Monday, October 31, 2016

October garden musings

Goodbye October, it's been lovely to have known you. Happy Diwali and a happy New Year to all those who are celebrating it now.
As for those who are not celebrating, my wishes go out to you too ; we can all use reasons to celebrate, don't you think?

 Too much travel and a lot of work commitments have kept me from blogging as often as I would have liked. But then, travel is a wonderful thing and I never say "No!" to it.
A bit of work, a bit of pleasure and lots of gardens at the end of it. Mmmm.... maybe I should change the title of this blog to 'The Travelling Gardener' !

Coming back home to my gardens is one of the sweetest pleasures. Do you head to your garden first thing when you get back from a trip? I do!
Which plant is flowering? What new fruit is ready for harvest? What new surprises is my garden throwing up?

Incidentally, did you see the multi-bloom Red Ginger in the first pic? That was a Surprise with a capital S! I've never seen one like that before, with multiple flowers (inflorescences, if you want to be technically correct)  sprouting from a single one.
I've seen little plantlets sprouting from a Red Ginger flower, looking like over-eager babies raring to race before they can walk, but never more flowers from a single flower! What a bonanza!

And it looks just like a sparkler, don't you think? Just in time for Diwali.

The butterflies are coming in too. Not in droves yet as they usually do every year at this time (Remember Butterfly Season and the Butterfly party ? That happened in October - November too). But, I'm giving them time. November is not here yet.

In the meantime, there are still a few butterflies flitting around and posing for photos . But till they show up in crowds, I'm making do (that's a funny term for 'thoroughly enjoying', isn't it?) with the petalled variety. My dendrobium orchids!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Growing orchids in the city

Growing orchids in the city? ... impossible! Or so I was told.
Until, I just had to show them. Cattleyas with ruffled pouty lips in a five-petalled haiku.
City-grown and city-bloomed, with no greenhouse or misting system in sight.
Just plenty of good ol'-fashioned sunshine reaching past plant-laden window-boxes and beaming on even more orchids on my window-sills ...
And moist, humid coastal air. Plus, a neighbour's leaky AC unit drip-drip-dripping onto my lucky orchid plants ...
For every sceptic and nay-sayer who says it can't be done, a mammoth Cattleya orchid that blooms its heart out in a flourish of gorgeousness. Right here in the city, in an apartment window jostling against a bustling road.
Mokkaras and every Vandaceous orchid blushing a healthy happy hue. Of exuberant pinks ...
...and sun-dipped yellows.
These are the Vanda days. Of warmth and light and bounteousness all around. No skimping on anything!
Phalaenopsis are amazing! Smashing every preconceived notion of how they should grow and that too, so cheerfully.
From brightest fuchsia to palest pink, Cattleya or Dendrobium. All tropical orchids, all city-grown among the rough and tumble of traffic and noise and pollution. Thriving, blooming, thrilling... point proved! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Travel: More floral artistry in Zurich

So did you get an eyeful of the glorious flowers that Zurich's florists dish out in my last post?
I do have one more florist whose work demands to be featured too. I was overwhelmed by the gorgeous plant and floral art created by Regula Guhl and her team at ' Blumenbinder ' on Oberdorfstrasse, Zurich.

It was just down the road from my hotel  and within strolling distance from the other florists that I had blogged about in my last post (which makes me believe that perhaps Zurich has no idea how much of floral riches it has, waiting to be discovered!).

I was walking off a particularly satisfying lunch when I saw a couple of very fashionably dressed ladies leaning in and ooh-aahing over something.

Then I moved in closer and discovered that it was oooh! ... simply drool-some !
"Pelargonium," one of them was whispering to the other.
Was it? I have no idea, I had never seen this plant before. But I do know that if I had been living in Zurich longer I would have grabbed this large pot of pink happiness for myself.

Here's a closer look so you'll know just what I mean. (And if you know its name, do tell me)

Then I got a clearer look at the space which had been hidden from view till then and found a whole profusion of potted plants and bunches of flowers ... hydrangeas and morning glories and geraniums and poppies and even an exuberantly blooming hibiscus.
It was so beautifully arranged and displayed!
If you don't believe me, check out the first photo in this post and then tell me that you aren't drawn to all those little plants, full of blooms and each in its own little bark pot.
That is so clever! I love the look of bark around a pot. So infinitely more attractive than ugly plastic pots. I really must try that with some of my own plants at home.

On second look, the bark,  like the cane basket, was more like a cache-pot into which the original pot was inserted to make it look prettier. Guess what? It worked!

But there's something about the flowers here. They look ... happy! I cant think of a better description. Well-cared for, happy and displayed to their best advantage. I love places that lavish so much care over their plants.

So I had to meet the people who were responsible for this. I went in to find Regula and her team busy in prepping whole bunches of flowers which some of them were arranging in large buckets and placing some against the wall.

