Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Orchid-alicious days

Orchid seems to be the flavour of the season in my garden! It is popping up all over; both the colour as well as the flower. Incredibly flamboyant, eye-rivetingly gorgeous, and so very luxe ... I love it! And I just had to share.
By the way, do you know what I love even more? That they are so very easy to grow and bloom in Mumbai's tropical climate! I know the days are getting hotter and the sun is blazing something fierce, but when I step out into the garden and see my orchids blooming their heads off, I beam a huge smile at my orchid-alicious days.
Mmmmhmm ... life is good!

Orchids like this Vanda (above) love the high heat, high humidity, bright sunshiny days that we grumble about. Maybe Mumbai was meant to be populated with Vandas. What a thought! Can you imagine seeing blooms like this all over the city?

Dendrobiums are some of my favourite orchids. Well, they all are, but dends (dendrobiums, as they're fondly referred to by orchidistas) are a bit more special, if you know what I mean. Because they will always make that effort to bloom and bloom with minimum care. 
This is one of my favourite dends because it is one of the first ones I bought years ago. Free-flowering and with extra-long spikes of blooms (often multiple spikes), it can always be counted on to brighten my day. And to draw a lot of gasps from the unsuspecting stroller in the garden. It fed my orchid fever until I became like one demented, buying orchids wherever I heard of any available and price be damned. 

 Did I say that Dends are my favourite orchids? I'm quite partial to my Phalaenopsis too. My apartment garden with more shade than sun, loves it. But then so does my other regular in-the-ground garden. My regular garden has several large cashew trees with wide canopies that cast a shade that the Phals love. So they've happily made their home there too.
And now the Phals are in full bloom too; those growing in my apartment garden (above) as well as those in my regular garden (below).
Eye-candy all the way to fill my days in clouds of orchid!

(And before you ask... no, my orchids are not a collection of purple shades. I just thought it would be interesting to compare the blooms of the various similar-coloured orchids ).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Remembering butterfly season

Winter is one of my favourite seasons in Mumbai. There's a delicious chill in the air, the migratory birds come calling, the garden is filled with the more exotic vegetables and cool-growing annuals, the mosquitoes go away on their annual break... and I feel absolutely, exultantly alive !
But there's just one thing missing. The butterflies.
In November, my garden is  brimful of them and my days are so filled with butterfly-watching that it is my official Butterfly Season. Then, December brings the cool winds from the north which turn into shivery cold stings. And, all of a sudden, the butterflies are nowhere to be seen!
Oh, I can still spot them in some of the city green spaces but not in my much-cooler garden (we are so surrounded by trees that our temperatures are easily at least 2-3*C cooler than the rest of the city ). And I have to wait for warmer days to get my butterfly-fix again. Until then, I'm going over my pics from Butterfly Season 2013 and reminiscing.

The lantana bush in the vegetable garden is the favourite hang-out for the winged rainbows. All the pics in this post were clicked within a couple of feet of it. In fact, I stood still for just a few extra minutes near it and this Common Sailor butterfly landed on my outstretched hand holding the camera and decided to check me out!
Ohhhh! Bliss!!!
Can you imagine the state I was in? I was ecstatic that I had a butterfly on my hand, and I was struggling to get my other camera out so I could click it (I usually have 3 cameras when I walk around. 1 DSLR on my shoulder and 2 point-and-shoots in my pockets... yeah, I'm quite a sight!) AND trying to stay still enough so I wouldn't scare it off.
I think the pic above is proof that I managed to pull it off long enough, isn't it?

There's something about the Wavy Common Palmfly that reminds me of rippling water and shimmering glass. Do you see what I mean?
And, for all its drab brown (chocolate brown, but still ...) exterior, this is a butterfly which believes in surprises. One flash of its wings and you'll see what I mean.
Take a look at this pic of the open-wing version here. Isn't it stunning? Especially the male. Electric blue, jet black and fiery orange ... imagine covering that up in drab brown !

Another butterfly that believes in covering itself up in drab brown is the Gram Blue. The hint of purple and blue is so pretty and all the more startling when it swishes its wings open and shut. You can get a peek of it here.
 This is such a tiny butterfly that I usually spot it only as flashes of blue flitting around. Another really easy way to find it is to look for it near any bean plants you may have growing in your garden . Grams - pulses- beans ... got the connection?

