Friday, August 27, 2010

The golden years

A Golden Shower tree in full bloom. I borrowed this image from They allow use of their images as long as their copyright is included and for non-commercial use.
The Golden Shower Tree (Cassia fistula) is an ornamental tree which is a wonder to behold when in bloom. The flowers are profuse, covering almost the entire tree when in full bloom. The clusters of yellow flowers are attached to a main stem which hangs gracefully from the limbs of the tree.

This plant is a member of the Favaceae family and thus is considered a legume. Its seeds are encased in a pod just like peas and beans but unlike those of its relatives, they are not edible even though the pods look like sausages.

There are so many online literatures and blog entries about Cassia Fistula so I won't be writing much about it, otherwise I'll just repeat what others have already mentioned. I think the brief description I wrote is suffice to paint a general picture of how beautiful this tree is.

A Golden Shower 'seedling' growing near the edge of a cliff. The ground below is still part of the farm. From there one can jump at the brink to the river below it.

Another young Golden Shower tree. The visible ground beyond is not part of the farm.

Mom grew our Golden Shower Trees from seeds that she bought over a year ago. The seedlings were first grown in the nursery and transplanted to their current location before the onset of the dry season. With extra care they survived the beating brought by the extremely dry months that followed. It's a good thing this plant is a relatively fast grower. They are now over a couple of feet tall, some are already thick and bush-like in appearance.

Another young Golden Shower tree.

Because the terrain of the farm (or garden) is uneven, some of the trees were planted near the edge of a ledge or at the top of some steep slopes to help stabilize the ground and hopefully this will prevent or minimize soil erosion like the one that happened late last year. Others were scattered all over the garden in other strategic locations.

This Golden Shower tree (foreground) grows at the edge of the original garden which is adjacent to our humble abode.

I wonder when our young Cassia Fistula trees will start to bloom. Do they need to reach a certain age? Do they need to grow to a certain height first? These are some question which will be answered only when gorgeous yellow flowers begin to adorn the trees. Until then all I can do is wait. Hopefully I don't need to wait till I reach my golden years.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Feeling blue?

Well I am. In how many colors exactly do the flowers of "ginger plants" come? Let's see, there's red, white, yellow, and peach. What else? How about blue?

As its name suggests, the flowers of "Blue Ginger" is indeed blue. But as I was about to exclaim "Wow!", I found out that this plant is not really a member of the ginger family.

The Blue Ginger in our garden.

The "Blue Ginger" (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora) growth habit resembles that of a genus in the family Costaceae, which is the one related to true gingers. The leaves are arranged in a spiral formation much like those of one species of Costus. That, maybe, is the reason why it was labeled a ginger when in truth it's a member of the Commelinaceae family. It is easy to propagate this plant, stem cutting or root division works well.

These are the clusters of buds of the flowers of the Blue Ginger.

I don't remember if this plant is in my long list of 'must haves' but I am glad Mom found it. If it's not in my list then it must have been a sales pitch offer by a vendor in one of my parents' garden store trips. In any case, it doesn't really matter how it got to our garden.

The Blue Ginger, it may be blue and 'ginger' but it sure ain't ginger.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Up the garden path

With the completion of a dirt path traversing the backside of the farm and the end of the dry season, gardening on the backside officially begun a couple of months ago. Much work remains to be done, mostly plant more trees, shrubs and other ornamental plants on each side of the road and keep the dirt road free of invasive weeds and grasses bent on recovering the cleared area.

Top picture: A 180 degree curved sloping path becoming straight after it reaches the top of the curve. Bottom picture: The straight path directly after the curved path. A row of young black bamboos were planted on the right side of this path. At the end of this path the road curves again to the right.

Above are pictures of a portion of the dirt road before some landscaping were done on it. Mom and her crew are busy landscaping the area to soften the look of the scarred land. With all the clearing of grasses and weeds and prepping the area for planting, a day's work hours seem very short. The occasional drop of rain helps a lot with the other major task of watering the plants, although there are still occasional long stretches of days with no rain.

Below are pictures of what's been planted so far on this side of the dirt road.

Left: A row of "unknown" lilies , the flowers remain drooping even after the buds open. Right: Rows of yellow and white Rain lilies.

