The Gardens of Chiconia 39: Winter colour

By now, most of you know that here in Chiconia, our experience of winter isn’t quite as chilly as it is in temperate climes.

It’s downright warm and sunny, in fact. I walked around the back yard with my camera and discovered all sorts of signs that spring is on the way, whether it’s flowers or a bit of action on the part of the fruit trees.

Come and take a tour with me.  First the flowers…

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Little pink trumpets twining round the frog pool

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Pink silk pompoms

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These buds will become tiny yellow and brown spotted orchids

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It’s been a stunning year for the hibiscus

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Buds on the white phalaenopsis

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White silk pompoms

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First flowers from the petrea, lots more buds coming on

And now for the vegies and fruit trees…

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Blossom for next year’s mandarins

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Tomatoes enjoying mildew-free weather

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Giving the mulberry’s neighbours a haircut has obviously done the trick!

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The passionfruit, twining obediently along the fence. For now…

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That tiny round thing in the middle is a baby mango…

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Mango blossom, and green ants playing havoc with it.

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My dwarf avocado is flowering for the first time.

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Custard apple seedlings in the sun porch, waiting to move to larger quarters.

It’s starting to get lighter in the mornings and evenings, and the time will soon come when I won’t be able to work outside in the middle of the day. I have some post-winter tasks to take care of, like transplanting some things, tidying up edges and fallen palm fronds and leaves, weeding the patio paving and starting some seeds.

My most important jobs in the next couple of days are potting on my Angel Trumpet cuttings, which have ample roots and are outgrowing their accommodation, and cleaning and clearing Frogtopia, which is becoming a frowsy nest of dead leaves and bits from the palm and acacia above it. I have to clear the dead vegetation, take out all the rocks, empty the pond, clean it, flush and clean the pump and then put everything back and refill it, ready for the return of the froglets in spring. The huge elephant ear taro growing above the pond have died back a bit in the cooler, drier weather of winter, and I need to cut them back and clear out the dead stuff there too. It’s quite a big job, but it’ll look so much better when it’s done!

Thank you for visiting, do come again!

Yellow Bird

I’ve been messing about in the kitchen again.

This time, I’ve made an adaptation of a cake known to many of you as Hummingbird Cake, and recently featured by Jamie Oliver on the Comfort Food series. Obviously, mine’s gluten free, and I’ve made a few other adjustments too. So rather than pretend it’s ‘proper’ Hummingbird Cake, I’m calling it Yellow Bird Cake, after the tune they play on steel drums in all movies when they want to indicate a Caribbean setting. After all, what could be more tropical than bananas, pineapples and passionfruit? And these are the flavours of Yellow Bird Cake, together with dark brown sugar, cinnamon and a touch of allspice. It’s filled and topped with a creamcheese and passionfruit blend which is delicious enough to eat by itself with a spoon.

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Probably the least glamorous cake shot of all time, but oh Lord, the flavour!

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This slice lasted ooh, let’s see, 10 whole seconds after the photo was taken and then it was GONE. The Husband’s slice lasted an extra 5 seconds….

Yes, alright, there are sticky crumbs and smears on my plate. And yes, I did fairly extensively lick the bowls and spatulas. And yes, the cake won’t win any prizes for looks because I went a little crazy with the topping and filling, so it’s extremely oozy, but it’s sooooo goooood!


350g (12oz) gluten free self raising flour (or use all purpose with 2 tsp baking powder)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
large pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder
250ml (8 fl.oz) vegetable oil (I used olive, but sunflower or a nut oil would be nice too)
350g (12oz) soft dark brown sugar
4 small very ripe (even black) bananas, mashed
440g (15oz) can crushed pineapple in juice, drained
2 large eggs, at room temperature

250g (8oz) cream cheese at room temperature
Pulp of 2 passionfruit (you can sieve it if you want. I didn’t)
300g (10oz) icing (powdered) sugar

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas 4/350ºF.

Grease and line the bottom of 2 springform 23cm cake pans.

Sieve and blend together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Mix the mashed bananas, oil, eggs and pineapple in another bowl till thoroughly blended, then gently fold them into the dry ingredients until there are no dry bits or flour showing. Don’t over mix. Divide the batter between the two cake pans, and bake for 35 – 40 mins until golden and springy. Run a knife around the outside, cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool completely on wire racks.

To make the filling, in a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese till smooth, then add the passionfruit pulp and icing sugar, and beat until it’s just smooth. Refrigerate till needed – it will firm up a bit more in the fridge. You could consider adding the passionfruit pulp a bit at a time, in case yours are very large, you don’t want the filling to be quite as squidgy as mine… a firmer filling will be tidier.

