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.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


Arm's still iffy..which means I have been grumpy seeing all that needs to be done around the garden and that I have not been able to do. Bless the Mian- he's gamely taken on the job of lugging the watering can up to the newly-planted plants. But there is still much that I have allowed to slide. Which is why it is such a good thing that my garden gets along  just fine without me.
But here's my six this Saturday.
 1.  Birth: Remember Chaunch? This is what her chicks look like now:
And there's more! Red, one of our oldest hens and the one with the most personality has hatched three chicks so far. There are still three eggs under her ,so will wait another couple of days. But here's a photo of one- the other two are under their mamma.

 2. Promise: We planted three Kiwi vines two winters ago. Last year, the two female vines gave one flower each. Yesterday I tied them in preparation of winter pruning and saw some nice spur formation and some very nice fuzzy hints of buds to come. Keeping fingers you think we'll get to taste a kiwi or two?

 3. Potential: Here it is, the first ever glimpse of my succulent garden. The first few feet just after we enter our garden, right at the top of the slope, is a dry and rocky patch. G and I had optimistically tried different things there, to fail every time. And then I read about Ruth Bancroft and realised that instead of fighting the situation, I should celebrate it. This monsoon, I began slowly adding succulents to that bed. Haven't spent anything on it so the agave from a plant that had flowered by the side of the road, ditto for the opuntia. The smaller succulents a friend generously gave me.Doesn't look like much, you say? Ah, give us another three years, it will be spinily spectacular!

4. Potential realised: Remember the chrysanthemums I showed last week? Here's another look:
And this is what they look like now:

5. Potential lost: Something in the weather is making the plums flower now. We usually do have a pear blossom or two around this time every year, but I have not seen premature flowering to this extent before.Nearly every plum tree on the property is flowering. Of course, they will be destroyed in the frost, and with them, any hope of plums next summer.

6. Potential regained: Right opposite the porch where Mian and I spend most of our waking hours is an eyesore of a slope. Every monsoon, it puts on a rich and lush cloak of ferns and skullcaps, only to wither away by the end of September. Here too, I had tried many things. But a combination of chicken feet and tree roots meant that everything failed. But now, I might have a solution. Our winter jasmine had tip-rooted some branches and I have planted five in a row at the top of the slope (cliff, really). The idea is that in four years or so, they will cascade over the cliff and provide us with a lovely green and gold waterfall to look at. I can't wait! Here's what each plant looks like now:

And as always, do go over to The Propagator's blog. He started this, and you can read his six-on-saturday and those of many other wonderful people here.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Snacks, plans and a visitor

Not much done around the garden this week..A slightly iffy arm and too much writing have kept me out of the garden. And Diwali is around the corner, so G has been on leave too. 
Which means I have been focusing on laid back dreaming and enjoying the fruits of my garden. 
Want to see? Here it is, my six garden things this Saturday. And do go over to The Propagator's blog..he started the Six-on-Saturday and has wonderful people joining in!

1. Harvest- All that plodding around in the monsoon, sticking a seed in here and there (in my case), and making textbook- perfect seed beds (in G's case)? This is what it was all for: Beans, corn, chilies. We are making stew this winter!
2. Snacks: Another harvest, but one in which we had put in zero effort. The persimmons are ripening! The barbets, magpies, woodpeckers, jays, and babblers have most of it. But we were determined to have some. So Mian went and picked out a whole box full. He is now patiently waiting for a dozen to ripen so that he can make his persimmon pudding. I do not think he is aware that I walk by the box several times a day and steal those that are ripe..
3. Chrysanthemums: They take three weeks to ripen, I am told. Sometimes, it seems longer. But here they are now!

4. Winter stuff: See that bench under the pear tree? It's my favourite place to sit on a winter morning. The problem is that it is located in my iris bed. While that bed is lovely in summer (early with iris, and late  with mirabilis), nothing much happens later on. Now wondering what I can put in to create some interest in the winter. And how many things can I put in before an iris bed ceases to be an iris bed? Also, those bare patches? They had iris rhizomes once. Then the chickens came by.

5. Project: I may have mentioned once or twice just how much I love the main path to our house. There is another that I don't talk about much,because I have never done anything to it. It is a wild path where one just scrambles up the hill. Well, it won't stay like that any longer. Post-Diwali, on the 20th to be exact, two handsome (and strong-backed) young men are coming over to help G and me lay a set of wood+gravel steps. It will be a step-path no longer, once the nice steps are put in.

6. Owl right! I have been bursting to share this for two days. People, meet the Asian Barred Owl. On our Eastern pear tree. Watching us have dinner.
Get ready now..
A profile, such as it is
The front!
And getting fed up of the two gawking humans