Tuesday, 12 November 2013

So what is Cassava?

I love cassava. I love growing it, I love eating it, I love looking at it. I also love tapioca, yuca and manioc - although it doesn't really matter as they all refer to the same plant.

Freshly harvested cassava

 How cassava is usually available in Australia - frozen

The attractive foliage of the cassava plant

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, cassava is the world's third most widely grown source of carbohydrates, after rice and corn. Millions survive on this plant alone everyday. It is drought, heat, wind tolerant and will grow in very poor and polluted soils, making it invaluable to communities around the world. Yet despite its popularity worldwide, it is relatively unknown here in Australia.

Cassava is grown primarily for its tuberous roots. These roots are boiled, baked, fried or ground into flour. It is used both like a potato and as a dessert ingredient in many regional dishes. In fact, one of the most common uses for it is fufu, the cassava-equivalent of mashed potato (see the recipe below). 

Cassava has a wonderful taste, slightly nutty and richer than potatoes. 

French fries .. with cassava. This is how it's done in the Caribbean. Yum!

Anyone who has lived in the tropics for some time will be familiar with this plant. It has an attractive, dark green pinnate leaf which is held on the plant by a contrasting bright red stem (it almost has the appearance of marijuana!). The plant grows to about 2 metres tall very rapidly. Cassava is bushy and makes a great ornamental garden subject, even if not grown to eat.

I first became familiar with cassava while living in Cuba, where it is known as Yuca. There it is often boiled and eaten as a side dish to meat in place of rice.

I have cassava plants available for sale in Sydney. They have been growing here for several years and are thus more acclimatised to cooler weather. Plants can be sent interstate when required.

A selection of my cassava plants for sale. They can be mailed interstate.

Fufu Cassava Recipe (from the Congo, Africa)
  • Place peeled cassava (it's easy to peel, just split the skin with a knife and it peels off easily) in large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until the cassava is soft (maybe half an hour). Remove pot from heat and cool with running water. Drain. Add butter. Put cassava in a bowl (or back in the empty pot) and mash with a potato masher, then beat and stir with a wooden spoon until completely smooth. This might take two people: one to hold the bowl and the other to stir.
  • Shape the  resulting mixture (fufu) into balls and serve immediately with meat stew or any dish with a sauce or gravy. To eat it, tear off a small handful with your fingers and use it to scoop up your meat and sauce.

 Traditional way of preparing fufu with cassava - certainly one way to catch up with friends!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Growing Pandan in Sydney

I first grew Pandan in Cairns before bring cuttings down to Sydney. They can be grown here but need extra care in the cooler months.

Basically, the first winter will be the hardest on them as they have not had time to adjust to cooler weather. It is important to keep them very dry and as warm as possible - such as under the eaves on the north side of the house. The leaves will yellow, but that is just a response to cooler temperatures, and will still be good for use in cooking. Some of the older leaves may even go a bit brown and die off. That doesn't matter, as long as the roots and growing tips are OK, they will sprout back when the weather is warmer.

Some people even bring them in the house over winter. A bright spot in the bathroom is ideal.

Pandan is used primarily in Asian cooking. It has a fresh, nutty and delicate fragrance and is popular in many desserts. Another trick is to cut off a leaf, tie it in a knot, and throw it in the rice cooker when you boil rice. The leaf is removed after cooking and it really enhances the taste of the rice.

Additionally, Pandan leaves can be thrown in a kettle and made in to a tea (very much like tea leaves). The only difference is that Pandan is best used fresh and does not have to be dried. 

Pandan has various non-cooking uses too. A leaf tied to the airconditioner  in the car will provide a nice fragrance, and the leaves are often left in wardrobes to absorb bad odors while simultaneously releasing an attractive one!

If you are interested in Purchasing a large Pandan plant here in Sydney, please contact me 

                                                             Happy Gardening!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Typical Sydney houses

The garden is settling in to winter-mode and it means I can take a break from the big projects I've done over summer. It's a nice break. So today I'm taking a break from the garden to show you something else that I really enjoy - architecture, especially anything heritage and historic. I really want to talk a little about the typical Sydney terrace house because there doesn't seem to be any blogs talking about them and I want to show visitors from abroad how we live here. Oh and I almost forgot - I live in one and they are really great!

Most houses within a 4 kilometre radius from the Sydney CBD are terrace houses. They look like this:

Note the balcony balustrade is what we call "iron lace". The eaves are also decorated with a line of (smaller) iron lace.

Some have rear lane access, but for those that don't, there are practical considerations, namely "where can I keep my garbage bins?"

On the footpath, of course

  Single-storey terrace versions (and these are considered fairly wide - double windows!)

This morning Mr. J. and I decided to inspect an open house not far from ours. It is the second from the right in the photo below:

Inside, there were a lot of features typical of Sydney terraces, such as fireplaces..


Beautiful archways with ornate moldings (if you look close enough they are bunches of grapes, actually)

Old light switches with VJ walls and more iron fences

The rear of the property.You can see at least 5 other properties in this photo.

