Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Chasing pumpkins

This begins, like most of our stories do, with Madhu Bhaloo. She had been waking me up several times in the middle of the night, and with good reason. There were ominous rustlings in the pumpkin patch. I went out several times with a flashlight, but saw nothing. Alone, I sat and fretted.

That pumpkin plant, and the one in our kitchen garden marked a turning point in the life of our garden. Since we moved in, Mian has been bringing  home the seeds of sugar pie pumpkins for me to sow. Every year, they have failed. Our soil has been too poor to raise a crop, the critters have been faster than us, we did not know enough about raising pumpkins.

But all this time, our garden was falling into place. We got chickens which provided us with manure, we set up a rainwater fed irrigation tank, we fenced in our kitchen garden, we learned.
And this year the pumpkins rewarded us. The sugarpies flourished magnificently and gifted us 8 pumpkins. It was the volunteer that the village was oohing and aahing over though.

This seed, probably thrown into the compost, grew till it took over the slope facing our bedroom. First there was one, and then there were six large pumpkins.

These were what the mysterious visitor was after, and concern for them was  keeping Madhu and me up. Mian saw me online late one night and asked me what was the matter. 'Something is chasing our pumpkins' I said sleepily. After a short pause, the gentle Mian tried to reassure me, 'well, it can't be very fast then, can it?' We laughed long and loud then, but today I was vindicated.
The 'pumpking' when still a young one

The giant pumpkin broke its stem, trampled the supports we had placed around it, and disappeared. Madhu, I, G, two men who are presently tilling fields for rye, and one woman who was cutting grass for our household all joined in the search. We found it at the very bottom of the orchard, miraculously not shattered to a pulp, but cracked enough that I could not store it for the winter.

This made me a little sad; I had been looking forward to seeing it gently ripen on our roof. But no matter. I cut it up and shared it with all who had joined in the Great Pumpkin Hunt. There was enough for all..the pumpkin weighed just under 9 Kilos. And I was not perfectly fair in the sharing out, our fridge has a 3.6 Kg wedge of the finest (if not quite ripe yet) pumpkin waiting for Mian to return.
Everybody else's share
Our share

Saturday, September 10, 2016


That word sums up what I want my garden to look like. I want it to be exuberant, to reflect plenty.
It has been tough going.. Plants take a long time to establish themselves, I didn't have enough compost, the summers were mean. 
And when I did get the chickens as a source of compost, they proved to be garden destroyers. I had to protect all the plants with chicken wire fences. That repressive prison environment was exactly the opposite of what I wanted.
And yet.
There are things that do work. Parts of the garden that in the here and now, are what I want them to be.
self-sown kidney beans and amaranth climbing the apricot tree

I see us growing more amaranth next year

Despite its atrocious location (behind the compost pile) this 'saptrangi' rose always delights. First with its multi-coloured flowers, and then the nice fat hips
Here's a closeup

For 4 months every year, the fern wall is as lush as I can wish for

Here's a closeup

velvety purple salvia behind pink phlox. Not sure what Mian thinks of this combination, but I like it!
Getting there, getting there

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


I was sitting and chatting with a friend yesterday when the topic turned, naturally, to the madness that is sweeping over India. 'At times like this, you just want to dig a hole  and crawl inside it' she said. 'Sometimes, just digging is enough' I replied. Passionate gardener that she is, Mrs.L smiled agreement.

Gardening is hope. And forgiveness. And love. Reading gardening books and talking with my gardener friends tells me that there are some things that are common to all gardeners.

We look at our gardens with the eyes of love. Most of the time, we see things not as they are, but as they would have been in a state of perfection. And therefore the new advice is  to photograph your garden and look at it as if it is not yours. But most people I know do not do that. Why would you want to consciously seek out warts in the face you love?

And there is always a next time. No matter what you do, the garden does not hold  a grudge. The year rolls around, and you get a second chance.

