Hoya in Bloom

Just as I am about to do some serious fixing up on the dark verandah, I have this glorious starburst of Hoya flowers. I had just returned home with some shade fabric for this project, put it down and glanced up to see these backlit wax flowers almost as if they are sugar coated.

A huge windstorm blew down the bamboo arbour which shaded this area. The bamboo was already on its last legs, some decayed and cracked which meant the whole thing needed to be replaced. This of course stalled forever mainly because the hardware store I get the bamboo from is not so convenient to get to and procrastination because it requires substantial effort.

On a recent trip to a nursery, I saw that they had bamboo which they used themselves for supporting plants and were willing to sell me some. It's a more suitable type than the ones I've been using which I buy wrapped in plastic intended for use as drying poles for laundry. This type is from China, treated for use specifically in agricultural situations and requires a prohibitively large minimum purchase.  I was with a friend of the nursery owner which secured the deal. I have gone a step further and varnished the poles - lets see how much longer they last this time.

After the storm, I had to move all the hanging plants I had over to one side where there was still a little shade, and even there, there is substantially more light than they were exposed to previously. I lost a couple of the ferns and perhaps an orchid or two. I'm not sure if it is the increased  light or the bunching of plants that has triggered this Hoya to flower, but I will now of course have to see what I can do to maintain these favourable conditions.

The arrival of flowers has also enabled a hunt of discovery for species kdentification, like most plants I buy this was unmarked or named. The leaves are sizeable with some flecksm so its quite likely that is it is  Hoya sp. Ban Ngong Ngoy a species from Thailand that has carnosa like leaves and pubicalyx like blooms. I have had this plant for about 4 years now which has remained mysterious, hardly changing in size. I've just been happy that it has continued to be alive

The foliage to the the left and right are Lycopodiums which deserve a post of their own at a later date.

Cracking Tropical Garden Design

The recent Singapore Garden Festival was really terrific. Every year its goals of engaging community and showcasing creativity around the subject of plants and gardening are resoundingly achieved in an ever increasing space- it was double the size of an earlier manifestation. This year might have been a vintage one with many ideas to take home and mull over, and some local pride in having the best in show category taken by fellow Malaysian Inch Lim. 

But this post is about the most inspirational one for me - the landscape garden titled Silence that took the silver medal and designed by last year's best in show winners Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam.

It was an ambitious design, a concrete spiral that you climbed up into a walled circular space with a serene urban vibe, sophisticated in its use of colour: concrete, black marble, black and green foliage with some shots of orange .

I also like that it was clearly tropical but had a modern spare feel - not the dense lushness you usually associate with tropical gardens. There was also a sense of urban space but casual and relaxed.

The high concrete walls also echoed the realities of living in a tropical city - concrete is a familiar sight and an increasing need to secure privacy in an increasingly crowded space. The design solution offered a a tasteful modern approach with its palette and materials but the real genius was its inclusion of some cracks in the concrete that were then artfully planted.

I thought this genius because it introduced an idea of wildness in a light and subtle way. Here in the tropics, urban wildness is usually overwhelming as things get overgrown in an instant. The nature you see in the cracks of building and pavements explodes rapidly into sinewy ariel roots and weeds a few foot tall.

Here instead low ground hugging plants like Elephantopus Scaber, a woodlant plant I'm more likely to find on a forest floor on a hike create interesting textures with creeping sedums and tufted grasses. Often on my walks I notice patches of  these many low growing plants that I will now make a more concerted study of because this has now inspired me to do something about the real cracks that I have in the concrete patio of the Gravel Garden.

Thats what these shows are about beautiful intriguing designs that also suggest ways to deal with a problem. I've been staring at these cracks for the best of the last five years wondering if I want to go to the expense of repairing them or does the regular weeding/cutting maintenance suffice. I've also been strategically moving pots over the worst parts. Now something different is about to happen here- I will keep you posted.