The Common Redeye has to be one of the most aptly named butterflies. I usually quibble over the names ascribed to our butterflies but this one will find no arguments from me. It has to be this butterfly's most noticeable feature, don't you think?
Its big brother, the Giant Redeye is a regular at my garden too but somehow I didn't spot it this time.

But if you ask me, this has to be one of our most under-rated butterflies. It is a very unassuming white but if you want to know where the Indian Sunbeam got its name from, you'll have to wait till it opens its wings. Isn't it magnificent?!
And I'm quite fascinated by its candy-striped legs too. So stylish!

The Grey Pansies are some of my favourite butterflies this season. They're large enough to spot easily, they're not skittish and will happily pose for me, and they have such a fun wardrobe! So many eyes on those wings. All the better to see you, darlin' !

And speaking of eyes ... take a good look at the Peacock Pansy! Now tell me that Ma Nature doesn't have a great sense of humour.
And isn't it pure genius?! Scary eyes on the top of its wings  to startle any would-be predator. So cool!

These are just a few of my regulars in the garden. I think I'll keep the others to post another day. Till then, stay warm and think of the butterflies...

Updating to add a link to a post on butterflies from November a couple of years ago Garden Tea-party: Butterflies invited
and this one posted later but about a much-loved November b'fly: Blue Oak-leaf on a Pink Cassia 
and lastly, this one, just because I love the butterflies in it : Of Tigers, Crows and Handmaidens

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Growing food for my table

I'm a happy gardener these days. All the hard work in the vegetable garden has paid off and my table is loaded with the fruits and vegetables we grew. Which is a real relief when I read in the papers about the spiraling prices.

We usually grow a lot of veggies during the monsoon season but this year was a strange one. The Monsoons hit us before time and continued battering the city and elsewhere almost non-stop for close to 2 months. And, I don't think we saw bright sunshine until August. So unusual! I've never seen anything like it in all the years that I've been farming.
Now, I love the monsoon season with a passion. But such a strange season got us a bit worried because all the vegetable seeds we had sown at the start of the monsoons either got washed away or the little seedlings just rotted away. Only the really tough local varieties survived (just about. And that's a great reason to grow local, heirloom varieties if you can find them)

The beans were the first to yield and they did so abundantly. With a whole-hearted largesse that makes you glad for such simple, easy-to-grow vegetables.
I don't know why more people don't grow them in the city. What you see here is the yield on a single day from just 2 plants! And that too, at the start of the harvest before the plants came into their full yielding potential.

And the peppers were full of green berries too. Don't you love the way those pepper berries are packed tight? It looks even prettier when they ripen.

If you have a banana plant in your garden, then you're set for several meals. In fact, almost the entire plant is edible one way or the other. It's not just the ripe fruit which you can enjoy as a fruit or dessert. The unripe fruit , the inflorescence and the pith of the pseudostem, all make great ingredients and feature in several of our regional cuisines.
Oh, and you can use the large leaves as a plate and compost it after your meal. No washing up! How much better can it get?

This is another plant from which we got a surprisingly good harvest this season. I'm not too fond of bitter-gourd as a vegetable but I have to admit that it does look pretty. I love the leaves and the simple but eye-catching bright yellow flowers.
Heck! I think we're doing it an injustice by confining it to the kitchen garden!

And I love how tenacious it is. The bittergourd vines can latch on and climb and smother any surface in a cloud of green almost overnight.

Interesting texture, don't you think? And they're very good for you. There are all kinds of reports of it helping to regulate blood-sugar levels.

Every once in a while, a few escape our eyes (well, it's a green veggie on a green plant, after all) . And this is what we find. A glorious warm sunset-orange rind and blood-red arils that rival the pomegranate in glossy, brilliant red-ness.
Definitely prettier than tastier ... to my eyes, at least!

This one I like, though! The Red Amaranth is grown in my garden round the year.The tender leaves and stem are rich in iron and its grain is increasingly being recommended too for its nutritional value.
This season, however I didn't get around to sowing its seeds. But guess what, some of them volunteered to show up anyway. In the stoniest, weediest part of the vegetable garden!
hmmmm.... I wonder if my garden is sending me a message here? "Don't bother weeding and cleaning"?
But here's my story, all those weeds are left undisturbed on purpose. Some of them are butterfly and pollinator food, you know. That tiny blue flower to the left? The Red Pierrot butterflies love them. So, now you know.

And how could I leave out the Carambola? This tree is just beginning to mature but I love how profusely it is bearing fruit on almost  every inch of bare space! This is definitely my kind of tree! Low on maintenance but high on yield.

