Flowerless Color

In this front section of a border in the tropical potager, I've tried getting color accents with a few different kinds of flowering plants: Portulacas, Marigolds and Zinnias but with little success. My lassez faire gardening style just isn't up to their watering or feeding needs apparently and I continue to lose them time and time again. So, in its current permutation I'm trying a flower free color palette.

What has been a constant is the base combination of a lacy, mainly yellow (with green and pink) Coleus mixed with a pink and bronze Alternanthera ficoidea. They have woven together into a warm colored carpet of sorts and have indicated that they are content to be here.

I bought both the Aglaonema and the pink edge Cordyline from the plant section in the supermarket, not usually the most inspiring of places but both had this interesting color combination of pinks and greens. They both ended up filling in some spaces in other parts of the garden until I had this idea that they should instead play more leading roles here. The effect is more subtle than flowers but there's an interesting enough play on the colors being from a similar palette and a contrast of foliage forms.

The Cordyline in particular is a plant I need to look a little deeper into. Its reliability as a native of this region is a prime asset but the range of colors and leaf forms are yet another. The drawback is that there is not a lot of choice at the nurseries and supermarkets so I'll have to look a little further afield.

The Aglaonema, I'll confess says office plant to me - you see them everywhere in corporate lobbies and I presume for similar reasons, easy maintenance and they offer some color variations.  Lets see if they do well enough here to get me a little more excited about them.

Right at the middle bottom of the picture is Rivina humilis, which has only just started to provide the true reason its chosen to be there - its red berries. Currently its delicate foliage and floppy habit with small white flowers provides some delicate contrast but I wait for it to get a little more established and for it berries to provide some sharp color here.

On the right Persicaria capitata has been somewhat of a thug, in fact it owned  pretty much all of this space at one time before I started hacking away at it to make room for other plants. It does however have some redeeming features: interesting marking on the leaves, the stem color has a reddish tone but best of all, when it gets a little stressed or aged it takes on burnt autumnal hues -which is when I like to cut it back, using the foliage indoors in a vase.

It does however need regular controlling as it imposes itself well beyond the space its been alloted. It has some medicinal qualities and is edible so I do occasionally add a few leaves into a salad - it has a sharp sour taste and is a little fibrous so needs slicing up.

One last color element - green moss. For some reason the brick here is thick with moss which adds yet another color value between the yellows and greens that really works. And when it all really 'works' is in the morning when the sun is behind, backlighting this section.

Thriving in Adversity

Its the dry season here and on cue the drained peatlands of Indonesia have become tinderboxes culminating in the annual event of Haze that chokes this region. The first time I experienced this was shocking, to actually 'suffer' an oppressive climatic issue that you have no control over. This time, while it is still ongoing, it has not been quite as severe although much time has been spent indoors with windows and doors shut. One reason might be that we have continued to have some rain on and off to soften the blow.

Despite this, plants in the Gravel Garden continue to thrive. Just today I took this image of the Sanseveria Cylindrica's impressive flower stalk. The Natal Plum, Carissa Macrocarpa to the far right, continues to get bushier, spilling over the wall with flowers at the end of its trail. Further along the border, the variegated Agave Americana has sent up a huge flower spike through the variegated Pandanus Tectorius which is perhaps not so good news as it does indicate the approach of its own demise. On the other hand, not a bad thing perhaps as the Pandanus has begun to oppress it  by putting it in substantial shadow. Top right, the white edged Agave Angustifolia Marginata keeps on keeping on, I've harvested two suckers from it, so now it is three. In the middle of the picture, in case you're wondering, there is a bleached driftwood next to the gray thorny trunk of a lime tree.

None of theses plants are native to this region, apart from the Pandanus, but are doing extraordinarily well here in this garden with little to no fuss. I don't have to worry unless it doesn't rain for more than a week. Its unusual if it doesn't rain after four or five days here - but there have been instances where its been dry for over a week and last year there was an unusual drought that lasted almost 2 months. This is actually very, very different from the climate I experienced as a child living here where, the normal occurrence would be for the equatorial convectional heat to reliably produce a short shower almost every day with the occasional day without rain.

