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?!


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Summer in the garden

Sizzle and burn! Summer is crackling like a seething fire-cracker now, isn't it? Not my favourite time of the year. But then, I could make excuses for the spectacular blooms on almost every tree and in my garden.

It all started with the Red Silk Cotton bursting into bloom one day . Gangly, thorny, leafless branches sprouting massive red blooms almost as if by spontaneous combustion! And out sprang Spring! 

The nectar-loving birds were ecstatic! So was I. I could now feast my eyes on the blooms as well as the birds. Sometimes good things come in 2-for-1 packages!

From there to Summer was just a matter of days and my Pink Cassias decided to follow almost immediately. Spike upon spike of tender pink globes unfurling into zillions of blooms that turned my tree into a rosy cloud!


And the Yellow Copper Pod trees ...! All over Mumbai, every street is smothered with these golden blooms . Masses and clouds of them, billowing and spilling over from one tree to the next.

See their buds and you will immediately know how they earned the 'Rusty' part of their alias, Rusty Shield Bearer. The flower spikes do stick out straight like lances, don't they?

But they are not the only blooms billowing and spilling over. The bougainvillea is in its element now, thriving in the hot, sunny weather. This one here has been rambling all over my fence, linking together with a scarlet bougainvillea and a garlic vine too to make a dense forest of a fence which is almost impenetrable. Somewhere inside that tangle there is a jasmine vine too but I don't think I will ever find where one plant starts and the other stops!

In bloom now is also my Aromatic Turmeric (Curcuma aromatica) which is famed for its cosmetic use.  For centuries, Indian women have been applying a paste of its rhizomes to get glowing skin. I would rather enjoy its gorgeous blooms!

One of the few 'cool' looking flowers now, the Walking Iris stands out for its white-blue flowers. Such an oddity in the midst of all my other summer blooms which look almost volatile in comparison.
Almost as odd is its 'walking' habit. Plantlets grow near the tip of the flower stalk which then bends to the ground and take root there.With each successive generation the Walking Iris soon seems to travel all around the garden, one bending flower-stalk at a time.

This is also the time when my Phalaenopsis orchids are in full bloom. These may be called 'Moth Orchids' but when I look at my Phals, I see purple doves fanning the air with their wings and taking flight!

Fiery red, brilliant yellow, a touch of green; have you ever seen another bloom that conjures up Summer like the Heliconia? Brilliantly hued, showy and attention-grabbers from the word 'go'.... Summer incarnate!


You  want more of Summer and its bounty? Take a look at some of the posts from summers gone by : 
Summer sherbet: Mumbai's flowering trees 
Red-hot summer days
A reluctant ode to Summer
An Indian summer
A summer-ful of fun
Springing into summer
Once upon a bird-bath 
Mumbai: a time for blooming

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!