Monday, December 28, 2009


Another year whispers to its close. Mellow nostalgia tints the air. All that was bright and fruitful now shushurs a quiet completion.

"Our job is done, our days were long ... now let's rest," murmurs every vine and grass.
So the Sun beams a tad bit dimmer and Night lingers that much longer. And the Earth turns down the music of crickets and birdsong, pulls up a blanket of dry leaves to cuddle under, and breathes a contented sigh.
It's time to dream now. Of days gone by ... the exuberance of Spring , the carnival of Summer and the giddy excitement of the Monsoons.
Dream of triumphs of bounteousness. Smile at challenges met.
For a new year awaits in the wings. Impatiently, excitedly. Filled with more dreams and even more Hope.
Time enough to welcome it. But first, let's dream.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A walk on the wild side

So I found myself a new orchid. Found growing in the wilderness that adjoins my vegetable patch while it's lying fallow, waiting for the next lot of seeds to burst into life. Isn't it beautiful?

And then there was this beauty. I really fell for its bell-like shape and clusters of flowers...
ummmm..... hold on a minute! Can we re-wind please?

Oooops! Sorry ... okay, I exagerated a bit (a lot?) . That first photo, like the second, is not of any exotic garden bloom. They're common wildflowers ! They spring up all over the place here in Mumbai and are religiously weeded out.
If they were just a bit bigger and a lot tougher to grow, I think they would've found their way into every gardener's wish-list.
As it is, the poor Lindernia crustacea (first and third photos) has been relegated to a wannabe status. As pretty as any orchid ... if only someone would look at it long enough to realise it.
And the pretty pink Boerhavia diffusa has been burdened with the most unfortunate tags of 'pigweed' and 'horse purslane'. Have you ever heard of anything more unfair?

Some wildflowers are lucky. Like the lantana. Pretty, a riot of colours and big enough to flaunt it. And the birds and butterflies love it too. Which more or less guarantees it a ticket to any garden, don't you think?

Then there is this very pretty blue flower which looks so much like a Skyblue Clustervine.

But while the Skyblue clustervine reaches for the skies and billows over fences, this little look-alike carpets the ground with tiny blue dots. Perfect groundcover!
During the monsoons, this is one of the plants I rely on to hold on to the little bit of soil I have in my garden before it is all washed away. Who cares if it is wild or even a weed (*gasp!*) so long as it's helping me out and looking so pretty while doing it!

And meet Cinderella. I don't know how and why this little wildflower came to be called the Cinderella weed but Synedrella nodiflora has to be one of the most commonly seen wildflowers in Mumbai's concrete jungle.
Incidentally, cinderella seems to have hitch-hiked all the way here from tropical America. One of the original hippies? The pumpkin coach seems to have been dumped long ago anyway.

This flame-red Ixora is native to Mumbai. I've seen it growing wild all over the place on my way home.

And of course, they force their way up from small cracks between rocks. Which looks quite spectacular considering that everything else refuses to grow there. The contrast bewteen the grey-black stone and the fiery blooms have to be seen to be truly appreciated. I quite like their pointy-shaped buds too.

Which brings me back to wondering ... when does a weed stop being a weed and get appreciated as a garden flower? Is it when they are big enough to be in your face, instead of slightly shy with teeny-tiny blooms ?
Or is it when they become too tough to grow? Maybe in another Hardiness Zone?
I've seen photos of what gardeners from other countries call weeds. Believe me, there are more than a few that I would love to have growing in my garden.
Just as I'm sure that this Vernonia cineraria below must be intriguing for some gardeners out there. Just don't tell them it's a weed here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

King of the garden

A shrill whistling screeeee! announces the arrival of the King.
Crows bristle, rodents run for cover, and snakes slink away and hide now that someone new has taken over the top spot on the food-chain in my garden.
Behold the Black Kite alias Pariah Kite! Pariah is too ignominous a nickname for the King of my garden but the tag of Black Kite seems to be shared by other birds too so I'll just stick with Pariah Kite.

The Pariah Kite is one of the more commonly seen birds in our city. Seen from far, that is. If you look up at the sky, chances are that you'll see at least a couple of Pariah Kites sailing across Mumbai. Lazy swirls high across the skyscape soon transform into a powerful swoop when they spot something interesting.
They've learnt to adjust to city life and will just as soon scavenge as hunt, I'm told. I find that a bit sad for a bird that is obviously primarily a hunter. But city life can be tough on birds too.

