Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Of flowering climbers

The jade vine is flowering once more and astonishing the guests at Native Place with its unusual color and stunning grace. The pepper vines are loaded with pepper and the mystery climber at the front entrance trellis also continues to flower, its hanging candelabra like bracts adding yet another shade of excitement to the Native Place Garden.

Butterflies are out in large numbers too floating about merrily sipping nectar from a variety of flowering plants we have grown especially to attract them.

This gardener has a lot to be happy about and grateful for. The sun, the rain, the flowers, the birds, the bees, and butterflies

Astrid Rao

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Another Mystery Climber

A few weeks ago i noticed that the Thunbergia Grandiflora we had planted in May after much deliberation to grow over the trellis at the entrance to Native Place had some hanging bracts. These were a striking reddish pink in color and i wondered how they were going to transform into big mauve flowers which the climber is supposed to produce.

They finally opened to reveal small orange flowers. the entire effect of the crimson flower bracts and their precious contents is pretty striking and a pleasant surprise.

Welcome mystery climber. I have no clue as to the real name of this climber's is but I guess nature will share that secret with me in due time.

Astrid Rao

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Traveling in France

It's been a while since my last post and this has been largely because we have been on a month long holiday in France. Paris, the Atlantic coast and Provence all very exciting places to visit and indulge in my favorite past time of walking on tip toes and peeping into other peoples gardens.

While in Paris we were lucky to be invited to Monsieur et Madame Moulin's home for a BBQ dinner and spend time in their lovely garden. Being summer the trees were laden with cherries and peaches. The joy of hand plucking fruit and enjoying and sharing the bounty of your own garden is priceless.

Astrid Rao

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bird Bath


Doc wrote to me urging me to get a bird bath for the garden. He said he puts out a little shallo dish of water for his dogs in the garden and it attracts all kinds of birds.

i promptly got myself a bird bath and put it out imagining myself photographing and observing a number of interesting birds. i spent an entire afternoon out and all i saw was crows.

Dag called to say he was on his way up to the big mountains to meet up with doc and i grumbled to him about doc's great ideas and how i fared. He suggested that i should visualise a variety of birds and they would manifest!
So the next weekend i sat in the sand pit in the shade of the umbar tree all afternoon but the visualisation exercise took me back to the time in my childhood when a certain crow would visit my neighbour's verandah to look at himself or herself in the mirror of the beautiful old hat stand that they had there. And this got me to relax, lie back and enjoy the crazy antics of these cheeky creatures. Have to say it turned out to be an enjoyable experience.

If you ever come by the native place garden spend some time gazing at the crows visiting the bird bath.
Posted by Picasa

Astrid Rao

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Tree of Life

The Mahua trees in the garden are clothed in vibrant new coppery red young leaves again and their graceful oval crowns are delightful to look at especially in the sunlight.

There were two young saplings growing wild on our plot when we first started gardening here. Insignificant looking but on identifying them I decided to give them room to grow.

They are known in Central India as the tree of life to the tribes of the region and considered to be sacred. It is said that the Mahua tree is a sentinel that guards the Adivasis (forest dwelling tribals) from cradle to the grave and true-blue Adivasi will ever cut down a Mahua tree, which is revered and worshipped.

No Adivasi ritual is complete without the ubiquitous mahua - much like plantain ( Banana) trees elsewhere. They keep a nightly vigil to save the fruit from the animals and collect them at dawn. They eat the dried flowers, make sweets out of it and make potent liquor called Sidhu from it too. My dad who used to go hunting and knew a lot about the ways of the jungle and its people had told me about this when I was a child.

Their scented sweetish fleshy flowers are an irresistible attraction to nectar and fruit eating birds that are reported to get drunk when they peck fermented flowers. Bears and deer also eat the flowers that fall at night and get intoxicated. This tree reminds me of its counterpart the Amrula tree that I came across in the movie Beautiful People where the animals got drunk after eating its flowers.

I love their graceful oval shape and find it looking its cheerful best at this time of the year.

Astrid Rao

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Summer Fruit

Mangoes, cashews, love apples, papayas, lemons, chickoos star fruit, jackfruit, bananas ... my little haphazard orchard filled with the trees of my childhood are all bearing fruit. I planted most of these trees about five years ago. Five years of tending has borne fruit. Walking through this tiny patch filled with little fruit trees ... feelings of achievement, bounty, happiness immense satisfaction and gratefulness to nature fill my heart

Friday, April 11, 2008

The beautiful red lilies and their pink and white relatives have been flowering profusely for the past two weeks. Then last week this beautiful salmon pink lily flowered for the first time and what a beautiful sight it made. On browsing through a book I found that Hippeastrum (Red Lily) is its name of these bulbous plants with narrow strap-shaped leaves and that two other kinds, one having salmon-colored flowers and the other having white petals with pink veins are also commonly grown. All kinds flower at least once a year and even a short period of dry weather seems to stimulate growth. So I guess the acute water shortage we are facing has an upside after-all with all 3 colors represented in the garden.

