Throwback Pink

It's that time of year again, when Pantone announces it's color of the year- this time its Honeysuckle 18-2120 a dynamic reddish pink. Pantone go on to describe it as a captivating, stimulating color that gets the adrenaline going....... with a powerful bond to its mother color red, the most physical, viscerally alive hue in the spectrum.

The blurb didn't articulate what my immediate thought was on seeing the color- old fashioned, but in a good way. This is right on trend with the ever increasing nods back to a less complicated analog era, from  throwback soul music to the runway and of course that TV show has contributed much to this.

It's certainly an old fashioned garden color after the recently popular schemes of black, and monochromatic shades of green. Pink doesn't really need unusual foliage colors for it to work well with- it goes well with the most basic and prevalent of garden colors- green. This pink however is not a pastel, it's further along the spectrum towards red so would jive well with yellows and oranges of a similar hue. Think 1950's floral dress.

Besides simplicity, the color is also more universal- it may be called Honeysuckle but the color translates to many other types of blooms. Here in the tropics a pink hibiscus has the same color read as the Rosa Carefree Delight I photographed at the Brooklyn Botanical Rose Garden. Others that come immediately to mind- pink Hyssop, Cosmos, Tulips and Sweet Peas.

Perhaps, next years summer garden should be less about the austere vegetable garden and a little bit more about the garden party- fueled by a much sweeter, goodness knows, honeysuckle rose.

Perfume Trees

Sarina's Kitchen, a restaurant in nearby Mersing has a terrific aspect. The dining terrace, it's architecture and decor inspired by owner Mariam's vacations in Bali, takes full advantage of this with a stunning view of her property full of mature trees as it slopes away to the sea in the distance. Mariam pointed out a Nutmeg tree and then a Bunga Chempaka or Michelia Champaca tree. It was surprising to make that shift in perception from something you know only as something dried, ground, extracted, processed, and generally found in a bottle to something real, alive and whole.

I can't exactly recall if the flower was pale yellow which could mean it is a Michelia Champaca Rajiana or as the photo on the left seems to imply that it was white- in which case it would be Michelia Champaca Alba. Sensing my interest, she points out another large shrub- Bunga Kenanga or Cananga Odorata or Ylang Ylang pictured on the right. The blooms share a similar delicate spidery look.

Michelia Champaca is used in the renowned perfume Joy by Jean Patou. That single blossom in the pic that Mariam very kindly picked to show me scented our journey back home- it was amazing how powerful the scent was in the closed confines of a car. Although floral and perfumey it had an exquisite fragrance, one I would love to be able enjoy more regularly- I'm definitely on  the lookout to own one of my own. The Ylang Ylang, on the other hand, not so much, it was strong and cloyingly sweet. Chandler Burr the NYtimes scent critic describes it as having almost a kerosene quality. It is however a popular component in many perfumes, most notably Chanel No 5.

Despite the fact that these trees are native to the region, sadly, to find them in a garden is rare. One reason is that fruit trees trump them, space is more likely to be accorded to a tree that can provide Mangoes or Jackfruit. Or, garden design here tends to routinely follows two paths- a 'chinese type' garden where there will typically be small ornamental trees like plumerias or pomegranates or a 'modern tropical' idiom of tropical foliage so its usually large palms and assorted 'bulk' foliage trees.

An unusual reason, as Mariam, explained is superstition- perfume trees are thought to attract spirits and unwelcome otherwordly creatures so they tend to be avoided. Eschewing all this, she enjoys  as you can imagine the South China Sea air blended with these natural perfumes wafting in through the windows of her home. Her garden had many other delightful things which I must go back to investigate again - a couple of noteworthy ones- ceramic pots full of Centella Asiatica that she collected from the wilder parts of her property and a large posse of free ranging chickens some of whom were napping in the orchid pots.

I am keen to discover more of these fragrant floral and spice trees to see what they look like, what they smell like in reality as opposed to something in a bottle. There's a garden in Penang called Tropical Spice Garden and there's a Herb and Spice garden in Singapore on Sentosa Island  that I must visit but otherwise the theme of perfume and spice gardens is surprisingly absent from most of the local botanical gardens despite its strong historical significance.

Botanical Remedies for Cold and Flu

Last year, this article Don't Use Echinacea for This Season's Flu by herbalist Karen Vaughan intrigued me. This was mainly because she clarified a difference between immunomodulators which do not hype up your immune system and immune stimulants, like Echinacea that do. This year, this article in the NYTimes How not to fight colds, referred to studies made over the last couple of decades to conclude that it is not the virus that causes cold symptoms - it is the host's inflammatory response. 