Of course, I had to tell them that I'm a plant addict and flower-junkie too. Just standing in that room with the fragrance of hundreds of flowers wafting from every side and seeing huge clouds of blooms smothering every available inch of space, was sheer heaven!
So Regula took a break from her work to listen to my excited gasps of how exquisite everything was and Angela, one of the lovely florists there, gave me a rose to sniff ... and laughed delightedly as my eyes grew wider.
I swear that rose smelled divine! I forgot the name of the rose (me and my non-existent memory!) but if you take a look at the photo above, you can see it, I think. The white roses in the bucket on the floor ... heavenly!

But I didn't want to distract Regula and her team much longer so I wandered back outside to gasp over the potted plant display all over again. Take a look...

When a display like this can take the attention of a little kid away from an ice-cream, you know it has to be simply awesome, right?
Love, love, LOVE these!!! Wish I could have brought all of them home.
Or better still, I guess I'll have to work on finding great reasons to return to Zurich and sinking myself in botanical ecstasy all over again.
Yep! That sounds like a great plan to me ...

Monday, August 17, 2015

Travels with The Urban Gardener : Meet the floral artists of Zurich

This is a post which is long overdue. Way, way over past overdue, actually.
Sometimes Life tends to gleefully over-ride each and every good intention (there goes my a-post-a-week plan!) and then cunningly dump so much work and other stuff on one that we don't even realise until too late that "hey! hold on ... this isn't what I had planned!".

So, I had a year-ful of work and then all of a sudden, it was time to travel! I tell you, no one can travel like a gardener can. Especially when it's a gardener who has her senses overloaded with plants and blooms that she'd kill to grow.

For all the tropical abundance in my own garden, I yearn to grow plants which are more suited to temperate climates. Which is why a walk in Zurich (or Munich... or Salzburg ... or ...)  can turn my face this way and that, trying to saturate my vision with all the gorgeous blooms on display. It was Spring when I reached there (peak of summer here in Mumbai, who would have guessed?!) and all the trees were bursting into bloom in delicate explosions of colour (but more about them later!). And, in the little and not-so-little florists shops all over the city, colours were running riot.
I loved it! And I went up to all the florists I could talk to and felt as if I had met a kindred soul in a foreign land. And we chatted about colours and textures and fragrances and all the delicious details that true flower-lovers and growers love to explore.
Ohhh, the sheer joy of it ...!
It was at Limmatquai in Zurich that I met Fritz Schneiter. Under the arches that shelter a host of trendy restaurants and shops, cutting a rainbow-swathe across the grey cobble-stones was a sea of colour; blooms of every hue possible. (So perfectly apt that this florist shop  is called 'Blueme under de Böge' ... Blooms under the Arches! )
And behind them, at his workstation was this very genial looking man quietly at work . He soon strolled over to see which blooms had caught my eye. And I told him, "all of them!". 
We got talking about my blogging and my garden in India and my tropical flowers and how much I'm in love with his flowers. And he handed me his card, smiled and told me, "mail me some pictures of your flowers".
I hope you will read this some day, Fritz. This one's for you!

And for you, my dear readers. I hope you enjoy the floral buffet  that I'm posting for you; tulips, roses, hydrangeas, irises, peonies, poppies ... don't you just love them all?!

Thank you, Fritz. I did enjoy our talk and the flowers . Here's to you!

There's something about the streets of Zurich that act as a catalyst. Those grey cobblestones and grey skies act as the perfect counterpoint for the floral displays pulling the eye from across the street, drawing one to go and take a closer look to see if those flowers are really as gorgeous as they look. And they invariably are!
I saw these plants displayed in a small lane across the road and I just had to go check them out. Such an interesting shop! I never did discover its name but I loved it for these gorgeous peonies. And the very aesthetic displays.

Can one sightsee a city through its shops? I know many who would quickly nod their heads in agreement. As for me, I loved discovering Zurich through its florists shops. Can't wait to go back and find all the others that I missed!

(p.s. This post had to be cut shorter than expected due to a malfunction in my good ol' trusty PC where I store all my photographs. I had intended to add one more  exquisite floral artist but that will now have to wait for another post. Until later ... :)  )

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Grow vegetables for the flowers

When was the last time that you looked at a vegetable plant and sighed in delight over its blooms?
er ... did you ever notice the blooms?
If you didn't, don't worry, you're not alone. Not many people ever bother to really look at a vegetable plant, except when they are hunting for a veggie that they can harvest (or looking for a pest that has got to the prize before they could). But, next time, take a good long look and you will discover that quite a few of these blooms could get the plant into the ornamentals category, if not the edibles one.
For instance, this okra bloom. The way the okra (ladies fingers / bhendi) blooms pale golden and so prolifically, especially in the tropics, could easily make it a favourite.

And this bright yellow bloom of the cucumber is just as pretty. Dotted along long rambling vines, it makes a very pretty picture, doesn't it?

Here's a closer look. Now do you see what I mean?

This one is so very eye-catching, isn't it?! The bloom of the Ash gourd is just as bright golden as its fruit is pale silvery grey-green. Such a contrast, right? And compared to the other gourds, this bloom is really big. 
Did you know that like the blossoms of the pumpkin, gourd flowers are edible too? Imagine having hot batter-fried gourd blossom pakoras on a rainy, stormy evening!
(Do make sure that you select the male flowers for this and leave the female flowers to carry on with what they do best ... create little baby gourds, of course!)

