Saturday, 27 February 2016

Flowers the Size of Dinner Plates


Chervil leaf
This fine delicate herb is not grown as much these days even though it’s been grown as a herb for over 2,000 years!
Although I’m pretty sure that fine restaurants are serving it up as something special, most likely as microgreens.
Belonging in the carrot family, the fine leaves almost do look like carrot tops.
Sometimes sold  as "Fine" (pronounced feen) herbs which is a combination of parsley, tarragon chervil and occasionally a small amount of marjoram.
Definitely lovely on fish dishes, sauces, especially BĂ©arnaise sauce and soups.

Let’s find out about how to use this lovely herb…I'm talking with herb expert Ian Hemphill from

Chervil in the home garden photo M Cannon
Growing Chervil
If you want to grow your own Chervil here are some tips.
The seeds are slow to germinate, but here’s a tip:- The night before sowing, pour boiling water over seeds and leave to soak overnight.
Chervil seeds also need light to germinate so don’t bury them with too much soil or potting mix.
Germination usually occurs in 2-3 weeks but can take longer.
Sow your Chervil seeds only about 5mm deep and thin plants to 30cm apart.
Chervil will grow in any soil but dislikes being too wet although it does need water, but it won’t like being in badly drained soil.
Tip: Best sown in situ as seedlings don’t transplant well and they sometimes bolt when transplanted. A bit like Coriander.
Definitely worth growing even just to try it.
If you're interested in making Chervil soup, try hunting down books by Rosemary Hemphill either "Herbs for All Seasons," or "Fragrance and Flavour," to get the specific recipe that Ian mentions.
If you have any questions about growing Chervil or any other herb, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


BETEL LEAF Piper sarmentosumCOMMON NAMES: betel pepper, wild pepper, kadok, la lot
Betel leaf is a native plant to Vietnam and Thailand, and is related to black pepper.
If you’ve ever eaten Thai food chances are that you’ve already eaten Betel leaves or at least had food served on a platter of Betel leaves.
Traditionally, Betel leaf plant was used to treat fever, as an expectorant, for treating toothache, coughs, asthma and pleurisy.

Some say it has a somewhat pungent odour and taste, others find it mild with a hint of black pepper.
I’m going with the mild flavour because that’s what is grown mostly in Australia.
What Does It Look Like?
Betel leaf is an evergreen, perennial creeper that doesn’t grow particularly tall. Only to about 1 metre.
But for the romantic gardener, and I seem to be featuring plants in this segment that can be considered romantic, because Betel leaf has shiny heart-shaped leaves that have a waxy, glossy surface.
There we go, aren’t heart shaped leaves romantic?
Betel leaf vine photo M Cannon

Betel leaf flowers
The flowers are very small –on white flower spikes.
After flowering little dry rounded fruits with little bulges show up –almost like a little green/brown mulberry when ripe and can be eaten;
The fruit is sweet and has a jelly-like pulp.
So what’s betel leaf got going for it?
Romance aside, as a food, it makes a great 'wrap' for prawns and can be shredded to add to salads and quick stir-fry's. 

More on its uses later.
You can grow Betel leaf in most parts of Australia at any time of the year.
All you need to do is find a spot in fairly good, well-drained soil with partial shade.
Under a tree somewhere is good and keep it moist but don’t overdo it because it doesn’t cope with waterlogging. Frost will damage the leaves but not kill the plant once it is well established.
Betel leaf makes a good groundcover under trees in subtropical and tropical areas.
In warmer climates Betel leaf grows really well in the right position and has a habit of suckering which isn’t that difficult to remove.
You can grow it successfully in colder areas but not in the ground.
Put your plant in a hanging basket or large pot and move it to a warm, sheltered position in winter.
By putting your pot on the ground, this will allow the plant to grow out from the pot onto the ground and spread like a ground cover.
As it spreads it sends down roots from sections.

In cooler areas you could try keeping it in a large pot so it sends down multiple roots.
If you’re wondering where to buy it and don’t seem to have any luck try an Asian veggie shops.
It’s easy to propagate from cuttings at the warmer times of the year.
Growers take the top 20cm of the vine and sell it as a bunch to local markets.
You can buy a bunch of Betel leaves, take of the bottom two-thirds of leaves leaving the top few, and recut the bottom.
Put these cuttings in a glass with water and they will be producing roots in no time.
Another method is to take cuttings again about 25 cm long, strip the leaves off the bottom half of the stems and bury to half their length in potting mix.
Cover with plastic or place these cuttings in a greenhouse and keep moist.
Remember Betel leaf plant likes a wet shaded position protected from frost and midday sun; so it’s best under trees that allow some sunlight through to underneath.
Betel leaf vine
So how else can you use Betel Leaf?
The leaves are large enough to wrap a filling.
Betel leaves are often used ‘open’ topped with something delicious like a prawn with coconut.
Include them in a stir fry .
The spicy leaves are popular in south east Asian cooking, being used raw and cooked. To eat raw in a salad or use as a wrapping the younger more tender leaves are the best to use.

