tropical gardening

Post-election Malaysia

Well, I more or less ceased blogging until the new government repealed the fake news legislation.

And since then I have been too busy.

elephant festival

I was away for a trip to Sri Lanka, my third trip there.  It’s a short inexpensive flight from KL.  There we saw the amazing elephant festival in Kandy, visited the highlands to benefit our bodies with some cold weather and clean air, and see tea plantations, and bought some Ayurvedic oils.

Later I was on an end-of-season trip to the Perhentian Islands.  We were last there in April, and it was (even) more relaxed in early September. And from the islands you could see the mainland, so the air was clearer.

the mainland from Perhentian

So, what’s been happening here in Penang?  I haven’t been here to notice too much, but the Gurney Wharf project is progressing.  A lot of sand (?) has been spread on the reclaimed land, and more of the bay has been reclaimed.

The 6% GST was abolished, as promised by the government, but at the beginning of this month, a 6% SST was imposed.  This makes some things the same price as before, although it’s supposed to be imposed at wholesale level.  My Starbucks coffee went from RM7 with GST, to RM6.50 without GST to RM 6.90 with SST.  Restaurants are charging the full 6% on the bills.  However, some retail shops have signs up saying that prices won’t rise after the SST.

The rainy season again started early this year, and it’s been cool.  This has been the trend for the last few years, generally getting cooler and cooler each year.  This is nice, actually.  If, but really when, an ice age starts, obviously the tropics is the place to be.

In the years of trying to grow papaya at the back I’ve only ever managed to harvest one papaya.  Although it’s very easy to grow the trees – just save some seeds from a store-bought papaya and sow them where you want your trees – somehow the ants conspired to kill or weaken them and I got no fruit.  I decided to grow some trees in my roof garden, not in pots as I never got fruit from potted papaya, and now I have lots of papaya fruit growing, and I’ve already harvested and eaten some.

so many papayas

ready to eat

Other things keeping me busy are working on setting up an e-business and trying to work out how to export this blog to, having bought the domain.  The WordPress export function didn’t work properly, and only moved a small fraction of posts.

Since Grab and Uber merged I notice that now fares are about 25% higher, and discounts almost non-existent. And the other day we were out when everyone else also was, and had to pay surge fares – over double the normal.  However, it was still preferable to driving, as the traffic jams were monumental, and parking presumably very difficult.

This time of year there are many public holidays, so sometimes it’s a bit hard to get things done.

Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – what’s growing in March / April 2018 – (Countdown: 17)

So, what have I learnt after seven years of seaside tropical garden pot gardening?  I would need to read all my blogs on this topic to recall.  Here are a few things, though.

  • So far I haven’t found anyone or anything that can offer good advice.
  • Get some plants from your neighbours if you can – if they grow next door you can probably grow them.
  • The plants that grow quite easily for me in pots and with sea air are:
    • Torch Ginger
    • Pandan
    • Hibiscus
    • Bougainvillea
    • Mock Orange
    • Duranta
    • Lemongrass
    • Lime tree
    • Blue pea
    • Papaya
    • Basil
    • Passion fruit
    • Canna lily
    • Mother-in-law tongue
    • Pumpkin
    • Neem
    • Curry plant
    • Aloe Vera
    • Plumbago
    • Roselle
    • Ginger
    • Tumeric
  • The plants I have had little luck with include:
    • Tomatoes – they grow from the compost, but at best supply one fruit, and then wilt and die. The one tomato is delicious, though.  Packets of seeds I have bought never did any better.
    • Rosemary – we kept plants for quite a whil, but some black bugs kept on attacking it, and it eventually succumbed
    • Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes
  • Some plants are only happy growing at ground level – others don’t mind balconies higher up etc.
  • Some plants seem to follow the northern hemisphere planting seasons
  • Composting works, so you can grow organically
  • Deliberately putting seeds into the compost is a good way to get them to germinate.  Particularly pumpkins and passion fruit.
  • Some plants don’t mind being transplanted, but some do. Papaya are better to seed where you want them to grow, for example.

We expected it to rain while we were away, but it didn’t so some plants suffered a lot and required heavy pruning and a lot of watering to help them recover. One of the lime trees was the most affected, and had to be the most heavily pruned. One basil plant died.  Others have all recovered.

