Monday, October 26, 2009

A few from my foliage collection!

These are my eternal garden companions. They never fail me, nor are they fair weather type. Hardy and resistant, they make pretty combinations when arranged with flowers and other plants.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Root-over-rock bonsai in making

These are night shots (not great though!) with the peepal (ficus) tree lit up by the earthen lamps around it. I'll try get one of those blog befitting pictures one of these days.

There are no short-cuts to a root over rock bonsai. It takes many years.
Typically, bare roots of an year old tree is draped over a large piece of rock. A fissure in the rock helps to settle the roots a little more easily. This arrangement is held securely with a plastic sheet with space to slip in some soil, and to be kept moist with an occasional water spray. While the tree with the bottom roots is put back into the container, half of the rock with the plastic sheet should be visible. The next one and a half or two years, the tree is allowed to grow freely for the root system and the trunk to thicken over time. In the rainy season, the tree is lifted out. Soil is washed away from the rootball. The tree with plastic covered rock is planted into a bonsai pot.Carefully, the plastic sheet is cut off and the roots are seen firmly matted around the rock. Excess shoot growth is pruned, and over the years with pruning and re-potting, the leaf size of the bonsai plant reduces.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Garden this Diwali

I'm back. Missed blogging, and all my blogger friends. I spent this Diwali with my in-laws and I bring you some shots from their garden, and some random ones from our celebration.

The picture you see below is traditional design I made at home to celebrate Diwali. It's free hand drawing with a paste made from rice and fuller's earth. I made this one in less than 30 mins and lit it up with earthern lamps in the evening.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Happy Diwali!

I'm taking a break until Tuesday to be with family and friends, and celebrate Deepavali 'festival of lights'.
See you soon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gardening couple and their green yard!

Mr. and Mrs. M are a typical, cute old couple. They have a charming old house in the camp area, back at Allahabad (my hometown) with a small patch of garden. Their children grew up and flew out of their nest to build their own in bigger cities. Though alone, both are rattling busy souls. A couple so passionate about gardening, there is hardly anything that would keep them away from it. Uncle is a gregarious old Sardar, while Aunty is always chipper. I actually don't think I've ever seen her not smiling. Infected, you just can't stop smiling back. Within minutes of arrival, Aunty dishes out sherbet or chai (tea) with home-made cookies and roasted snacks.
Coming back to gardening, Uncle steals the show since he's the flaunty talker while Aunty is the helpful assistant behind the scene. Though in practice, I think Aunty is more orderly between the two. Their lawn is currently under restoration, and all other plants are in containers. They have put a part of their terrace to use for rose beds and vegetable gardening. Every day, they deadhead and water plants, sweep and re-organize pots to de-clutter their green space.

Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious. When I am home, I make it a point to wheedle out some time to meet them, discover new plants and borrow some for my city balcony. Here's a look at their desert rose (adenium) collection - they have quite a number, but it's just a few that I photographed.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Up the hill - Photo-tag

Joyful from Snap that prompted me to play the photo-tag game. Your first photo folder -> Tenth photo -> Share the story!

Some random arrangement led me to the one you see here, the rose.

This one, and the series of photographs that follow were shot at Shimla. Shimla is a hilly town in Northern India, popularly known as Queen of Hills and is draped in forests of pine, rhododendron and oak. It was a weekend trip to Shimla with my best friend about five months back to meet another friend we had not been in touch for nearly 12 years. For the three of us, it was a homecoming of sorts. It's amazing how childhood friends never feel toodistant or cut off from each other's lives no matter where they are. As soon as we met, we took off from where we had left. While we stayed up the night to babble relentlessly and catching up from where we left, her husband kept the house up and running. They took an off from work to be with us and show us around the town We binged on some amazing Tibetan food, travelled around and had a terrific time.

"We all take different paths in life, but no matter where we go, we take a little of each other everywhere." -Tim McGraw
How true!

Do you know this pink-white flower - name?

Another place near Shimla
View of places around Shimla
Wayside flowers

Friday, October 9, 2009

Banana leaf special...Part II

This is an extension of an earlier post: Banana leaf special Part I

Cooking in banana leaves is considered beneficial for health, besides tasting good. I'm an experiment freak and have had excellent results so far. When Ma called a couple of days back to share her recipe, I was eager to try. I got a banana leaf from my garden and started. The dish turned out delicious. I prepared it in my favorite steamer, handed down from my grandmother. My husband lent a hand with cooking so that made it extra special too.
Steamed fish in mustard sauce

Here's what you need and how you do it :
4 pieces hilsa /shad fish
1 large banana leaf (washed thoroughly and left to dry, and the central rib removed before use)
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds (soaked in lukewarm water for half hour)
1 tbsp poppy seeds (soaked in lukewarm water for half hour)
5-6 cashew nuts (soaked in lukewarm water for half hour)
4-5 almonds (soaked in lukewarm water for half hour)
2 green chillies
1.5 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp mustard oil

Marinate the fish pieces in salt, turmeric powder and 1 tsp mustard oil and set aside for half an hour. Grind yellow mustard, poppy seeds, cashew, almonds, green chillies with little water into a thick paste. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tbsp mustard oil and salt (to taste) and mix well. Coat the marinated fish pieces with the paste.
Lightly brush the washed and dry banana leaves with oil and warm it over the flame. This softens the leaves. Cutting them into pieces and folding becomes easier.
Each coated piece is transferred to a separate banana leaf piece, topped with a green chilly, wrapped carefully and secured with a thread. These folded pieces go into the steamer for about 15-20 minutes. Once done, the pieces are lifted out gently and served with steaming rice.