And right now, I am plumb in the middle of  the season of Hope. The Monsoon.  That magical time when a broomstick stuck into the ground will put out shoots. Mian  bought me a jar of  rooting hormone powder (that most romantic of men- he knows what will get his wife weak-kneed!) and I have been going a little crazy. Lavender, rosemary, roses, hydrangeas- next year, my garden will be lush!

Here are photos:
Lavender and rosemary. For the south wall in the yard.
Hydrangea. I tried rooting cuttings for three seasons but they all rotted on me. This time, I filled the planting hole with sand for drainage. They are alive so far. What did  I say about forgiveness?
Doesn't look like much,but there are 14 plants of 5 different types in there!
Lily bulbils. Mrs.L gave me scores when she learnt I don't have any tiger lilies. In 3 years, my garden will be on fire!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Avian woes

As I write this, I am sitting on the porch with a spray can of water next to me. The can is both for protection and for assault. Protection against the rooster, who is programmed to attack anything other than his hens. And assault against a drongo.
I normally like these cheerful agile little birds. Their antics as they catch flying insects is fun to watch. But  this one is the smartest and laziest drongo ever. S/he has found a convenient perch just outside the beehive. All the bird has to do is sit there, beak agape, while bees offer themselves up. Well, not on my watch.
But bird troubles never end. I am driven to write this now because my nose nearly got taken away by an aggressive winged thug. I wish  I could name something like a falcon, but it was a dove. I was walking past the chicken coop, and it shot towards me, with murderous intent. I am so glad I ducked.
Not all the birds we have are malevolent. Some are ailing. One of our hens is lame, which  means she cannot hunt for her lone chick (all the others died). Besides which she does not allow me to inspect her.
And finally, one of the chicks in the other brood has a deformed beak. It is shaped like a hook, which is fine if one is an eagle, not so much fun to eat seeds with. So I need to be mindful about spreading seed on the grass for her where she can pick them up- she can't grasp seeds scattered over stone.
Who would have thought that adopting 4 birds would lead me to being obsessed with the innards, sex lives, and territorial drama of an 11-strong flock?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Thursday, April 21, 2016

My real mother.

My mother's most cherished photograph of herself is the one where she is wearing a tightly cinched National Cadet Corps uniform. In the post WWII years, the NCC was serious stuff. She relished climbing telephone poles to 'tap' the messages shuttling back and forth, she learnt to shoot, she showed off during drill. Her adventures had begun well before college and the NCC. In school, she was the tomboy of the class- preferring to exit school from a tunnel under the boundary wall rather than through the gate.

Later, she worked in the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research as a 'scanner girl' looking for electrons. In those days, that was the most technical job a woman could have. She talks with joy of those days, of smuggling her friends into the scientists' lift, of talking to Homi Bhabha, of the foreign scientists who would visit.

She also had a non-traditional sense of style. With her first salary, this girl from Mangalore walked into a fancy jewellers and bought a stunning single strand of pearls- like the Hollywood actresses. She would wear none but printed silk sarees and sleeveless blouses. I remember a nightie of hers that I would play with as a child; she probably decided she didn't want to wear it after Baba died. It was nylon, I think, with a front made entirely of lace. It was a very 'mumma' thing to me then, now it strikes me that I only own one thing that even comes close to the risque-level set by my mothers nightie.

She was a part of the audience during a strip show. It was out of the ordinary, but not too much so for this fun-loving girl. When single, she would always be surrounded by a court of devoted and gallant admirers. When she got engaged, my dad and his friends simply joined the club of those who admired Saroja.

Much much later, she found herself a widow with two children and a hospital. That girl stayed alive though. She shone through in impromptu holidays, in movie marathons, in riverside picnics, in a love for rum-and-coke combos.

I need to remember this woman I know, my mother.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The apple of my eye

Well, no. But you didn't expect me to refrain me from making that pun while talking of my beloved iris, did you?
Nothing's quite as magical as a bed of iris backlit by the morning sun.

And this is the most spectacular one I've seen:
 But there is lots else happening this spring.
The Amaryllis:
 The Azalea:
And everywhere, the promise of more sweetness to come. Here is the honeysuckle over our window, waiting to flower till Mian is back home.