Monday 31 March 2014

SA Garden Catalogue: Pisonia Alba

Pisonia alba on right of pic (CNB 2012)

Pisonia grandis var. alba (syn. Pisonia alba) can be a big shrub or a (not so) small tree with large yellow-green leaves that are sometimes used as vegetables (see my post: More Food from an Urban Garden on 28 February 2012 ). Flowers and fruits are rarely observed and I have certainly not seen any on the two trees I have had in my garden for nearly seven years. I'd bought the two as small plants from the Bukit Cahaya Seri Alam and grown them in large pots to curtail their growth into large trees. With constant pruning, they are bonsai-like with old trunks but new branches. Lately I noticed two nests being 'woven' in the leaves by little birds I am not able to identify.

The Pisonia alba or Mengkudu Siam in Malay, grows well in full sun and propagation is by cuttings.  They do make nice wayside shrubs and I have noticed many growing in the Shah Alam city centre.

Edible shoots of the Pisonia alba (CNB 2014)

The weather in this month of March has been hot with some rains. But with water being rationed in Selangor including Shah Alam, I only get to water the garden sparingly every three days.

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Its Springtime at Tasik Bestari

When going by the Tasik Bestari recently, yellow Tabebuia or 'trumpet' blooms attracted my attention. So out came the camera to capture the blooms which I knew would only last a few days. Enjoy!

Apart from the yellow flowers (Tabebuia ochracea) there was also the pink and white (Tabebuia rosea) variety. The park was a pleasure to walk through, as M and A did that day. If Japan has Sakura, we have our Tabebuia. Both heralding spring, both not lasting very long! But the plus for our Tabebuia is that it will bloom again in summer (July). (See my post 'Blooming Tabebuia' of 31 July 2013)

There were other trees in glorious bloom at the Tasik Bestari park then. Like the Bunga Tanjung, quite fragrant really.

This tree below attracted my attention. The green and brown leaves had so many perforations, they look like lace. But the tree is probably dying, perhaps under (termite?) attack in the root system.

As I was walking by the lake edge, I noticed a piece of driftwood with so many pink 'stuff' on it. Then I saw even more pink 'stuff' on some aquatic plants nearby and even on a tree trunk. Walking further up these pink things appeared on a cement wall that formed the catchment drain. I found out from a man there who told me that these are snails eggs. Then I noticed the little snails, though not many of them. Ahhah! Mystery solved.

Note: Its the 20th day since the disappearance of MH370. Our prayers go out to the crew, passengers and their families.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

My NZ: A Wedding in Blenheim

Rebecca and Ryan re-affirmed their marriage vows at a wedding service in the Church of the Nativity, Blenheim on the 15th March 2014. They had already been wedded six months earlier in New York, USA and this second ceremony was for their family and friends in New Zealand.

In the run up to the wedding ceremony, there was a hen party for the girls (mums included!) and the equivalent stag party for the boys. The girls' party was held at Gramado's in Main Street. It was a fun night with food, games and karaoke.

The Hen Party at Gramado's (CNB 2014)

Tissue paper 'brides' (CNB 2014)

The mainly mums table at Gramado's

We helped out where we could at the Wrights' home and the reception hall. We helped fold napkins for the table setting, make carnation posies and fill the special place names with 'R&R smarties'. It was all very light and fun work. Maureen's friend made the beautiful flower arrangement in the two large vases at the entrance of the hall.

The reception hall and table setting (CNB 2014)

The wedding rehearsal was held a day before the wedding.

The wedding rehersal (CNB 2014)

With Wayne & wife
The wedding was held at the Church of the Nativity at 3.00 pm. We went to the church with friends of Maureen and Alan who happen to live just opposite our accommodation in Blenheim. Wayne and his wife also happen to be the parent's of Bonnie, one of the five bridesmaids at the wedding service, together with B, Harriet, Hayley and Nicole. The maid of honour was Sarah, Rebecca's sister, and Ryan's cousin Seide was his bestman.

The wedding service was sweet and romantic. Rebecca and Ryan literally danced their way down the aisle after the ceremony, to the applause of all in attendance. The wedding party then proceeded to an outdoor photo session in a vineyard although it was a rather blustery day.

R & R dancing down the aisle (CNB 2014)

Page boy Tyson with 3 of 4 flower girls (CNB 2014)

The wedding reception was at 5.00 pm, and the hall accommodated more than 100 guests. The speeches by friends and family (fathers Alan and Jean) of the bride and groom were short but very sweet. It also happened to be Alan & Maureen's wedding anniversary and Ryan's birthday as well so in all it was a three-in-one celebration that evening. Congratulations to all!

B, Sarah, R&R, Seide, Matthew at the main table (CNB 2014)

The groom and his birthday cake (CNB 2014)

The wedding of Rebecca and Ryan was the fitting end of our very first New Zealand trip.  May they be blessed in their life together and may we be able to make more trips to NZ Aotearoa.

