Friday, July 31, 2009

Floral Friday in the tropics

My purple blue passion flower vine has climbed my amla tree, and gone on to my neighbour's coconut tree, where it is blooming profusely in the sun. I found this flower on a lower branch.
The tropical lily, crinum, is more than 5 feet high. Its lovely, mild perfume is overcome by the passionflower's cloyingly strong perfume.I don't know the name of this yellow flower in English. In Kannada, we call it punnaga. Poets have written about this flower. It usually puts forth leaves during the monsoon, but the drought this year has fooled it into putting out profuse flowers.

The pink calliandra powder puff is my favourite. It flowers 6 times in a year, in dappled shade!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wild flowers in and around my garden

The Devil's Claw has a pretty flower, but a claw-like fruit.
Love -in the- Mist is a naturalized passion flower, which is called Jhumka in Hindi because of its fruit which resembles the ear ornaments worn by women. Insects get trapped in the filigree-like bracts of the flower, but it is not known whether the flower is carnivorous.The marble sized orange fruits festooning the plant that supports them are pretty and are edible. The plant is used in alternate medicine for diarrhea.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Garden of Eden

The back of my garden looks lush and tropical even though the monsoons have failed and we are facing a severe drought.Beyond the wall of granite slabs in an empty lot where there are wild plants and creatures. A few weeks ago, I was pottering around here when a big snake entered through a gap between the slabs. After a chilling eye contact lasting an interminable nano second when both the snake and I froze, the same thought struck us both-danger! Both of us took to our heels; at least I ran for my life while the snake slithered away in the opposite direction at top speed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Star Fruit

The star fruit or Carambola is originally from Malaysia. The tree is small, and is used as a shade tree in gardens. The fruit is light green or yellow, and can be sweet or sour. When the fruit is cut crosswise, the pieces look like stars.
The star fruit contains vitamins A and C and iron. It is claimed to lower cholesterol levels. It also cures hangovers.It can be used in salads.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Flower for a queen

The Bird of Paradise was sent to Britain's Kew garden in 1773. The beauty of the flower with its strong resemblance to a bird gave it its common name. It was named Strelitzia reginae in honour of Queen Charlotte,a lover of plants, whose maiden name was Strelitz.
The plant takes up a lot of room, and I can't move it from its position in my garden. I have not been successful in dividing the plant either. So the clump of strelitzia is becoming bigger day by day and obscuring other plants. But the plant puts out dozens of beautiful flowers which are long lasting.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Queen of the Night

The night blooming jasmine is full of greenish white blossoms which open in the night and waft their strong scent across. This shrub is leanining from my neighbour's garden into mine. The strong perfume gives me an equally strong headache. Luckily my bedroom is on the far side of the house and so I can sleep peacefully. Curiously enough, the strong perfume stops emanating at day break, although the flowers are still open. It is as though the flowers have stoppered their scent bottles at once!
Fortunately for me, this monsoons the abundant flowers have not opened their perfume sachets even in the night because of the unusually dry weather.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Large bromeliads

This is how the dyckia flowers looked against the monsoon sky yesterday at school. But soon the winds blew away the clouds and the sun blazed forth.

The large bromeliads are quite big, about 6 feet across. The flowers tower over the young trees around them. Dyckias like the blue-grey one have barbs which are very painful if you get poked by them. I have planted the blue-grey one near the gate of my garden, but I think the time has come to remove it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The amazing Amazon lily

The amazon lily is not like what we would imagine , hearing its name. It is a beautiful, demure, daffodil like flower with a mild, haunting fragrance. It loves the shade, and flowers twice a year! So good for my shaded garden.The flowers last for a long time during the monsoon season. I have planted it in a pot, but I think I'll transfer it to the ground in a shady place once the flowering season is over.
The amazon lily is poisonous- all parts of it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jasmine, the ultimate perfumier

