Saturday, January 20, 2018

End-of-winter work

Every day that passes now tells me that spring is coming. The days are longer, the first winter jasmine is out. And so we gleefully launch into tasks that boldly believe the freeze is over. Here are six end-of-winter happenings in my garden. For more, head on over to The Propagator's blog and his Six-on-Saturday posts!

1. Planting:
Remember the desolate fenced area I had shown earlier? I have now decided that it will be a gold and white seating area.There is already forsythia and azalea, but this year I will add hypericum and berberis, narcissus and lycoris. In the meantime for a quick (non gold and white) fix I have transplanted my phlox. The twigs are to protect from chickens, the pine needles are to protect from frost and sun.

 2. Acorn collection: CHIRAG, that works on all things environmental in the area, has started collecting acorns for the spring sowing. The forests have been decimated by over-exploitation and increased occurrence of forest fires. Regular sowing will help conserve these for the future. Our house has become the centre for seed collection in the neighbourhood. Children have their winter holidays now and are encouraged to collect acorns and bring them over. They get Rs.12/kg, which is a good sum for a bit of pocket money.
3. Bordeaux time: Buds are sprouting on the fruit trees and roses. Which means it is that time of year when I use the household utensils to process chemicals. We make a bordeaux mixture every year to spray the peaches and roses with. One day of spraying, and Peach Curl and Black Spot are held at bay!

 4. Feeding the bees: And last week the Himalayan Cherries were through with flowering. Mian and I opened up our hive to give the bees some jaggery. Not much development since autumn, but atleast they are alive..need to learn more about bee keeping.
5. Winter is still here though. And so I am continuing to sprout grain for the chickens.
6. And in case you think Mian and I are the only ones working here, here's a photo of the Great Tunnel

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Flowers in winter

The 'six-on-saturday' meme is hosted by The Propagator. In his words, it's "Six things, in the garden, on a Saturday. Could be anything – a flower, a pest, a success, a project, a plan, an abject failure – anything at all!" So if you want to find out what's happening in other gardens, do go on over to his blog!

And when you do, you will find that other gardens have a lot of flowery stuff going on even at the end of winter. I determined last week to go out and see if I do not have atleast six flowers going on in my garden too. Guess what? I do!

Here they are

1. Marigolds: A little tired at this time of the year, but still happy
2.Ditto the hydrangea. 
3. Nothing tired about this Saptarangi rose, though it is the last one of the season.

4. Nasturtiums still going strong too
5. The rosemary is looking a little washed out in the photo. A pity, because it is quite pretty really
6. My Sweet Williams have been flowering all winter. True, just one plant that managed to find itself shelter under the jasmine, but a lovely thing nevertheless.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Six on Saturday- the hopes and dreams edition

Okay. It's that time of the year again- Reckoning time. You know what I mean..the time when you turn the pages of your garden journal back to a page headed '2017!', look at a sketch on which is marked 'winter garden here', and then raise your eyes to the wasteland that still remains. Oh, it's just me doing that? Never mind then.

Because it is also the time of second chances. The time when you turn to a crisp and blank page, head it '2018!' and sketch another map. I thought it'd be fun to share some of my big plans with you..and actually, was hoping for suggestions too.

But let's start with the happy stuff.

1. Nasturti-yums: Believe it or not, I actually planted nasturtiums unsuccessfully for a couple of years, only to lose them to the hens. This time, they are in pots. And they are stunning!

2. Misplaced yucca: Last year, a good friend of Mian's decided to stay with us for a while. I wanted to give him something nice by the entrance to the guest room. Something welcoming that he could look at while sitting on the steps. And so of course, I moved two spiny yuccas from near the path to the doorway. Structural, with lovely shades of cerulean and jade, they were amazing in that spot. So amazing in fact, that I never moved them back. But they have been growing all this time, and will grow even more.
And so this winter I will move them. The question is, where? I have three spots where they will be perfect. And a coin has only two sides..

3. The Iris bed: It looks bare now, and the chickens do damage it a lot, but I actually am quite happy with this. It has a comfy bench, and a nice little succession of iris-mirabilis-marigolds going on.
And speaking of goings-on, please do look at the Madhu-Kochanie Digging Project. I hate to deter them, they are having so much fun!

4. The walk down: It's looking better with the proper path. And I actually have a lot planted there..hydrangeas, magnolia, chaenomeles, chrysanthemums, salvia, weigela, digitalis. They just need to pull their socks up now.I am aiming for a pinky purply shrub walk.

5. The fenced garden: Across the path from the iris bed. Admittedly, it is at its worst now.
It does have some colour in it later in the year. The problem is that barring one each of azalea, rose and forsythia this area is rather annuals-dependent. But it has a view of the mountains, which makes me want a table and chairs there. More perennials needed.