I attended an interesting symposium in Singapore about Biophilia the other day where there was a conversation about natives and it was remarked how much better non natives performed in the much drier climate that we are experiencing. Not forgetting also that urban environments in the tropics are also quite different in the amount of raw exposure we have to overhead sun as well as heat energy bouncing off  acres of concrete. Its a reality to take into account when climate change, adverse climate events and the built environment create radically different circumstances for you when you are tending a garden. In contrast- the Dark Verandah on the other side of the house with its largely native plants continues to require a lot of fussing, and daily watering.

Many of these dry loving plants though have had a long history here, usually inhabiting pots on the porch most probably because of their tolerance for neglect. Some like the Carissa have been adopted by the Chinese community as symbolic 'money plants' their evergreen resilient waxy leaves manifesting 'ong' which loosely translates to 'luck'. Agaves are often found in gardens decorated with eggshells on the end of its points. Its probably just a decorative thing although from a Feng Shui perspectives these eggshells serve to blunt the pointy 'poison arrow' effects. My Gravel Garden however looks different to local friends and visitors, even though many of the plants are known to them, because I've curated them in this stony dry landscape more reminiscent of California gardens than the lush tropical aesthetics they are used to.

Thriving in adversity may well become the future expectancy of our garden plants with the onset of more climatic and urban change. The 'foreign ness' of non natives may be less significant than their ability to adapt into local cultures and environments. This was an interesting point that the academics at the symposium were riffing on - as we inevitably create new urban landscapes, that have merit for being more densely efficient, we need to develop new strategies to not only cope but to innovate and create new regenerative landscapes that thrive.

Scent of Orchids

I occasionally sit out here in the mornings with a cup of coffee. This chair is just round the corner from my front door. Early in the morning with the sounds of birds and sometimes even a light mist, its quite magical. A little later and the sun will have already have taken on a force only known here in the equatorial tropics, but this spot remains an oasis throughout the day.

The nearest durian tree has already sent a branch overhead, then a bamboo fence and lush border wraps the entire area. Overhead I've fashioned a bamboo arbour from which I hang branches covered in epiphytic ferns and orchids. I've also started lifting the pots onto a  base of cinderblocks - I want whatever's at the bottom growing upwards to start weaving into whatever's on top growing downwards. The sum effect is that of a thick but loosely woven botanic shawl that creates shade and even seems to chill the air a degree or two on this dark verandah- something you can feel the minute you step into it.

A few mornings ago, besides the cool dappled shade there was something else, a fragrance, powerful like something in a bottle. A quick search yielded a broken raceme of the Aerides Odorata pictured left. Broken, perhaps because I had picked it up off the floor recently - it happens, the wood rots and when I move things round, tragedies happen - and moved it to another spot. Perhaps, a spot it likes a lot more hence persuading it to flower.

A flowering orchid is no mean feat here as I continue to fine tune this area to create more of a microclimate that can withstand my often neglectful care of these delicate creatures, not to mention a knowledge gap of orchid needs. I have just about turned a corner on keeping them mainly alive, some are starting to look quite healthy and now this, the holy grail, flowering. Often I buy them in flower and once done, never see it again. This particular orchid was a gift, which was not flowering at the time of receipt so this is a particularly momentous event.

Its name, Aerides Odorata is one of precise botanical accuracy describing both its 'airy' epihytic nature and its odorous personality. Its found widely through south east asia, the flowers are waxy and almost translucent looking.  Often with wild orchids, you have to go up close to catch the delicate fragrance but the scent of this orchid is really quite something. Scent of course is already somewhat unusual as most orchids in gardens here are varieties appreciated more their colorful appearance and devoid of scent.

Oddly enough when I first moved in here, there were a lot of things in boxes in the store room since the sixties or seventies and one of those boxes was full of a soap that was popular here with an 'orchid' scent and a picture of an orchid on its wrapper. Too perfumey for me so I gave them away - but that heavy floral scent, is what this orchid does smell like.

With all the tragedies I've had with orchids, I've had somewhat of a moratorium on their purchase since they are somewhat more expensive but I might have to lift that going forward with this little breakthrough. I'm drawn to wild orchids because of all the fascinating variations of  their leaf and root forms and sometimes the added possibility of the flowers being in that palette I love- greens and dark colors but this scent thing has added yet another intriguing dimension.

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