My NZ: Picton, Blenheim, Marlborough

We crossed the Cook Strait from Wellington and landed in Picton, which sits at the head of the Queen Charlotte Sound and is the southern port for the Inter Island ferry services. Picton has a historic past as a Maori settlement and fishing village, but has evolved into a seaport town with a eclectic mix of cafes and restaurants and a base for many activities, both on land and water. From Picton, we were fetched by Rebecca and Ryan to meet their families at a friends' home overlooking Waikawa Bay. They had been sailing in the morning and were waiting for our arrival, before we all went on to Blenheim.

Arriving in South Island by ferry (CNB 2014)

Waikawa Bay, Picton (CNB 2014)

Blenheim, (together with Renwick and Wairau) is at the centre of the Marlborough region 'renowned for its vineyards, culinary experiences, art, gardens and heritage'. Blenheim is in fact 'Marlborough's main centre, a great base for exploring and indulging in the leisure and lifestyle attractions of the region'.

It is autumn in New Zealand, and in the Marlborough region the vines are turning golden and the buzz of harvest has begun. 'For a gourmet experience, a winery tour seems the thing to do and there are over 35 cellar doors that offer tastings from family producers to well recognised brands. In fact there are 152 wineries, and 23232 hectares of grapes planted in the region.  92% of New Zealand's sauvignon blanc comes out from here and an estimated 19.6 million cases of wine produced in 2013'. Okay, I am not a wine connoisseur (I gathered the above information from the Official Visitor Guide to Marlborough, 2014), in fact I am not a wine anything. But grapes, yes, I am into eating bunches of delicious grapes and scoopfuls of yummy raisins.

The Wairau River grapes ready for harvesting (CNB 2014)

Our hosts in Blenheim very kindly enabled us to tour two wineries. Maureen works at the Wairau River Wines (Family Estate since 1978) and we had a very good lunch there among the vines. In fact for me, it was the best meal ever that I ate in New Zealand. We later met the Maori chef at the winery restaurant and I was able to thank him for the wonderful blue cheese souffle and refreshing crunchy salad. Kia ora, thank you indeed.

About to dine among the vines

My best meal in NZ (CNB 2014)

We also visited Brancott Estate Heritage Centre overlooking the stunning vista of  Marlborough. Here I had a close encounter with the grapes that make pinot noir.

Group photo at Brancott Estate 

Grapes for pinot noir (CNB 2014)

We spent a week in Blenheim, staying at the Trescoe B&B, Eltham Road. From here we could walk to the compact town centre with its bustling main street and a thriving cafe and restaurant scene.

Posing in front of the Blenheim Police Station

Blenheim Railway Station (CNB 2014)

Rebecca's sister Sarah also came around a few times to fetch us to their family home. Maureen and Alan have a beautiful house and garden. And at dusk, they also have the most stunning and colourful sunset right in front of their doorstep.

A stunning Blenheim sunset (CNB 2014)

Monday 24 March 2014

My NZ: Wellington Botanic Gardens

It is officially autumn when we arrived in New Zealand, but summer is still lingering on because most leaves are still green, although the winds can get nippy, even chilly and blustery in some places. NZ's climate is mostly temperate (except for for the Northland which is subtropical). Travelling through the North Island, I noticed that palms that one usually associates with hot climes are quite ubiquitous, together with the temperate ferns.

We walked the Wellington Botanic Garden (WBG) after going up to Kelburn by the cable car and taking a peek at the Cable Car Museum. The 25 hectare Garden was established in 1868 and is now managed by the Wellington City Council.

Bread tree by the Kelburn lookout

I read that the endemic 'Pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) which once completely painted the coastline red in the summer with its tiny crimson petals has been ravaged by possums and although these can still be seen they are under conservation management by Project Crimson'. Considered NZ's Christmas tree, Pohutukawa trees that we came across in the WBG are quite old so I wonder if they still flower.

A very old Pohutukawa tree (CNB 2014)

(pic Pohutukawa flowers)

Children's play area (CNB 2014)

As we walked down the Myrtle Way, there are hydrangeas galore in a little valley. These are my favourite flowers and even if they are not at the height of their beauty (it is officially autumn after all), I could not help but take a lot of photos.

Hydrangeas (CNB 2014)

The Succulent Garden and the Rock Garden are side by side and here we started seeing some 'weird' wired things among the plants. But we thought nothing of these because the succulents were really beautiful and some, surprisingly 'artificial' looking!

The Rock Garden and beyond (CNB 2014)

Flowers we thought were artificial! (CNB 2014)

Further down the William Wakefield Way passing by the Fernery, Threatened Species Garden and Fragrant Garden and down towards the Duck Pond, we realised that there was a night time program of  'Power Plant' installations which light up in the evening. These installations include hanging dresses, lampshades, toys, etc.

