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Friday, November 28, 2008


I love my pots of thyme. Not least because it is one of those plants that require great effort from me to grow in the Singaporean climate. Thyme hails from the Mediterannean countries. There, thyme tumbles all over the hill, intrudes rudely into prim flowerbeds, and generally can be a nuisance. Here, my pots are tended carefully. When there is sun, all the pots are carried out into the the golden light to bask like lazy cats on the hood of a Rolls Royce. When rain threatens, they are herded indoors so fast that not one drop of rain touches the leaves. They are watered directly to the roots, and the younger thyme seedlings are watered from under the pot so as not to risk any water damage to their delicate leaves. I consider every new thyme leaf put out my own personal achievement.

Pot after pot of thyme have died in my care. So now, I take no chances. And I am not satisfied when they simply survive a skinny and straggly existence. As such, whilst I know I should not fertilize them, I do anyway. So, they don't look at all like thyme should because the thyme that grows wild and strong and free looks lean and muscular, and clambers over rock to colonise poor soils and rich alike. No, my pots of thyme must look fat and lush, with stems and leaves that heap themselves over the pot edge to cascade onto the floor. They're like tough Roman soldiers made fat by good living.

But I like 'em that way.

Thyme is anti-bacterial and and anti-viral. As a teenager, I was given thyme essence on a sugar cube to help clear my stuffy nose. As a university student, I would brew myself thyme tea when I felt a flu coming on. I find its smell comforting and invigorating. It is really so nice to get home, brew a cup of thyme tea, kick off my shoes, sip the warm liquid, and slowly sink into the sofa.

These days, I am a mother and a wife. I use thyme to create the cosy feelings of my youth for my children and my husband. When the north east monsoon blows through the penthouse, my husband develops sinusitis. One mug of hot thyme tea throws it off. And yesterday, I made an infusion for my son, who was also starting to sniffle. It felt good to hear him comment "I am such a lucky boy you know. Because I have a mommy who knows about herbs and can make me feel better just by using plants."

I do hope that like me, they will associate the smell of thyme with feelings of comfort, warmth and general well-being.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Collecting Rain Water

A tropical rainstorm experienced from atop a penthouse is quite daunting. The wind howls through my house like the sound effects in a ghost movie. My frangipani tree, with its crown of deep green leaves embattled by strong winds, bends and twists. Jagged forks of lightning on the horizon can be seen in frightening sequence, followed by claps and growls of thunder. Sheets of rain crash onto my rooftop garden bruising the tenderest seedlings and leaves. I used to fight the urge to go hide under the blanket. No longer. I am quite used to it by now and actually rejoice because I have discovered the joys of collecting rain water.

I am quite amazed at the amount of water that I can collect in the torrential rains of a tropical storm. The outpour lasts 30 minutes to an hour, in which time, I can collect up to 100 litres of water. It is enough to water my plants and flush the toilets over 2 days. Of course, it's only enough if we follow the rule of flush i.e., "If it's yellow, let mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." And I feel like a good environmentalist, recycling precious resources, growing plants and living simply. Though of course, I would absolutely die if I had to live without air con, which by the way plays a very important part in my water recycling efforts. The water the air con extracts from the air is channeled into a pail in the garden, and added to the big pail of rain water. I wish I had had the foresight to design water collection points for all my air cons. Technically, that water is distilled water from the air. Very clean. I could even use it to wash clothes! Still, I manage to collect about 20 litres of water a night from my air con.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Quest

The Lemon Myrtle is mine. My Quest for the Lemon Myrtle has ended in a resounding success. I not only have the dried leaves in the freezer, and the seeds in the mail, I have the Lemon Myrtle tree itself sitting in a pot, in my garden. For the moment, it is going through the usual quarantine and sanitization procedures to confirm that it is free of insect pests or fungal infections that if left untreated, will spread to all my other plants. This is the culmination of 3 whole months of determined search and creative solutions.

I tried everything. I wrote a piece on the Lemon Myrtle for this blog. I emailed every Australian nursery I could find. I commiserated with like-minded people on the GCS forum. I called NParks. I called the Botanic Gardens. I activated relatives and friends and the families of friends. I yearned and hustled and despaired. Until today. A new forummer posted a query for me. She asked me if I would like to have some fresh leaves from her small Lemon Myrtle plant. I fought the desire to ask her/him for a cutting of her/his plant because I had noted that it was a smallish one. But I did ask where she/he got her/his plant. Which nursery? Where? Whom? How? When?

It turned out that an obscure nursery tucked away in Bedok opposite a Matsushita-Panasonic factory carried the plant. I dared not let myself hope. I told myself that it might not be it. BUT IT WAS! I held it and sniffed it and turned it over. I poked into the soil and examined the underleaf. Yes! Yes! I had found my elusive Lemon Myrtle! The bushman plant from Australia sits now in my garden, small and tidy and fragrant.


Now, to find some crocodile so I can make Lemon Myrtle crocodile - a bushman delicacy.