Saturday, February 10, 2018

Choices for a gardener

The Urban Gardener

So what's new in your garden this year?
Is that a bit late in the day to ask, actually? Well, never mind. I've always gone by the start of Spring as the real new year, so mid-Feb is not too late in my opinion.

This past one year saw me travel a LOT! In addition to The Urban Gardener's usual consultancy services and other stuff, we decided to jump headlong into yet one more new adventure (more about that soon!) which took me away from my blogging, though I had sworn that that was the year I would catch up with my 50+ posts a year.
There's still hope for 2018!

Which made me think this pic of the Striped Tiger butterfly on the Lantana would be the perfect one to lead into this post. Can you think of anything else as garden-y which travels all over the place? (I could think of several vines ... the Thunbergia grandiflora, for one ... which do that too. But I'm sticking with this).

And I love to think of how this much reviled weed has the birds and the butterflies and several more beneficial insects, in love with it! I wouldnt mind letting it take over large spaces just so long as it can get some butterflies to sit still on it.
That's a choice I would make, knowing full well that most of my farmer friends in our neighbourhood think I'm crazy!

Like these Red Pierrots! I have a Kalanchoe planted here and that probably attracted them here. Did you know that the Kalanchoe is one of their host plants? So if you see something weird going on under the surface of a Kalanchoe leaf, dont dump your plant yet. It's probably a Red Pierrot larva busy at work, eating healthy to grow strong beautiful wings.

I know! it's a tough decision. Your lovely plant or these oh-so-pretty butterflies? I very often choose the butterflies. Because a garden without butterflies is just not worth the name, don't you think? But then, the Kalanchoe in bloom is so pretty too!
Choices, choices ...

Some choices are forced on us. Up until a couple of years ago we didn't have a single squirrel in my garden. And this was amazing considering how many fruit trees we grow. The dogs always worked hard at chasing them away and the Black Kites did their bit too. Then, when our old dog, Salsa, died that was the end of the squirrel-chasing. The other dogs just weren't interested. The squirrels have taken over the garden now and I keep finding half-eaten passionfruit and chewed coconuts and other fruit littering the ground.

I always thought that I grew enough for both us and the animals but these squirrels have forced me to reconsider that! Again, not an easy choice because I grew up in a house where we would regularly find baby squirrels that fell out of their nests on the trees and promptly started taking care of them.
Tough choice then, to start thinking up ways to drive them away.

And there are some times when you can just sit back and enjoy the moment. Such as those serendipitous moments when a gorgeous scarlet-clad dragonfly, with the sunlight glinting off its wings, chooses to perch on a twig (in this case, a root from my Pink Cassia that toppled over last monsoon in the super-heavy rainy days) right in front of you.

Simple, pure enjoyment.
That is part of gardening too!

And, even better, the Pink Cassia that I love has started sprouting leaves again and is currently growing sideways, part of its roots in the ground and the rest sticking straight up in the air. It's too heavy to lift up so I've chosen to let it grow and bloom where it has fallen.
A funny choice to many, but I'm happy with it if my Pink Cassia is.

Happiness. Serendipity.
Sometimes great things happen when we just step back and allow them to. That's a part of gardening too.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Marari Beach : organic gardens by the sea

You know when you step onto a hot-pink petal strewn, leafy canopied path that you're in for a truly special time. The lush green grounds of the very eco-friendly Marari Beach resort do not disappoint!

I find myself delightedly following the greenery-soaked paths, pausing every so often to wonder at an unexpected lotus-pond here, fern-swathed trees there, butterflies and dragonflies everywhere!

A feeling that this place might just be THE one washes over me.
You know what I mean ... the one that you find yourself drawn to returning to time after time. Where the blend of fragrances from blooms all around merge with soft bird-calls and a hushed shushurr of waves and riffling palm leaves in the background.
I feel a contented sigh of peace rising up from my toes, reverberating through my whole body and escaping in a huge, happy smile. 'Hypnotic' doesn't even begin to cover it!

