Thursday, May 25, 2017

Herbs - Spice Up Your Garden

Chives and Garlic chives

Herbs play a significant role in the flavor structure of a given dish.  The world, although geographically separated, are defined by the culinary flavors as determined by the indigenous herbs on top of the food available in the land.    Modern technology has allowed plants to  cross geographical borders and to be cultivated far from their places of origin but the different cultures have long been steeped in the herbs that they had from time immemorial.   For example, garlic chives and garlic with fish sauce and vinegar says Philippines;  the combination of mint and oregano with Feta say Greece; curry (a mixture of many herbs and spices) and coconut and some spicy peppers say Thailand; Wasabe on soy sauce and seaweed say Japan - just to name a few.  That is reason that sometimes the addition of a specific herb to your dish at home brings back memories of a place that you once visited.

However the reason I'm writing this article is to remind home gardeners that herbs should be part of every garden.

French Tarragon

Herb Garden..  Herbs are better when they are fresh when their aroma has not left them yet.  That is why some grocery stores now carry live herbs that you can grow in your kitchen.  But believe me, they don't do well in the kitchen unless you they get at least four hours of sun in there.  The best solution to having a good and prolonged supply of herbs is to have an herb garden - even if it is done in a container.    It does not have to be sophisticated; a good-sized container and some potting soil and some hours of direct sunlight.

Italian Basil

Choose Herbs That You Like.  There is nothing more useless than planting herbs that you do not use.  Well, I take that back because if you don't use them they will flower and attract bees - which is a good thing.  But if you grow herbs for culinary purposes then you better plan on the ones you like on your food and actually use.  Keep using them to encourage new growth.  Clip off the flowers to keep them going for a while.  And for annuals you might want to plant a second batch.  

Since most annual as well as perennial herds produce mostly in the warmer months, it is a good idea to preserve some of your harvest.  The Internet provides a vast information on how to preserve the different herbs.  As for my family, we like to make basil pesto in the summer - then freeze them.  We seem to always have frozen pesto in the freezer ready for use in various dishes.  This year, because we planted a lot of cilantro, we might have enough to make cilantro pesto. 

Near the Kitchen.  There is a great benefit in growing herbs in places where they are visible from your kitchen.   Sometimes we pull out the drawer in the fridge to check what herbs we have but won't it be nice to look out the window to see which herb you can use for your dish?  When we can see them from the kitchen window we get reminded to harvest them and sometimes to water them - especially during the hot summer days. 

Cilantro (Coriander)

Every home should have a functional herb garden, I think.  

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Eden Rose (2017)

Rosa 'Eden': Beautiful romantic rose.

The glorious time for Eden rose has come to my garden once more.  It is blooming!  It is a beautiful romantic rose.  However, the subtlety in its color and fragrance is offset by its exuberant growth habit and the extravagant inflorescence.  The flowers are composed of thick piles of overlapping  petals - making them so heavy that makes them always in a drooping position.  It is a good thing that this rose is a climbing type because it is better to appreciate the flowers from below.  

Rosa Eden: Exuberant growth habit and extravagant inflorescence.

Owing to the season of abundant precipitation we had after a long drought, all my plants are generally performing good this year.  However, good things seem to come with some challenges.  In the case of this rose, I had to prop the canes temporarily to prevent them from breaking due to the heavy weight of the flowers.  

Clematis 'Niobi rambles on Eden rose.

One of the things I have done  in the past years is to plant clematis among my climbing roses.  In the pictures, you can see Clematis 'Niobi' rambling among the roses.  I found this to be good especially with roses that bloom heavily in the spring and sparingly afterwards and those that are prone to diseases that cause some defoliation.  The clematis provides the necessary color and interest during the ugly period of the roses.  Yes, I always say that roses are beautiful when they are not ugly.  And I am always in the business of trying to mitigate this problem of ugliness on the plant that is supposed to be a bearer of the symbol of beauty.

Roses are beautiful...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Banksia integrifolia

Botanical Name:  Banksia integrifolia
Common Name:  Coastal Banksia
Family:  Proteaceae
Country of Origin:  Possibly Eastern Australia
Named after Sir Joseph Banks

This picture was taken at the UC Davis Arboretum.   The flowers were very striking and hard to miss. I noticed at least two specimens of Banksia during our recent visit there but I am not sure what varieties they are.  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Wildlife Refuge

Hummingbirds eat nectar and small insects.  