Here are some of our plants:



mini-eggplant tree

crepe ginger

lemon grass

kobu lime

rosemary and grape, which grew out of the compost

basil and mother-in-law’s tongue


aloe vera

plumbago – pruned a lot due to dryness of weather


I don’t knw the name of this one


grape vine

various plants in lane

various plants in lane – citrus, mock orange, crepe ginger…


crepe ginger, curry plant…

papaya and citrus

lemon grass

small papaya

Bougainvillea and others

aloe vera

I don’t knw the name of this one, but it’s easy to grow and survies not watering well


lemon grass

I don’t knw the name of this one




young crepe ginger

crepe ginger

mostly mock orange

Canna Lily

lime tree

pumpkin vine

mung beans trying to germinate passion fruit

aloe vera




mock orange

lime tree


Rainy days are here again, with passion fruit ripening

Actually, it’s more like rainy late afternoon or evenings, with long sunny periods until then.

Having said which a few hours ago, it rained this morning briefly, and it’s currently overcast. It feels like the season is changing.

After a short hot and dry period around Chinese New Year it has cooled down and got wetter.  Evenings are cooler than before.

And the passion fruit are finally ripening.  I had more than 60 passion fruit on the vines, and now they are finally ripening.  It used to be the season ended in about November, then the vines were quite dormant until February or March.  So I’d prune during that period.  I did some in February. But I have had to wait until now to finish pruning, once the passion fruit have been picked.

And already the young passion fruit plants have started growing, so it’s really late to prune.

Here are about two days pickings:

Once I have picked the passion fruit I can prune the part of the vines they were growing on.  And then dry the leaves in the sun, and the dried leaves and stems go onto the soil as mulch.

But the pruning is a bit of a race against time, as pumpkin vines are rapidly growing and spreading.  The theory is that the pumpkins will grow and then die off before the passion fruit flower and fruit later in the year.  Already the pumpkin vines have flowers on them.  But once the pumpkins vines spread over the passion fruit vines, it’s hard to prune the passion fruit.

pumpkin vines spreading fast

Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – what’s growing in January/February 2018

The four month cool and wet spell lasted into January, and then at last it warmed up as we approached Chinese New Year.  Thereafter it was hot and rained only occasionally of an evening. I have to water the plants almost every day now.

Canna Lilies happily grow and bloom all year.

this I grew from two cuttings from another crepe ginger – now there are over 10 stems

a young lime tree – some of its first fruit – still small

plumbago seems to be happy in this spot

I normally prune the passion fruit vines at this time of year – dry the cuttings in the sun, and then put on top of the soil to add nutrition back

I had put a lot of pumpkin seeds in the compost, so now in places where I’ve put the compost sometimes pumpkin plants appear. Then I transplant them. This grew from a tiny transplanted plant.

Another pumpkin plant I recently transplanted.

Lots of baby lines on my original lime tree

Over 60 passion fruit are on the vines now

I’m growing several papaya on the roof – today the first flower opened

Aloe Vera like this spot – I should harvest soon. They always have little babies growing nearby so there is always another crop coming

bought from Cold Storage – this plant is struggling

Basil is OK here

Mock Oranges are usually doing well

some of the many passion fruit growing

passion fruit I recently picked – or fell to the floor

these are very easy care – just water occasionally

some more crepe ginger plants


Duranta are happy if they have plenty of water


mini-eggplants. Great in soup.

So many mini-eggplants grow on one tree in a big pot

We’re spreading crepe ginger all over the place. So easy to care for and they look great.

One of our pandan collection

The original crepe ginger plant, from which we’ve cultivated about 15 pots

just starting cultivating more crepe ginger plants – it takes a few weeks.

Growing stuff on hot concrete – gardening in tropical Penang – what’s growing in September/October 2017

Well, it rained most days during September and the first half of October, with floods sometimes in parts of Penang. And then it stopped raining – except for once a week or so. Thus today, Sunday is the first sunny Sunday for a while.

Another quiet couple of months, then.

Not all that much happening in the back lane garden

This papaya almost died – when there is heavy rain one papaya sometimes dies. As I can’t get any seeds to germinate there at the moment, eventually, as has happened over the years, all papayas die. One smaller one did die. So only three left

Crepe Ginger very healthy

Crepe Ginger very healthy

the grape vine still OK

the grape vine even has a few grapes

pandan trees doing well

we can harvest some mini-eggplants every week – great in soups and curries and stews

the neem tree is getting huge

cuttings from crepe ginger to cultivate

these are so easy to cultivate and care for we’re cultivating more

rosemary gets attacked sometimes by a black bug or fungus

my attempt at cultivating crepe ginger is working out

papayas germinated from seed

basil is happy

papayas germinated from seed

my oldest papaya has had its trunk attacked so may not survive another year. Being in a pot it never fruited, but it looked nice

Passionfruit really need sun to ripen, and there has been so little for months due to rain.

So now some passion fruit are just dropping to the ground without the skin changing colour much if at all. But inside they are often ripe and yummy.

Some passion fruit seeds from different fruit to germinate next February