And then I hear about the resort's organic kitchen garden which grows not just veggies and fruits but even rice for their restaurant.
Paddy farming in a beach resort?! Any guesses just how fast I made my way there?

Meandering through a sunlit coconut grove en route, I'm so tempted to first take a quick dip in the clear blue waters of the Arabian Sea that I can see (and hear) just a few steps away. But I know full well that the 'quick dip' will invariably turn into a day-long one.
I have gardens to see!

The Urban Gardener | stone trough with hibiscus

A sun-kissed stone trough with bright red hibiscus floating languidly in it sets the tone for an exciting, yet so contradictorily, calming space. 

This is what I'd give an arm and both legs to see. I love the lush, luxuriant velvetty green of young paddy fields. Set it inside a beach resort and it's guaranteed love at first sight.
I'm told that Marari Beach has been experimenting with growing various varieties of rice. 'Pokkali rice' which is tolerant of saline conditions and is perfectly suited to coastal conditions, has been grown very successfully here.
Now they are growing 'Uma' (not in the picture), a variety that does not require to be cultivated in the usual water-flooded fields but grows very well on dry land. A definite advantage in times of water scarcity!

I love this little thatch-roofed space overlooking the paddy field and vegetable garden. What a great place to sit and day-dream while contemplating everything green and bountiful! I'm seriously considering having one in my own vegetable garden. 

In the meantime, the meditation shack (as I have named it) at Marari Beach and its surrounding vegetable garden is my happy space. And the perfect spot to pick up so many pointers.

The Urban Gardener | tapioca at Marari Beach

Raised beds of tapioca (cassava) cuttings just planted and waiting for the roots and leaves to kick in.
Tapioca is one of the favourite staples of coastal cuisine, especially in Kerala where it is paired with spicy fish or meat curries. 
It takes its time to be ready for harvest .... about 9 - 10 months ... and yes, the yield per plant is definitely worth the wait. Till then, the sight of the very decorative foliage makes it as pretty as any ornamental garden plant.

Now, take a look at some of the other crops that I found growing there. (Some of the photos suffer from too much mid-day sun hitting the lens. Please excuse that.)

The Urban Gardener | Beans at Marari Beach vegetable garden

The Urban Gardener | vegetable garden at Marari Beach

Managing garden beds becomes much more practical when lining the edges with coconut husk. Locally available in abundance, coconut husk not only keeps the soil in place but it also conserves moisture by slowing down evaporation. 
Then of course, there is the added advantage of the husk composting and adding to the biomass which is so lacking in sandy soils. 

Sandy coastal soil is not the most fertile or conducive for bountiful gardens. One very earth-friendly solution is to layer beds with fallen coconut leaves and other garden waste.
Composting leaves add to the fertility of the soil, while at the same time, manages the garden-waste disposal. Always a good idea for any garden in other places too.

Alleys and walkways become so much more interesting when festooned with ripening passionfruit.

A quick glimpse of the Butterfly Garden is like a colour-burst!
There are purple Gomphrenas, blood-red Ixoras, golden Cosmos and Marigolds, Pentas and ... oh! so many more.
This is a garden with a difference. All the plants grown here are those preferred by butterflies either as nectar plants or as host plants for their larvae (caterpillars).
Of course, it helps that most of them are loved by garden-happy folk too .

The mid-day sun was not very kind (understatement!) on my camera lens. I forgot to use the filters to mellow the glare. I had it in my camera bag but I was so carried away by the flowers and butterflies that I forgot to take it out... typical! 

Blue Porterweed aka Verbena Azul (Stachytarpheta cayennensis) will always bring in the butterflies by the hordes. And they are such a brilliant blue, aren't they?