Astrid Rao

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Bulbul in the central courtyard

Last week i noticed that a pair of Red-vented Bulbuls were frequenting the open to sky central courtyard within Native Place. The Golden Bamboo growing here has been the domain of the sparrows but these cheeky Bulbuls were taking no notice whatsoever of the sparrows reluctance to share the space.

All through the day the pair of Bulbuls would pop in whistling, calling and darting about. Then we spotted the nest and understood the reason for our new guests frequent visits.

Astrid Rao

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Ides of March

It is not yet the middle of March and the area around Native Place wears a dry, stark, look. The grass has all been foraged and all that is left is bleached out white stubs. The crafty goats seem to prefer the thorny scrub bushes to the unpalatable dry grass. Can’t imagine how much more scorched the land will get over the next two summer months of April and May.

The trees as I mentioned earlier are stoutly holding the fort. Around us the Red Silk Cotton tree and the Indian Coral tree are gloriously in bloom adding bright colors to the stark contrasts in the area as are the Palash (flame of the forest) and the Sterculia (Bonfire tree) that came into their own last month. It’s amazing to see all these fiery brightly colored trees which have common names associated with fire doing their bit for nature’s palette.

Soon we will have the festival of Holi upon us. In earlier times flowers of the Red Silk Cotton and Palash were used to make organic color that was used in the festival. But today ready-made chemical substitutes are widely used instead of organic ones and as the trees loose their uses they loose their place in man’s world.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

God's Garden

I was browsing through The garden at Crocker Croft this afternoon when I came across this beautiful poem called God’s Garden by Dorothy Frances Gurney. As I went through it one verse seemed very familiar.

A kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth.
One is nearer God's heart in a garden,
Than any place else on earth.

It transported me back to Sri Lanka, a little cottage garden that I visited in Colombo and a certain picture that I took there.

The picture above is from that garden.

While in Sri Lanka I was fortunate to visit the fantastic gardens of architect Geoffery Bawa and his brother Bevis Bawa in Bentota. I have to put up a slide show of the pictures I took there soon – as soon as I have figured out how to. The pictures are a must see.

Astrid Rao

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Natures touch

the way to perfect a garden is to leave it touched by nature’s hand”

I took this picture two weeks ago while walking through the garden. Simply had to share it and then i came across the perfect caption.

Astrid Rao

Monday, March 10, 2008

Brugmansia Surprise (Frosty Pink)

Last month while walking in the garden I noticed something curious. The little Lagerstroemia tree sapling that I had planted in June, adjacent to the low ropes course with the intention of enjoying beautiful flowers as well as shade in a few years had sprouted long green pods. Quite a mystery it seemed to present – what with the pods not sporting any Lagerstroemia type characteristics about them.

Within a few days the pods had opened to reveal delicate long handsome pendant pink flowers – a magnificent way to uncover a mistaken identity. It revealed itself to be the Brugmansia and not the Lagerstroemia sapling I had mistaken it for at the time of planting. Welcome Brugmansia!

I have read that for the night garden, Datura's and Brugmnsia's are a necessity. These beautiful fragrant plants, commonly known as Angel's Trumpet open up after dark and remain open until the sunlight hits them the next morning. The perfume that the flowers release is said to be extremely sweet and intoxicating and they are known to flower all year with proper care.

I have plans to build in a bench right below this shrub – where one can sit in the late evening, watch the buds open after sunset, enjoy their famed fragrance and admire the delicately beautiful flowers long before the sun’s rays cause them to wilt.

An Angle's Trumpet heavy with blossoms is a very impressive sight. I have seen a glorious white flowering specimen in Panchgani and my friend Shirish told me that he had seen loads of them growing in hedges alongside the roads in Mahabaleshwar.

Astrid Rao

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Green turns to brown

It’s the beginning of March and the garden is now beginning to look brown - the green cover is diminishing and no matter how much we water the ground still looks dry and parched. The weather has changed for sure and for the next few months (March to June) we are going to have to deal with a dry garden as opposed to a lush one. Come June and the monsoons and it will be verdant once more.

