Monday, May 08, 2017

I'm A One Year Old Gardener

Today last year I decided on serious gardening when I built a workstation and centralised all my gardening resources and tools there. During this one year I proved to myself that I can sustain this passion and pastime. I tanned a lot due to exposure to the sun. But I've found a great love in what I'm doing. As long as I'm able to take care of my plants I'll keep to my daily rituals of attending to their needs in exchange for the pleasures they provide. During the past 12 months I worked towards a timetable of making my life easier as I get older. Many of the laborious works have been disposed of, thanks to my maid Mary who happily helped out, in the process she fell in love with gardening and learned several tricks from me. On this anniversary day I'm happy to record the following milestones and significant developments.

1. Setting up a rainwater harvesting system, dripper and misting systems.
2. Building an extended awning over the side patio for a rain-free access to my workstation.
3. Tiling the side patio under the extended awning.
4. Covering the side garden with transparent roofing sheets to protect my adenium.
5. Finalising the edible garden to grow papayas (successfully) and other edible plants.
6. Finalising the side garden for adenium, portulaca grandiflora, portulaca oleracea and marigolds.
7. Finalising the hibiscus zone with different types of hibiscus and amaryllis.
8. Finalising the sunny and petite zones for lemon, roses, marigolds, periwinkles and other flowers.
9. Finalising the lamppost and mango gardens with a range of edible and flowering plants.
10. Finalising the side patio garden with flowers to please my eyes.
11. Learning organic composting using only my garden and kitchen wastes.
12. Finally, discovering the joy of being purposeful and contented in an activity that sustains my retiring years.

As of now all physical extensions are done. I've bought enough bricks to border the various zones in the main garden and stones to beautify the selected zones. I've more than sufficient hanging pots and ground pots to keep me fully occupied caring for the many plants.

My focus for the coming year is:
1. Maintaining my plants as best as I can for better blooming and fruiting.
2. Keeping the plants healthy and disease free by learning the best nutrients and organic treatments for them.
3. Replacing some plants with courage if they tires me or I find them troublesome to upkeep.
4. Refining the arrangement of my gardening plants and pots to infuse fresher looks, including changing plants.

The patio is where I spend much time on the reclining chair, thinking, admiring my flowers and fruit trees, having my tea break, musing with my grandchildren, taking naps, listening to music, and in future, reading as I need more light. Maybe one day, when my wife is freer we will enjoy our breakfasts here. This will be my outdoor spot to pass my time and watching birds and butterflies flitting amongst the flowers and trees.

My pride is my garden is possibly the prettiest in RK3. I must drive around to look into other gardens in the neighborhood to get new ideas, maybe exchange plants. I know my garden can be further improved but I thank God for the space to cultivate this beneficial and healthy lifestyle. I like the challenge of growing my flowers from seeds or cuttings instead of buying growing ones from nurseries. I take pride in arranging my plants to get the best of the sunlight. I've learned the art of composting and be ecologically friendly. I've also learned much from internet gardening tips and resources as well as from gardening groups I joined.

I'm happy to discover this enjoyable recreation and I pray for many many years to look after my garden and enjoy the fruits of my labour. Gardening is fun and I encourage those who are due to retire, of already retired and with a piece of land to develop. Start gardening. Whether it is for pleasure or for food it will help you spend your time well. I wish I'd started it several years earlier but it's never too late.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

A Novice Gardener's Mistakes

I consider myself a novice. I have no formal education in agriculture or plant science. I know little about soil and fertilizers, pests, diseases or best practices to produce great flowers and food crops. Yet my ignorance is no deterrent because I can access a wealth of free knowledge and advice from the Internet by googling my questions and keywords. I can also join Facebook groups or read gardening blogs to pick up ideas and tips.

When I started my mission in May this year I have in hand a sizeable collection of plants which I didn't spend 'quality time' to look after them. I remember I have several pots of adenium obesum or desert roses that were left sitting unattended on top of the dog kennel. It was one day in April I think when I decided to bring them down to clean them up and repot some of them that I felt I should start serious gardening. So here I am. Over the months I've made a few mistakes, overcame a few, but continue to challenge myself to perfect my skills. My aim is to know all my plants and deliver the right growth conditions to them so they, in turn, reward me with beautiful and healthy flowers and fruits.