These houses were built in the late 1800s house mainly for poor workers. They were often crowded and soon became known as 'slums'. Attempts were made to demolish most of them (in fact after 1900 terrace houses were banned from being built) but due to their superior construction (double brick) and desirable locations, most have survived today. Actually not only have they survived, they have become Sydney's most desired and most expensive homes. 

Australians from outside Sydney (along with foreigners) often wonder why the new settlers, surrounded by some much space, decided to build houses that were so narrow (many range in width from 3.7m to 5.5m). Back then transport wasn't readily available and people needed to live close to where they worked, and these houses took up little space.

On that point, here is the outline from the house we saw today, which is pretty typical of terrace design (this one is 3.7m wide):

There's something almost obscene about paying close to and over $1million for places that were once two-room slums. But that's the Sydney property market. The terrace house is unique in Sydney (few exist elsewhere in Australia) and it oozes charm with its ornate, 1800s Victorian-features. A very typically 'Sydney' way of living.

Hope you enjoy seeing the local architecture!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Mystery tree - Cassia fistula?

This is why I love walking around my area. You never know what you are going to come across - such an eclectic mix of gardens accumulated over 150 years.

 I came across this large and beautiful tree about 10 minutes walk away from my house. I'm thinking it's Cassia fistula.

 The foliage is quite large and droopy.

Do you know what it is?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Old fashioned canna Lilies

I have a love-hate relationship with canna lilies. Quite a few times I have seen them in other people's gardens, thought they looked great, planted them en masse only to be a bit underwhelmed with the results.

However, there is one variety I have that will always have a space for in the garden. I don't know what it is called, but do know it is a very old-fashioned variety. You sometimes see it planted among old farmhouses in far Western Sydney. It has these delicate, spider-like orange blooms:

After flowering is finished, you are left with these unusual spiky purple seed pods:

This canna is more free-flowering than other types. The flowers are longer lasting than other types. It can grow very tall, almost 3 metres in height.

For comparison, I have this red one below. It looks pretty but the flowers usually only last a day before falling off, or die on the stem. It can look rather messy.

                                                                          Happy Gardening!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Red Hot Cat's Tail

Red Hot Cat's Tail (Acalypha reptans) plant is so cute and so easy to grow.

It is a nice ground cover. Mine is not very dense but I think that is because it is in a partially-shaded spot. I like to pull up the runners and replant them somewhere else. I grew mine from cuttings. It usually flowers in the warmer months. I think it would look really good planted en masse.

Happy gardening! 

Friday, 11 January 2013

Desert Rose

My desert rose (Adenium obesum) is in flower:

The latin name translates to "Obese Adenium" in English. It is a reference to the swollen base of the stem which does resemble a fat belly. As my one was grown from a cutting and not seed, it won't develop the fat belly.

Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013


I really don't know much about this orchid. It blooms every year around late October. The blooms are long lasting and a real eye-catcher:

Here is a close-up:

I took a picture and asked people from the local orchid society what it was, but they couldn't decide. The only thing they did agree on was that it probably wasn't a native orchid.

It looks so delicate but survives on virtually no care.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Heliconia angusta 'Red Christmas'

Here is one of my heliconia blooms. It flowers in late winter for me and they last for months - in fact they are still on the plant now.

It is not a fussy or difficult heliconia to grow. It forms a tight clump but the leaves spread out quite a bit. 

This weekend I thought I would make a row of them so I got a couple more (you can see the one in the ground behind it)

The soil is pure sand. The pavers were layed on a raised sand bed, so that is what these plants grow in.

Initially I thought the sand would be a benefit due to it's good drainage and thus helping to keep cold-sensitive tropicals dry in winter. It didn't matter in the case of this heliconia, as it seems to be a very thirsty plant and likes a bit of shade.

Eventually the two newbies will fill up and form a hedge with the older one. I've put in few water-retaining pellets so they don't always look so dry, too. However, seeing as though these plants are not fussed on temperature or sun, I may end up moving them eventually when  I try out another variety that will only grow in these hotter conditions. Such spots (heat traps in a marginal climate garden) are so precious that I call them 'valuable real estate' and can't let them be wasted on plants that would grow just as well elsewhere! My plants get moved so moved it's like a game of  'musical plants!' Not surprising really, when you consider that most of my plants are not grown in this climate so there is a lot of experimentation to be done to get everything just right.


Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Discovered - climbing frangipani in inner-city Sydney

I've talked about this plant before in my blog. It was small and spindly; I thus assumed that it was one of those "survives but never thrives" tropicals that abound in Sydney (think Ixora, Plumeria obtusa ect - tropicals that will stay alive, push out a few leaves each year before the next winter hits). Then I spotted a huge vine covered in flowers in the parking lot of a local shopping centre. In fact, it is so robust that I couldn't even photograph it all - all I managed was a small side-view shot:

A close up of the flower - the perfume is similar to that of the frangipani

Luckily, there were a few branches overhanging the fence - perfect cutting material!

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