Last year the royal couple looked over my garden and decided it would do to bring up their new heir to the kingdom. They moved into their penthouse suite on top of the tallest coconut tree and set about cleaning up the neighbourhood straight away.

Housekeeping is definitely not their strong point because their nest has to be one of the sloppiest I've ever seen.
But their hunting! I've seen them fly with snakes in their talons and then transfer it to that of their waiting mate. In mid-air!
Of course, the fact that I was standing below them and if they had fumbled in their passing-the-parcel act, a very angry 'parcel' would've landed on me, makes my blood freeze.
But my garden is suddenly more clear of thieving rats and other nasties than it has ever been. For which mercy I would happily crown the Black Kite Emperor of the garden .

Of late, they seem to have become more confident of moving in close even when I am around. Or maybe it's just the irresistible lure of my birdbath. Whatever it may be, it seems like the heavens are a bit closer when they choose to come down to earth.
Doesn't he look majestic? He's got such an imperious look in his eye.
Oh... and I like his trousers too.

A quick scoop of water and it's back to duty. Master of all he surveys and making sure every creature in the vicinity knows it.
Don't miss that wicked beak and huge talons. All the better to rip and rule!

Friday, November 20, 2009

A gram of blue, please

One of the tiniest butterflies in my garden goes by the very odd name Gram Blue. When I first read it, I thought, "gram? A gram of what?
I kept linking it to the weight measure until I realised that it probably referred to its favoured host plants , beans and members of the lentil family. In other words, grams.

They are flibberty-gibbets (I even feel like one ofthose nuns from 'Sound of Music' when saying that) of the first order. Rarely ever still and never allowing one to creep up on them. The slightest movement and they're off again, dancing over the flowers.
For some reason though, they seem to be very partial to these Brazilian Button Flowers (Centratherum intermedium). So that's where I park myself when I want to see them sit still.

But where does the Blue in its name come in? Take a look ...

I've hardly ever seen it with its wings flat open, except for a quick flash once in a while. Open and shut before I even have time to press the button on my camera. But its such a beautifully vivid blue, isn't it?

I'm guessing that those two eye-like markings on its hind wing have helped it escape from many a predator. The funniest thing is that this one below kept rubbing its hind wings together so that it looked exactly as if those eyes were looking around.

I read that these 'eyes' along with the thin tail (yes, they have a tail on the wing. See the first photo) fool predators into thinking that that is the head. So even if a nasty latches on to the hindwing thinking that's the head, the Gram Blue can break off easily and escape. Smart!
By the way, this guy looks like a real survivor, doesn't he?

The Gram Blue is not exactly a welcome butterfly, especially when I'm struggling to grow some beans. A handful of caterpillars can soon make sure that all my effort is for nothing. And I wouldn't even know it is there because it usually hides inside the pods while feasting! So no Favoured Visitor tag for this guy.
But if I could see that flash of blue more often, I think I could definitely reconsider.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What a potent surprise!

You know how sometimes you suddenly come across something which knocks you off your feet and leaves your jaw scraping the floor? I had one of those moments recently when I was idly browsing through Flickr.
I finally found an ID for a wild plant with pretty little white flowers which shows up in my garden every monsoon. I had very fancifully named it Peace Bells in my mind since I had no idea what it was.
Peace Bells? Ha! nothing peaceful about these little plants.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is Safed Musli, valued as one of the most potent aphrodisiacs from the plant world.

Now do you see why I'm feeling a little dazed? It's almost like finding out that the nice, sweet little girl that you went to school with is now a centrefold model in the more volatile type of magazines!

With the ID I found, I kept searching for more information until I realised that more than one plant from the genus Chlorophytum is commonly referred to and used as safed musli since they all share the same medicinal properties. And my Chlorophytum breviscapum is one of them.
Yes, the same family as our humble Spider Plant but, no, Chlorophytum comosum is not in that elite list.

It is a ground-hugging plant which appears all over my garden after the first rain of the monsoon season. Very soon it sends out stalks of pretty little white flowers . Even its seed-pods are eye-catching! I find their unusual tri-coned shape fascinating.

Did I mention that its white tuberous roots have aphrodisiacal properties according to Ayurvedic medicine? Apparently that's not all that it has. I read that it is supposed to be anti-ageing too. And great for building up immunity levels.

