Garden Updates

It’s the time of the year again. Most of the plants benefited from the cool spell last week, others have barely survived. Overall the garden seems to have recovered from the heat.  Had a fungicide spraying session yesterday as a safety measure of the unsuspecting rot.

a section of the garden shed with some begonias. these are notably rain tolerant and planted in free draining charcoal media

The leaf cuttings of the Begonia rex have sprouted plantlets (below), altogether five. Might have to wait a further two weeks before they can be repotted to a clay pot. They are placed in bright shade at the moment, away from rain.

1 month old baby rexes

another section of the garden sheltered from rain

rack with Begonia rex, Silver Jewel and other plants

This Huperzia squarrosum (below) had to be staked to keep the elongating frond tips from drooping out of shape.

Huperzia squarrosum

These fittonias (below) were bought during last year’s nursery clearance sales. They are easy growers as long as given plenty of bright indirect light and free draining medium. I feed these plants with osmocote pellets and they seem to take well.

Various fittonias

You could say that once the weather warms up over the next few months, we should see plenty of new growth coming up.  Also at this time of the year is a good time for propagating plants following fair weather.

Top, L-R (B.U400, B.Cleopetra, B.U501) Middle, L-R (B.Helen Teupel, B.Black Dragon, B.Chivalry) Bottom, L-R (B.Silver Dollar, B.Shamus, B.Gryphon)

Top, L-R (B.mazae f. nigricans, B.Black Velvet, B.Fairy) Middle, L-R (B.floccifera, B.rex, B.acetosa) Bottom, L-R (B.corallina de Lucerna, B.heracleifolia, B.Silver Jewel)

The amazing aspect of manure is that it is purely organic, a real masterpiece of Nature’s recyclable materials. Once upon a time we envisioned manure as a byproduct with an ungodly smell, that does nothing but make green grass grow more lush so that the cows have enough to graze on before they come home. Now it’s in everyone’s gardens. They have become precious pellets that breathe life into plants as would milk to an infant. And these days, it has gained a reputation for being the perfect basis of designer fertilisers,  some of which contain microbial powders, rice husks, hormones and everything in between.

Of course, it comes with the infamous odour, but who doesn’t love having this in handy when your plants can look like this in a week’s time (below)?



Now wouldn’t you want to try some of that stuff on your plants?

In June 2009, I started on what seemed to be the craziest begonia collecting spree ever in all my gardening chapters. That one little untold story of how I came to this obsession, still lingers in my mind whenever I look at those unmistakable leaves huddling against each other in the shade. But to cut back on the tedious storytelling, fast forward to the present, where everything old and new mingle under rain and shine.

Begonia 'Black Velvet'

This happens to be my favourite specimen in the collection (above). It’s one of the first plants that I had acquired back in mid 2009, when it was a single small shoot growing on a thick coil of rhizome. It fed on plenty of chicken dung fertiliser for the past few years, happily exerting its growth forwards and sideways since then. It turned out to have amazing revival capabilities, for instance, when the weather got too warm on a certain day and being in a rush to go to work, I had forgotten to give it is morning wetting down. When I came home in the evening, the plant was in such a dismal (with leaves and stems draped over the side of the pot in a laxed octopoid appearance, say no more) that the first thing I thought of that there was no hope for the plant to revive itself, stems and all. I quickly doused the plant with standing rainwater (made lukewarm by the heat of the sun) and hoped for the best. By tomorrow morning, the plant was back in its original state, as if nothing happened the day before. Needless to say, this plant became a reminder to me to water my plants every morning before going off.

Begonia mazae f. nigricans

This is a lush plant (above), spreading in a neat sphere as far as it could go. It behaves exactly in a growth manner similar to B. ‘Martin’s Mystery’ (supposedly also with bowerae parentage), albeit a green striped version of it.  Already there are 4 plantlets waiting to be relocated to the shed after another 2 weeks of growth under awning conditions.