Overly Ambitious
Today I have about 70 different plant types in my 'little garden'. At my age, I should be handling not more than 10 or 20 but I don't have the heart to throw or give the rest away. So I'm breaking this rule. I shall look after them as best as I can. Fortunately, most are easy to care and require little or no attention other than occasional fertilizing and pruning.

Fertilizer Mistakes
In the beginning, I thought all fertilizers are the same. Then it dawns on me that plants need different fertilizer formulations at different period of growth and production of flowers and fruits. I used to buy fertilizers without understanding their application. What's the difference between organic and inorganic? Japanese fertilizer? Animal manure? Liquid fertilizers? Growth inducers? Flowering fertilizers? Fruiting fertilizers? Mineral enhancements like calcium, magnesium, phosphate, lime, etc. General purpose fertilizers, balanced fertilizers. The names are confusing. I've made mistakes of applying wrong fertilizers or applying wrongly and excessively causing leaf burns. I am learning and still learning which fertilizer is best for which plant, the regularity and dosage to apply, and when to apply. My mistake is a tendency to over-fertilize. Certain plants really DON'T need fertilizing except once or twice a year, but out of love I've given them monthly or more frequently.

Watering Mistakes
My weakness is over-watering. But I learn this problem is accentuated by the soil drainage. Over-watering is less critical if the soil drains fast so the roots are not drowning and begin to rot, especially my desert roses which are very sensitive to excessive water in the soil. Now I ensure all the soil mix I prepare to have good drainage properties.

Wrong Planting Location
I am glad this is becoming less of an issue as I read up on plants preferences. Also with the preferred spots already taken up, I have fewer places to plant new flowers which I must then choose based on the available locations.


I am lucky to have access to basic materials for composting. The mango tree provides leaves, rich in carbon, the grass trimmings and kitchen wastes (vegetables and fruits) provide sources of nitrogen. Together they supply renewable sources of ingredients to produce compost for my plants as well as improve my soil quality.

Although I had replaced the garden soil 3 years ago the general soil condition is still sandy and clayey with poor drainage where it is hard. Fortunately, over the years most of the top 2-3 inches are tillable and some earthworms have made their homes underneath feeding on dead grass clippings on the surface. Still, I need to make the soil better aerated and less compacted. So I decided to make composting a regular activity in my gardening work. Besides, I don't have to throw them out with the other garbage.

Initially, I had some trouble choosing the right composting method. Eventually, I settled on pile composting. Essentially the method involves layering the dried leaves and the grass clippings and kitchen wastes one after the other and sprinkling some water. The approximate ratio is 3 parts leaves to 1 part grass and kitchen wastes. After that, a large piece of tarpaulin is placed over it and pegged down to keep the heat in and any rain water out. Composting is really a process of decomposing organic materials into more easily digestible form. The process takes anything from several weeks to several months, depending on whether the compost heap is turned regularly to allow oxygen to speed up the process. In my method, I turn the pile every week and by the 6th week, the compost is ready for use. Care must be taken not to exceed the kitchen waste portion which can cause fermentation and attract flies and insects to lay eggs. No meat and fish waste should be used as they attract rodents.

To produce compost of finer texture as well as speed up decomposing, the dried leaves are shredded using the lawn mower with a catcher. While the first batch of compost is being prepared on the ground, the next batch is made inside a drum which is rolled on its side every week. I know my compost is breaking down well when I can feel the heat inside the pile. It means the bacteria are digesting the organic materials and the colors started changing to brown then nearly black. The smell of the compost becomes earthy. To aid decomposing, some soil is sprinkled into the compost pile. Adding some of the older compost is also helpful since they provide microorganism that helps the process of breaking down the organic materials.

Compost is an important soil conditioner as well as a source of organic fertilizer in the form of humus. Compost also aid as a mulch when spread on top of the soil to reduce moisture loss on hot days. Besides, they provide a continual source of organic fertilizer, saving me some money in the process. Today I discovered my soil condition has improved tremendously. New compost is used mainly to condition soils for potted plants and fertilize them periodically.

Garden Division

I divided my garden into 4 zones. The main garden, the side garden, the front mango garden and the front lamppost garden, the last two on public land on the right and left side of the main gate which I grow a mix of flowers, shrubs and herbs both for beautification as well as land utilisation.