Today there is going to be a solar eclipse in a few minutes. I wanted to watch it , so I did not even go to my usual early morning walk. The TV stations are showing it live from Patna, where the full eclipse can be seen.We can only see a partial eclipse from Bangalore.
These are some of the jasmines I have in my garden. Jasmines prefer full sun, so only the monsoon jasmine is in full bloom now. The pink jasmine blooms throughout the year- even in winter. Both have distinct perfumes. The monsoon jasmine is small, with a heady perfume. The summer jasmines are bigger, and they have the classic jasmine perfume . That is the perfume used in soaps.I have another jasmine , which is called the seven-layered jasmine. It is as big as a small rose. And I have a lemon scented jasmine which is my favourite. It flowers only when it is blazing hot. The scent is more intense after a summer shower.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

pomegranate: the elixir of life

The pomegranate is a native fruit of India. A sour vareity was there in my ancestral house in Mysore. The fruit is supposed to give you a long life. The tree is small, with beautiful small bronze and green leaves. The flowers are a bright scarlet and very attractive. The fruit is full of red or pink seeds , very tasty. Mine is a pink one. The arils are deep pink in winter, but white inthe summer fruit. The fruit is a very good cure for diarrhea. Some times, when there is no fruit on the tree, I use the leaves - grind a few leaves, mix it with yoghurt and eat. You are fit as a fiddle !
All parts of the pomegranate plant is used in Ayurveda, the Indian medicine system.
Although my plant bears many fruit, I get to eat only a few , because of the squirrels. I cover each fruit with a polythene bag, but the squirrels have become cleverer. They cut through the bag and get the fruit. The poor plant looks so ugly with polythene hanging around everywhere.
The pomegranate flower was the symbol of beauty for the Mughal emperors of Delhi. A famous dancer who was also the mistress of Prince Salim was called Anarkali- pomegranate bud!

Monday, July 20, 2009

My rock garden

Yesterday, I cleaned my rock garden. My garden is sloping, and the rock garden is at the highest corner, getting the full sun. Usually it is full of flowers and butterflies, but the overcast skies have made the geraniums leggy. The Katie ruellia flowers profusely when it gets more sun. There is also a yellow lantana, a miniature white butterfly bush (buddleja), and daisies, and a bamboo grass.
When I started the rock garden a few years ago, these type of rounded granite rocks were lying around all over the place. Now with all the construction going on , there is no rounded rock to be seen.
One friend who saw it the first time, advised me to throw away all the rocks, and keep potted plants instead.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bread of the tropics

One of my neighbours has got this breadfruit tree. It is a beautiful shade tree with maple like leaves. The breadfruit is not a native of India, but now it has adapted to this climate. The fruits are full of starch , like bread. People of Goa and Mangalore cook delicious dishes from this fruit.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fossilized tree

These steps are a feature of my garden. They are not ordinary stone steps, but are made of a fossilized tree which I found 15 years ago in the neighbourhood. I did not know what it was then, but I liked the unusual texture of the stone and hauled them to my garden with the help of some village boys. We could not move the big pieces as they were too heavy. Those huge pieces were destroyed by the construction workers later, when the roads were being laid in this suburb.
It was only much later that a geologist friend who came to my house recognized the pieces of stone as parts of a petrified tree.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Flowers of monsoon

Green is the predominant colour in the tropics during the monsoons. Now is the time when plants grow, store food and other dwellers of the tropics like the birds and insects mate and proliferate. This year the monsoon rains have been scanty, but still, some of the plants have put forth their blooms in my garden. The hot pink antigonon had enveloped the sandalwood completely, and I had to pull some of it down. The silky flowers of the frangipani are filling the garden with a heavenly perfume. The flame coloured ixora is in two minds- whether to use its energy for growing, or to make dazzling flowers

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Remembering Father

A scientist and an engineer, my father was an extraordinary man. He was a philosopher and a handyman at home. After his retirement, he developed a beautiful garden in his house in Mysore, where he grew jasmine, roses,mangoes and grapes. He would have been 100 years old tomorrow.
The fragrant damask rose in the picture was one of Father's favourites. A single flower perfumes the entire garden. This was the rose used by Empress Noor Jehan to perfume her bath water.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Garden bounty

The custard apples have started ripening in my garden, but the squirrels beat me to it. They get the best ones. I love this fruit although it is full of seeds- it has a special delicate floavour. The seeds can be powedered and used as a bio pesticide for aphids. The leaves are also used for repelling unwanted pests.
After the squirrels have had their fill, birds come and polish off the rest of the fruit.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bee Security

The hibiscus blooms in my friend Vasantha's flower filled garden used to be filched by the early morning temple goers. All that has stopped now after the Apis cerana Indica, the Indian honeybees started building their home in the hibiscus bush.
Even the kids no longer play ball on the street .
Besides making honey and pollinating the food crops, bees have other jobs too!