Begonia 'Martin's Mystery'

Martin (above) comes in 3 interchangeable colour forms. It’s pink and loosely packed in light shade, red and compact growing in full sun, and silvery green in deep shade . It can grow in between rock and brick crevices,  forgives inconsistent watering and propagates like there’s no tomorrow. What more could one want in a begonia?

Begonia 'Maurice Amey'

This is another old favourite (above), but it needs to be replanted every year when it deteriorates into a mush of leaves and stem during the rainy season. This angelwing variety appears to be at its prime come March to August in Malaysian tropics, when the weather turns viciously sunny and watering makes well for twice a day. My mother frequently refers to him as Maurice.

Begonia hybrid Noid

A recent purchase (above), which I find is more robust compared to the new version with scalloped leaf edges (Begonia ‘Black Dragon’).  It is still in the experimental stage of growth and I expect it to double in growth in the next few months.

Begonia floccifera

I just love Mr Flocci here (above). Plant him in overly wet soil and he still grows. Two days of hot dry rainless weather with very little water and he’s not complaining. Another perfect beginner specimen to befriend if you are looking for one.

Begonia 'U400'

Of course, how could I have forgotten this beloved specimen (above), the name sounds like it came from a line of ‘android’ hybrids. It’s been over a year since, sharing the space with a neighbouring B.heracleifolia.  Another stunt puller that deflates and revives in many a forgotten watering task (DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TRY!!) Doubtless, this one loves an exceptional dose of chicken dung pellets, provided if you do the honour of soaking them soft in water first before serving.

Begonia 'Silver Jewel'

This is also a year old specimen (above), but living under 75% shade of the awning I didn’t think it was possible that it would pull through. During the first six months, the plant was constantly rotting here and there, with soggy stems dangling over the edge of the pot. After that it seemed to get tired of staying static and there was a sudden burst of growth despite the same watering schedule and lack of bright light. To investigate the mystery, I had gotten another specimen where I placed it under 50% shade (black netting) hoping to see any difference in growth and wellbeing of the old plant compared to the new plant (below).

Begonia 'Silver Jewel' (B.imperialis x B.pustulata)

Begonia rex

Begonia rex (species) is the grandaddy of all existing begonia rex hybrids (above). Its Malay name is ‘Tapak Melati’ and is originally a plant from Assam, India but somehow found itself growing in rural regions of Malaysia as well. I grew this plant from a bit of rhizome and two leaves. It is quite difficult to induce growth of small cuttings but once it passes the plantlet stage the plant surges out leaf after leaf, each bigger than the last. A fun plant to experiment with under different conditions but generally does not tolerate stagnant wet conditions especially in the growing media. Which gives me food for thought if the traits of this plant has been passed throughout all the rex hybrids (aren’t they well known for hating wet media?)

Begonia U501

Finally!! The U501 (above) that has eluded me for too long and made me go on a wild chase for this bugger!!! It may not seem to be that special to most of you but here in Malaysia, anything that resembles a U400 or its related parentage that appears in a random nursery is like seeing a tiger walking on the street. They were on sale at a local shopping mall nursery and I didn’t think twice of snapping all four pots up priced at MYR4 (USD 1.3) each. All were mere 5 inch tall plants, looking limp and sorry in their individual containers that I simply had to bring them home and nurse them back to good health!! The shot above was taken yesterday, a newly potted up plant.

Begonia 'Helen Teupel'

This classic favourite is another newcomer to the collection. In nurseries across the Klang Valley, they seemed to be everywhere, under and on top of benches, hanging in sheds, hiding behind the garden shed door, one or two pots here and there. I managed to bring this home at an attractive  price of MYR 10 (about USD 3).  There were six mature growing points in the clay pot. Seems like a prolific and durable plant (while it lasts) but we shall have to wait and see.

