Thursday, June 5, 2014

How to Grow Zinnias in the Philippines

Zinnias have a special place in my heart because my mom used to plant them in our garden back home and they would just bloom like they were being paid for it.

First, you start with the seeds. I initially bought the seeds but after the plant bloomed and the flowers dried up, I harvested the seeds and re-planted them.

For Php 59.75 you will get about this much:

You can choose to either have them grow in a seedling tray and then transplant them, or you can just directly sow them in a pot or in the ground. I tried both, and I suggest you plant them directly. The ones I planted in a tray and transplanted took 4 months to bloom as compared to the ones I directly sowed on the ground which bloomed after just 4 weeks. But if you would like to start the seeds in a tray the advantage is that you will be able to space them properly in your flower bed when they are big enough to be transplanted. If you directly sow the seeds on the ground, you wouldn't know which ones would sprout and which one wouldn't. Sometimes you'd also end up with two or more in a hole.

Regardless of whether I start seeds in a tray or directly sow them, I always use a seed-raising mix because it ensures that the seeds and seedlings get the nutrients they need for a healthy start. I put a little on top of the soil when I do the direct method and fill up the entire seed tray when I do the other technique.

Now, how deep should you plant the seeds? Just about a half centimeter. Don't bury the seeds too deep because sunlight will not reach it and could rot.You don't necessarily have to measure it with a ruler. Just pop one or two on the soil and then sprinkle it with a bit of soil that's just enough to cover it so that it will not get burned by the sun but not too shallow that it will be displaced when you water your zinnias seeds.

Zinnias in a plastic egg tray.
 Put them out in the sun and water once daily. It's best to use a sprayer so the seeds don't drown in too much water. Water it early in the morning or late in the afternoon. We all know how hot it can get here in the Philippines, so do not water your zinnias when the sun is fully up or on the hottest parts of the day (between 10 AM - 4 PM) because they could suffer from osmotic shock and harm their growth.

After about 3-4 days, your growing zinnias will look like the ones in the third & fourth rows. The first and the second rows are asters.

Zinnia seedlings on the 3rd and fourth rows.
Once your zinnias have a true set of leaves (3-4) you can transplant them, but don't hold them on the stem, just on the leaves and dig a hole just enough to cover the roots and make the plant stable enough not to be easily washed out when you water. Continue watering once a day and make sure they are placed where they'd get plenty of sun.

Transplanted zinnias on the flower bed.

When they reach about six inches tall, pinch off the top leaves to encourage branching. Fertilize at least once a month. If you want more zinnia flowers, make sure you regularly deadhead the plant by cutting off dried flowers. But if you want to harvest seeds later on, you must bear with the ugly sight and let the zinnia flowers dry up completely on the plant which I will talk later on in another post.

Wait for about 4-12 weeks for them to bloom like the ones I have below:

So there you have it, the basics of growing zinnias in the Philippines. I know how frustrating it can sometimes be with regard to growing zinnias or any other flowering plant for that matter here with our tropical weather. I hope you learned a thing or two in this post. I will talk about harvesting zinnia seeds on my next blog post so watch out for it. Till next time, happy gardening!

Image courtesy of:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Summer Rain, Withered Lavenders, Zinnias and Sunflower Dreams

It's heart breaking to see, but this is how it is with lavender growing in the Philippines. From close to 100 seedlings, and now down to four today. The picture below was taken a week ago and two more died since then:

The ones that survived are the French lavenders. But it is still very hard to cultivate due to the high level of humidity and rains that we get.

My small experiment comes to an end and I therefore conclude that True Lavender (Lavandula angustifloia) will not thrive in the Philippines. However, French Lavender (Lavandula dentata) can thrive provided that you don't over water it. They also grow pretty easily through cuttings.

I have yet to plant more French lavenders and let's see how things will turn out. For now, while I'm nursing my lavender hearth ache, I'm moving on to new things. My next project is this:

And this!!!

So follow me on my next gardening adventure and let's see how far it will go this time. And if it fails, well then it's all part of one great adventure because...

And always remember: "Life is either one great adventure, or nothing."- Helen Keller


This post also appears in Dreamweaver

Monday, April 21, 2014

Lavender Growing in the Philippines: 6th Month Update and How to Grow Lavender from Cuttings

This post also appears in my main blog:

From 42 a month ago, I now have just 24 left including the one which I was trying to grow from cuttings. It is pretty scary seeing them turn brown one after the other. And it's not just the ones that I put in full shade that are dying, even the ones in partial shade. But if I'll be successful growing them from cuttings, I should be able to grow back the same number of lavender I lost.

I know that rain during summer will definitely kill them but I left them in the rain when it rained last month. But if I didn't how will I know for myself?

 Anyway, here's how you can propagate lavender from cuttings in case you decide to buy a mature plant and not start them from seeds:

1) Cut a stem as close to the main branch as possible. Use a very sharp pair of scissors or secateurs.

2) Peel the bottom part around 2 inches from the base.

3) Pop it in some well draining soil.