Butterfly garden plant | The Urban Gardener

Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolchia indica) is the larval food of the Southern Birdwing, the largest butterfly that we have in India.
Other butterflies love this creeper too, including the Crimson Rose and Common Rose. The toxic properties of the plant help the caterpillars that eat it to ward off predators.
(Excuse the noon-day glare in this photo, please.)

A pool of water is an irresistible invitation to courting damselfly couples (dragonflies love it too). Especially when it is in the midst of dense foliage and relatively undisturbed by people. 
A floating frond of fern just adds to the romantic, slightly surreal mood, I think. 

The value of nectar plants in the garden is indescribable until you actually see the butterflies flock to them. I just had to share this photo  of Blue Tigers from Marari Beach's archives (with permission, of course!).

I know I haven't spoken about the Marari Beach resort's gorgeous garden-enveloped pool villas with their own private walled gardens and pools or their signature open-to-the-sky private garden-bathrooms which have now been copycat-ed by innumerable hotels up and down and across the country.
Or about the whole clutch of awards and accolades that CGH Earth has earned for tourism and environment conservation ( Marari Beach is just one of its several exquisite destination resorts).
Or about the many earth-friendly, sustainable practices that they've adopted and which are worth following, even if on a smaller scale. 
Or about the fabulous food. (It stands to reason, right? Freshest of ingredients, picked just minutes before cooking, is half the flavour won!)
Or about the wonderfully helpful staff who went out of their way to show me around the vegetable garden and to identify the plants and butterflies in the Butterfly Garden.
Or even about the gloriously beautiful location on one of India's most beautiful beaches with a wide swathe of golden sand and clear blue sea.
Or about .... oh, so much more!

The simple fact is that a gardener blogger's priorities are different. Show me a hot-pink petal-strewn path and I'll follow it anytime, anywhere. The rest will just have to wait!

By the way, if you'd like to know more, and especially, if you'd like to see all that I didn't get around to mentioning, just click the links below .

Monday, February 6, 2017

Top 10 blogposts : memories of garden days past

It's a Top 10 post this time, and for some really good reasons. 
First, it's a new year and that just calls out for another look at some of the posts that were  published all these years ago. 

Second, 2017 is the 9th year since The Urban Gardener blog has been posting about everything green and garden-ly. And not just the plants, but also the birds, bees, bugs, butterflies and creatures in them. Any gardener would know that a garden is about much more than just plants, right?
 And there are some travel-stories for the garden-happy thrown in too, for good measure.

It may also help to keep in mind that I'm talking about more than one garden in these posts. Yes, I have 2 gardens (and help garden-souls to create more. It's officially called 'consulting' but it's pure fun for me!). One is more urban than the other, being in an apartment on a busy road (I know that makes me soul-sister to so many of my readers here!) .
The other one is
 where we do our farming but still qualifies as an urban garden because yes, it's in the city.
Just thought I'd remind all my new readers of this because you're going to be very confused otherwise with me talking about growing orchids on window-sills in one post and then talking about growing them tied to trees in the next! 

And finally ... but not the least importantly ... guess who made it to Toolversed's list of  Top 10 Gardening Bloggers!
Yesss! So exciting, right?! 
Isn't that an absolutely fabulous way to start the new year? 
2017, you're looking so good already!!!

So here goes, in no particular order, ... my favourite blog-posts picked from over 150 published here on The Urban Gardener. They may not be everyone's favourite choice, I know, but you have no idea how tough it was to pick them! Somewhat like asking a mother to pick her favourite child ...
And when you read them, do keep in mind that some of the old posts have photos which were clicked when I was an absolute raw beginner trying to figure out a point-and-shoot camera. 

I'm gradually replacing them with better pictures clicked with the DSLR that I'm much more comfortable using now (just one more unexpected bonus from blogging. I started photographing my garden in earnest only when I started blogging. And today, people are actually buying some of my photos. I love blogging! ). 
But, replacing all the old photos takes time. So not all the pictures are as good as I would like them to be and I cringe a bit over them, but I am still adding them here, hoping you will enjoy the posts and ignore the quality of those ancient photos. 