It’s the trees however that seem to be holding up the show. They make perfect places to sit under and ruminate; to savor scents; hear the wind in the trees; or watch the dappling of sunlight stream through the leaf canopy. As summer approaches their popularity will soar amongst visitors vying for the cool shady spots below, as well as amongst the birds, insects and tiny mammals and reptiles that find refuge, nesting ground and unlimited supplies of food and building materials here.

Astrid Rao

In the shade of the old Umbar tree

When we acquired the plot of land on which Native Place now sits, my only regret was that there were no trees growing on it. I later came to know that according to a custom when land is sold the seller could cut off the trees and take away the wood.

Once we began to build native place this stunted low canopy that had missed detection as tree even though it had a huge trunk began to grow – and how it grew. During the first year it grew to the height of the first level and by the next year it was at the height of the 2nd level of the house.

Today it is a large dense canopied tree under whose shade tents and hammocks are strung and whose branches are inviting to visitors young and old. Spend an afternoon in the hammock under this tree and depending on the season you will glimpse tailor birds, sun birds, bulbuls, ioras, leaf birds, orioles, leaf warblers, and many more birds

Over the years we got more and more familiar with this wonderful tree. It is known by different names such as 'Gular', 'Udumbar', or ‘Umbar’. Its Latin name is Ficus Glomerata Roxb. It is also known as Cluster fig. It is found all over India and grows wild in the forests and hills. It has many religious associations, a host of medicinal uses and many myths are also associated with this tree.

According to Buddhist scriptures, the Udumbara blossoms every three thousand years and is believed by Buddhists to be a sign of an overwhelming blessing and good fortune. Udumbara is an imaginary flower that only blossoms every 3000 years when the King of Falun comes to the human world. A collection of Buddhist sutras, claim this heavenly flower is a sign of rare preciousness and a miracle.

In Maharashtra it is venerated as the abode of Lord Dattatreya and therefore not cut. I learnt this from the old caretaker of the plot who told me that is the reason why the tree was saved. So it was by the intervention of the gods after all that we were given this mother of a tree that sustains and nourishes a variety of creatures, us included.

You will be hearing more about this special tree in the future

Astrid Rao

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Everything happens for a reason

The beautiful vibrant leafed Saritaea Climber that had risen to the level of the lake view gallery died out on us a few months ago. This is the second climber that has grown to full size and died out at this very location. I wonder what the reason could be – too much water? , Something damaging the roots? Who knows! The answer will present itself at some time I presume.

It was difficult to move on though and I stubbornly let the hardened vine framework be, refusing to cut it out and plant something new just in case it decided to wake up from what I hoped was a period of hibernation. I soon began to enjoy the the stark look of this twiggy framework and decided to wait a while before growing something over it. And then just last week while sitting here and musing about it I noticed a beautifully crafted nest attached to one of the dead branches.
I instantly felt happy and excited to see this wonderful piece of architecture and also grateful for not having cut down the dead climber it was attached to. I took a few pictures of the nest, put my camera away and came back to look at it and puzzle over whom it belonged to.

Pretty soon I spotted a female sunbird, greenish brown above and yellowish below. It came by, hesitated for a micro second and then boldly flitted forward to perch before the nest and continue about its business as usual with me sitting there not even 8 feet away. I dared not get up to fetch my camera but simply sat there enjoying the special moment. Our questions about nature can be answered if we can simply take time to sit and stare.

Sunbirds are a tropical species, very small birds which feed largely on nectar, although they will also take insects, especially when feeding young. The males are usually brilliantly plumaged in metallic colors. They find counterparts in two very distantly related groups: the hummingbirds of the Americas and the honeyeaters of Australia which share the similar nectar-feeding lifestyle. Unlike the hummingbird they perch to feed although they can take nectar while hovering. They are easy to spot from the lake view gallery and at the entrance garden in the late afternoon.

Mystery Climber

After a few trips to the nursery looking for a Jacquemontia climber to replace the one that died out bore no fruit I decided to go with another nameless climber that we had in our garden nursery growing in a large bag. I had purchased it a few months ago and by now had forgotten its name but the leaves looked attractive and the plant seemed to be healthy so we planted it in place of the Jacquemontia

The climber grew well and had soon got to the Lake View Gallery level above the kitchen and over the little trellis there. The leaves were shiny green and very attractive but even a year down the line there was no sign of flowers. I delved through many books hoping to learn more about the plant including its name and flowering habits but came up with nothing.

When Swati and Suchitra visited us in May 06’ we spent many enjoyable evenings looking out at spectacular sunsets from this lovely Look Out Gallery. We often admired the mystery climber with its dense dark green ornamental foliage and wondered when it would flower. I began to joke that maybe it’s a male and was never going to flower.