6. The Winter Garden: Blah. Bah. Humbug. I think I will indulge myself in a separate post detailing my woes. But till then, look at the awfulness:

The 'six-on-saturday' meme is hosted by The Propagator. In his words, it's "Six things, in the garden, on a Saturday. Could be anything – a flower, a pest, a success, a project, a plan, an abject failure – anything at all!" So if you want to find out what's happening in other gardens, do go on over to his blog!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Winter life

So far, it has been a very dry winter. And the forecast says it is going to stay that way. Which is why I am profoundly grateful for the plants that continue to struggle through all this and keep growing. But here are the six gardeny things this week that are most on my mind.

As always, please do head over to The Propagator's blog. He started the six-on-saturday thing, and now there are several wonderful gardeners that post a weekly update about their gardens. Just stunning..

1. Freesia! My very first freesias. And the very first one of the lot. There are another 17 in there, and I can't wait till they all pop up! I use the phrase 'pop up' optimistically, of course. Waiting for bulbs to show themselves is an excruciating process.

2. The ghosts of malpruners past. We sort of inherited this orchard. The ones who owned it before our friend bought it were true subsistence farmers. Which is another way of saying that their pruning was learned on the ground and very functional. And here I now come with a point of view that reeks of privilege- I want my trees to not only be functional, but also beautiful. So far I have been too meek to interfere with existing trees, but now I have a fancy pruning saw.

See the lopsided way this tree is growing?
 It should never have been planted here, right under the canopy of a larger tree. I took off a branch that overshadowed it. That's the biggest branch I have taken off so far, and I thought I did a good job remembering to undercut it. But clearly the undercut was not deep enough.

I have mainly deadwooded and pruned the smaller fruit trees around the house, but some day I will need to tackle the ficus that overhangs our porch. For decades, it has been lopped for fodder. With a sickle.
Now the lopping has stopped and it has regained a near-natural shape, but the malpruned stumps remain.

 I need to climb into it and prune. But the tree is tall. And to make life more interesting and the drop more deep, it overhangs a terrace. Hmm

3. The ghost of malpruners present: Or rather, non-pruners. I initially tried to train the honeysuckle over the trellis. But the honeysuckle won. And now it has formed a pouf on one corner. I need help and hand-holding. How does one un-entangle this?
4. Wisdom: Meet Gramma. She is the oldest of our hens. When we bought her, she was already a hen of a certain undisclosed age. That was four years ago. These days, she doesn't get around much. I make it a point to see that she gets enough food, and she seems content to spend most of her time under the winter jasmine.
I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon though. Maybe it is not age, it is wisdom.

5. Blind. I believe that is the term for narcissus plants that refuse to bloom. These lovelies bloom here in November, or are supposed to. They have not flowered for three years. Last year, I got fed up with waiting, and dug them up, separated them, and replanted. This year, I waited eagerly. Still no blooms. What do I do?

6. Sweet peas! I have planted Cupani this year, after falling in love with their fragrance. And here they are, going strong (touch wood) .
 I should nip them so that they will branch out, but that entails dismantling their frost cover.
And then erecting it again.  Maybe next week.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Structure and mayhem

It is so good to be back in the garden! Going away, even if the travels are good, is becoming increasingly less attractive. But it is a blessing to be back in time for the winter. Because while my 'winter garden' still has a very long way to go, there is still much going on. This is not a time of lush beauty, but one of rest. A time when the silvery minty sheen on a magnolia bud takes on an importance that demands I stop and stroke it several times a day.
And most of my six on saturday this week will be at that scale. As always, do go on over to The Propagator's blog and read about other peoples gardens- such fun times we have there.

1. Kochanie Bhaloo: I said that 'most' of my six will be on a dimunitive, relaxed scale. But that does not mean spectacularly exuberantly interesting things are not going on. Meet exhibit A
His name is Kochanie (pronounced Kohanya) Bhaloo and he is a Bhotiya pup from a small shepherd's village near the Milam glacier. And now he is part of our family. Big Sister Madhu has taken on the responsibility for his care. Here she is grooming him, both as a way to establish dominance and as a very effective and organic way of getting rid of the lice he arrived with.

2. Bare: I know the magic ingredients that make a winter garden- structure, structure, structural evergreens. My friends have gardens that retain life in this winter due to their stone sculptures, their colourful crafts, and well-chosen plantings. On the other hand, much of my garden looks like this:

I am working on it, I may add. Some Agave plant-lings are slowly growing, rosemary and cotoneaster cuttings are struggling to grow into the lovely hedges they already are in my imagination, and every year some structure gets added to the garden.
And who needs stone sculptures when we have posing roosters?

