Saturday, June 19, 2010


The Monsoon is here! Season of moss and fern and everything green. Of lush verdant growth and moist cool days. Of receptive Earth, urging seeds to grow and plants to ramble.

All over Mumbai, Gulmohurs lay out a red carpet for the Monsoon. Everywhere I look I can see brilliant red swatches of colour painting the ground.
Red does seem to be the colour of the season. And it shows up so beautifully amidst all that Monsoon refreshed green.

My tardy Gulmohur alone seems to stick out as the last bastion. Late to bloom and stubbornly last to fall. I'm not complaining!

Long-forgotten Caladiums are now popping up everywhere. These were growing wild in a vacant plot of land when I persuaded them to shift to my garden.
I gave them a spot near the Vincas thinking that when the Summer blooms of the Vincas are done, the Caladiums would add their splotches of colour. But they seem to be very happy to grow side by side even when the monsoon winds have blown the Vincas all asprawl over the Caladiums which were cosying up to a young Geiger tree.
And as if that weren't enough for this picture of monsoon harmony, can you see the roots of the Dendrobium orchid (not in the picture) slithering down from the tree to join in all the fun?

One of the first things that I did was to make sure I re-stocked the water on the verandah with plenty of guppies and other fish to take care of any mosquitoes which have ideas of moving in and turning it into a maternity ward.

This is a large black jar which I had planted with some waterlilies and kept in the sunniest corner of my verandah. Unfortunately, the crows soon discovered this new watering-hole and with a couple of strong tugs, pulled out the interefering water-plants until they had clear access to all that lovely water.
It made no difference to them that there was a bird-bath kept filled with clean water just a few feet away. They obviously didn't want to mix with the hoi-polloi and staked out the jar as their own.
After several attempts at rescuing the poor waterlilies and several incidents of finding them tossed disdainfully to the floor again, I gave up. Now that jar is the pit-stop of choice among all the crows who fly in. Not the other birds, though. They, like well-brought up birds, prefer the bird-bath.

I keep a pot of bamboo behind the jar and I love seeing its reflection in the water. Somehow it looks just that little bit more eye-catching than the real thing. Especially when the fish weave in and out of the reflected leaves and sky. There's something a bit surreal about it.
I do add a couple of large leaves for the fish to hide under when the crows are on the prowl.

The Monsoons also bring a windfall, literally, for these Red-vented Bulbuls. This banana plant with a ripening bunch heavy on it, toppled over and before I discovered it, the bulbuls did. I found this pair feasting on it and looking a bit annoyed at being disturbed.

I dont know what they're grumbling about. They've been feasting all these days on the Carissa carandas, or 'Karonda' as they're commonly called here.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

On the brink of the monsoons

The Gulmohurs are blazing in my garden! I've been waiting for them all season long and I love driving down the Mumbai roads and seeing huge swathes of scarlet everywhere. These dramatic trees are grabbing as much attention as they can get now but it looks like their days in the sun are almost done.
The Monsoons are on their way!
This is my favourite season. I love the rains ... even when it blows all those lovely blooms off the trees. And even when it rains non-stop for days on end and everything is a big squelchy mess. Actually 'rain' is such a bland word for the sheer drama that our monsoons bring... I just can't wait for the show to start.

Oh, it's still as hot as ever in Mumbai but the sea got a whole lot rougher and huge puffs of thunderous-looking dark clouds have been teasing our skies. The countdown has started, though. The day the monsoons reach the Malabar coast of Kerala, the people of Mumbai start counting off the 10 days they have before the Great Monsoon Spectacle lavishes Mumbai with some much-needed rainy affection

But that also means that I have just that many days to get my garden monsoon-ready.
The preparations have been going on for almost a month now. The vegetable plot gets a lot of pampering, naturally. The monsoon season is the best time to grow vegetables here and the area where I grow my vegetables has been left fallow for the last 3 months. Building up, conserving all that earthy goodness for the season of abundance.
Then, about 3 weeks ago, the land was cleared of weeds, ploughed up and dressed with a healthy mix of sun-dried manure and wood-ash.

Did you know that wood-ash is an important part of traditional Indian farming practices? It is a deterrent for soft-bodied pests and is also fantastic for conditioning the soil. Oh yeah... the things you learn! I never knew this when I started gardening but I saw the local farmers regularly heap up tiny mounds of dry leaves and grass on their fields and burn them in May. Which makes a lot of sense; kills the weeds, kills the pests and conditions the soil. Of course, you have to be alert to prevent the fire getting out of hand but these are really small heaps, less than a foot high

Now the vegetable plot is done .... terraced on the slopes and heaped in small little mounds in other places. All I'm waiting for is the first drops of monsoon showers to soak in and I'll be out planting seeds.

But my garden isn't done with just that! The coconut trees are being fertilised too. Truckloads of manure and sacks of dried fish have been bought and put out in the sun to dry some more before being used. The sacks were a bit 'alive' much to the delight of this Magpie-Robin who hopped on to snack on the beetles crawling on them.

Wide troughs have been dug around each coconut tree and filled up with layers of dried manure, dried fish and wood-ash. On top of all this, a layer of green leaves is added ... the cherry on the cake!
I would've loved to add some pressed and powdered neem seedcakes too before the pit is covered up again but I didn't get any this time. I think I'll add some later on but I wish it could've been done now. It would've driven away a lot of pests and diseases.
By the way, did I mention that I only used natural fertilisers? I love making my earth happy. A happy earth means happy plants, naturally.

Of course, I have to admit that all this needs a lot of labour and very strong muscles and I had to hire some locals to help me out. Isn't it fantastic that India is an agricultural country so I don't really need to explain to them just what needs to be done . Nor do I need to even supervise the work... what a great excuse to get busy with my camera !

Adding a touch of beauty to all the hectic activity is a restless cloud of butterflies attracted by the strong smells of cow manure and dried fish. What a perfect counterbalance to make up for all that smelly stuff!

And, just as I'm typing this, the sky darkens and a cool breeze gusts through the city with a welcome swoosh of lovely, cool rain. It's a precursor to the real thing and will be called 'just a pre-monsoon shower' by the papers tomorrow, but oh what a wonderful gift for a city that has been seething and simmering in Summer's cauldron for so long now!

(I'm a bit handicapped now because my trusty desktop computer has conked out and I'm just not comfortable working on my laptop. So please keep that in mind when looking at the photos because I just can't make out how good or bad the quality is.)