Water them heavily at the base and keep them moist for a few weeks. At around a month, water them lightly as you would any lavender plant. It wouldn't hurt to fertilize at around a month. I use Manusol Growth Fertilizer 30-10-10 to encourage strong growth of leaves, roots and stem. I use a tablespoon of this fertilizer for 8 liters of water. I usually fertilize once a month or every other month depending on the state of the plants.

I did this three days ago and my cutting is still alive. I will let you know how it'll all go in my next update in a month.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What is a Creole Garden?

A creole garden. Image courtesy of:

Today a group of elderly women dropped by to hand me an invitation for a religious meeting in the nearby village. I got some "oohhs" and "ahhhs" as they stepped closer to see  and identify the abundance of flowers, herbs and vegetables growing in my yard. They asked me whether I use them or they're just for decoration. I told them I regularly use them for pasta and other tomato-based dishes especially as I have an abundance of tomatoes. Before they left they said my yard is a Creole garden and asked me if I know what they mean. I said yes.

But really, what is a Creole garden? I'm thinking of Southern or Louisiana gardens in the US or the ones in the Caribbean. And I was a bit right only there's more to a Creole garden than that. Quoting from the website Atlas Caribbean:

"The Creole garden is a direct legacy of the period of slavery when the plantation masters allowed the slaves to cultivate for their own family needs in vegetables and root crops. This practice allowed the former to dispense with having to provide all the slaves' food, but also afforded them some freedom of space and the possibility sometimes to amass some savings with the hope of buying one's liberty.

The Creole garden was always located near to the house, often appearing as an inextricable jumbled space, but with an evident coherence in terms of organised cultivation. On small patches ‘root crops' could be grown, like yams (Dioscorea alata) and 'cousse-couche' (Dioscorea trifida), plants originating from the region, and grown along ridge till systems supported by stakes. One also finds dasheen – ‘chou-chine' (the French name) and ‘madera' (the Spanish name) – the former following after the latter during the year. Today green vegetables (lettuce, tomatoes, turnips, carrots, and cucumbers) are cultivated together in these small spaces as well as the inevitable red peppers and lemon trees, coconut palms, with a stand of cane and bananas completing the picture.
Depending on the talents of some cultivators, the Creole garden is also a locus for growing medicinal plants, used in traditional Caribbean pharmacopoeia. A plant from the Zingiberaceae or the Ginger family (in local French Antillean vernacular known as “à tous maux”), and the arrowroot (‘toloman' in French, Spanish ‘achira') provide typical examples.
The traveler quickly passing through will see nothing of this rich diversity, with barely the time to separately identify the abundance of plant life."

After careful thought, they're right. I have a creole garden. In a small space near the house, I grow a seemingly inextricable bunch of tomatoes, eggplant, basil, dill, parsley, peppers, lavender, chives, squash, ferns and flowers. But there are also trees: malunggay, calamansi and yellow lemon trees (though they're just about an inch tall and I doubt they saw them).

I just don't know how it will buy me liberty, but I know it will... one day.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Chicken Afritada Recipe With Real Tomatoes!

Tomatoes here, there and in the DVD Player! We have a lot tomatoes that the last time I harvested them with my one-year-old baby I didn't notice she got one squashed inside the DVD player. Just look at our harvests below. I need to get to them before the critters do and it seems like the more I harvest, the more flowers and fruit I get.  So, with a surplus of tomatoes what can one do with them?
Last week's harvest.
Fresh tomatoes from the garden today. 
 How about this: Chicken Afritada with real tomatoes! I tried it and my food critic said it was yummy. Here's the recipe:

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: around 40-45 minutes
Makes about 4-5 servings

1/2 kilos chicken
Plenty of tomatoes (the first picture here, I think about 10), chopped
1 big potato (cubed)
1 carrot (cubed)
1 green bell pepper (seeds removed and sliced into strips)
1 small can of green peas
1 cup water or chicken stock
1 medium sized chopped onions
4-5 cloves of garlic crushed garlic
1 chicken broth cube (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
a little sugar (depending on how sweet you like it, I used 1/4 cup)

Wash chicken thoroughly. Drain and brown in a little oil with crushed garlic. Remove from pan and set aside. Saute garlic, add the onions then the tomatoes in a pot. Give the tomatoes a good squash to get the juices running. When you've made a bit of a paste add chicken, water and chicken broth cube.If you are using chicken stock, you can skip the chicken broth cube. Once it boils let it simmer for about 20 minutes stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Then add the potatoes and carrots. Once they're fork ready, add the green bell pepper and the green peas. Season with salt and pepper according to taste. Continue simmering for about 10 minutes and add a little sugar. You can skip this, however, we like our afritada a little sweet. Simmer longer in low heat if you want the sauce to be thicker. Serve hot with plain rice.

Top 8 Lessons Learned From Growing Lavender in the Philippines

As some of you are aware, I usually post about my experiment on lavender growing in the Philippines in my main blog: But I thought of summarizing what I learned so far about raising lavenders here especially as one of my two french lavenders died this week. As for the true lavenders, a few more wilted since I did an update. It can be a little frustrating but I'm charging it to experience in the hopes of finding the right formula that will enable me to grow them well in the future.