Wait, there's more. But I think I'll keep those for another post. Maybe by then I'll have more pics to share. Of the tomatoes and other veggies which are growing and soon to yield any day now. Can you see me smiling?

In the meantime, here's a pic of cherry tomatoes from another harvest. Get growing your own food, everyone. It's not so tough. And it's definitely fulfilling. Also, tastier and healthier than the fruits and veggies you'll buy in the market.

And, if each one grows some, we'll all have a table-ful.
Smile, everyone!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Monsoon Moments : Pillows of green

Pillows of greenest moss soften the landscape now. Snuggling up to hard planes of wet stone, blurring boundaries and inviting touch.
How I wish I had a moss garden year-round!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A reluctant ode to Summer

Day 54 since the monsoons started and it's still pouring ... magical! I can't really remember another year when it has done this. At least, not since I started farming and gardening, anyway.
So, do I miss the sun? Do I, like those in colder northern climes, peer up at the sky, wondering when the sun will show up and the rain give us a break?
No way! I love the monsoon.
But I must confess (almost reluctantly and rather guiltily, since I've been going on and on about disliking our summer) that I do miss some of the distinctly delicious trademarks of Summer.
Hmmm, yeah... I didn't see that coming either.

For one, I miss the colour. The flamboyant, in-your-face overdose of tropical colour on every bloom and fruit. Oh, and there's no stinting or stingy witholding; there's just such a generous extravagance of it everywhere! An exuberant copiousness that few other seasons can match.

And the absolutely delicious fruits? Did I mention that? 
Ummm... did I really need to?
I love it when my craving for colour gets flavour as a bonus. Oh yeah, 2-for-1, who could resist that? And with these Wax Jambus I almost wish I could have them as a permanent display on my table (or in my garden, for that matter).
I love the fresh, crisp flavour of these small bell-shaped fruits. So perfect for a hot, humid summer day. Bite into one and you'll know what I mean.
There are more species in the Syzygium genus that are so incredibly delicious  and some are fragrant too! Try them all, if you get them. I know they're not all easily available in Mumbai, but try begging and pleading with friends who grow them or just drop by for a friendly visit to their home when it is in fruit (I did! I know ... greed makes me so shameless! ).

Have you seen a fruit which far exceeds expectations? Well, here it is! The plump  purple globes with green caps are interesting-looking, I admit. But take off the cap, squish it gently in the middle and it yields (if it doesn't, it's no good ). Splitting open to reveal a bright pink inner. Can you imagine how striking that looks? But, discard it... now! For the real star is within... a ring of tightly packed, perfectly white, crisp, fresh, delicately sweet segments.
Simply incredible!
This has to be the absolutely best fruit I've ever eaten. It tastes of the holidays , and childhood and playing on a swing, and huddling under a blanket at night swapping yarns with visiting cousins, and laughter, and gentle times, and...   It makes me nostalgic when I simply think of it. And it is a Summer fruit.
Oh yes, I do see that we need Summer!

Did I forget the Mango? How could I???
Here it is ... sweet Alfonso mangoes from my garden, delicious as only home-grown, sun-ripened fruit can be. It was such a great yield this year that I went berserk hunting for mango recipes. Yes, we really did get that much. And, eat that much.
( And yes, I said that just to make myself think that I can wait till next Summer for the next sweet mango)

Hmmm... how does a fruit that looks so scary, even weird, be so awesome?
Who in the world ever summoned up the nerve to split open one and take that first bite? For it is scary-looking, with leathery skin and tentacles all over. A bit like Medusa. 
See what I mean?
But what you don't get from this pic is just how much I'd walk for a Rambutan right now! To the next tropical country growing it, maybe (hmmm ...I think it'll be in season soon in the southern hemisphere. maybe, if I start right now ...).
Or, till next Summer? Most definitely!

I think I'll just program myself to ignore the blazing heat and dust and miserable humidity next Summer. Just pass the mangosteen and rambutan and other fruits, will you?  

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Monsoon Moments : Temptation

Carissa carandas ... ever wondered why the very name is like a caress?
Rain-frosted globes; creamy, blush, blood-red, passionate purple. And it's temptation all over again

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Monsoon Moments

A carpet of fire invites the rain to stay and play. A pathway turns into a stream and the Gulmohur sends its children out to roll in the grass.

Since monsoon pictures are thronging my mind (and my camera), I'm starting a new series of single-picture posts : Monsoon Moments. I hope you enjoy it as much as you liked the Summer Snapshot series