At one corner of the road, they planted a row of lilies, the name of which I do not know. Mom got the mother plants from neighbors near and far. Notice how straight the plants were lined up. Also planted were rows of Rain Lilies. When I saw how they were arranged I thought a bed of onions or chives or maybe garlic were mistakenly planted there. From time to time I need to remind Mom not to plant the same species of plants in straight lines. Somehow she keeps gravitating towards formal garden styles where straight lines and manicured plants are the norm. It would have been nicer if these plants were placed in between other plants which then would have made it look more natural.

Two of our gardeners busy pulling out weeds and wild grasses along the row of Black bamboos to prepare the area for more plants. Behind them is the ground where the goats used to graze.

The straight row of Black bamboos is intentional. I wanted them to function as privacy screen once they grow thick and tall. From this point, the farm gently slopes upward so everything that happens there is wide open for the neighbors and passersby to see. Once the bamboos grow tall and thick enough, this should give the area a little more privacy that it needs. The bamboos were planted with ample spaces in between giving more room for other plants to thrive under them.

Some other plants to soften the seemingly harsh looking landscape. See if you can find the little baby Desert Roses.

Other plants utilized to soften the area on one side of the road include Crotons, Gingers, Ti plants, Desert Roses, and other plants. On the opposite side where the bamboos are, flowering varieties will be planted as soon as they are finished removing all the wild vegetation that grow there.

This is just a small portion of the road that needs landscaping. Although they have also began planting on other parts of the rough road, more areas need to be landscaped.

Friday, August 13, 2010

First Ladies

The Mussaenda is a tropical ornamental shrub popular to gardeners because of their showy colored "flowers" which are actually the bracts. The flowers are small, star-shaped and are less visible, often obscured by the lush clumps of bracts. The mature plant varies in size from a small shrub to several feet high almost like a small tree.

Our "Doña Luz" Mussaendas.

Although different Mussaendas originated from several tropical countries, probably, no other country has put much love and affection to this plant than the Philippines. This resulted in different hybrids of the native Mussaenda philippica. The hybrids were named after former First Ladies, wives of former Presidents or after former female Presidents. These names are usually preceded by the Spanish word "Doña" for politeness, which means "Madam" in English.

Our native "Doña Aurora" Mussaendas.

Thus, the original Mussaenda philippica ('Doña Aurora' ) and its crossbreeds with other Mussaendas (like M. erythrophylla) resulted in different variations of Mussaendas with names like 'Doña Luz', 'Doña Leonila', 'Doña Trining', 'Doña Esperanza', 'Doña Pacencia', etc. Even the Queen of Thailand has one named after her too, the 'Queen Sirikit', to commemorate her first visit to the Philippines. Most of the commercially grown Mussaendas around the world today trace their roots from these cultivars.

One of our little "Doña Luz" striking out on its own in the garden.
As a testament to its popularity in the Philippines, chances are you will find at least one well-tended Mussaenda growing in public or private gardens. In our garden alone, we have several little Mussaendas. They are still small because they have been propagated from stem cuttings.

I on the other hand, am not much of a Mussaenda enthusiast. I never included this plant in my list of 'must haves'. I have nothing against it, I'm just not much of a follower, I guess. So when Mom said that they have successfully propagated this plant from cuttings they got from neighbors and friends all I could say was 'OK'.

Just like when they started growing the Angel's trumpet, I support my parents for taking special interest with the Mussaenda plant. After all there is nothing wrong about having this plant in our garden. And I know that Mom really enjoys taking care of our Mussaendas. As I said in my older post, our garden is not just about a vision, it's also a tribute to those near and dear.

Maybe I should try my hand in crossbreeding the Mussaenda someday. Who knows, if I'm lucky I may successfully produce a new breed, then I can name it after my mother, the First Lady in our family.

For images of other Mussaenda cultivars visit this site.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Red Stemmed Thalia

The Red Stemmed Thalia (Thalia geniculata) is a plant belonging to the family Marantaceae. It is an aquatic plant suitable as a bog plant or for a water garden but can also grow in containers as long as the soil is kept constantly moist. It is commonly referred to as "water canna", although it is not a true canna. Others may be more familiar with its peculiar names of Alligator Flag or Fire Flag.

The Red Stemmed Thalias when they arrived at our garden.

Aside from the other water plants we have collected, I wanted this plant because of its beautiful structure. As the name suggests, the elongated main stem of this plant is red in color, transitioning to green as it gets closer to its leaves. The leaves are oval to elliptical shape. Its small flowers come in clusters of either blue or purple color and dangle at the end of a long stem.