True lavender thriving in the cool February weather. There's only about half left since summer started.

So here goes, my top 8 lessons learned so far:
1) Water only every 2-3 days.
2) Use a water sprayer and water them lightly at the base. Never over water or else they'll die.I can't highlight this enough.
3) Water early in the morning to give their roots a chance to dry throughout the day. Never in the late afternoon or evening If you skipped it, then just water the next morning.
4) The soil should have good drainage. I bought Folia Tropica potting mix from Ace Hardware. It has a good mix of sand, compost and coconut coir. I had the mistake of using leftover seed growing mix in the past and the ones I planted with those died because the mix is designed to retain water which is important for seeds to germinate but causes root rot for lavender.
5) Put some pebbles at the bottom of the pot before putting soil for better drainage.
6) Fertilize at least once a month.
7) Cut dead leaves as close to the stem as possible because that's where new leaves/branches sprout.
8) When transplanting lavender, take it as is and don't attempt to loosen the roots because they are super sensitive they'll die.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

From the Yummy and the Pretty Sides of Maegan's Garden

I started this blog a few months back with a goal of making one side of my small yard pretty and the other side yummy. And today, after 5 months I'm now enjoying fresh blooms and vegetables from my little patch of  the Earth. I've harvested fresh kangkong (Chinese greens), okra, radishes, eggplant and green peppers.This is where I get fresh basil and tomatoes for pasta, parsley for meatballs, malunggay for monggo and tinola, chives for fish and dill for salads. I shared some basil plants too with my neighbors and inspired them with what they call "green revolution".

Below are the plants and harvests from the pretty and yummy side of our little garden in the city.

From the pretty side of my garden, the pinks, red, orange, white and purple blooms started to make an appearance this month. Here are some fresh cut flowers and pictures of my flower patch where I grow zinnias, asters, carnation, sunflower (they will bloom in May) and recently, ageratum.

This is my flower bed. I used empty formula tin cans (painted white) to plant asters. I also planted some asters on the ground. The ones in little black plastic pots are basil as my left side of the garden is already full. The one in the middle planted in the big round clay pot are dill and sunflower. Though I also have about 6 other sunflowers in the bed itself interspersed with mostly zinnias, aster and carnation.

Budding zinnias
The pretty side--I can't wait until all the flowers are in bloom.
The pinkiest zinnia in the garden. :-) This is a semi-full bloom of the profusion series.

Red single bloom zinnia.

Blooming purple zinnia. This one is a semi-full bloom.
Asters. I planted them in painted white tin cans.
Even the asters on the ground with poor soil are blooming! :-)

Chives should be in the Yummy Side of the yard but again t's so full of plants as you will see later. You can also the full bloom red zinnia and white zinnias beside the chives.

Now let me show you the Yummy Side of the fence. Below, you can see my vegetable patch. It has tomatoes (big and small ones, the biggest is about the size of my fist), basil, eggplant, calamansi, malunggay trees, guava tree, parsley, squash, okra, green pepper and in the small plant box lemon tree seedlings. I used to have radishes which were so stunted and upland kangkong but they got some disease so I uprooted them both and transplanted the basil where they used to be. The tomatoes are bearing lots of fruit, I was about to uproot them because it's been 4 months and not a single  and fruit when I saw a single small flower and I decided to give them a chance. Within a month, it bore over 100 tomatoes and it's still blooming so I'm definite I'll be getting more. The only problem is the aphids. I already bought a sprayer and will take care of them as soon as my baby daughter let me have some gardening time.

Yummy side with my lavender plants at the back.

Today's harvest.
The tomatoes are about this big!
Below, you can see the eggplants. This is the first fruit and I hope to get some more. It's planted in a recycled mineral water plastic bottle (same as with the parsley and green pepper).
Green Pepper:

Below you can see a small growing guava tree which I think is planted by the birds. Underneath it,large Italian parsley and an eggplant.

Quite recently I also planted squash right where the sunflower didn't germinate on the left side. I never thought they would all germinate still for they've been sitting on the kitchen window sill for around 3 months and looked so dry. Our previous house helper wanted to plant them for herself but forgot to. I intended to feed the birds with it, but they grew to my surprise! I hope they grow healthy.

And of course, my lavender which was the main reason I got into gardening.

 It's been raining for two days and I hope it doesn't kill them. One of the two grown French lavender that I bought look like it's dying when I transplanted it two days ago. I will write about in another entry on lavender growing. By the way I put an update on my 5th month lavender growing experience in the tropics five days ago here: Lavender Growing Update: 5th Month

Not in the picture are: Calamansi which is under the tomato plants and floss flower (ageratum seedlings).

Over the coming days I will talk about each plant and what I learned about them. Just like people they have different temperaments and preferences which surprised me. This gardening experience is truly rewarding and it's my wish to share this wonderful experience with you.