Monday, August 31, 2009

Aliens in my garden!

I had my first nigglings of suspicion when I saw these fiery balls appear out of the blue in my garden. There were just too many strange things happening in my Mumbai garden. And everywhere I looked, I could spot Them .
You know who I mean ... those Beings whom I've noticed out of the corner of my eye. Look too fast and all you'll see is a blur of motion as they slide out of view.
But they're there. I know it.
Trying for all the world to pass themselves off as innocent Earth-landers but we know better, don't we? Their very appearance signals their alien-ness, don't you think?
See! I knew you could spot it too!

This was the first one I noticed. And I felt a frisson of alarm running down my spine.
What! Don't you see?
Obviously it tried to mimic a dragonfly but it went a little off-course. No dragonfly ever had those clubbed antennae.
Could it be a mutant?
Are those another pair of eyes to see behind its head?
Or worse, it could be the creature's communications centre to beam messages to its home planet! "Earth is filled with giant , stupid creatures, ripe for subduing... they never notice anything even if its happening right under their ugly noses!" ... and the like.

And have you ever seen a dragonfly whose wings drooped straight down like this?
No! I tell you this has to be an alien with a disguise it couldn't quite pull off.
Ha! You can't fool me, Mr. Alien. And it's no use claiming you're a harmless little Owlfly!

My suspicions, thus aroused, led me to take another look at the 'star-ship'. Just as I thought! No living creature in sight, except for a tattered Yellow Orange-tip butterfly which had obviously wandered too close to their secret and had paid the price!
The star-ship had been camouflaged to look like a Haemanthus multiflorus (that's Football Lily if you can't pronounce the other longer name) but the lasers bristling in every direction gives the game away, doesn't it?
Football Lily indeed!

Then, it started! Every time I looked around, I would see another one. In wildly impossible shapes and colours.
In forms designed to excite comment if one would only look at them closely.
But do you think anyone does? Except me, of course!

Red does seem to be a favourite colour among them. Maybe it's out of loyalty to their star-ship, or something? Or maybe on their planet, red is what they wear to blend in !
This guy does look dangerous, doesn't he? And pompous! Just look at those heavy-lidded eyes ...

Then he heaved himself up and started to stalk away stiltedly. If I'm not mistaken, this could be another Trojan Horse kind of contraption. This was no smooth, natural walk... it was being done on wires, I'm sure!

This one was a cutie! Did you see the armour and helmet? What you can't see is the brilliant golden sheen on the armour-disc. Tiny little feet peeped out from underneath while it pattered away.
Maybe it was just a baby. but if you've seen any sci-fiction movie worthy of its name, you'd realise that the cuter a creature is, the more deadly it probably is.

You'd think these aliens would have more intelligence than to look like something that's a cross between a tortoise and a beetle!
A Tortoise beetle?
Naaah! Who on earth would believe it?

That's one of the most alien-ish faces I 've ever seen ! And there's way too much intelligence behind those eyes.
Scrutinising, assessing, taking me apart .... hey! would its look-alike be a Praying Mantis?
Noooo! It looks like a Preying Mantis to me.

Uh 0h! It looks like they suspect I know something .

But where to? They're everywhere !

"Take me to your leader!"

" That would be me ... Eat-all Sabre Fangs. Say your prayers, Lizard Face!"

"Say, Mistress Two-Legs, you got any more snacks for me? That one was barely a toothful ..."
And the day is saved. Earth is ours again.

Meanwhile, back at the star-ship ...
What star-ship? They've stripped it bare. But why? Except for those funny egg-like thingummies. What would those be I wonder and why ....

Help! we've been colonized!

(Thanks for joining me in this exercise in paranoia ;D
What can I say? Such things are bound to happen when the Monsoons which should be here cooling the fevered brain , are off somewhere in parts unknown, playing hide-and-seek instead! )

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Flights of fancy

Mumbai has butterflies?
This has to be the most common question , dressed with an inordinate amount of astonishment, that I get when I talk about the most colourful visitors (or should I say, residents) in my garden. Oh yes, Mumbai has butterflies aplenty. I guess we just have to stand still long enough to spot them. Easier said than done, maybe, given the frantic pace of life in this busy city . But give it a flower for nectar and a plant to lay eggs on and the Mumbai butterfly happily adapts to living life in the fast lane!

The Tawny Coster has to be one of the most eye-catching butterflies that flit around Mumbai. That orange - black combination really dazzles, doesn't it?
I found this proud new mom busy at work...