When the cake halves are cool, sandwich together with the filling and spread the remainder over the top.

Then get stuck in!


The Gardens of Chiconia 13

Meet the new members of the team…

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There’s not a lot of ground space left in the tropical garden, and one entire section of fence is now entirely covered with passionfruit vine. The other fenced side has the banana tree, gingers, heliconia and monstera in front of it, so not much space for climbers.

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 9.51.03 AMScreen shot 2014-04-26 at 9.51.44 AMHowever, alongside the patio is a long stretch of fence which has nothing growing near it. It’s a little shaded, both by the patio roof and by the large palm trees next door. One end gets quite a lot of sun, the other quite a lot of shade.

At the sunny end, I’ve planted the Orange Trumpet Vine (Pyrostegia venusta). It grows fast, loves fences to scramble over and has bright orange trumpet shaped flowers in great profusion. At the other end of the fence, next to both the patio and the tropical garden, I’d like to plant the Purple Wreath (Petrea volubilis). My only concern is that it may be too shady, so I’m going to transplant it into a larger pot and place that where I hope to plant it, to see if it likes its surroundings. The sun here is very bright and very hot, so it may be sufficient. If not, I’ll have to find it another home, but I want to make sure it’s somewhere I can see it, because it’s spectacular. The leaves are thick, crisp and papery, and the surface feels exactly like fine grit sandpaper. The flowers are also papery and stiff, but are a fabulous shade of lilac to purple. It’s also available in white, which isn’t nearly as pretty in my opinion.

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 9.52.16 AMScreen shot 2014-04-26 at 9.52.38 AMI also got out there this morning before the heat really got going, and weeded everything. All the interlopers have now been abolished. There are very few palm shoots coming through in the desert garden now, so all the hard work last year has paid off. One or two are still creeping out to see if I’m paying attention, and get swooped on promptly. I do NOT want another palm tree out there. There’s also thousands of baby purslane plants giving it a good old try, but I’ve had no mercy. My succulents are looking pretty decent. One, which started life as a single leaf snapped off a neighbour’s plant, is now knee high and putting down some serious roots.  My second aloe vera, also started as a single leaf, is about 20cm high, and all the originals bar one are reproducing themselves madly. There are dozens of baby chalkstones, kalanchoe, aloe, echeverias and sedums. I’m doing something right out there…

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 9.51.22 AMMy gotu kola has now gone from a slightly tragic little droopy pot plant to one that’s making a bid for world domination in one corner. The basil’s huge. The coleus is now nearly waist high, and continues to flourish so long as I nip the flowers out regularly. If I let it set seed, it’ll die back.

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 9.52.55 AMSadly, my frangipani is not happy. I think it has brought with it the rust from the parent tree, and most leaves are spotted. Some of the new leaves are also curly and deformed. If it doesn’t do better, I’m going to have to get rid of it, as it’ll never thrive.

The Tufty Club

The name won’t mean much to you unless you were a child in England in the 1960s. Which I was…

The Tufty Club badge.  Even the typography is lame...

The Tufty Club badge.
Even the typography is lame…

Tufty was a squirrel character who helped to teach children road crossing safety. You joined a club, got a badge, participated in excruciatingly dull and lame activities, but this was the 1960s, don’t forget. We didn’t have much TV, no computers, internet, Playstation, mobile phones or even personal stereos (remember the Walkman?). We read comics and books, played outside and endured long stretches of such hideous boredom that even Tufty started to look interesting…

But I digress. Tufty is what the back of the Isfahan quilt is starting to look, and ‘Tufty’ is forever linked in my mind to the Tufty Club.  Hence the name and the teeny bit of nostalgia. My apologies.

Little soft tufts on the dark blue fleece backing.

Little soft tufts on the dark blue fleece backing.

Small, tidy cross stitch on the quilt front

Small, tidy cross stitch on the quilt front

I decided the best way of doing the tied quilt was to have the neat stitches on the front and the ties on the back. I didn’t like the look of perle cotton or embroidery floss or ribbon ties, I wanted it soft, so I’ve gone for 4 ply tapestry wool. Come in from the back, leaving a tail, do half the cross stitch, back down, leave a loop, back up to the front, finish the cross stitch, back down, leave a tail. The tails and loops should be about an inch long. Cut the loop to form two more tails. Take two tails on each side and do a square knot. Then separate the 4 strands of ply to make a fluffy tuft. Trim off any straggly bits. There you are. I’m still debating cutting the tuft even shorter. The cross stitch on the front is neat and unobtrusive, and the tuft is soft and blends in with the fleece. So, 5 down, only another 155 to go… Oh, and I bought a new needle to do it with, as all my existing darning needles were too blunt to go through fleece, batting and quilt top without needing pliers to pull through. This new one’s  nice and sharp; you still need to wiggle it a fair bit, but it does the trick.