And there's no doubt about it that the best part of the bitter-gourd is its flower. Seriously!
Okay, quite a few of you many not agree with me (my husband included. He loves this knobbly bitter vegetable with a passion! ) but just look at it. Now picture a canopy of these golden yellow little blooms scrambling over a trellis or screening an ugly view. Very ornamental, isn't it?

 Bok choy! You didn't think it would have such pretty flowers did you? Well, neither did I! In fact, my daughter was so taken in by these blooms that she insisted that I save them and dump the green leaves.

If you think that there is an overdose of yellow blooms in this post (there is!), it's time for a change.  Have you ever seen the flower of the Red Amaranth? Take a look at this up-close-and-personal view!
I know that one is expected to keep pinching off the flowers to prolong the harvest period but when I see this I'm forced to think twice about pinching it off.

But the veggie bloom that takes the cake and the cake-stand for sheer uniqueness has to be that of the snake-gourd (padval)! Have you ever seen anything else quite like it???
This one I most definitely would grow! What about you?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Song of the bird-bath

Before I start on my monsoon photos, here's one last look at something that sings of Summer ... my bird-bath. Do you remember the most frequented area in my garden (by the birds, I mean)? It has been seeing feathered traffic like never before all summer long!

 This Red Vented Bulbul had the time of his life puffing out his feathers and splashing so the water could reach and drench each and every part of his body.

This pic was not clicked in my garden but I just couldn't resist adding it. That little patch of water dripping from a tap had put this bulbul in an ecstatic mood and he was singing his heart out. I love these Red Whiskered Bulbuls with their cheerful birdcalls! Have you heard it?

Usually the sparrows and the finches are the last to get a chance to luxuriate in the water. Every time a bigger bird shows up they immediately move out of the way. Especially if it is a crow. I suspect the crows don't have much patience with the little birds.They don't seem to have any love to spare for the bigger birds either. Anytime that the Pariah Kite (Black Kite) turns up for a sip-and-dip, the crows at once gang up to chase the kite away!
The bulbuls on the other hand, are willing to share if the space is big enough.
But the sparrows and finches are happiest when the whole flock joins in. The flock that bathes together, stays together?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Indian Summer: a bird's-eye view

Hot. Hotter. Summer-est!
It's been a boiling, roasting season in Mumbai, hasn't it? All over India, actually (except those places which got some unseasonal showers  ... so very envious!). Now, can we get express-delivery of the Monsoons, please?
I loved the mangoes and all those other super-delicious summer fruits , both in the garden and in the markets.
And I loved all those streets spilling over with wave upon wave of summer blooms .
And there were the last of the migratory birds.(how I love that Paradise Flycatcher!). But I'm craving some refreshing monsoon rain right now!

Have you seen one of these birds? If you had, believe me, you'd never forget it. The Asian Paradise Flycatcher definitely deserves the second part of his name. Especially the adult males in flight. Sheer poetry!
This one here is a juvenile male, I think. It's hard to tell because they look almost exactly like the adult female untill they transform into their pure white feathered form topped with a crested jet-black head.
 I'm told that it is that blue ring around the eyes that differentiates the juvenile male from the adult female. I don't know if that's true but I'm hoping that this guy is going to come back next season in his white avatar.

The Alexandrine Parakeets have been at their screechiest-best. The cashew-fruits are growing and they've been feasting on the tender nuts. Huge swarms (there's no better word to describe it!) descend on my trees and by the time they move away, the ground is littered with the shells. Frankly, I don't mind. It's worth it to see these gregarious birds up so close. These two were high up on a mahogany tree and very curious why I was focusing on them.

And, my Pariah Kite (Black Kite)! There are more of them nesting on my trees now and I love seeing them fly. Unlike other birds in flight, with them you can almost see those strong wing muscles tautening.
This tall teak tree is one of his favourite perches. I guess it gives him the perfect look-out point.

He has definitely got the snakes on the run, though. This little Buff Striped Keelback was racing to reach the cover of a few scattered dry leaves and cautiously poked his head out to see if everything was safe before quickly slipping back under them when he spotted me with this huge lens aimed directly at him. (I don't blame him... my new 70-300mm lens intimidates even me sometimes!) 

And, I know the Oriental Garden Lizards don't feel any safer. Camouflage will keep you safe only just so much. The razor-sharp eyes of a raptor can probably zero in on him from the top of a tree at the other end of the garden.

The Sparrows love my bird-bath. It's just a natural rock with a hollow on top which is right in the middle of my garden. I keep it topped up with water and in summer it is a bird magnet unlike anything else! Every single bird in the vicinity troops in and waits their turn. Some politely, some not. I guess that 1 minute of splashing in the water is worth the wait for them.
What's the bet that these birds have been waiting for the Monsoon as eagerly (if not, more) as us?

Maybe Summer could slip away incognito and leave this Common Jezebel to represent her. Seriously! Can you think of anything more Summer-y?!