The Gardens of Chiconia 51

And now for something a little bit fruity. Again.

The Ducasse banana is looking a little bleary eyed and weary. We had a heavy rain shower the other night and the next couple of rows of flowers copped a bit of a beating. The green ants are all over the bunch as well, so I guess it’s not really a surprise. However, the bananas that have developed are looking good, as you can see.

I had a bit of a revelation the other day. Beside our front gate there is a tree that was attractive but not terribly interesting apart from its pretty leaves. The tops are dark green and glossy, and the underside is golden-amber and slightly felty-feeling. Pretty, eh? For the four years that we’ve lived in this house, said tree did precisely nothing apart from grown half a metre a year.

This year?  It’s covered in bright green golf-ball sized fruit that look like miniature Granny Smith apples. I cut one open to discover a star shaped pattern of seeds inside, but not much else. It wasn’t till the neighbour hung over the fence and asked if I minded him helping himself to some ripe ‘star apples’ from the branches overhanging his side that I got an insight. The green jobs are unripe. When ripe, the skins go a glossy dark reddish purple, as does the flesh inside. It’s sweet, custard-textured and delicious. Of course, none of the fruit on our side is ripe yet, but I tried a bit from Brian’s side…. Anyway, the thing’s called Chrysophyllum cainito, it originated in the West Indies and now grows in tropical regions around the world. The fruit, bark and leaves are supposed to have health benefits, but personally, I’ll be sticking to the fruit.

Assuming Brian Next Door and the hungry birds leave me any, that is… 

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The Gardens of Chiconia 50

Are you sick of bananas yet?

No? Good, because here’s another update. Can you see now how the stem develops?  Between each of those dark red bracts (the petal things) is a row of flower buds, and the bracts open in sequence. Each flower becomes a baby banana, and as they mature, they start to point upwards and flare away from the bracts, leaving space for the next row down to develop.

I watched this afternoon as a Blue-Faced Honey Eater, a Noisy Friarbird and a Yellow Honey Eater all fought for access to the flowers. I took a look at the stem later on, and I could see why: there’s so much nectar it’s dribbling out of the flowers and onto the bract below – you can see it in the photo above. The flowers are looking a bit battered after their attentions, too. The nectar has also brought the green ants in, attracted by the sugar. When the time comes I shall have to blast the fruit with the hose to prevent getting bitten as I cut a hand of bananas away – those ants are very aggressive and the bite is quite painful. I’ll also need to stop them building one of their huge nests in the flower. I won’t be using any chemicals; water will be enough to discourage them.

I’ll wait and see what interesting thing this thing does next!

The Gardens of Chiconia 35: I’m a lumberjack…

… and I’m OK. Very OK. Gleeful, in fact.

Baby Ducasse banana, November 2012

Today, I went round to the Dowager’s (aka the first Gardens of Chiconia, where I discovered what tropical gardening is all about) to give her a hand. The little Ducasse banana tree I planted 18 months ago has flowered, fruited and multiplied, to the tune of 6 thick trunks instead of one. We needed to deal with an excess of trunkage and leafage, and remove the one which had already fruited to make space for a new one to come forward. It’s hot, heavy, soggy and occasionally stinky work – rotting banana stem is pretty whiffy. Trunks as thick as a man’s leg are actually mostly water, held together with fibrous tissue – think of an incredibly stringy monster cucumber and you get an idea of how much water bananas take up. On the upside, they’re really, really easy to cut down.

Once we’d dealt with the three trunks, we left them on the ground to drain and return the water to the soil. Everything will dry out and get lighter and easier to handle. Some can be mulched, the rest will have to go to the green waste area at the dump. A pity to lose all that biomass, but in that tiny garden, there’s no alternative.

An hour later, hot and smeared with mushy banana pulp, we’d got the job done. I went round snipping, clipping, slicing and digging, helping myself to cuttings, slips, corms and leaves. The whole garden has grown so much that my depredations didn’t show at all. I have three softwood cuttings from the angel trumpet, a root from the variegated ginger and another from the heliconia, a rooted stem from the calathea zebrina, and lots of leaves and rooted babies from the succulent collection. But the prize was a perfect sucker from the banana – about 40cm high, with the narrow spear-shaped leaves you need instead of big flappy rounded ones.  This kind of sucker grows faster and produces fruit more quickly than the other, and there was just one, so I snaffled it!  It was right at the back, next to the fence, so very hard to slice off the parent trunk, and there isn’t a lot of root, but my fingers are crossed.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 8.26.39 pm

Ducasse sugar bananas, from a tree I planted myself. Yum!

To top that all off, I was given two hands of bananas from the tree, one very ripe, one still slightly green. The thin-skinned, chubby little Ducasse sugar bananas are just fabulous, sweet, aromatic and fresh, with zingy high notes that remind me of strawberry. The Dowager has the whole stem hanging on a hook in the patio, with a cover that pulls down overnight to keep off the possums and flying foxes. No shop bought banana will ever taste so good or be so fresh. If the cutting takes, give me another 18 months, and I hope to be picking my own bananas!

So, major score all round. Excuse me, I’m off to pig out on the tastiest bananas I’ve ever eaten…

The Gardens of Chiconia 6

It’s been a while since greenery featured, so here’s an update.

Frangipani and friends, doing well

Frangipani and friends, doing well.
I’m hoping the three agapanthus
will flower this year: one white,
one blue and one pale
pink, very unusual.

The frangipani and its friends are getting bigger, lusher and bushing out nicely. Which is good, because they’ll feature strongly in the view of the Chiconia garden this Christmas, when the family descends.  All of them. Or, let’s face it, all the local ones, since if we included remote Chiconis it would be well out of control.

