HomeGems: Gardening

A Bunch of Humble Wonders

What are humble wonders? They are the things you don’t give much thought to, but they add a whole load of flavour to your food (and life!). On Monday I found a potted plant by the gate and wondered what it was and what it was doing there. From the smell of the leaves, it was clearly a Thai basil leaf plant. I then found out that a friend who lives down the road had dropped it off. Mystery solved!

Later in the morning of the same day, I received a message from two friends who had read my previous blog and wanted to get some Thai basil leaves to cook with minced pork. One complained that she couldn’t find them anywhere. I thought that was a bit strange since I always find them in the supermarkets. Then it dawned on me that it’s often labelled by its Chinese name (Jiu ceng ta).

A very determined Val (of Val’s Amazing Lunch Boxes. See earlier post) found a packet of Thai basil leaves and proceeded to cook minced pork with basil leaves for her family. She added a sunny side-up egg for her brother. I asked her how it tasted, she said: “Amazing!”.

Actually, Thai basil leaves are easy grow, and so are pandan leaves, curry leaves and lemongrass. With these few leaves, you can make drinks, curries, soups and a variety of dishes. You don’t really need to grow them because they are incredibly cheap. They add natural flavours to dishes and desserts. Apart from being inexpensive they are healthy.

Recently, I forgot to buy ginger for the tang yuan (glutinous rice balls) syrup. We were having tang yuan on the last day of the Lunar New Year for dessert. But I had some lemongrass and pandan, so I boiled a stalk of lemongrass and a piece of pandan leaf with sugar. It had a milder taste than syrup with ginger. I actually liked it, as the glutinous rice balls tasted better without the overpowering taste of the ginger. (We had glutinous rice balls with two types of filling: peanut and sesame.)

We will be starting the HomeGems: Gardening page, with Andrea Pavee taking charge. She has herbs, flowers, vegetables and fruits in her garden. The first in the series is entitled Nature’s Gift @ Home – How Does Your Garden Grow? I have a lot to learn from her as my gardening efforts have not been very successful so far, but I keep trying!

By Chayo, Homskil Editor 1, 7 March 2021

Nature’s Gift @ Home: How Does Your Garden Grow?

by Andrea Pavee

When Covid-19 rolled across the world and wreaked havoc across countries, cultures, and peoples, Governments ostensibly initiated lockdowns to halt (at best), or stem (at least) the raging infections.

Malaysia joined that bandwagon and our lockdown, colloquially known as the Movement Control Order (MCO), started on March 18. Little did we know then that the lockdown would stretch to almost 3 months.

Being an avid hiker at a secondary jungle near home, my daily forays into that haven were zeroed, much to my angst.

The first few days saw me elbow deep in reorganizing my study, where most of my time is spent.

Tomes and tomes of books were sorted, dusted, and rearranged back on shelves. With that done and dusted, and the house, more or less in order, I found myself dithering restlessly.

To keep myself sane, and productive, I thought I should give gardening a try.

Although my experience was virtually zero, and plants under my care were more likely to die, nevertheless I felt emboldened to take up the challenge.

If nothing else, I could write that off my bucket list.

Fingers crossed, I set to work.

To start off, I took to pruning dead, or dying leaves. I interchanged that with weeding the garden and watering it.

I figured that was the safest and surest way forward. I was not wrong. Nothing died!

After a bout of that, I felt confident enough to venture forward and managed to propagate some plants. Oh, the thrill of success!

These fledging efforts slowly helped me gain confidence and find my feet where I was at. As I labored, I learned through observation and reading, methods to improve myself.

My friends were a great boon since they were so excited at my progress, they were ever ready to impart advice, tips, and contacts, at the drop of a hat.

Many were generous to a fault and would ply me with saplings to green my garden with. In addition to lending beauty to my environment, tending to different varieties helped my learning curve greatly.

Another was ever ready to do nursery runs to expand my slowly growing patch. With our newly shared love of gardening, our weekly breakfasts were always peppered with gardening successes or epic fails.

Gardening has been my Covid-19 silver lining. While before, I held the thought of gardening at arm’s length, I now welcome it with both arms wide open.

One thing I learnt, you can have your little patch anywhere, inside or outside the home, small or big. Greening the world is bringing that bit of paradise right where you are at.

If you are dithering on whether gardening is worth the try, don’t just take my word for it. Give it a try, and you may find a budding hobby just waiting to bloom.

Posted by Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 8 March 2021

Gardening 360 degrees

By Andrea Pavee

Pruning is a staple in gardening. Every gardener, fledging or otherwise, has to get down and dirty with the job of snip-snipping.

Plants flourish when pruned and watching new shoots grow goes a long way in bolstering a beginner’s confidence. As a fledging gardener, I found that watching my garden grow helped bolster my confidence in my newfound hobby.