This goes against the logic of the plethora of alternative remedies out there that 'strengthen' the immune system but the language is confusing. What we want to happen is for our immune system to not overreact but to remain on even keel to function effectively. What we want is immunomodulation. We want to 'strengthen' but not stimulate. For that Karen recommends, among other things, Reishi and Astragulus.

How to Treat Colds and Flu with Herbal Medicine she also recommends Miso soup with scallions before symptoms become pronounced, and Lemon Balm in a paste with honey but if you are actually coming down with something then there are some alternative strategies. If you are feeling more chilled than feverish you need warming diaphoretic herbs. This would include garlic, ginger, onion or galangal. In the early stages fresh ginger tea or eating sushi ginger in quantity can be helpful. If you are colder, then dry ginger tea, cinnamon chai (without milk or soy), garlic or a strong onion soup. Personally, I favor good old chicken soup with the addition of ginger, garlic, scallions and Shitaake mushrooms as regular cold season fare. I find that one of the first symptoms I usually get is a lack of appetitie and queasiness- so ginger and pepermint in tea is also in rotation.

recently mentioned discovering Andrographis Paniculata. On a recent trip to Singapore, I found a store with a full department of Chinese medicine. Apart from a counter where there were herbalists taking and preparing orders, there were shelves packed with over the counter remedies. The cold and flu section was well represented with boxes of this herb in capsules. Here's a list of  studies about this herb from the American Botanical Councils's herbal Library. Impressed by this, we now have two large pots of this herb in the garden- see pic above- it's just about to flower. If you were to try growing this, the time to harvest the leaves is just after they flower, so that you have supplies for the cold season.

Ginger Path

My visit to the Ginger Garden at the Singapore Botanic Garden was mind expanding. Where do I start - perhaps with the stuff that I just didn't know before - Gingers as we generally know them are  Zingiberacea, rhizomatous flowering herbs, but they are part of a much larger family - Zingiberales which includes Zingiberacea, Bananas, Heliconias, Cannas and Prayer Plants. It was surprising learning this but knowing this now and seeing them together in one place- there is a kind of visual order in the leaf and flower shapes that links them all. The range of shapes and color of the blooms and leaves and the variety of heights that the plants in this family make up on the other hand is - huge. This diversity and commonality as you can imagine makes for a fantastic idea for a garden. That's just aesthetically or botanically.

As it happens Gingers are also culinarily fascinating. There's root ginger which flavors things from curries to scones to Ginger Beer and your Chai at Starbucks. Then there's the related rhizomes Lengkuas/Laos/Galangal and the lesser ginger Krachai which are prevalent in South East Asian Cuisine. There's also Turmeric, where both roots and leaves are used. More unusual is the use of the finely sliced Torch Ginger flower particularly in the regional Malacca Nyonya dishes. Who knew that Cardomoms are also in the ginger family. Then there's Bananas for desert. What a great theme for a restaurant.  Halia, the Malay name for ginger is that restaurant, and its right there in the Ginger Garden. Right about when I saw it and a variegated leaf Banana plant just outside it, my head exploded, because I love good ideas and this was a great one well executed. The significance of the banana leaf is that there were banana leaves being utilized for foliage color- from bronze to variegated- just stunning.

We have this strange potted plant at home with an unusual  spiralling habit which I think is gorgeous and have been struggling to identify. Its a ginger. A spiral ginger or costus. Next door there's a strange plant with flowers that dangle over our fence. Also a ginger - a Globba Leucantha. We also have a huge Heliconia and a few prayer plants in the side border. I could see this side border getting a little more ginger friendly if I can find some Hedychiums and Calatheas and some Kaempeferias and that beautiful torch ginger -see pic on right. The Heliconias I saw were also far more subtle  and interesting (see the variegated one on the left) than the ones seen in most gardens. The whole set of photos is here.

The information boards at the garden mention H. N. Ridley, who I have now discovered is an important botanist for the region who authored a large number of books and articles on local flora- I just added one to the vintage library- Spices. A quick scan of the body of literature he generated reiterates another botanic theme that is beginning to really fascinate - the native flora that once brought the Western World here in search of the novel, exotic and also the commercial and innovative- Ridley was influential in jumpstarting the rubber industry here. Culinary and medicinal herbs and spices, plant material for dyes, flowers for perfume, exotic woods are the reasons that once set ships a sailing to this region. Exotic, highly prized and valued. What a different 'place' this was from now where the perception is that it is where you come for cheap labor.

Ginger is said to to be an appetite enhancer, a mental clarifier and stimulant - my forays down the ginger garden paths have indeed done just that.

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