... there were eggs to lay and she had to find the perfect spot for her babies. Somewhere out of harm's way and where they would have plenty to chomp on once they hatch.
And guess what? The Tawny Costers seem to have a passion for my passion-fruit plants!

Here she is ! Hmmm ... maybe she should've had a "Do not disturb" sign hanging close by but it didnt look like an explosion would've disturbed her. She had a job to do and that's all she cared about!

This Centratherum intermedium (Brazilian Button Flower) has to be one of the most attractive plants for the butterflies. I have a bed full of them and the air above them is never still. There's always a butterfly or two, like this Blue Tiger, flitting by for a quick sip of nectar.

Okay, this is not a butterfly, I know. But I was horrified by this Robber Fly who had kidnapped this bee with no good intentions, I'm afraid.

This dragonfly, on the other hand, knows how welcome he and his friends are in my garden. Any creature which has mosquitoes on its dinner menu will find the red carpet rolled out for them in my garden!

I nearly stomped on this one more than a couple of times. He was so well camouflaged that I would spot him only when he flew up in the air right under my nose! I guess a set of enormous eyes like that would've helped me see him better.

Lantanas will always bring them flocking in. I have a wild lantana bush right bang in the centre of what is officially my vegetable patch. I've been advised over and over again by everyone who sees it to get rid of the jungli (wild) plant so I can have a bigger vegetable patch. But I'm so thrilled about the number of butterflies who visit it for nectar and the birds who love its berries that I would rather eat fewer vegetables (no great sacrifice, say my kids).

The Great Eggfly is one of the lantana lovers. By the way, I wonder who named him? I much prefer his other name ... Blue Moon Butterfly.

Now do you see how he came by both his names? This photo was taken last year in my dying vegetable patch. The plants were almost spent and ready for a re-haul and I was only too happy to see the butterflies make use of them.

A couple of days ago I found a female Great Eggfly flitting among the weeds that crop up every monsoon. She was in an egg-laying mood too.

Come and see her babies-in-waiting! Look, but don't touch. Mama butterfly has been really clever... she chose a stinging nettle to take care of her eggs !

Here she is, hopping over to another nettle to host another clutch of eggs.
Hmmm.... now how do I clear all those weeds, especially when I know all those butterfly eggs are hiding under them? A baby killer I'm not!
By the way, I love that flash of blue that shows up on her wings when the light hits it just so .

Vinca rosea (Madagascar periwinkle) is another butterfly favourite. Luckily for me it also loves our hot summer and comes to my rescue ever year when my garden is too sapped of energy to bloom. Vinca, though, will be in full bloom, adding colour and luring butterflies and giving me something worth looking at in my garden.
No wonder the butterflies love it so. It definitely isn't a fair weather friend !

These are just a few of the butterflies that are such a vital part of my garden. If you'd like to see more of them, go over to my other posts here , here and here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monsoon blooms

Monsoons are made for Dendrobium orchids. I'm convinced of this. This season, like no other, sees my collection of orchids plump themselves up, fluff their petals, green their leaves and get all dressed for the greatest event in their calendar (and mine) ... the grand 'Bloom-your-heads-off Spectacle'!
Which means that in Mumbai, late-July onwards sees a lot of activity and barely-suppressed excitement in the orchid gardens. The flowers are coming!

They come in all shapes and colours but these twisty petalled ones always remind me of the antlers of a Black Buck antelope. Can you see the resemblance too?

This Gardenia has been giving me some sweet dreams lately. I had cut a few flowers to keep in my room some time back and by the time it was ready to be changed, it had already rooted in the vase! I couldn't find an empty pot for it so I then stuck it in a small plastic bag of soil outside my bedroom window, thinking I would find a permanent spot for it later. Before I knew it, it had grown through the bag and had locked itself in place . It obviously liked that spot so who am I to argue? Now its blooms scent the evening air sweeter than the most expensive perfume.

My Brunfelsia bush is in full bloom now. I love the way the colours change from day to day and its very quaint alias , Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow.

My Anthuriums have woken up from their summer stupor. They love these moist days

Look at them go! They're putting out new roots left, right and centre. This is the perfect time to start multiplying them. I'll be cutting them just below the new roots and replanting them.
So from this one plant I can get about three ... the portion with the crown of leaves and the new roots, plus the part remaining with the roots sunk into the soil, which I can again cut across horizontally into two round chunks.
Chunks about 1" tall and with roots are good enough for a new plant. New shoots soon sprout from the nodes and as long as they have viable roots too, I'll have some more gorgeous anthurium plants.