Fruit corner: the passionfruit vine and the Ducasse banana.

Fruit corner: the passionfruit vine
and the Ducasse banana.

Also doing well are the Ducasse banana and the passionfruit, which is doing a spot of neighbours’s-garden-invasion.  Pam next door keeps pushing it back over the fence, but it likes her side. Something to do with how much sun, or a more humid microclimate? Who knows, but at any rate, most of its inordinate new growth is still on my side.

There’s a new hibiscus in there since my last garden post, pale green and white variegated leaves and a scarlet blossom.  I’m looking forward to seeing that.

The desert garden, looking very green for a desert...

The desert garden, looking very green for a desert…

The desert garden’s getting nice and sprawly too.  Things are big, happy, flowering, spreading and generally giving the impression they’ve settled down and have some confidence that food and water will be regularly supplied.

Young fruit trees: foreground lychee, centre avocado, back, mango

Young fruit trees: foreground lychee, centre avocado, back, mango

Out the back, the young fruit trees are doing well.  The avocado hasn’t given me a day’s worry, but it’s also not growing much to the naked eye.  Still, so long as it’s not dead.  The lychee and especially the mango are tearing away, but it’s the time of year for pests to start increasing.  I’ve had to drench them both to knock off loads of tiny white eggs on leaves and bark, and the lemon tree is infested with tiny green grasshoppers. Every so often I go and knock them all off, knowing they love the new young leaves and will be back as soon as my back is turned.  The tree seems to be doing OK in spite of this. The lime tree has also had its young leaves infested with something.  Time to go and get another white oil spray and smother the little devils.  Anyone with any other helpful suggestions about dealing with grasshoppers, please speak up.

That’s it for now.  I may have more later today, but it’s almost time to get ready for work.

The Gardens of Chiconia 4

The Husband was off to work extra early this morning, and having got up at 5am to do his lunch and see him off, I was wide awake.  The garden reaped the benefit.

Musa acuminata x balbisiana var. awak (Ducasse, or Pisang Awak banana)

Musa acuminata x balbisiana var. awak (Ducasse,
or Pisang Awak banana)

Today I planted my dwarf Ducasse banana tree (which grows to about 2m and will fruit when it’s old enough). It’s also known as the sugar banana, as the fruit’s very sweet, it’s very disease resistant, and the ripe fruit keeps well, so a winner all round!

The bronze leaf cannas. The flowers will be scarlet

The bronze leaf cannas. The flowers will be scarlet

Zebra calathea

Zebra calathea

Also into the ground this morning were a Strelitzia nicolai (like the Bird of Paradise flower, Strelitzia reginae, but the flower is less showy and the foliage grows taller),  a beautiful zebra-striped Calathea (Calathea zebrina), two bronze-leafed, scarlet flowered Cannas, a Bugle (Ajuga reptans) for shaded grown cover, a Heliconia with hot pink flowers, and yet another Portulaca,also hot

pink.  I’ve dug over another square metre of compacted soil, and mulched everthing with sugar cane mulch.  Everyone’s had a drink, including the baby fruit trees, and I’ve soaked the newly turned over ground with the sprinkler.

The dwarf lemon, which now not only has fruit but flowers too.  It's obviously happy here.

The dwarf lemon, which now not only has fruit but flowers too. It’s obviously happy here.

The baby mango is pushing out yet more new leaves and is looking extremely healthy

The baby mango is pushing out yet more new leaves and is looking extremely healthy

And it isn’t even 10am yet.  In between, I managed a Skype conversation with a friend in London, did a little sewing and loaded and ran the dishwasher.  Who said Sunday mornings are for lying in…? Oh, and it’s 31C(88F) today…

I was reminded last night at the Dowager’s place that Christmas is only a few weeks away. Christmas lunch is at Chiconia this year, for the first time.  We’re the only ones with a table large enough for the whole tribe, so to us falls the honour of doing the catering.  That said, the Dowager and sisters in law will bring dishes with them, and the blokes will bring drinks, so it’s not too toxic.  Plus I can control what’s on the menu and therefore ensure that what I eat is safe for me. Now that we have the covered patio, it also means we have space to seat everyone round the table and under cover, in the shade.  Just to remind you, this is Australia, and Christmas is at a very hot time of year, so we’ll need to have some fans going, plenty of ice, and the aircon running inside for the post-lunch lying around and groaning session.

But the main reason for mentioning this is that it applied a smart kick up the backside to self and the Husband regarding getting the outside area tidied up, finished and entertaining-ready.  So he needs to finish the paving.  I need to get the garden finished.  We both need to clear out the rubbish and put up some screening  to hide what can’t be moved.  Looks like I can wave goodbye to long, leisurely sessions at the sewing machine in my air-conditioned room….

Later… It’s been a cooking and sewing day.  I’ve started the laborious job of stitching down the binding on the back of the Morning Tea quilt.  Another reason not to scallop: it makes the edge a lot longer.  This is isn’t even a single bed size, but there are eight metres of binding.  I fondly imagined it would be done today.  Not. Not even close.  The soup today is one I first tasted in Barbados back in the 80s: pumpkin soup make with ham stock and served with tiny light and fluffy dumplings. Nothing particularly exotic about the ingredients, but it’s a real nostalgia trip for me to replicate the taste – I was visiting for my oldest friend’s wedding!  So anyway, it’s still in production, and I’m giving it my own twist.  Photo and recipe tomorrow, probably.