Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kale seedlings

I sowed a pot of kale seeds a week ago. Though the planter box is compact, you would be surprised at how well they can grow. I've grown kang kong and chye sim successfully on these small containers in my patio. A pot like this can produce enough vegetables for a family meal.

The true leaves are finally emerging. Kale leaves are very pretty, with a naturally waxy powder-like surface. Freshly harvested kale is extremely crisp with a nice bite when stir-fried. After tasting home grown kale, I can never bring myself to buy from the market anymore.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Beautiful Gardens of Provence

Summer is the best time to visit beautiful Provence in France. The weather is perfect and the gardens burst into a profusion of colours!

Lavender field.

Herbs for sale at the farmers market.

Even the wild flowers are beautiful.

The French are good gardeners.

A landscaped garden at the hotel.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Balinese Garden

After visiting Garden Tech exhibition at Hortpark last week, my friend and I adjourned to Gillman Village across the road for a drink.

It was a warm and humid afternoon, the exhibition area was hot and stifling, so we were glad to be out in the open again.

We walked across the old bridge that leads to Gillman Village and it brought back memories of the years I was studying at St Andrew's Junior College. Back then we used to swim at the pool at Gillman Barracks just behind our school.

While the army camp is now converted into a sleepy enclave hosting a cluster of bars, restaurants and furniture shops, the bridge remains unchanged, albeit older and worn out.

At the end of the bridge is a Balinese garden, sort of unkempt but naturally gorgeous and attractive. It leads to Villa Bali, a sprawling restaurant and bar set amidst luxuriant tropical garden with frangipanis and heliconias framing a water fountain and a Balinese pavilion.

The gorgeous sight really lifted our spirits on a muggy day. Soon, the sky opened up and heavy rain came pouring down. The tropical weather is just perfect for a garden like this.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Here comes the sun

Gardeners know how important the sun is for plant development. For months, my patio garden was in the shade, so you can imagine my joy when I see the sun shining on my plants again. What joy!

I've managed to grow watercress successfully from seeds. I've always placed it in a cool and shady area. It must really like it there. It's too pretty to be eaten, so I'm planning to keep it as a decorative plant in my garden.

Purple and curly

The mystery orchid (left behind by the previous house owner) has finally bloomed. The flowers are curly, in an interesting shade of purple. While we grow many kinds of Dendorium orchids at the farm, I don't think I have seen this.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ode to farmers

I'm been told many times that I'm lucky to have lived in the countryside almost all my life. It's a privilege because Singapore is a land-scarce city-state, only about 3% of the total land area is used for agriculture.

Indeed I am lucky. I'm so used to the large expanse of space and tranquility, I often find life in the city very stifling. There are lots of things I miss about the living in the countryside, from the smells to the sounds at night. Would you believe that one of the things I miss most is the 'kampong spirit'?

Kampong (village) spirit is that camaraderie and sense of extended family that comes from living in close proximity with our neighbours. Growing up, grandma visited her neighbours frequently, bringing them fruits from the garden and home-made cakes. People stop to chat when they meet along the way to the market. We don't fence up the yard or lock the doors at night. When a family needs help in building a house, everyone chips in to help. The mutual support is strong in the village.

Since Singapore became urbanised in the 1970s, that kampong spirit has been lost and people have become self-oriented.

Lucky for us who're still living in a farm, we're surrounded by farmers. We have vegetable, fish, orchid and egg farms in our neighbourhood, so naturally the kampong spirit is still there (but fading).

Our tenants at the farm are some of the nicest and most generous people who ply us with fruits, vegetables, herbs and plants without expecting anything in return. They're hardworkers who toil from dawn till dusk, yet they do not complain. Their face may be tanned and lined, but only kind words escape from their lips and they extend their rough calloused hands to give us the fruits of their labour.

I have lots of respect for farmers for they know how to work in tandem with the earth to produce miracles. They know the secrets which no gardening books can teach. They treat the earth with kindness and coax their plants to produce the sweetest and freshest crops.

My basil family

The basil is an amazing plant. When I first brought it home, it was just a wisp of a plant. Then it grew into a bush. I use the leaves for cooking... the more I cut, the bushier it gets.

I put the little stems that I cut back into the soil and they grow into little basil plants. Now mother and children are doing well.

Soon, we will have one big basil family. I must thank the nice lady at the community garden for giving it to me.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sunny again!

Now that the sun is beginning to creep into my patio once again, I shifted all my sun-loving portalucca into the sun-lit areas so that I can enjoy colourful pink and yellow blooms again.

For the first half of the year, my patio is completely sheltered from the sun as it lies in the apartment block's shadow. I like it this way because it is so bright, cool and comfortable, the green foliage plants do really well here. Unfortunately bougainvilleas don't flower in my patio because of the lack of sun.

Then as the sun shifts (due to our earth's movements) in the later months, the patio starts to receive more and more sunlight, to the delight of the sun-loving plants like portalucca. I tend to have more success growing vegetables during this period too.

My dendrobium orchids are starting to bloom. Growing up in an orchid nursery, I had never paid much attention to orchids and could never understand why people can be so passionate about them. I guess I had always taken them for granted.

When I moved into this apartment, the previous owner left some behind. I threw away the sickly ones and tossed the rest carelessly beneath the bamboo grove. Despite the neglect, they still reward me with several blooms a year. I'm beginning to appreciate them more.

This particular one has been at this flower-bud stage for the longest time, I keep wondering when the buds will finally open up to reveal pretty purple flowers.

Now I understand why mum gets so upset at some of her picky customers. We're in the business of exporting orchid stalks, but mum obliges and sells her plants to walk-in enthusiasts at wholesale prices (half of what they would pay at retail outlets). The customers would scour through the 4 acres of our nursery to pick the best ones with the most blooms. They know they're getting an excellent deal, yet they would bargain so hard like they're at a flea market.

They should understand the amount of effort that goes into nurturing an orchid plant. Most gardeners would agree that orchids are not the easiest plants to care for and their productive life (for export quality) is rather short.

Whenever I buy anything from the farms, I appreciate the time and hard work that go into the produce, so I would never bargain unless they are priced out of range. I have seen how hard a farmer's life is and I have a lot of respect for them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wild brinjal

Recently my parents served an interesting stir-fried dish during dinner. Initially, I eyed the plate of little green berries with suspicion but I fell in love with the soft texture and mild flavour almost immediately. The taste is like soft mushy green peas. They're the fruits of the tall, wild brinjal plants growing profusely in my parent's farm.

According to my father, they grew from bird droppings. From one plant, we now have a field of them. The plants are big and thorny, not exactly ideal for any garden. That's why they thrive in the wild bushland. The birds love them, now we do too.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Counting pumpkins

Mum is becoming quite an expert in pollinating pumpkins. The moment she spots a female flower in bloom, she hunts down a male flower right away. Her efforts have paid off of course, now we have at least 30 pumpkins in various stages of growth. My parents are big eaters of pumpkin but what are they going to do with so many I wonder?

The pumpkin patch (above) and some of the fruits below.