Then by early June I noticed something that had to be a spray of buds. They took their own time opening keeping me guessing a little longer and finally revealed bell shaped rose magenta mildly scented flowers.

I was ecstatic. Bunches of gracefully arranged flowers stood out against the shiny green foliage looking pretty stunning. A long wait it had been but a fruitful one. With a clear visual of the flowers I was once more inspired to hunt down its name. Armed with a visual of the flowers in I surfed the net for a few days and finally I hit pay dirt. The mystery climber had a name after all.
Botanical Name: Saritaea magnifica,
Family: Bignoniaceae,
Other names: Glow vine, purple bignonia, saritaea
Origin: Colombia

The mystery was solved but the case shut for good about a year later when the plant died out!!!

Astrid Rao

Sky Blue Cluster Vine

In September 2004 we had planted Jacquemontia pentantha' also known as the Sky Blue Cluster vine in the box below the kitchen window to dress up a drab corner and cover up some ugly piping. Within a year this fast growing vine with its tiny bell- shaped ultramarine blue flowers had grown to reach the lake view gallery above and had gracefully framed the tranquil sky, lake and hill view of this lovely area.

We enjoyed its beautiful appearance and its gorgeous year round flowering for over a year and then the suddenly after the monsoon the plant died out.
I was saddened when the beautiful ultramarine blue flowering Jacquemontia died out. I had not taken into consideration that a perennial tropical climber could die in my tropical paradise. It was something of a shock when this happened. What was once a profusely flowering gorgeous looking area was now plain and bare.

This picture is a reminder of a beautiful climber that once was.

More about Jacquemontia: Originally from tropical America, this profusely flowering tiny blue flowered climber is easy to maintain. The stem of the creeper is slender and green and the leaves are arranged alternatively. The leaves are small, shiny and heart-shaped with pointed tips. The bell-shaped white-throated ultramarine blue flowers are produced in clusters at the ends for long stalks. The creeper looks gorgeous with its many flowers spread on it after rains and in the cooler season.

Jacquemontia pentantha bears flowers in all seasons. The growth is moderate and hence it looks neat. And if the creeper grows out of control, it can be easily and lightly trimmed. Flowers appear on new branches. Jacquemontia pentantha is propagated through seeds, cuttings and by layering. Remove dried stems to enable fresh growth.

It is attractive to bees, butterflies and birds. Being a hardy plant it does not demand too much attention. It grows in manured soil of any type. The plant needs moderate watering and requires full sun or partial shade. Given proper support, it can be easily grown on fences and balconies.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Celebrating the first flowering of the Jade Vine at Native Place, Kamshet

The Emerald jade vine - Strongylodon Macrobotrys was sourced by Hari and planted by the pergola facing the lake in January 2006. We stumbled across it while searching for Mucuna Bennetti another grand tropical vine.

Once planted I imagined how it would look to have these foot and a half long huge hanging clusters bearing their bluish green claw shaped flowers hanging through the pergola roof.

Two years down the line it has consented to put on a show of flowers for us and to finally see it in bloom is a spectacular, amazing and most satisfying sight.

Native to the Philippines, the Jade Vine is a climbing plant that scrambles up though the tropical forest canopy to reach the light. Sadly, extensive deforestation has meant that this stunning plant is now threatened in its natural habitat, as vast swathes of the tropical forest are cleared for agriculture or felled for timber

Thunbergia Mysorensis – Clock vine

I first came across this plant while gardening online i.e. surfing through nurseries and info banks across the world. The flowers were spectacular. No wonder it was mentioned as one of the most popular vines in the world. Now with a name like Mysorensis I had a clue as to where to start looking for it in India.

I sent the link to my architect Suchitra Sholapurker who is based in Bangalore – we are in the habit of making wish lists of plants and especially climbers for different areas in the garden. She wrote back saying it was the very same climber she had described to me on a previous visit, but had been unaware of its name.

So come December 2006 she brought me 2 little plants from Mysore in south India. WE planted both of them by the pergola outside the 2 lake front rooms and hoped they would not steal the thunder of the wonderful Thunbergia Alba also growing here. They have been fussy growers and barely reached the top of the pergola after a lot of coaxing and care. Finally in a rare show of appreciation for all the tending and attention one plant flowered in the 2nd week of November bringing joy and gratitude to our hearts.

The Thunbergia Mysorensis is a vine originating from India. There are close to 100 species of Thunbergia in tropical Africa and India. Some are shrubs, some are vines. The flowers hang from the vine in clusters that can reach several feet Excellent for arbors or trained along roof supports where hanging clusters of spectacular flowers may be admired at eye level.

Astrid Rao