Do let me know how it turned out for you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My flip flop with papaya

Do you have fruits which you once detested as a child and turned around to love them when you grew up? I have many, but papaya leapfrogs the others. Often I reason that most of which I loathed back then happened to the ones excessively available or grown at home. The novelty fades and so does the taste.

We had almost ten papaya trees (with young ones growing around them) that would fruit profusely. Nearly every meal had papaya in it - salad, main course, desserts - in its raw or ripe avatar. No sooner did I smell the fruit at the dining table than I switched off and felt no hunger. I've been on hunger strikes to oppose papayas in my meals. Nonetheless, I was petrified of Ma. One grim look from Ma, and the food went right down my food pipe grudgingly. In some rare moments I would underhandedly sift through the serving on my plate, and dole out chunks to our dog under the table. I never got caught but I have a feeling she knew what I did. Mothers always know!

What is puzzling is that many years later, I have discovered a new found love for papayas. I don't quite remember how the U turn happened but raw or ripe, I find it both edible and tasty. now. During my trip back home, Ma stood stunned and amused when I told her I photographed the papaya tree and savored the fruit in my salad. Promptly, Ma conveyed her utter amazement to Dad who enthusiastically offered to pack a papaya plant for my balcony garden in Delhi.
Goodness, growing papayas in containers ! Now, that I call is far-fetched.

The fruit has high nutritional benefits and is a powerhouse of vitamins. A proteolytic enzyme called papain (highly concentrated in the skin of raw papaya) aids digestion and is highly recommended. The fruit has remarkable anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing properties besides being rich in dietary fiber, foliate, vitamin A, C, E, carotene, calcium and iron.

Papayas can be grown from seeds. They grow fast but needs care in its early stages. They love tropical climate and need lot of sunlight, water and good soil mix. Papaya plants can be either male, female or bisexual. The male does not produce fruit, so to be sure you'll have to plant extra ones. The plants/trees starts flowering when they are little over a meter tall. The flowers on the male plant can be recognized from the heavy blooms and slender stalks, while female plants have a single large bloom, and short stems. Papaya trees need nitrogen rich fertilizers and fruit all the year round except in peak winters. The trees grows weaker and yields less as they age so new plants every three years is ideal.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The fruit that connected 10 and 60

I've grown up in a joint family, and my years spent with my grandparents are probably one of the most memorable ones. My life would have been incomplete without their love.

I was quite a mischievous kid and Daadi (my grandma) was my partner in crime. In times of potential smack sessions from Ma, I would run to Daadi for cover and hide behind her. As an adept negotiator, my Daadi would swing into action and wheedle Ma out of her rage. I re-appeared promptly after the storm passed and Daadi pushed a candy into my mouth. A modest battle won!

A ten-year old and a sixty-five year old had a lot in common. I went temple-hopping with her and catching up with peers. She would take me out to play and accompany me on errands. She was always the first one I hugged when I returned from school and the bond I shared with her was incredible. Among other things she liked, she devoured fruits - especially custard apples and so did I.

This visit, rambling in the garden back home I spotted a custard apple that sent me into flashback. I remembered days when Daadi would keep a watchful eye on the ripening custard apples and shoo off squirrels and parrots that nimbled away the fruit in no time. Disappointed with her failed attempts to rescue, she picked the remaining semi-ripe ones off the tree, wrapped them in newspapers and set them in our flour container in the kitchen. It took about two days to ripen, and ten minutes to eat. Besides, she used to make some great custard apple milk shake.

The custard apple (also known as bull's heart, sitaphal, shareefa, aata) tree we have at home is not too tall, about 10-12 feet. It prefers a warm and humid climate and needs good care during the oppressive summers of Northern India. The fruits have high nutritional value and considered useful in treating anaemia.

I dedicate this post to my Daadi I couldn't be with when she breathed her last.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Aparajita (butterfly pea flower) brings back memories

Aparajita (butterfly pea) brings back many childhood memories.