Dress installations in the Garden (CNB 2014)

The Duck Pond seems a favourite with the children who come to feed  the numerous ducks there. Some more flew in noisily from somewhere into the pond while we were there. By the William Bramley Drive toward the main gate there are beautiful colourful beds of begonia and marigold amid the Joy Fountain. So how can one not pose here?

By the colourful Begonia beds (BB 2014)
(pic rose garden)
We exited the main gate (Founders' entrance) and walked towards the Lady Norwood Rose Garden. After stopping long enough to smell the roses, we bypassed the Begonia House and walked on through the Bolton Street Memorial Park (Wellington cemetery 1840-1892). We then crossed over the Wellington Motorway, saw a bit of the Parliament buildings including the 'Beehive' before traversing Lambton Quay towards our accommodation in Cuba Street. Quite an exhilarating walk through gardens, cemetery, and city streets.

My NZ: Walking Windy Wellington

When we arrived in Wellington after our more than seven hour journey from Rotorua, the InterCity coach dropped us at the railway station. How very nice. The beautiful building and the trains in the platforms served to remind me that the next time if ever I need to travel from Auckland to Wellington, I will surely take the train.

And true to being called 'the windy city', we immediately felt the cold winds blowing while waiting for a taxi to take us to our accommodation in Cuba Street.

Arriving in Windy Wellington at 4.50 pm (BB 2014)

Wellington railway station (CNB 2014)

Cuba Street is known for its 'street culture, boutique shopping and some of the best coffee in town'. No doubt the buildings along this street are quite interesting, and each facade is quite different from the other. The shops with their pretty shop-windows too look inviting. Oh, there's also that quirky bucket fountain that may drench you if you are not aware. And yes, we may have found the best coffee in town at Fidel's Cafe. Plus the most delicious churros with its spicy hot chocolate dip.

Trekkers Hotel/People's Palace/CQ Hotel (CNB 2014)

With B in front of Fidel's

Best coffee & churros? (CNB 2014)

It was pleasant walking around Wellington. We walked in bright sunshine and wind along the water front and enjoyed people-watching there. There were many joggers at midday, and we found out that the office workers love to run during their lunch time break. There were also skaters, skateboarders, sun worshipers, fishers, divers and even that man eternally trying to find 'solace in the wind'*. There were some pop up shops selling local crafts including paua shell jewelry and such that make good souvenirs, or you can buy from a museum shop. The Museum of New Zealand or Te Papa Tongarewa lies in the vicinity, ready to be explored for its rich artifact collection of Aotearoa New Zealand history and culture.

With B between Civic Square and the
city-to-sea bridge

Giving a hand to help the man find 'solace in the wind'.

We walked past the Civic Square through the city to Lambton Quay and the cable car station for a one way ticket up. The Wellington Cable Car is a 110 year old funicular railway up to the suburb of Kelburn. Then it was an exhilarating walk down through the fascinating Botanical Gardens.

Wellington cable car and harbour view (CNB 2014)

Arriving in Kelburn 

*Sculpture entitled 'Solace in the wind' by Max Patte

Sunday 23 March 2014

My NZ: Hobbiton, Matamata, Waikato

I have a confession to make. I have never read The Hobbit (1937) or The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien. Neither have I seen the movies. So I do not know anything about Gandalf, Frodo, Sam, Bilbo Baggins, etc. I guess I am just not such a great fan of the fantasy genre. (Although I have read all of Roald Dahl's, but not any of J K Rowling's). But then when you are in New Zealand, I guess you are already in Middle Earth, so a visit to 'The Shire, home of the Hobbiton movie set where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were filmed' is a must.

Rolling hills of  fertile dairy country, Waikato (CNB 2014)

Hobbiton (CNB 2014)

The bucolic setting for The Shire, home of the Hobbits, was found in a 1250 acre sheep and beef farm belonging to the Alexander family and located near Matamata. If initially made of ply and polystyrene in 1999 for TLOR, ten years later for TH trilogy the structures were reconstructed with more permanent materials. By the way I hate that artificial oak tree that overlooks Bag End - it looks so, so ... artificial! But hey, it is part of a movie set after all.

Hey, I could be a Hobbit and live in this hole! (BB 2014)

Our guided tour ends at the Green Dragon Inn of Bywater which we were made to understand, was frequented by Hobbits from the area and the neighbouring settlement of Hobbiton. This fictional pub of Tolkien's Middle Earth is now a working pub with real booze for visitors.

The bridge to the Green Dragon (CNB 2014)

Our guide & colleagues at the Green Dragon (CNB 2014)

Maybe, just maybe, after this rather interesting visit to Hobbiton and the Green Dragon, I might start reading Tolkien's books (because they are, after all, classics in children's literature) and watch the Peter Jackson movies.