The Thalias were temporarily placed on a shallow side of one fishpond.

Compared to how they were when we bought them last March, our Thalias are looking depressed. I thought they would thrive well in our fishponds but it seems like they have been struggling. I'm assuming this was due to the extreme heat they've been subjected to during the dog days of summer. But now that summer has finally said goodbye (for the meantime), hopefully they will soon exude a cheerful appearance.

A very unhappy looking bunch of Thalias with visible signs of shock after they've been divided.

Mom thought their sorry look were also due to overcrowding so she divided the mother plants into several new individual plants. Hopefully this too will entice them to grow healthier and more robust.

All the aquatic plants we've collected so far are scattered all around the garden. Some are growing on containers ranging in size from small cups to large basins, others are currently sharing space in the watery world of the fishes in the ponds. Someday they will all come together and be the main attraction of a future water garden. And when will that be? As the perpetrator of this wild and wacky project, that is a question even I could not answer.

Friday, August 6, 2010


"A good home must be made, not bought."
Joyce Maynard, "Domestic Affairs"

When Mom and Dad were on a quest to find mates for the Boer doe and the Anglo-Nubian buck, they had the opportunity to go to commercial goat farms and observe the way things are done there. What caught Dad's eyes were the pens housing the goats, how squeaky clean and organized, made of top of the line construction materials. How Dad wished we could have the same set-up in our farm.

A commercial farm's goat house.

Ours is not a commercial animal farm (well, at least not yet) and technically it's just categorized as a "backyard farm". Without access to a solid financing, we must make do with what we have and put to good use whatever available resources we can get hold of.

The structure that houses our goats. Most of the time they're outside grazing.

When the time has come to move the goats out of their current grazing ground to make way for the plants that need to go there, Dad had to build a new house, a better home for the goats. Since the area where they can move about has been drastically reduced in size, the goats' house must be cozy and roomy enough that they won't feel the need to roam out far. Their food must now be brought to them instead of them looking for it.

The new house for our goats, constructed of materials already in the farm.

Taking into consideration what he saw from the commercial farms he had visited, Dad and his crew built our goats' house out of locally available materials. It may be a cheap housing unit, mostly made of wood and bamboo, but when it comes to comfort and function, our goats' new home is certainly at par, if not better than those found in commercial farms.

Inside the goat house.

My impression of the house Dad build for our goats is that it's cute, cozy and warm, unlike the sterile and cold vibe I got when I saw a picture of a commercial farm's housing units.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Carabao Ferns - an update

A Carabao fern now growing well under the shade.
Compared to the dismal fate of our Tree Ferns, there is much to hope for for our Carabao Ferns. Just like their other giant fern cousins they too were initially left exposed, languishing under the baking heat of the summer sun. As to be expected majority of them went the way of the dinosaurs.

This is how the Carabao ferns look like before they were moved under the mango trees.
The Carabao Ferns came rootless and bare, just lumps of live tissues which resembled the dung heap of a water buffalo. Just like the Tree Ferns, they too tried in vain to sprout new fronds but they just wilted after a few days of exposure to the sun.

This Carabao fern seems to be enjoying its new location under the mango trees.
Over a month ago they finally moved the limbless lumps of ferns under the shade of the mango trees in the orchard. Several days later they began to sprout stems and fronds. It's like they have been given a new lease on life. Now they look alive although I believe they're still not quite out of the woods yet.

Talking to my mother much later on, I learned that they buried the entire lumps of tissues under the ground. I was concerned that they might rot if they get too much water so I asked them to dig them up and expose at least half of their base so they could "breathe". Much to our surprise, most of the lump of tissues were gone. They have been replaced by roots.

Still, because they were following my instructions, they dug up all the Carabao Ferns and exposed whatever is left of their lumpy base and reburied their roots. Now I'm afraid that I might have done more harm than good to these ferns. Had I been told beforehand that they have rooted I would have taken my instructions back.

Other Carabao ferns now showing signs of life after months of stressful attempts at surviving under the sun.

All the images above of the Carabao Ferns with new leaves were taken before they were dug up to expose their base. I haven't called home yet to inquire about their condition after their roots were disturbed. I hope they will recover from this trauma, begin to produce more stems and fronds and eventually grow big and tall.

"Carabao Fern" is the local name for this species of fern. My younger brother says it belongs to the genus Cibotium. I still think they belong to Angiopteris.