Tropical Chocolate

Its amazing how a few small changes can substantially change the look of a garden. A few new acquisitions for the Dark Verandah have done exactly that. Last saturday on my usual hunt at the farmers market, I found not one but two chocolate colored coleus. Week after week this one vendor would have coleus but always in brighter colors of reds and pinks, then this week he had these two - a ruffled chocolate edge one and one with chocolate splashes.

Having had some experience now with the shifting personalites of Coleus I'm going to keep these two in pots and in heavier shade. I've found that shade keeps the lime colors greener (they seem to get more yellow in sun) and the chocolate, darker (they get redder in sun).  Keeping them in pots will allow me to move them around to where they keep the color values I like best. I must also propagate frequently as they wax and wane quite dramatically left to their own devices.

Yesterday on a visit to an orchid farm, I found a couple of pots of the black cordyline pictured above left. I think its Cordyline Fruticosa Black Magic, and what I really like about it is that it does not have red or pink tones that I frequently see in Cordylines for sale here. This one is largely black with some green. The nursery owner was reluctant to sell it, but thankfully I convinced him to part with one of those two plants.

I've had the Christia Obcordata for while, with its pretty chocolate striped leaves that look like butterfly wings. I'd been keeping it in the shade thinking that's what it liked. Although it continued to grow, it remained spindly until a few weeks ago I moved the pot into the bed where its a little shaded by a neighbouring plant but does get some sunshine. It quite literally transformed, doubling its size and becoming an important feature with its unusual coloring shape and pattern.

So a nice boost to my chocolate palette and a little further along the learning curve on how to manage this palette better by playing musical chairs, moving these potted beauties around. 

Riverine Wilderness

A while ago, I visited Tanjung Piai, a listed Ramsar site, ie a wetland of international importance. To be honest, it was depressing. Poorly maintained, you could see from the boardwalks, garbage tangled in the mangrove roots. There was a stench that distracted from the beauty of the surrounding flora and as soon as you reached the coast edge, the horizon had a line of tankers en route to nearby Singapore and beyond. The fluctuations in tidal waves they create erode the shrinking coast, their illegal dumping of toxic sludge poison it further. It was hard to connect with this wilderness without being horrified at the obvious threat that it was facing.

Recently I visited another wetland closer to the city at Kampung Sungai Temon where there is a community of indigenous people called Orang Seletar. Instead of a boardwalk, we went in small boats that they skilfully navigated in and out of the forest. The experience here was quite different. The environment seemed healthy. There was no stench, the water clean, crabs scuttled all over the trunks of trees and the rich diversity of this particular wilderness came alive.

Besides the tangled roots that are iconic of these forest there were also stands of trees that just looked like a forest in a flood or submerged at high tide. Occasionally there would be sightings of rattan palms, a mangrove in bloom or a fruit that the Orang Seletar would tell us was edible or used for medicine. They showed us where they caught shrimp and fish, their trained eyes picked out birds and monkeys that they thought would interest us. This was really different. The longer we were there the more the environment became familiar and we understood the deep bond this community of indigenous people have with it.

When we headed back for lunch at the village, I talked with our guide, the son of the village penghulu or leader. He described how their catch was shrinking, how some species of flora were disappearing or harder to find. Their traditional livelihood of subsistence now requires supplementatiom with work in nearby urban factories or as guides for visitors like us. They own one of the two restaurants in the village that draws the city folk to enjoy fresh caught seafood in a rustic setting. All this was fine they said but they were visibly upset that they were under threat of being relocated.

The area is not gazetted and targeted for development. The community is fighting their eviction orders which you can see stresses them. They just want to be left alone to carry on the way of life they have always enjoyed just as the environment that sustains them wants the same.  It is sad to think that this beautiful riverine wilderness, is something that I have only recently become acquainted with and will shortly mourn its loss.


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