3. Shakkei: Where would we be without it? The Japanese art of incorporating 'outside' elements such as a neighbours house, a distant view or the fleeting clouds into one's garden design is a godsend for me. Whenever I am despondent because of my bare garden, or anxious because of all the undone tasks, all I need to do is look up.

There they stand, the Nepal Himalayas, highlighted with white, each fissure and ridge sharply defined. 'Yep, I did a good job with those" I nod and move on, greatly comforted.

4. Sprouting: Gardeners cannot live on mountain views alone though. It is a good thing they have pots. Here are my phlox seedlings going strong (touchwood). And I should pot them on, but am afraid of jinxing something that is doing well.

The strawberry seedlings alas are another story. Most died, the ones that survived do not seem to grow beyond their hardly-visible status.

5. Growing: And in the garden too, there is growth. and a reminder of why it is a good thing I do not cut back plants. Under the shelter of last-summers stems, there is hope of the next.
Here are chrysanthemum plants.
Here are salvia.

 Here is a buddelia braving the winter:
6. Harvest: Radish and lettuces.
 The lettuce is protected from the frost, the radishes encouraged to get frost-kissed and sweet.
And because size does sometimes matter, here is a photo:

Monday, November 20, 2017

Among the greats

For the last few days, I have been spending time with a bunch of people I really like.We perch on uncomfortable chairs and joke about what might be an appropriate time of the day to move on from drinking chai to beer. We wrestle with computers and rig up amplifiers with empty plastic at bottles.
When they speak, I listen hard. Because their stories are astounding.

The quiet young man in a flamboyant green shirt? He has been at the head of one of the few successful anti-dam struggles India has seen. For 15 years, Bhai has participated in keeping the Subansiri free and its peoples safe. Here in one small room are people who have devoted decades of  their lives to the Teesta, to Loktak, to Subansiri. Here are people who have spent their entire working lives in solidarity with the oppressed and tried to make sense of the inequalities they see around them.

There are places in this country where the police set fire to people's huts. 'My child's board exams start tomorrow. I am such a helpless mother', laments a woman who has been suddenly rendered homeless. There are places where villages have suddenly been washed away. And this group bears witness to it all.

I am humbled.

Saturday, October 28, 2017


This week, it has flown. But here are snapshots:
 1. Persimmon hate: Too strong a word, you say? Not strong enough, say I! In an optimistic moment, we harvested far too many persimmons.
 This is just part of what we have lying around the house. And all that  has to be peeled, strung up (a process requiring patience and nimble fingers) and hung up to dry. Those that ripen before I can get to them need to be pulped and frozen.
 And then the Mian had to leave for work. So now I am tackling these myself and thinking evil thoughts as I peel and knot. It is in my best interests to eat persimmons, but I feel more like a persimmon than a human now.

2. Full of beans: The harvest is in. We have 500 gm of the white beans, and a slightly more respectable 3 kilos of the Chitra.
There are more drying, and we ate some. The total is 3kg, honest! And yes, those are more persimmons rolling about in the background.

3. Sundrying: Along with the strung-up persimmons, there are lots of other things drying about the house. But here's a shot of my roof

Chillies, more chillies, the last of the beans,chopped up radish greens for furikake and yes, persimmons.

4. Autumn colour: Is just coming in. Here are pictures.
Weigela. I wish I could convey the pink-orange-greenishness of the leaves. The photo just does not do it justice.
Persimmons. And yes, there are more persimmons that need to be harvested on there.  Sadly, I will be out of town when they are in their full blazing glory.

5. Pumpkin present, pumpkin future: We gathered in 4 pumpkins, one was gifted to us by P (to whom I had given seeds last year), and one is still to be harvested.
And we have started pumpkin prep for next year. A wire structure has been erected, the coop litter and some kitchen waste has been thrown in, and the chickens have been requested to turn and shred the leaves. For the next , this 7 months, this will be added to and watered and pampered. In June, three pumpkin seeds will be reverently put in. Our goal? A dozen pumpkins or more!

Work away, my little biddies. Work away. And yes, that is a persimmon you see in there.

6. Here's Waldo!: Or rather, here's Attila. We bought some Attila strawberry seeds from Baker Creek this autumn. Mian has wanted alpine strawberries for the longest time and I am tired of not being able to grow the things he loves. The reason I chose this variety is because it has runners. I just need to get one plant to survive, and it will be easier next year. For three weeks, it seemed asif even that was too much to ask for. But today, I saw them!
Can't see them? You need the eyes of lurrve. And yes, that is a persimmon seed in there.
Here's a closeup:
Now they need to survive during the four long weeks that I will be away. Will need to threaten both G and Mian with something dire if they let the seedling die.
And if they are NOT strawberry seedlings, please don't tell my achy breaky heart.

As always, please do go on over to the Propagator's blog: Here is a link to his six-on-saturday where you can also find a lot of super gardeners.