The Pink Cassia has to be one (just one of them!) of my favourite trees. Not just because it's so pretty but also because it's part of my Summer Sherbet collection. Some of the gorgeous summer-flowering trees of Mumbai on one of my most visited posts. I guess my readers can make out when I really love the topic. 

                              Read : Summer sherbet: Mumbai's flowering trees 

Summer is surprisingly one of the most bountiful times in the tropical garden. 'Surprising' because as roasting-hot as it gets in the coastal tropics, one would almost expect it to be the time when Nature pulls itself in and shuts the door. Instead, it's overflowing with flowers and fruits and the garden is an explosion of colour! Much like these heliconias.

                                                Read : Summer in the garden

This Black Kite (aka Pariah Kite) is the resident guardian of my garden. Since he moved in with nest, spouse and fledgeling in tow, the garden has seen a marked decrease in pests of the 4-legged and slithering variety! 
But what is it that drew them to nest in my garden. The tall coconut and teak trees? No ... it must be the bird-bath, I think. Just as the promise of water draws so many more to visit every day.

                                      Read: Once upon a bird-bath

and I just have to add this one! A friend asked me to post about birds and once I started adding the photos to the post, I was a bit surprised to see how many birds we are still lucky to have in our urban environment. They can definitely do with some help to retain a strong foothold in the city, though.

                                    Read : Mumbai's feathered citizens 

One of the most busiest times in the vegetable garden has to be during the Monsoon. If you've been a regular reader of The Urban Gardener, you must know how much I love the monsoons! And it's not only because how well the garden flourishes then.
This is also the season when we plant so many vegetables that we're in danger of overdoing it! So we have gourds and cucumbers and okra, beans and so much more growing and yielding like there's no tomorrow! 
                                             Read: Monsoon vegetables in Mumbai 

The slightly quirky and rather weird plants catch my attention all the time! They're just so much more interesting, don't you think? Like this awesome flower of the Canonball tree. Did those wriggly-looking staminoides catch your attention too?

                                    Read : The Weird and the Wonderful 

Every once in a while, we are charmed by something totally unexpected!
A butterfly, that creature of the great outdoors, ventures into our urban home. Possibly lured by the presence of indoor plants and the promise of nectar, or perhaps looking for a safe home to raise her babies. When this happens the magic is triple-fold. Flowers, butterfly, baby butterflies.

I was lucky enough to become a butterfly farmer, sheltering butterflies from the egg to adult butterfly stage, more than once and this was one of my favourite posts about it.
                                          Read: The butterfly farmer

Have you ever seen a teak tree? It has to be one of the most impressive trees that we have. Tall, strong and looking as if it will be here forever. Its leaves are as massive as the body of a small child. Yet it can still throw up a few surprises.

                                              Read: Forest giants in urban gardens

And for all those who believe that you need a greenhouse and all kinds of complicated techniques to grow orchids in the city... not if you live in the tropics! As you can see by those ugly window-grills in the background in this picture, this is one of them. Proof that orchids do thrive ... and bloom ... in the city. Mumbai city, at least.

                                                 Read: Growing orchids in the city

And, my favourite season in the whole long year ... the Monsoon! It makes my soul sing to see the garden so green and happy. No wonder that I have so many posts about it! 

                                             Read : Transitions and deja-vu 

So there you have them ... my pick of the posts that are just a bit more interesting to me for one reason or the other. Oh, there are more. If I were going for Top 15, I would have definitely included Garden Tea-Party ... butterflies invited ' and 'November Lullaby' and, of course, 'Growing food for my table' . Oh, and I would just have to have 'Remembering Butterfly Season' . But let's stick to Top 10, okay?

And now, in anticipation of Spring 2017 and a whole new year of garden adventures, here's one last post for you.

                                          Read: A Sense of Spring

Now, what about you? Do you have a favourite here? I'd love to know!

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 ...