These look like cherries, don't they? They are chillies from Indore. They can be grown as ornamentals, and the fruit can be used in curry. The green ones can be used in chutney.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Do plants know astronomy?

Yesterday I attended a workshop on astronomy at the Planetarium. After the workshop my mind was full of spirals, ellipses, the vanishing black night sky....It set me thinking- do plants have some knowledge of astronomy? Farmers and gardeners know that seeds sown just before a new moon have the greatest chances of sprouting.
Do plants resent the deprivation of the black night sky, which is a gift of nature?
This vareigated costus grows in a spiral shape. It reminds me of a spiral galaxy. Another costus, which is a cousin of this is used for treating diabetes.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Chalice vine

This is how the flowers look- yesterday, today- and tomorrow. The flowers are quite big. The other ginger type white flower is the hedychum, which perfumes my garden. The vine has flowered profusely on the terrace.

The Cup of Gold

I took the opportunity to click this photo yesterday when there was a bit of sunshine. This is the Cup of Gold, or Chalice vine, Solandra grandiflora, which is in full bloom now. The new fowers are pale cream,and the older flowers are yellow. I have made it climb up to my terrace, where it gets plenty of sunshine.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Strength and beauty

The teak is one of the strongest woods. This tree will mature after 20 years, when it is 35 years old. Teak wood was used for ship building in the 19th century. Now its wood is prized for building and making furniture. Being a tall tree, it is the home of many birds. The tree is so tough, but its flowers are so delicate, like lace. The flowers attract honeybees and butterflies. When I took this photo, there were dozens of honeybees hovering on the flowers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


This ia a moth orchid on which I lavish love and care. I feed it fresh coconut water once a week, and it gave me this beautiful flower after 8 months. My brother -in-law has an orchid which he neglects completely. That gives him much larger blooms twice a year. Such is life!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How to build the perfect home

Two days ago I was pruning my Indian lollypop shrub when I saw this abandoned nest built by a pair of tiny birds,similar to sunbirds. They had used a leaf of the shrub as the roof,and hung their little , hemispherical nest from the leaf. The leaf was bent in such a way that not a drop of the monsoon rain would enter the nest. The entrance was facing north-east, so that no rain water from the southwest monsoon would come into the nest. The nest itself was made of locally available material like dried grass and cotton (from my cotton tree). Wherever the straw had pierced the leaf, the bird had stuck a knob of cotton to the straw end, so that it would not slip down.
This was a perfect home- safe, secure, strong due to the hemispherical structure, warm and comfortable.I am sorry, I can't send a photo because my camera is kaput.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The chamber of secrets

Yesterday, when I was watching 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets', I remembered the chamber of secrets we encountered in the rainforest, with its surprising secrets. This is one of them- a nest of spiders, with hundreds of baby spiders, in a niche at the foot of a tree.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Rare visitor

Hey! A bumblebee visited my garden at 6p.m. today! He came to my strelitzia and made his typical mathematical movements before he flew away!

What flowers to grow in a shady garden?

Peace lilies or spathiphyllums, impatiens, anthuriums and salvia are some of the flowers of the tropics which flower even in deep shade. Of course, a bit of sunshine now and then works wonders for making the plants put out more blooms. The tree house you see at the back of the picture has been taken over by the red ants which colonize the mango tree.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

summer colour

Nasturtiums and marigolds in yellows and oranges bring cheer to the jaded soul. Both the flowers are great pest repellants. Nasturtium flowers and leaves could be used in salads. This is the picture of a prize entry in the Lalbagh flower show.

Friday, July 3, 2009

jungle mushrooms

Fungi which look like the common mushrooms grow on dead wood on the jungle floor. They have an important role to play in preserving the ecology of the rainforest. It is humbling to see every living thing striving towards maintaining balance and harmony.

This picture was also taken by my young friend Theju.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

forest flora

This is the rain forest I visited in April.It is rare to see the sunlight reaching the forest floor there because of the enormous trees and the creepers.There is a small stream which, according to the locals, never runs dry.