Saturday, December 18, 2010

Orchid stars ... and some extras

My orchids are the superstars in my garden right now. Never mind that the nights have become decidedly chill ... by Mumbai standards, that is. My orchid divas are still dazzling me and showing that they still have what it takes. Oh yeah!

And the older they are, the more flamboyant they get. Like this Dendrobium orchid which has been with me for 10 years or more. Definitely long in the cane, but have you seen such long spikes of spectacular blooms on any fresh young things?

This one got dislocated from the coconut tree where it had been living when a heavy coconut leaf lopped it off. So it was hastily tied on to this cashew tree because it was bursting with buds due to bloom any day. And I definitely did not want to miss out on that!
My usual banana fibre ties were too flimsy so some coir ropes were brought in to help out. That still left something wanting. These lo-o-ong canes were too big for their own good. So, finally they had to be propped up with a slab of rock.
Oh the ignominny!
I definitely have to do something before this diva starts sulking.

Did I say something about 'fresh young things'? This would be one of them. Fresh-faced, pure as a ... well, a white orchid, and so very pretty!

I can't think of any space, no matter how ugly, that hasn't taken a step into the sublime just because of its association with an orchid. Like these iron spikes over a fence. No one notices those because they're too busy being dazzled by the orchid. Now that's called star quality!

If you thought all Dendrobiums looked alike, then take a look at this one. The colour's familiar but if it looks all twisted out of shape, then you've got an antler-type dendrobium orchid. I guess this would be a perfect match for all those wildlife buffs out there. But honestly, doesn't it look a bit like an avenging angel?
Just a bit?

If you thought the dendrobiums are the only ones out there, then you haven't seen my friend, Spathaglottis. One of the most common orchids grown in Mumbai, I think novice orchidists are comforted by its terrestrial preferences. After all, growing a plant which doesn't need soil can seem so unusual . And confusing.
The Spathaglottis, though, thrives in that medium unlike the Dendrobium, Phalaenopsis, Cattleya and others of that ilk.

But commonplace they are not. The Spathaglottis still knows how to spring a surprise. Its multiple hues, if not its ease of cultivation, are enticement enough to make the gardener go back to it again and again.

Yet if you're going by the variety of colours, there could be no one to beat the Phalaenopsis orchids for sheer drama. Purity of shape and theatrical in colour ...

... spotted, speckled, striped and in blocks of colour, the Phalaenopsis is the drama queen par excellence!

Yet every good show must have its villain

and the faithful friend. So too does our orchid.

And like every good Indian film, we just can't do without our glamourous Dancing Girls. Jai ho!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Flying zebras, shimmering dragons and other garden creatures

This is one of the best times of the year to spot the local inhabitants of my garden. Especially the flying kind. The air is heavy with the unheard flutter of wings. Damselflies are always welcome. So very colourful and, even better, they have an insatiable appetite for bugs even bigger than themselves. I wonder where they pack it all away?

And, the high-fliers are loving this season too. Everywhere I look there are a zillion dragonflies on the wing, darting and swooping , like flying shards of shimmering glass. As I walk in my garden I almost feel as if I'm walking into a cloud of dragonflies but I have yet to feel even one brush against me. Mumbai could do with some drivers like these!

I bet you didn't know I had zebras in my garden! Oh yes, meet the Zebra Blue. One look at those wings and I'm sure you'll know how they got that name, right? The 'Blue' part came from its upper wing colouration.

The Brazilian Button Flower (Centratherum intermedium ) is a huge hit with the butterflies. I just have to linger near them and sure enough, there are always some of them visiting. This is one low-maintenance plant that really multi-tasks. Always filled with flowers and always thick with butterflies!

And if you see these flies hovering over your flowers, bring out the champagne! The syrphid flies are invaluable in the garden. Its larvae, you see, have a decided penchant for snacking on aphids and thrips! And just as good, the grown-ups are pollinators of several species of plants, including certain orchids.
And you thought all flies are villains? This one only has the blood-shot eyes to fit the role, everything else says 'good guy' about him!

Do you remember the Greater Banded Hornets who are regular visitors to my Pink Cassia tree at this time of the year? Well, they're back and so are the attendant hordes of flies and butterflies and other freeloaders.

I have rather mixed feelings about hornets and that's not just because of their nasty sting which can be fatal on occasion. On the plus side, they hunt bugs and many insect pests. On the other hand, they also hunt bees and that's definitely not something I'm happy about.

But again, every year at this time they descend on my poor Pink Cassia and nibble at its bark until a syrupy sap froths out, driving the butterflies crazy. Scenes like this of Common Nawabs jostling with the Common Evening Browns to get a sip of that elixir are everyday affairs.

Which is probably why little Treefrogs hop indoors to get away from all that hustle and bustle!