Used in omelettes in Vietnamese cooking and to wrap mince.
In Thailand, these wraps are a favourite snack, 'mieng kum', using an assortment of fillings, like peanuts, shrimps, shallots with lime and raw ginger.
Use as a herb in rice or in salads.
They look great as a garnish too .

TIP: If you soak the leaves in cold water with a little sugar for 2 hours before use this changes the flavour just slightly.
As the leaves are a very attractive heart shape, they’re often used as a base to line platters, with foods arranged on top.
The white flower spikes develop into a small fruit that can be eaten.
Fresh leaves are prone to dryness and fungal rots.
You can store the leaves just like lettuce, in the fridge for a few days (3-5) in a sealed plastic bag.
Use as soon as possible soon after.

Good source of protein, potassium, nitrogen and minerals.
The plant has many traditional medicinal uses. Malaysians use the leaves for headaches, arthritis and joint pain.
In Thailand and China the roots are crushed and blended with salt to relieve toothache.  
In Indonesia it’s used as a natural antibiotic, and drunk as a tea daily.
To make the tea, take 2 cups of water and bring to the boil in a saucepan. Drop in 7 mature size leaves, and simmer for a few minutes.


This garden series with Garden Designer Peter Nixon, is all about garden challenges thrown at us mostly by nature but also due to a situation in your garden that you might need to fix.
Last week we covered hail damage, sun scorch, garden loopers, and a few other odds and sods that aren’t necessarily damage but a garden challenge all the same
Hail damage on leaves
Today’s garden challenge is impact damage also from hail, but we’re delving more into what you should do with different plants that have been affected.

I'm talking with Garden Designer, Peter Nixon 

If you come home to find most of your garden covered in leaves because of a recent storm, wind, hail or something else, don't rake it up and dispose of it, but use it as a surface mulch.
Hail damage on stems
Just make sure the leaves are bunched up against the trunks and stems of plants, otherwise you'll have problems with collar rot or other fungal problems.
Don't dig it in because it's green and will draw down nitrogen from the soil.
Quite often the stems are also impacted so the cambium is stripped off leaving only the heartwood.
It it's only a young plant, then it's best to dig it out because the plant has become to weakened.
If the canopy and branches aren't too badly stripped off, then cut back the ragged ends of the stems as soon as possible.
If you have any questions about hail damage in your garden, write in and let us know what happened our email address, or just post it


Hibiscus rosa-chinensis: Hibiscus moscheutus

Rose Mallow

This next flower is the official state flower of Hawaii, so it’s no surprise that when you see the shrub covered in those flowers that you can’t help but think of sandy beaches, aquamarine seas and grass skirts. 

Let’s find out more.
I'm talking with the plant panel:
Karen Smith editor of
and Jeremy Critchley owner of

The common Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-chinensis) that you see in many gardens, grows to about 3 metres tall.
Vigorous growing and best pruning at the beginning of Spring because they flower on new wood.

Hibiscus moscheutos or Rose Mallow Rose Mallow are native to swamps, wetlands and along creek edges in the southeast United States.
These Hibiscus are herbaceous so are good for cold climates because the plant has died down.
Growth is to 80 cm and these Hibiscus prefer shade and part shade.

Hibiscus moscheutus "Pink Swirl.'

All Hibiscus thrive if you give them lots of organic matter with an addition of Potash.

Generally Rose Mallow comes in pink white and red coloured flowers, that's the Luna series which are the only ones available in Australia.

According to growers, they can get up to 80 - 100 flowers, however, the flowers only last a day.

Plant them in a sandy but moisture retaining, slightly acidic soil that has been  enriched with compost or other organic material.

Water regularly and thoroughly during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system.

Rose Mallow plants should never be allowed to completely dry out, or they’ll immediately stop blooming. 

Plants resent any disturbance to their root system so be extremely careful, soak the soil thoroughly and dig wide before attempting to transplant your Hibiscus.
Hibiscus moscheutus "red"
A Bit if Trivia
The official state flower is the yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus brackenridgei), also known as the pua aloalo.
Hawaiians originally adopted the hibiscus flower (of all colors) as their official Territorial flower in the early 1920s.
It wasn’t until 1988, however, that Hawaii’s legislature legally adopted the yellow hibiscus as the official state flower.
The hibiscus originated in Asia and the Pacific islands. It’s believed that there were originally only five hibiscus species native to the Hawaiian islands.

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