"If you feed them they'll come..."  That is true to most of nature.  Living things can sense the direction of the source of good things and tend to gravitate towards it.  Life was designed that way for survival.  In the case of plants, their roots grow toward moist areas and the leaves towards the light.  If plants that seem so immobile can get to the food how much more to those that are equipped with wings and legs?  

Yes, I'm referring to the birds and other small mammals that now seem to reside in our garden because we have been regularly giving them food.  In return they give us entertainment and they help with pest control by eating aphids, larvae, slugs and snails that have found their way to my garden.    

There are so many wild doves in the area but we got our resident ones.

All of these birds can be attracted to a garden depending on the plants growing around.  However, in the absence of plants they can be lured by providing them feeds and water.  During summer time, water is as important as the feed in attracting them to the garden.  

He's cute but he scares the birds from the feeders.

The other thing that make a garden bird-friendly is the presence of bushes that provide shelter and cover from predator.  In our garden, the boxwood hedges provide just that to the finches when the hawk tries to get to them.

Broken saucers can still serve as a feeder.

Old breads are not wasted.  

When the quails are around, they bring down the snail population.

If you want to make your garden more interesting this season, try attracting more birds into it. 

Even doves enjoy the hammock in the garden

Birds are good boarders, they pay their fees in terms of entertainment and pest control.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dehiscent Fruits

Fig. 1   Arbus precatorius seedpods in watercolor.
 It is a plant that grows as a weed in the coastal areas of my hometown in the Philippines.
And for the sake of nostalgia, I decided to draw it based on a picture I saw on the internet.

One the subjects I have enjoyed painting recently have been some dehiscent fruits.  These are the fruits that split-open at maturity to reveal or release the seeds in them.  Dehiscence is nature's seed dispersal mechanism.

Sometimes as gardeners we seem to be focused on the flowers especially on ornamental plants such as the Fortnight Lily (Dietes iridioides).  However as a plant scientist, I seem to be more fascinated by the inherent ultimate purpose of the plant which is reproduction.  Flowers are mainly there to facilitate the seed production.  It is for this very reason that the petalss are not very lasting - they fade right after pollination.  The fruits which contain the seeds are the true star of the whole show.

Fig. 2  Dietes iridiodes seedpods in watercolor.
Commonly known as Fortnight Lily, it is a popular choice for the local landscapes because of its heat and drought tolerance. It has beautiful white flowers that bloom in waves from spring to fall.  After the petals fade away, prominent green seedpods take the place of the flowers.  However, during this time of year blackish-gray cracked seedpods hover over the evergreen leaves.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Colorful Flapjacks

Older leaves turning yellow while the flower stalk remaining bluish gray.

Kalanchoe luciae 'Flapjacks' are very interesting succulents because of their flat leaves with colors that seem to change with the seasons.  I noticed that during seasons when the plants undergo stress, such as heat, drought and cold, the leaves tend to carry a warmer yellowish color starting from the older leaves.  In the spring and fall seasons, the red color intensifies with a hint of blue near the growing points of the plant.

'Flapjacks' make succulent specimen for containers and the garden. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Why Pomegranates Crack Open

After we had the first real rain this month, I saw that some of the fruits from the pomegranate tree cracked.  The plan was to keep them on the tree till December so that we will have an abundance of red color in the kitchen.  But I guess we'll just have to eat some of them sooner.  :)

Why do pomegranates crack or split?
1.  Sudden increase of available moisture at maturity.  When the fruits are mature and a sudden increase of available soil moisture occurs, as in the case of rain, some of the fruits responds by splitting.

2.  Inconsistent watering.  Sometimes fruits split when watering is inconsistent.  When the plants undergo incipient wilting prior to watering, the fruits tend to split.  This phenomenon can also be observed in other crops like tomatoes during the summer after a spell of hot weather and plants are given more water to compensate for the wilting.

3.  Some varieties are more susceptible to splitting than some.  Although I would say that genetic attributes of a plant fail to deliver when cultural management are not up to par.  This pomegranate in the picture is 'Wonderful', known to be resistant to cracking.  But because it is growing in a container, the soil is often on the side of dry.  While the tree can survive on less water, the sudden rise in available water triggers extreme physiological changes defying that which genetics was meant to accomplish.

When the pomegranate fruits crack open, it must be time to eat them.  :)
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