Outside, the sun is back, the wind has dropped, and the plants are beginning to cautiously stand up straight again. The grasshoppers are still wreaking havoc, and I have had to bite the bullet. We’ll be adding a tiny bit of something stronger to the pyrethrum/soapy water mix we use to slow them down. This will be used in a targeted way, on grasshoppers only, so we don’t murder the good bugs too. I want to end up with some flowers and fruit out there… Speaking of which, the passionfruit is perking up, and produced this for my delight and enjoyment yesterday:

The passionflower.  Isn't it ridiculously outlandish?  And this fandango produces such unpromising but delicious fruit.

The passionflower. Isn’t it ridiculously outlandish?
And this fandango produces such unpromising but delicious fruit.

Having sandwiched, pinned and started the tying on Isfahan, I feel I can take it a little easy over the next day or so. But I probably won’t. You know me, can’t leave a project alone

Creeping closer

…on two fronts.

The back of Happiness, nearly completed

The back of Happiness, nearly completed

I’m creeping closer to completing Happiness. Here’s progress so far on the back. You may recognise some of the fabrics as ones I used for backing on the Triple Trouble quilts. I had a fair bit of two and a small bit of one of the fabrics left, so I’ve just worked around what I had and added in things that seemed to go. I still need to add another 7″ border around what you see here to bring it up to size and give me enough spare to quilt with. I’m playing with the idea of using the turquoise fabric I have left over from the back of Tree of Life. But I’m not sure… I think the colour may be too strong. I shall have to go and rummage a bit further in the cupboard. The photo’s a bit dull; I should have used the flash. In reality, the colours are brighter and more cheerful, not so greyish.

And here’s what’s creeping closer on the cyclone front.

T.C. Gillian, heading our way. She's tending more and more southerly, so we may be in for it.

T.C. Gillian, heading our way.
She’s tending more and more southerly, so we may be in for it.

We are now within the destructive wind zone, so we’ll definitely have to batten down the hatches after the Dowager has gone home this evening. She’s coming round for dinner, and I have to go and make a carrot cake for dessert in a minute… If/when the cyclone arrives, she’s going to be called Gillian.

That long pod in the centre is the flower bud of my Brugmansia. If it survives, it'll turn into a gorgeously-scented apricot trumpet

That long pod in the centre is the flower bud of my Brugmansia. If it survives, it’ll turn into a gorgeously-scented apricot trumpet

The first flower on the passionfruit that has survived the grasshoppers.

The first flower on the passionfruit that
has survived the grasshoppers.

Out in the garden, I’ve taken photos of a couple of things which may well not survive the night. I just wanted to prove that my passionfruit is really flowering, and that my Brugmansia is actually in bud – normally I wouldn’t expect either of them to flower till next spring.

Right, time to go and fill the water storage, take in all the loose stuff and then get cracking with the cake.

The Gardens of Chiconia 11

Although I’m out there daily, watering, weeding, pruning and bugslaying, I haven’t shared progress with you for ages.

And there’s plenty to report!  Despite a plague of grasshoppers of all sizes from the length of my little fingernail to the length of my middle finger, almost everything is holding its own. This is supposed to be the Wet, and normally we wouldn’t see grasshoppers in such profusion, but they’re making a beeline for anything lush and tempting because it’s been a very dry summer.

Here we go, then.

All the usual suspects, but twice the size!

All the usual suspects, but twice the size!

A general view of the tropical garden. Things have shot up in the past month or so, most notably the banana tree and the Brugmansia. The former is now taller than I am by quite a margin, having been planted at knee height. The latter is now as tall as I am, having been planted at mid shin height. Unfortunately the grasshoppers love the Brugmansia despite its toxicity, so we’re fighting a rearguard action with a soapy water/pyrethrum spray which seems to slow them down and doesn’t hurt the plant. We’re very careful about where and what we spray, and so far the ladybird population is undeterred.

Dwarf Ducasse banana. Not so very dwarf, if you ask me...

Dwarf Ducasse banana. Not so very dwarf, if you ask me…

First, the banana tree. Just, wow…

The Brugmansia is also suddenly all grown up. It’s like getting used to small children, and then suddenly they’re teenagers, all legs, flamboyant clothes and attitude.

