The exasperating coleus

Green Coleus "canina"

Green Coleus “canina”

How often do you encounter plants that just keep popping up all over your garden? They may show up in flowering beds, across the lawn, with your potted plants, in cracks in cement… You get the picture? When plants do that, we call them weeds – but honestly, they’re just plants that we didn’t plan for and are prejudiced against because they grow better than the plants we actually want.

Well here’s the tale of one such plant that has been spreading happily all around our garden. I know it has been growing “here and there” for several years, but this plant finally got a firm foothold and is now growing in clumps all over the place. Why? Because it has such a quick life cycle and it produces loads of seeds with each plant. They must be tiny and light because, somehow, they are able to find they way onto roofs as well! The consolation about this is that I don’t think they have roots that can damage property, but I’m still peeved about how pervasive it is.

It took me a while to figure out what it was, and let me give you the shortcut I learned. It’s called a Google image search. Instead of typing in your search request, you can actually go to Google images and use an image to submit your query! It’s pretty cool, and allowed me to finally identify my new plant foe as a coleus.

Check out the length of those flower spikes ...then imagine the number of seeds being produced!

Check out the length of those flower spikes …then imagine the number of seeds being produced!

Coleus to me are normally ornamental plants with colourful, patterned leaves that grow in shady conditions. This insidious plant is plain green all over and has a flower spike of pale blue or purplish flowers, and grows not only in shade, but also full sunlight. What I don’t like about it is the weird scent it gives off when it gets bruised when I’m yanking it out.

This belongs to the Plectranthus family of plants which has a multitude of varieties. The closest I’ve come to identifying this one is Coleus “canina”, which describes it right down to the smell. It is apparently also called the “Scaredy Cat” plant as it supposedly repels pest animals (like cats). What interested me was that it supposedly also drives off mosquitoes! Maybe it does, but I’m still not happy at the way it has spread so much.

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How a pineapple develops

It’s really interesting to see how different plants grow. I was lucky to catch the ratoon pineapple just as it began to crown, and this is how it grew from March to July this year…

First sign that it's time for the pineapple to start developing the fruit - you see the shade of pink starting to show in the centre.

First sign that it’s time for the pineapple to start developing the fruit – you see the shade of pink starting to show in the centre.

Three weeks in and you see more pink bromeliad leaves emerging.

Three weeks in and you see more pink bromeliad leaves emerging.

Week 5 and the shape of the fruit starts to show. The lower parts have purple flowers.

Week 5 and the shape of the fruit starts to show. The lower parts have purple flowers.

Week 9 and the fruit seems formed.

Week 9 and the fruit seems formed after all the flowering has finished.

Week 13 and the skin looks like it's toughening up. A sucker is starting to grow.

Week 13 and the skin looks like it’s toughening up. A sucker is also starting to grow.

Week 17 and the fruit is ripening.

Week 17 and the fruit is ripening. The crown has grown impressively.

The ratoon pineapple and new sucker.

The ratoon pineapple and new sucker.

This pineapple was harvested 18 weeks after we first noticed it crowning. If I recall correctly, the first pineapple also took about 18 weeks to grow, even though it was heavier. So that makes it about four calendar months for a pineapple to reach harvest!

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Gardening is good for the soul!

Happy portulaca flowers!

Happy portulaca flowers!

In normal times, I really look forward to weekends because I crave that break from the office environment of being stuck indoors and around office equipment from Monday to Friday. The best weekend to me is one spent out in the garden after digesting a hearty breakfast in the morning. I don’t care how hot it may get. Just being in the garden is the best antidote for my work week, and I can spend hours out there mowing the lawn, planting, weeding, pruning, chipping and more – with regular breaks for shade and hydration, of course! I even consciously stay offline and away from technology. By the time Sunday evening rolls around, I’m usually tired, a little more tanned, and happy that the garden looks tended. Gardening grounds me in a very special way.

There have been many studies that show how gardening, or just being out in nature, can be beneficial for us. It can help fight depression, lower the risk of dementia and address a whole slew of diseases ranging from high blood pressure to heart disease to osteoporosis and more, thanks to less than three hours of moderate intensity level activity in the garden per week. Add to that the benefit of growing your own food, and you won’t find it surprising that more and more people are turning to horticulture.

Here in Singapore, even where space is limited in HDB and apartment buildings, creative gardeners are growing a remarkable range of plants. I’m often impressed by members of online groups who excitedly share their progress in growing ornamentals, herbs, leafy veggies and even fruiting plants in their apartments. And, part of being in such communities means you make new friends. I’ve been lucky to get a few of those. Some only cross paths for brief periods, but others can become dear friends. Gardening buddies are especially good for the soul!

My blog is of course one of my connections to you on the Web. It used to be more interactive when I allowed comments to be made, but to be honest, I got so much spam that took time to handle, and the site was hacked a few times, so I decided to close off that feature to have more peace of mind. I’m glad that many of you have stayed on because it means you’re here for what I share.

So I know that this year I haven’t written as much as I usually do, and I apologise for that and thank you if you’ve stuck it out with me anyway. You see, at the beginning of the year I found out I had breast cancer, and have since passed through the gauntlet of all the treatment and surgery. During this time, I had to cut back on all the gardening that I dearly love, which was frankly harder for me to bear than all the medical stuff I’ve been through. Thank goodness there were plants that were already growing that gave us some bright moments; and I went on a seed shopping spree to make myself happy. You have to find things to keep your spirits up during extended trials like this, otherwise it can be tedious – and you should already know how much I love getting new seeds! They are standing by and will be planted very soon.

New seeds that will hopefully thrive in our climate.

New seeds that will hopefully thrive in our climate.

The worst part is now over and I’m chomping at the bit to delve back into developing our edible garden (after we clear the jungly parts!) and get back to those happy, sweaty weekends. Don’t forget, I have some permaculture adaptations to make, too. Just thinking about it fills me with joy! I feel like as the residue from chemotherapy clears from my body, my gardening spirit is awakening from slumber and I am becoming whole again. Like I’ve said, gardening grounds me in a special way, and I can’t wait to jump back into action. It is truly good for our wellbeing!

© 2017 curiousgardener.com All rights reserved.


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The ratoon pineapple

The ratoon pineapple and new sucker.

The ratoon pineapple and new sucker.

Last May, we harvested our first pineapple, and I decided to leave one sucker on the parent plant to continue growing. This would give what is known as a ratoon crop. It grows faster than starting a new plant, but the fruits are reportedly smaller. Me being me, I had to test this out for myself.

It took almost eleven months before the ratoon plant started flowering, and as we watched the fruit develop, it definitely looked smaller than the first fruit. There seemed to be fewer flowers, which made the overall size of the fruit smaller. I was disappointed, but this was an experiment, after all. Compared to the original plant that had taken about three years to bear a fruit, this was definitely much faster.

As with the last time, we waited for the pineapple to ripen on the plant. What I didn’t count on, though, were mealybugs and industrious ants looking for a shady place to hide during the hot weather. They set up home along the base of the fruit, and while they didn’t penetrate the skin, they managed to damage it a little, resulting in dark spots on the skin.

I fancy the pineapple wasn’t as tasty as the first one, but that could just be me. Flavour-wise, it was sweet, and definitely more delicious than store-bought pineapples that are still greenish in colour when we buy them.

As with the last time, the plant produced a new sucker. This time, though, I won’t leave it on the parent plant. The sucker, along with the new crown, will be removed and planted separately. Now my next question is whether they will follow the original or ratoon parent when they grow up…

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