Begonia 'Gryphon'

I have been told that this is one of the latest hybrids in the international begonia market. It is supposedly hardy and can withstand a reasonably wide range of temperatures and watering schedules in both tropical and subtropical climes but I wasn’t prepared to take risks with this one, as it apparently scared me the other day during transfer to a bigger pot, threatening suicide with its leaves and stem mimicking that of the Black Velvet during its dehydration crisis.  It was after all, an unnecessary scare, as it has fully recovered (although new leaves are still droopy and vulnerable to heat shock).

Begonia acetosa

This guy (above) reminds me of flying saucers in a massive invasion attack. It tolerates dry conditions well and also has no complaints (so far) of rain and tap water dripping onto the velvety leaves. Another plant to observe and learn from at this time.

And a whole host of unidentified hybrids (below). I would really appreciate it if anyone can confirm what I have so far suspected them to be called.

Begonia 'Silver Dollar'

Begonia 'Bethlehem Star'

Begonia 'Chivalry'

And last but not least, the ‘Tiger Kitten’ (below), a cute compact miniature variety, though prone to bouts of leaf rot due to their upturned leaves which collect droplets after watering. I have shifted this plant to the shed where it is grown overhanging some water ferns.

Begonia 'Tiger Kitten'

In the next entry I will continue with discussion of the growing media and feeding of these ever-hungry plants.  That, and the fun of having these plants in the garden will constantly keep your vision immersed in splashes of colours after a long day at work. That is, if I remember to do my watering in the morning before leaving the house!!

Now it seems that with more purchases made and freebies received the shed and its small surrounding corners have started to get a little more and more ‘crowded’ each passing week. There are a few newcomers that are quite big and have taken quite a bit of space up in the shed. But nonetheless here’s what arrived over the past months, up until this week..

This is a strangely disproportioned plant. The main plant is small leaved, but pitchers are seemingly huge. The tendency for the pitchers to collect too much water has put them in severe danger of breaking at the tendrils (I suppose Mother Nature intended for her giant pitchers to sit on cushions of moss and not hanging suspended in mid air, especially if this happens to be a hybrid not found naturally in the wild). So here’s what I did that seems to be told by her in my head.The pitchers now sit together, randomly facing away from and towards each other.

This is claimed to be a variant of the thorelli x truncata ‘Red Clone Select’ sitting not far way from this counterpart.  The differences that I could see is that this one has a wider more flared peristome than the latter, and is in many ways, simply tubbier. I have yet to see, since I’ve only recently gotten this plant, that the shape of the pitcher will change over time spent residing under my garden shed.

Note the differences. This variant has pitchers resembling truncata more, while other, thorelli. One has a striped peristome of two shades, the other plain red. Both plant variants, as I’ve been told by the seller, are from Exotica Plants. So it would seem fittingly interesting to have one of each and see how far along their differences can extend.

Luckily humans are not as flexibly diverse as this…or is it a good thing then? Only the end results will tell…

Return of the Pitchers

Lately the weather has become a little more merciful, with rain showers every other day and sunny cloudless skies almost every morning. I realised the garden needed a little change of theme, what with a lot of the episcias now getting leggy and some of last year’s rexes beginning to show signs of deterioration (let’s just say I’m done with them in my garden!).  The only ones surviving the full year cycle are the rhizomatous species and the canes, plus the original Begonia Rex (6 new plants from 6 leaf cuttings, to say the least of their ease in growth).

So I decided to return to Nepenthes. Reason being I had experimented so far with many of the common ornamentals and perennials and there was nothing much that came through growing well. Most of my herbs would not survive being left alone and unprotected from the notorious mealies and mites that seem to appear out of nowhere the moment I started growing these plants.

Hence, in early January 2010, I made my way back to the Nepenthes realm. It seemed strange actually, to put myself back into growing them when I had already resolved to turn away from them at one point. Now with all forms of new hybrids and species variants easily accessible by just a mouse click away I couldn’t help but want to immerse myself into a renewed experience revolving this genus.

