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