on the Better-Half’s face when we removed the prize from its newspaper and plastic wrapping. The aroma - or smell, depending on your perspective – is pervasive. This is followed by the ceremonial opening with a heavy cleaver: for her, the opening of a Musang King durian is like locating and unlocking buried treasure. Golden buried treasure.

There's a buried treasure of gold in here

Voraciously devoured and enjoyed, all that remained were the spiky shell and some seeds. Some seeds… The minds of the gardener and of the durian connoisseur began to tick over. “No, it cannot be possible… Surely…”

Well, we gave it a go. The healthy-looking seeds of the Musang King were planted in five pots and placed for protection under the shade of our banana tree. Surely, at almost 34 degrees south of the Equator, there would be little chance of our durian seeds sprouting.

And sprout they did. With constant summer heat and warm, warm nights, our durian seeds began to unfurl, first a tap root, and then a small shoot. Four signs of life from five seeds. This easy success, of course, leaves us with a problem: how to care for a plant, truly endemic to tropical rainforests. Our best guess, and our only solution, will be to keep our tender seedlings in the warmest winter window of the home.

Down goes the tap root...

And the first shoot appears... sideways!

Even this will probably not be good enough: we don’t harbour high hopes of keeping our durian seedlings alive through cold winter nights.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

As the warm weather departed, our five durian seedlings were placed under cover in a portable greenhouse, along with our other prize seedlings. Two of our five seedlings persisted, right through the cool of winter, raising our hopes that one might succeed and flourish as the weather warmed again throughout the summer. Unfortunately, our last seedling passed on during January: its root structure had been damaged by the winter cold, and, despite attentive care, it failed to hold its new growth... Experiment failed!

Thursday, 18 January 2018

'A Malaysian Garden in Sydney'

Mr AC has found a delicious place to bask in the sun
Blue Tongue Antics

We have undergone a catharsis here. She, the Better Half, no longer screams on the sight of a Blue Tongue Skink. Not even in the event of a casual, unexpected crossing of paths. And many of the Blue Tongues no longer scurry for cover… The nervous parties appear to have made a pact to ease tensions.

We have been in this home in Sydney’s west for six years now, and our extended family of Blue Tongue Skinks has become very familiar. One lives under our air-conditioning unit; another lives in the side passage among our unused plant pots and under the laundry step; and a third – a juvenile – inhabits the front yard under our many low-growing shrubs. A number of others are happy to wander in and out of our back yard under a gap in our top-side fence.

Our front yard juvenile

Of these fearless animals, the most familiar is the one who resides under our air-conditioning unit. Mr AC never hurries, simply meandering from his home to the feeding grounds at the back. He is so familiar that he allows us to approach him with offerings of juicy cherry tomatoes. Half-exposed from under the air-conditioner, he squashes the ripe red fruit with his strong jaws and swallows it down, retreating to his hideaway for a snooze, then, later, returning to mop up the fallen pulp and seeds.

Mr AC devouring his cherry tomatoes

But… as they say, familiarity breeds contempt… The rascals among them, one of whom is Mr AC, have begun to take a liking to our home.

Inside the home!

Inside the family room. Inside the laundry. Even inside the en-suite bathroom! I’m glad the Better-Half was not home for our reptilian visitations. The screaming might well have recommenced… Not at the lizards, but at me for leaving the sliding doors open!

Mr AC invades the family room

In the laundry chasing a meal of cat biscuits

Maybe there is a dead fly in the bathroom

So, what breeds such Skinkian familiarity? The answer is food. A yard full of Blue Tongue delights and a home interior with an occasional scrumptious fly dessert or two. Not to mention the cat biscuits in the laundry…

Blue Tongue Skinks are omnivorous, eating both plant and animal matter. In fact, you might be surprised at the diversity of foods which they will adventitiously consume. In our yard, they have been seen knocking off tasty long beans, cherry tomatoes, and sweet fallen papayas… anything on or within a few centimetres of the ground. One of our adventurous Blue Tongues has even been trapped in a rat cage, attempting to gobble up the peanut butter used to lure the occasional passing rat.

'Is it so difficult to get a feed of peanut butter?' This Blue Tongue Skink was released to wander under a neighbour's fence.

We are happy to have a colony of Blue Tongues. When we first moved in and began planting, our yard was a haven for snails and slugs. Hundreds of them! Within a year, we had more Blue Tongues than pests. They are a wonderful asset in any serious garden so please avoid the use of garden chemicals… and use absolutely no snail pellets. Blue Tongues can be poisoned by consuming poisoned snails.

Blue Tongues are not in all parts of Sydney, but if they are known in your area, you can attract them by creating a Blue-Tongue-friendly garden. They love places where they can hide or shelter, so your garden should comprise rocks, mulch, low shrubs and a food supply… even an A-C unit.

Blue Tongue Lizards love gardens with lots of hiding places... the back garden

We are so fortunate to have these large and beautiful lizards within our domain.

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

Tomato thief