And the funniest, most ironical part of all? Years ago, while talking idly of the commercial possibilities of my gardening hobby, I was advised to grow safed musli as that was considered the most profitable crop to grow.
And I just laughed it off.
After all, I had no idea how to grow it or even where on earth I would get the planting material!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Every little flying thing

My garden is resonating to the beat of a zillion little wings.
The October heat is still here but the hint of cooler times to come is also zinging up the air. The slightest of nips in the morning make it a joy to wake up early. Luxuriating in the coolness also means butterfly season in Mumbai. For not only do we get the usual flutter-bugs like the Common Crow above, but a whole swarm of them seem to be riding the cool winds and have reached here just in time.

By the way, have you noticed what a rich dark-chocolate and cream can do for you? Especially when it's teamed with black and white polka dots?

I suspect the hornets have a lot to do with this sudden appearance of so many of the winged kind in my garden. Remember them and their annual tea-party? Well, they've started preparing for this year's bash.
So far only the Common Evening Browns have shown up. They're all over the Pink Cassia tree. Them, and about a million flies.

And, of course, the Common Baron.

The Thunbergia grandiflora has been seeing a lot of activity too. I saw this gold-specked bee getting very possessive about them and decided to leave it to him. Cowardly of me, I know, but that stinger obviously means business!

The Common Wanderer wisely decided to stay with the flowers. I love the way these very common-place Vincas are the biggest magnets for so many butterflies.

And high up in the teak tree, this parrot kept a good watch over everything that was going on and kept shouting down advice and instructions.

The dragonflies are all over the place too. Some like this Blue Percher seem to prefer perching on low-growing weeds and I don't notice them until they fly up from almost underfoot.

This Wandering Glider (or Globe Skimmer) was a beauty, though. It was perched on a Dendrobium orchid spike and was so comfortable that I could walk all around, taking photos and he still didn't budge.
I liked this photo because it shows up his shimmery wings so well.
And the back of his head. Have you ever really noticed a dragonfly's neck before?

Something else that I noticed ... the rippling effect on the Common Evening Brown's wing. Brown is not exactly my favourite colour but on this butterfly, it looks like crushed raw silk, doesn't it?

The damselflies came out to play too. I was a bit taken aback when this Coromandel Marsh Dart jumped out to shout "Boo!"

They followed me to my apartment too. Amazing! My apartment building is on a very busy road and I was surprised to find that all that dust and traffic and noise haven't put them off.
I found this Blue Grass Dartlet trying to find a perch on a wall. I love that colour!

I didn't find out who was responsible for this half-eaten bird's-eye chilli, though. I suspect the bulbuls , but going by the pungency levels of these chillies, the culprit may have just hit the stratosphere by now!

(Amila, thanks for helping me out with the names of the dragonflies)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Diwali lights

Happy Diwali, everyone!

I found this begonia which seemed to mirror the look and mood of the festive season so well that I decided to make her the star of this post. Is it just me or do you see the fireworks in the first photo and the diya in the second one too?

I know, this post is a bit late and I should've wished you a couple of days ago but the struggle of Good over Evil was literally taking place in me . I was completely being slammed around the place by the most pestilential flu virus there ever was and as many fireworks as were being lit outside, I could feel ten times that number flashing and burning in my head.
(Which is why I'm checking whether I'm still in the grip of fevered imaginations regarding those first 2 photos )

And for being so nice about it, I'll leave you with a couple of photos of the real thing which I saw outside. By the way, kids are still in the fireworks mood all over Mumbai. I love the colourful ones but totally hate the noisy ones that leave me with a ringing zzzzing in my ears.
With all the fancy fireworks being invented each year, I wish they would bend their creativity a little bit to come up with some non-polluting ones soon.

But aren't they just happy-making beautiful?
sigh... ! I love festivals!
Any festival. Of any religion, state or nation. Something which brings joy and celebration is always a good thing, isn't it?
And the sweets aren't half bad, either.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A tree falls over

Tragedy struck for our little community today. A magnificent old Portia tree (Thespesia populnea, also known as Indian Tulip Tree or Pacific Rosewood) which was growing outside our apartment building toppled over. It was tall and like all Portia trees, it had a wide canopy. Wonderful to pause under in the blistering hot summer days!

More than anything, it gave a degree of privacy to the residents of the buildings around it. Like most Mumbai apartments they're too close for comfort and the thick leafy branches of the Portia tree curtained off each building from the other.
For me on my higher floor, I was on eye-level with all the birds that flitted in and out, drinking the nectar and eating the fruit of the Portia tree. It was a constant source of entertainment.
And the green! What a soothing wash of green to calm the eye and mind.

Some months ago the place where it was growing was the site of much redevelopment and the area around the tree had been claimed as a road. In an attempt to save the tree, a low wall was built up around it, filled in and finally concreted over. Whoever did it must've thought that would make it more firm.