Dots of Red

The Gravel Garden is where I nurtured this idea, based on observation of some plants that do extremely well here - Sanseverias, Rhoeo discolor, which looked to me like broad abstract brush strokes. By the time it found realization in my own garden, it took on more of a dusty white palette. That started when I found the, dusty grey green sanseveria, the white edged agave and white euophorbia Lactea pictured here and things seemed to be telling a story in that direction. Orange was the only color that seemed to really want to belong here as well as these dots of red color.

Since form was important here, its seemed only right that even color should have a more precise one. The potted Acerola or Barbados Cherry Malpighia Emarginata  tree was what suggested that. It was orginally in the Tropical Potager, since its more a food type plant, but the red cherries seem to want to belong here. So it got dragged here where it has remained and thrived. It has done astonishingly well as a small potted tree and has had only one upgrade in the last four years to a larger pot. It deals with watering neglect like a champ and bounces right back after a hard prune.

I was originally attracted to it at the nursery by its whitish branches and pink flowers. I couldn't help thinking its dainty leaves and flowers were the opposite of lush large tropical ones we more commonly see here, giving it a personality set apart. Then it set fruit, which it does quite regularly, sour with a large stone - not quite a match with its lush red looks. It does however pack a gigantic serving of vitamin C - a whole day's worth in one single fruit.  So some get squeezed into glasses of cold water or I use it in salad dressing or even in cooking if I want a sour element.

I kept the logic of small leaves and little red fruits going with Limeberry Triphasia Trifolia - see top margin of RHS photo. Also in a pot but not quite the same happy camper as the Acerola - it often yellows and drops leaves when not watered adequately or requires manuring. It does have a lovely arching habit though. The real star of that photo however is the small red flowered Euphorbia Geroldii related to Euphorbia Millii which I also have.

Although both the Limeberry and Acerola quite regularly provide these little red dots of color, the Euphorbia Geroldii, a new addition to the garden - is almost always in flower. Underplanted with a lime green sedum, it really has become an eye catcher. On top of that its thornless. Pretty as the Euphorbia Millii is, you can't help but notice its huge thorns and I have to admit I haven't quite got the hang of its watering/potting needs as I've lost a few already. This guy however has been going strong and I've started some cuttings of it too.

Dark Cordylines

Over in the Tropical Potager I have started to use cordylines as flowerless colour accents and here in the Dark Verandah, they are similarly an important resource for dark chocolate tones that come in a variety of shapes and textures.

Pictured right is Cordyline Fruticosa 'Earthquake' purchased unlabeled at a nursery but relatively easy to identify because of its unusual twisted foliage. It has never looked this good in its previous two locations where it sulked and had most of its leaves eaten. Here in a much sunnier position its starting to come into its own, its dark sculptural shape standing out against its neighbours.

On the left, most probably Cordyline Fruticosa 'Compacta', identifiable by its much smaller compact leaves is a freebie from a nearby abandoned house where a huge shrub is spilling over onto the sidewalk. Cordylines have a wonderful ability to be easily propagated by simply cutting a branch and sticking it into the ground. Without the slightest complaint, it takes it from there and before very long is rooted and part of the colony. It can flop when it get taller, so Ive been cutting and re starting them to get a clump thats full but shorter. Quite often they end up in a vase in the house as they are almost like chocolate flowers with the lower leaves trimmed off.

Not so easy to propagate is my Cordyline Fruticosa Black Magic -see how dark it is here when I first got it. Now it is quite magnificent, almost like a small palm in the center of this picture. It hasn't sent up any other branches to propagate though, so it's charms remain solo. Thankfully it doesn't seem to need much, and remains healthy in a relatively small pot.

Despite the extraordinary choice of shape and color available with this plant genus that I've drooled over on the International Cordyline Society's website, the recurring problem here is availability. Nurseries generally stock popular varieties - typically the green and pink ones. Flower shows in Singapore tend to be a good source for more unusual choices, I need to be on the lookout at the next one for more of this superb choice for the tropical garden.