Pruning is always my first order of business when I start gardening. As soon as I don my gardening gloves, and step into my shoes, I grab my garden caddy, and shears in hand, set off to prune away.

All plants need pruning, sooner or later. Pruning is to plants, what haircuts are for us. It removes dead, or dying leaves, whilst shaving off the odd bits and bobs, making  garden greens and blooms look their best, or at least well maintained, at its worst.

Pruning can also shear plants into cute, and quirky shapes, think balls, squares or rectangles. It can also trim unruly hedges, keeping them neat and orderly.

Lastly, pruning helps your plants stay healthy. Once rid of dead or dying branches and leaves, roots and shoots can wholesomely benefit from the nutrients in the soil, thus giving them the best chance to bloom, and grow.

If you are an active gardener, pruning can be done as and when you notice yellowing or dead leaves. However, if you are pressed for time, I would recommend at least a monthly pruning to prevent an overgrown, and unkempt garden.

 If you live in a house, your garden is the first impression neighbours, and visitors will have of you. Plus, living in tropical Malaysia or Singapore, a neat garden goes a long way in keeping the mozzies at bay.

The other day, I was wrist deep pruning my Maiden’s Jealousy a.k.a. the Galphinia Vine, the Golden Rod, or Australian Gold Vine – take your pick.

Pleased as Punch at the progress I made, I grabbed my trusty caddy, and strode off to pick some ripening papayas on a nearby tree, which I grew on a lark during our Movement Control Order.

On the way back, I happened to pass my plant over the other side, and was horrified to find that I did not do as good a job as I thought.

I set to work quickly, and in a short space of time removed all the dead and dying leaves that I missed the first time around.

A lesson learnt: Effective pruning has to be tackled at a 360 degree angle.

Now, if I cannot go around a pot, I swivel it to get to the hard to reach places over the other side!

In a case of gardening imitating life, or life imitating gardening, a little musing made me realise that when facing issues, or challenges in life, problems are always better solved when we take things in from different perspectives. To do that, we need to depend on others to help us see things differently.

While not always easy, getting help and advice from confidantes, be they family members or friends, can help us make better decisions. Their input can go some way in enabling us to have a 3-dimensional view.

Another of life’s lessons taught, and this time, through the simple act of pruning my Maiden. Who would have known?

P.S. The Maiden’s Jealousy is an easy plant to grow. She loves the sun and thrives in well drained soil. She is happy in a pot although with her bendy branches, it is best that you slot in a wooden stick and secure her branches upright with twine.

If you would like to ring fence her around your garden, you have the option of either grounding her at your fence, or keeping her in her pot. Just make sure you wrap the new shoots around the chain links of the fence so she can creep upwards as she grows

A General Rule of Thumb

Grounded plants, in the right soil can grow explosively since their roots have free reign to grow. Potted plants, on the other hand, are constricted by the size of the pot they are rooted in. The more extensive the root, the bigger the plant!

With that in mind, no matter the size of your garden, you can pepper your home with any amount of plants, just by playing with the size of your pots.

Happy Gardening!

Posted by Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 11 March 2021

Gardening Made Easy – The Money Plant

By Andrea Pavee

Gardening never came easy to me. Whether it was the icky-ness of the soil, or my horror at worms and other soil bound critters, I just did not like it. It took a global pandemic to make me reconsider my somewhat entrenched opinion.

When we went on lockdown last March, I geared up and got out into the sunshine, and my garden, if but to break the monotony of being home bound, and confined. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.

The rest, as they say, is history.

While I have been somewhat successful, these past months, at keeping my plants alive, I am no expert. That explains why many of my garden greens are fuss-free, easy growing plants.

When you are a greenhorn at gardening, that is a wise decision. Nothing bolsters confidence than a growing, greening garden.

Whether you are just starting, or would like to broaden your repertoire, the money plant  a.k.a the golden porthos or the devil’s ivy, is one of the easiest, fuss-free plants to consider.

She will grow whether you stick her flexible stem in water, a hydroponic solution, or into soil. Best of all, she can withstand some neglect and still thrive!

While she can grow in direct sunlight, she thrives in semi-shade. She is happy when grounded, in a pot or hung on beams or brackets in your home. With soft stems, her leaves will naturally cascade as she grows.

The Money plant is also a prodigious creeper, which is why you need to keep an eye out when she grows near walls or trellises. Her leaves tend to be small and heart-shaped when potted. Once grounded, or left free to creep, they can become enormous.

Plus, her stems adhere to walls very well, and when pulled off can rip off the underlying paintwork, thus making your wall splotchy and unsightly.

As a creeper, she brings a depth of exotic beauty into the home, softening the effect of concrete walls while easing tired eyes.

If you would like an easily managed creeper, this plant is for you, especially since she requires very little pruning. Just pluck or cut off dead, or dying leaves and your work is done.

Happy gardening!

Posted by Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 17 March 2021

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