For the last 2 days, Mumbai has been seeing a lot of rain and just as it petered out and the sky was clearing up, there was a loud crash. Everyone from all the buildings around ran out . What a sad sight! Our beloved tree was tilted over dangerously with the roots snapped off on one whole side, and the concrete slab propping it up like on of those leaning-boards you hear of actresses using between shots..

Is the redevelopment to be blamed? I'm more inclined to think that the fault lies in its branches. Since there was a building too close to its western side, the branches on that side were pruned more harshly than the others. As a result it got a slightly lop-sided effect. Shorter branches on one side and longer heavier branches on the other. And following 2 days of heavy rain, I think it just toppled over onto the heaver side.

I wonder whether it can be saved...
Maybe if the newer, thinner branches are pruned off, the tree will not be so top-heavy or lop-sided. Then if a big pit is dug the tree can be lowered into it and there is still hope for it?

What would you do? Keeping in mind, of course, that fancy tools and equipment are not an option...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

And the award goes to ...

The Blotanical Awards have been announced and I'm thrilled to find a lot of my favourite blogs winning major awards. Take a look at these excellent blogs.

First there's Frances from Faire Garden who's made an almost clean sweep of just about every award from Blotanist of the Year to Best Photography and a whole lot more. This is one blog I'll never tire of visiting. All those awards just go to show that I'm not alone in thinking so.

And Meems from Hoe And Shovel whose Best Florida Blog is so well deserved and which also explains how she came in as one of the best in the Best US Blog category. What I find particularly interesting in her blog is that we share almost identical gardening conditions despite living at opposite ends of the world, so I can relate so well to her posts.

Victoria at Victoria's Backyard who has a wonderful way with words won the Best UK Blog.
Trudi, from Yesterday Today Tomorrow In my Garden, who is a voice of encouragement to bloggers, both new and advanced, won Best Oceanic Blog. But then, I always knew she would!

And winning the Best South American Blog is my friend, Helen (who goes by the name of islandgal) from My Rustic Bajan Garden, who also found a place among the Best Landscaping Blog finalists. Way to go, Helen!

Bangchik from My Little Vegetable Garden had a dream run too, winning Best Asian Blog and a whole lot of other awards. I love the way he posts almost every day so there's always something new to look forward to.

Of course there were so many more categories and so many more wonderful blogs but somehow these stuck in my mind. If any of my friends who are among the Finalists don't find a mention here, it's not because I don't think highly of their blogs (oh, I do!) but because there are just too many to name.
And some blogs that I was so sure would win, did not. That was a little disappointing but that's the luck of the draw, I guess.

And what about The Urban Gardener? Well, we bagged First Runner-up in the Best Urban Gardening Blog category, which is so fantastic! I still can't believe it. The winner is The Patient Gardener , do go over and take a look.
The winner of Best Gardening for Wildlife Blog (another category that we were nominated for) is deservedly, Shirl's Gardenwatch . Again, do take a look at her blog. I went over and was horrified to read her exposé on what Strimmers do to the small creatures in the garden.

I've loved this whole Blotanical Award event purely because it has been encouraging to find myself unexpectedly among the top-five finalists in three categories, especially because I was placed there by my fellow garden-bloggers. Thank you!
And thank you to all those who voted for me in the finals.
May your tools never rust. And may it rain or shine just as your plants need it. And may your typing fingers dance more on the keyboard with each passing day!

Now, please do go over and check out the winning blogs. Believe me, you're really going to enjoy yourself!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September Soul

September strums a scarlet rhythm.
Blood red ... fiery red ...
Sensuous, sultry, passionate, scandalous,
Glorious, vibrant, sizzling, sinful red ...

An enter the blood-stream and saturate the senses red.
A flood the brain and tantalise the mind red.
A throb in the heart and tug at the soul red.

It is Summer's last hurrah. The monsoons have been sent packing.
Now, bring on the show-stoppers... cock a snook at the chill winds waiting to shiver down from the icy Himalayas.
Not yet, not yet ... there is still time for a dragonfly to frolic. Spinning, whirling, darting, tip-toeing ...

The fiery sun blazes still, lighting a zillion crimson flames across the land.

Crimson, vermilion, scarlet, razzmatazz ,
Coral, ruby, cinnabar, cerise...

Shake you awake, scream in your face,
Set fire to your soul,
Pour soul into motion

Strut and sway, scorch and swirl
For that's the way of the September world.