Ma spends over an hour praying every morning. She's got a small classified room on the first floor of our house in Allahabad that has limited or no access for others. As a kid, I'd always wondered what's her fancy about. I tried sneaking around, mock-squalled, mock-fought with sibling hoping to interfere with her morning prayer. Today when I think back, I acted in defense of being ignored (ignoring me is so uncharacteristic of Ma except when she's praying).
When I cried as a peevish kid, she would scoop me up into her arms. She woke me up with a gentle hug and prepared the most toothsome meal when I claimed I was hungry and did thousands of other things to make me feel special and wanted in her life. Considering her shower of affection at all times, I hated this time of the morning when she ignored me and everyone else around at home. No matter what I did to assume a place of importance during her daily ritual, I failed. Fifteen minutes into her prayer time, she would climb down, chanting verses and head to the garden to gather flowers for worship. Whenever I've been exceptionally unruly and disobedient that hour, she'd signal me to quieten while on her way to the front garden and that is all the attention I could grab. She would get back to the prayer room in five minutes with a basketful of flowers. Her favorites are hibiscus, jasmine, marigold and to top it all is the butterfly pea flower. We call it Aparajita here.
There have been times when she has been into an elaborate ritual when she has asked me to bring her flowers but I had to qualify her conditions first. I had to change out of my night clothes, bathe clean, comb back my hair into a plait, wash my hands and reach the prayer room in time to kneel, mumble a short prayer and run to bring back flowers for Ma. I loved my part and would look forward to these errands. Besides, this was the reason I was allowed access to the prayer room and got a chance to sit beside Ma and observe her. As I grew up and became less boisterous and more understanding (urban green chuckles), picking flowers for Ma more or less became an everyday affair until I moved out of home.

About Butterfly pea flower: It's a perennial species here, a very fast growing climber with cobalt blue flowers. They are decently hardy and do well in full sun (light shade in summers) and likes being well-watered. They are available in colors like white, light blue and lilac. Pinching the plant is a must to make it bushy. The plant fares well in a container, and makes for a great plant in balconies.

Years later, Aparajita (butterfly pea) is still so special, a tug at the heart. I'm not unruly anymore and I know how important it is to say our daily prayers. Ma has an aching knee now, can't sprint around like in olden times so she asked me to bring her flowers this time but not without her qualifying requirements (Ah! Mums don't change). While I brought her a basket full of her favorite ones Aparajita, I was reminded of my childhood days.

And did I tell you that I did not sneak into the prayer room any more? I walked right behind Ma to the room and sat beside her in silence, praying.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Way into dad's garden

I traveled last week with my husband to see my parents and was desperate for the train journey to end. Many months since I’d been home and met them. I had spotted my dad waving at me amidst the jostling crowd. Had I seen him earlier, I would have been ready to jump off much before the train came to a final halt. The sparkle that I saw in his eyes cannot be found any where else. We hugged, and soon he moved swiftly to lug my bag as if I were a school girl. It’s amazing how parents stay just the same for you.

Ordinarily, I never let my parents know when am going to be home because that would mean they would be up at an unearthly hour to arrange things and pick me up from the station. No matter what I age, they’d still treat me like a kid. Besides, arriving uninformed also meant that I’d take a 30-min rickshaw ride as against a 5-min car ride from station to home at 6.30 am. Therefore, those 30 mins allowed me to soak up on the new, old and the extinct sights of the town. When with my husband, I flaunt my town, its history and it’s green cover. It’s usually a monologue as I pass by familiar sights while he nods approvingly.

Look at that, the tree has grown so much! I love this palm. Damn! The tree has been felled. I can’t spot the teak. Look, he’s added so many plants. This creeper has been there forever. I never get this kind of a bloom. How long does a gulmohar tree last?

I belong to a sleepy, rusty, chaotic and religious town Allahabad that means ‘God’s creation’. Natives had large houses until sometime back when the real estate scenario changed, people moved and so did the density pattern change dramatically. Nevertheless, it’s still a green city compared to many I have visited so far.

On my way home, I pass by the 19th century Gothic style All Saint’s Cathedral standing tall with its lush green cover.

Company garden (I have no idea on the history behind the name) follows soon after and is a popular walker’s paradise and usually a beautifully landscaped garden with orchards and flower belts.

Hidden in the green cover, is the public state library built in

1864 that is a treasure house of old manuscripts and journals.

As the road turns towards my house, the University of Allahabad can be seen. The buildings are known for its classical architectural designs and have strong Victorian and Islamic style architectural influences.

Closer home, the residential areas have large patches of green, sprawling lawns and a wide variety of plants. This time around since we drove back home in a car and were busy talking to each other, I did not get a chance to see much.

Once I reached home, I stood for a minute at the gate to look at the house, my home for 20 odd years before I left to chase my dreams and build my nest. At the gate, I was welcomed by a robust large multi stemmed shrub blooming with flowers. They are popularly known as Land-lotus (Sthal Padam) or Confederate Rose, Cotton rosemallow or Hibiscus mutabilis. The plant is about 14 feet tall with large, bright green leaves. It is in full bloom starting late summer until end of fall. The flowers open pure white and change colour during the course of the day to pink and dark pink by evening. It is propagated by cuttings during fall or spring. While I stood watching the flower in admiration, Ma appeared at the door and I rushed to hug her and forgot about everything else.

There is more to come.

Pictures: All from the web except the flowers.