Here is what I ended up with after almost half a year. These are mostly Nepenthes rafflesiana, a species which I had good growing results since I started about a decade ago. Rafflesianas are among the beautiful heavyweights of the Nepenthes genus.  Their widely varying sizes and colours make for a bewildering selection to the grower who has a deep unrequited love for this species, and wants to grow them to the fullest potential.

Below is the left view of the shed, where more sun hits. Here are more of the sun-loving raffs notably the giants from Borneo.

Then there are other various red pitchered hybrids in the open. They take extremely well to the hot weather provided copious amounts of water are given to them. Nepenthes globosa flourish in red as the sun shines directly on them all day long.

This thorelli x truncata ‘Red Clone’ from EP has been throwing out pitchers under full sun. Proven to be rather resillient during heat waves.  A must get plant for any Nepenthes enthusiast who wants big tubular pitchers with full packed redness.

Will post more updates in the next entry.

More little things…..

Here are the rest of the family….

This is the batch of pygmies grown from gemmae, thanks to a kind forumer way back in 2007.  On sowing, there were two species, Drosera roseana and Drosera nitidula x pulchella. Initial guesses were that those germinated were actually all D.nitidula x pulchella. Grown under energy saving daylight bulbs, the resulting growth was anything but green, although one plant looked slightly different than the rest of its ‘siblings’. The plants were later moved to a larger tank, and soon became flushed with red. It was only then that I could confirm the existence of one lone D.nitidula x pulchella and nine D.roseanas.

I love this batch of Drosera scorpiodes, grown from gemmae courtesy of another forumer. The entire germination process to current growth state took approximately 3 weeks, after which growth slows down and the plant stem starts to slowly elongate as new petioles develop. They seem to look like strange antennaes of extraterrestrial plant life, another inspiring lookalike of the plant life in Avatar. If one were to shine an Exoterra lamp shade over the plant and after a while switch it off, the resulting green glow from the phosphorus coating of the inner surface of the lamp shade would reflect on the dews, which sparkle as if they were actually bioluminescent.

This batch of Drosera adelae was grown from root cuttings taken from an ailing mother plant, now deceased. At the beginning of 2009, the bits of black fibrous roots were excised and stuffed into the spongy sphagnum for 3 months before new growth could be seen.

Here I have used a porcelain dish, light glazed on the inside, without any drainage holes, and filled it to the top with sphagnum and some form of unknown moss species purchased from a local plant vendor. The dish contains Drosera spathulata, Drosera burmanii, Drosera tokaiensis and Eriocaulon. Let’s hope the water table is actually ideal for the growth of these particular chaps!

..and they sure come in bizarrely beautiful forms….

This is my favourite, Drosera palacea ssp palacea, gotten from a kind forumer way back in 2008.  So far, there are no gemmae formation, which leads me to believe my plants are maturing at the rate of an Ent. They belong to a family of Droseras which are miniature in size (pygmies, to drive home the point). These are quite easy plants to manage under natural sunlight, PL lights or T5, whichever compensates for the most intense light (these are full sun loving plants).

These two lovebirds grew up together in this pot which I got from another forumer back in 2009. They have grown from the size of a red bean to the size of a dime.  In the past two months, they’ve started to send out flower stalks with light violet coloured flowers.

These fellas remind me of the bioluminescent airborne jellyfish creatures in James Cameron’s Avatar movie. They have been rejuvenated twice since 2008 and show no signs of slowing growth, provided their flower stalks are to be cut in time (a vivid act of selfishness I know) for the seeds I last sown showed no signs of germination contrary to what most would say otherwise. If the plant sings its swan song, a slow and tragic peril of death will follow shortly after. One means to prevent them doing just that is to transplant them and expose them to high light levels. They will reset their growth cycle in a week or two.

If you are keen on enjoying things minute and beautiful, these are the plants for you, to name a few. More to come in future upcoming posts…