Out the back the lychee is flourishing but not showing any signs of reproducing yet. The little lemon tree is groaning under the weight of 5 large lemons, which are just beginning to turn colour. The mango is getting quite huge for a dwarf tree, but it’s grown well all along so it’s not so interesting to show.

Anyway, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. More soon.

Dwarf Meyer lemon, heavily in fruit

Dwarf Meyer lemon, heavily in fruit

The dwarf lychee, looking happy and bushy, but unfortunately, not fruity!

The dwarf lychee, looking happy and bushy, but unfortunately, not fruity!

Look, in the middle: Flowers coming out on the passionfruit

Look, in the middle: Flowers coming out on the passionfruit

Close up of more flower buds, like cute little spiky purses.  Lots of buds means lots of passionfruit.  I'll cope somehow....

Close up of more flower buds, like cute little spiky purses. Lots of buds means lots of passionfruit. I’ll cope somehow….

The basil and gotu kola, the former holding its own in the Bug Wars, and the latter staging a comeback after looking very sorry for itself.

The basil and gotu kola, the former holding its own in the Bug Wars, and the latter staging a comeback after looking very sorry for itself.

Brugmansia (the tall one!), which will one day have sweetly scented flowers if it survives the grasshoppers.

Brugmansia (the tall one!), which will one day have sweetly scented flowers if it survives the grasshoppers.

The Gardens of Chiconia 10

It’s been a while since I was able to get out there and take a look at all my green children.

Turns out, they’ve been doing fine without me! We’ve had a good bit of weather: first the cyclone, and then high winds and heavy rain off and on, so I haven’t got down to the long-overdue weeding yet. Perhaps in the next few days. But the neglect has not deterred anything.

Taller than me now

Taller than me now

First, the tropical garden. The banana, which was knee high when I put it in, is now taller than I am, and shows no sign of slowing down. It took a clobbering in Cyclone Dylan, but seems unperturbed, and continues to send out enormous leaf spikes on an almost daily basis. The trunk is now so thick that I can only just make my hands meet around it. It’s supposed to be 2 or 3 years till we’ll see any fruit, but in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the sight of the huge, lush leaves and the sound they make rattling in the wind or when the rain is falling on them.

Nearly a tree

Nearly a tree

The Brugmansia (Angel Trumpet), which was getting gnawed by grasshoppers before Dylan, made some headway when all the little buggers were blown away. Again, it was knee high (or maybe less), and is now waist high  on me, and I’m 1.65m (5’5″). It went through a spell of dropping all leaves except those at the very top, but now new ones are sprouting up the trunk, and the trunk itself is thickening up. When it finally flowers, who knows when, they’re supposed to be a pale apricot colour and smell amazing.

Pretty pink flower spike

Pretty pink flower spike

I put in three ginger lily corms a few months ago. Nothing happened, and kept on happening, until a few weeks ago, when leaves began to appear. I went out yesterday, and there’s the start of a lovely pink flower spike. I don’t think it’s going to be too spectacular this first year, but as it gets older and the corm grows, it should make more leaves and flowers each year. They’re supposed to be very sweetly scented too.

Taking over the world!

Taking over the world!

The passionfruit, as always, is showing signs of being intent on world domination. Not only is it ramping all over my side of the fence, it has now invaded the neighbours. They are, fortunately, delighted as they love passionfruit and their back yard is all paved so they’d have nowhere to plant one. I keep having to nip out the growing tips to prevent everything else getting strangled, and to make the laterals thicken up. Hopefully next summer we’ll have fruit. It’s a Panama Gold, so the fruit shouldn’t be too hard to find among the foliage.

It's decided to live after all...

It’s decided to live after all…

Remember those childhood science experiments when you plant a carrot top and watch it take root and grow? Well, I plonked a cut pineapple top on the ground, watered it and snugged it in with some mulch. It’s growing. It took a while to decide the living quarters were acceptable, but those are new baby leaves down in the centre. It takes 2 years for a pineapple plant to produce fruit, so I’m not holding my breath here! But they are very ornamental, especially the ones with pink and green stripes in the leaves.

Succulent babies

Succulent babies

Round the corner in the desert garden, all the tiny leaves I snapped off the parent plant and stuck in a very well drained potting mix have taken off and are thriving. I’ve now doubled my aloe vera population, which is just as well, given how often I burn myself on the stove or the iron…

Tomorrow I should have some quilty stuff to show, but I’ve had to stop as the light isn’t good enough any more.