The main garden is subdivided into the shadier zone along the wall under the mango tree, the fruit zone to the right which gets both the morning and evening sun, the patio zone which is shady, and the pre-patio zone next to the garage. The side garden is the sunniest where I plant flowers that need hot sun to thrive.

My original plan of growing only flowering plants was changed to include food plants for the kitchen as well as fruits. Gardening is also to excite and educate my grandchildren to better appreciate how plants and garden creatures thrive and understand their contributions to the human needs.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Gardening Mission

After April 2013 when the original grass in my lawn was replaced I continued tending to my garden without any focus on how my garden should turn out. It was only 3 years later, on April 5 this year to be exact, when I discovered how pretty the Japanese Roses (aka Moss Rose and Portulaca Grandiflora) are with its many small multi-colored flowers, if I grow them on hanging pots. They were given by my younger daughter Irene and planted on the ground. Whenever they bloomed in the morning I felt a sense of joy in me. I love flowers but never thought of planting them.

Several years earlier I had purchased 4 clamshell-shaped hanging pots from IKEA which I never used. Finding the inspiration now to do something I created my first real gardening attempt. A month later I decided to build my gardening workstation in a free corner of my house so that I don't have to trek to the store room to get my tools and fertilizers. This decision was indeed a journey of faith. It will change my lifestyle and daily routine completely. I was never a gardening person before, my knowledge of horticulture was little too basic. But on my retirement leg now I need something physically easy yet spiritually enriching. This was a serious attempt to build my garden. I declared to my elder daughter Christine, I am a Gardener! With that statement I began my journey of transforming the open space into a piece of work I can be proud of, one that I can appreciate from my patio right into my very old age, God willing.

After the racks were repainted I moved the gardening materials from the store to the workstation. From then on I plunged into the mission of creating a flower garden. I had no idea what to plant, where to plant, what are the plant needs and how I like my garden to look like. Every single day thereafter I spent thinking, learning from Internet resources and planning. I joined a gardening group on Facebook to learn how other novices like me deal with similar problems. Many ideas I thought were nice turned out to be unworkable. Many plant arrangements I made turned out to be wrong. I learned never to be fixated on a rigid way of looking at designing my garden but to allow my creativity be dictated by evolving shape and look of my emerging garden.

Let me tell you my story in the following posts. It has been over 6 months ago when I started this journey. Today I have a different garden.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The 2016 Qingdao Holiday - Day 8

After breakfast at 8.00 we checked out at 10.30 and left for the airport for our flight KA951 to Hong Kong where we connected to CX791 for our flight to KLIA arriving past midnight the next morning.

On this holiday I used my Lumix TZ70 compact camera, the Lenovo Vibe Shot smartphone and the iPad Air 2 to capture a total of over 1500 photos and videos. Fortunately we purchased travel insurance which covered baggage delay. Although the Qingdao holiday is quite different from the UK/Lake Como holidays in October 2015 it fulfilled its objective. There are no incense filled temple visits or shopping stops. The tour manager and local guide are courteous and knowledgeable. Except for the food which was of average quality I found the water melon served at almost every meal to be very sweet. Managed to take back several seeds and successfully grew them. They are small but sweet as those I tasted in Qingdao.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The 2016 Qingdao Holiday - Day 7

From Tai-an we returned to Qingdao today after breakfast. We entered Qingdao before noon via the Qingdao Haiwan Bridge which at 26.7km is the longest over the water bridge in the world. The weather is overcast and cooling, perfect for walking tour. We first visited the Woodcutter Street which is now converted to a food street like the Water Lily Street in Jinan. Youths engage in very unhealthy habit of gobbling heavily spiced and grilled seafood. Next is the boat ride on the Qingdao Bay and we saw the Zhan Qiao (loading pier) and little Qingdao, a small island near to this pier. We also toured the Former German Governor's Residence and the Kang You Wei* Mansion before walking quite a steep slope to Shiaoyusan (Little Fish Hill) to take in the panoramic view of Qingdao city and the old German quarters below. Finally we viewed the old Catholic Church before adjourning for dinner and taking in the sights of the Taitung Night Market. The church building is impressive at 56m tall but the architecture is not inspiring.

* A Chinese scholar, noted calligrapher and prominent political thinker and reformer of the late Qing dynasty. He led movements to establish a constitutional monarchy and was an ardent Chinese nationalist and internationalist.

Tonight we stayed at the Jin Jiang Hotel which unfortunately was the worst so far.


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