The rainy days had me indoors with nothing much to do except cleaning out a lot of stuff I had stored away in various cupboards. I found this wall-plaque I had made years ago when I went for a terracotta workshop. Isn't it odd how our surroundings pop up in all our creative attempts? That's my cashew tree and all the crows who seem to have taken larger-than-life proportions!

Meanwhile, under the cashew trees, some of my favourite monsoon plants are popping up ... Curcumas! The whole area is a play in green and purple right now. I didn't plant these; they've been there for centuries I think.
So has that wild ixora you can spot between the Curcumas. It is not in bloom yet . Maybe it fears being totally overshadowed by its absolutely flamboyant neighbours!
Imagine pitting yourself against this!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Plantation dreamin'

I'm fed up of the long coffee-break that the monsoons seem to be taking in Mumbai! It waltzed in late and zoomed off early. So aggravating! To distract myself, I keep thinking about my trip to Kerala a couple of months ago. Especially my stay in this lovely plantation home in Kothamangalam .

Kerala has to be a gardener's idea of paradise. Forget the ease with which everything seems to grow here, it's also home to some of the best spice plantations in the world.

And Kothamangalam seems to be at the heart of all this activity in spices and forest products. It's a small town situated at the foothills of the Western Ghat mountains so there is a lot of trade in rubber and timber. And the minute we drove into this little town, the scent of medicinal herbs used in Ayurveda, is all-pervading.

I have no idea why it is so overlooked on the tourism map. The Thattekad Bird Sanctuary is hardly 10 - 15 kms away and Munnar, with its scenic tea-estates, is just an hour or so down the road. But apart from that, the looming rubber plantations enclosing whole universes within them, have a charm which is simply unique!

Imagine waking up to a view like this! Walk out onto a balcony surrounded by greenery, no people in sight, no sounds except bird-calls. Bliss!

This is what I saw from that balcony. The kitchen garden with its fair share of bilimbi trees, chilli and banana plants and a whole lot more ... always fringed by tall rubber-trees in the background.

Oh yes, and mangosteens! The tree was filled with fruit in varying stages of ripening. Have you ever tasted mangosteen? It is the most delicious fruit in my opinion.
Unfortunately, it doesn't keep well and quickly hardens to a rock-like stage where it's almost impossible to crack the fruit open and get at its pure white segments.
It has to be one of the most dramatic-looking fruits too. Just picture it cracked open... purplish skin with an inner red flesh and hidden within it, like the prized jewel, is the pure white, segmented, deliciously sweet fruit. (Give me a minute to wipe the drool off my key-board, okay?)

Pretty little white wax-apples hang like bells on the tree. Contrary to its name, there is nothing waxen about it, except maybe its glossy skin. Did you know that they come in pink and red colours too? A wax-apple tree in full fruit is a beautiful sight!

Not as beautiful as this, though. Like I said, this is a plantation home and just a few feet away from the house, a veritable forest of rubber trees grow sky-high, blocking out the sunlight and turning the sky green instead of blue.
It is an imposing sight and sent thrilling shivers down my spine. There is something so primeval about it.

In the dense undergrowth, caladiums fight for space and add a dash of colour. An eye-catching change from green of all shades .

A sudden downpour blurs the trees and everything takes on a hazy atmosphere. One can almost imagine dinosaurs foraging just beyond one's line of vision. And myriad mythical creatures suddenly seem so plausible ... as if they are surely living just beyond that clump of green yonder.

The downpour also fills up this little coconut shell which is used by the tappers to collect the latex that goes into making the rubber that your car tyres run on.
See that white line? That's the latex. The tapper makes a cut on the tree which induces the latex to flow along the line of the cut ... right into that conveniently placed coconut shell from where it will be collected later.

A stroll in the garden brought me to a large carp pond . More interesting for me was the number of dragonflies zipping around. I can't imagine how they found this pond attractive ... those carp were voracious.
Isn't this dragonfly gorgeous!

This gorgeous Dawn Dropwing dragonfly was too restless for me to get a good photo. Finally I had to make do with this though the red laterite soil is just not the best backdrop it could get.

There's something very vital and alive in the air here.... it's buzzing with activity. I had hardly bent down to click these heliconias when this Chocolate Pansy butterfly dropped in for a quick pose.
Hey, I don't mind!

(This post is specially meant for one of my regular readers in West Lafayette, Indiana. Happy birthday, Antony! )