Wild Indigo

Me and Indigo go way back. Check out the trail of posts that started with one about False Indigo. Today another chapter opens with Wild Indigo, Baptisia Tinctoria which I encountered for the first time, quite appropriately, growing wild.

We don't really see a lot of wildflowers here mainly because of the enormous rate of growth that happens. A patch of disturbed land might first have some grasses and wild flowers but then quite quickly yield shrubs and trees rapidly wiping out whatever preceded it. So wildflowers have oddly become the preserve of built  up urban wasteland, in particular abandoned properties especially if they have been torn down and there is rubble. Rubble ensures the poor thin soils that allow them to grow but not anything else more deep rooted.

Here in these urban sandy, stony pockets I have come across the usual suspects: Ironweed, Cyanthillium Cinereum, Celosia Argentea and this yellow flowered Wild Indigo - image on the left. The fact that it looked somewhat like my old friend, except with yellow flowers, made it easy to identify and I would occasionally stop to grab some seedpods to plant at home. I never got round to planting them but one day on a walk in the neighbourhood, I saw a few of them on a patch of abandoned land. I pulled a couple up by the roots and planted them straight into the garden when I got home. The image on the right is those plants, substantially taller than most of the specimens I've seen growing wild.

It apparently yields an indigo dye although inferior to other plants which makes me wonder what this North American native is doing here if not planted before for that purpose, most likely a garden escapee. I did see it once in a friends garden and asked some time later if she had seeds for it but she said the plant had disappeared. Perhaps thats what's in store for these guys in terms of longevity, but at least I know that there is abundant supply of it around the city.

Native Greens

It's an unusually cool morning here, dipping below 80 degrees F.  After a light drizzle, I head out into the garden with my camera to see whats going on. The Dark Verandah is always a good spot after rain which seems to enhance its lush cool vibe, perhaps because of the much higher percentage of foliage. Thats where I found these recent additions as the subject for today's post about two green foliage plants.

On the left Hemigraphis Repanda is what it says on the invoice. Let me say first of all that to even have that information is notable. I bought the plant at a nursey in Yong Peng about an hours drive away but so worth it for that very reason - they name their plants on the invoice and they also have a couple of people there that are really knowledgeable.

I actually bought a similarly named Hemigraphis Repanda from them a while ago which compares exactly to the images you would find if you google the name to find a distinguishing trait of purple coloring to the underside of the leaves. The leaves of this plant are minus that, completely green and smaller and much finer. It must be some variation of it.

The plant I purchased earlier has since died, quite probably because this area was much less shaded than it is now. This plant on the other hand is thriving. Its doing well enough for me to have divided it into 2 other pots and even give a small pot of it away as a gift. Its dense bushy, grassy features looks superb tumbling over the edge of a pot.

On the right is Osmoxylon Lineare. Unlike the Hemigraphis above which is rare to find, this plant from the Aralia family is a very common planting especially in public spaces. It's new to this verandah area but not new to the garden as I had it over in the Tropical Potager when I first got it quite a few months ago. Its in a pot and seems to get quite easily stressed when dry, so the spot I had it in which is sunny and more likely to be subject to neglect from lack of watering wasn't a good fit. Here, it enjoys the cooler shade and being right near my front door, I can immediately spot it's drooping leaves if  we've had a dry spell.

Both plants are native to Malaysia which is one of the themes here on the verandah and the challenge of maintaining that theme is pretty much described above: hard to identify plants to establish that they are native or they are so commonplace that I wonder if I really want to have them here. The latter issue arises because of the huge of amounts of public planting, particularly on newly minted property development that just slaps down the same old plants everywhere. The lady palm, Rhapis excelsa, is another plant with this problem which I also have here but in context, they both add to a story of variety in shape and shades of foliage that I'm trying to achieve.

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