Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My gardening genes

Entrance of my house (Jan2009)- nasturtiums,calendulas and Sweetpeas

My favorite memory of my father- the way I often see him in my dreams , is he looking after his favorite flower beds on a summer evening. It was a daily ritual as long as I remember that my father will step out of his car- tired from a usual day in a office and would head straight to check out on his plants, roses, shrubs and creepers. His weekend activities necesarily included pruning and cutting, planting and maintaining his garden. Even with two or three full time gardeners - he believed in Kipling's saying that Gardens are not made by singing “Oh how beautiful” and sitting in the shade. So he would get down to work himself. 
Visits to nurseries and to flower shows  are very important childhood memories to me. Papa devoted himself almost full time after his retirement , in looking after his garden. In my family, I inherited the gardening-genes from both sides. The love for gardening is so much ingrained that even now my mom would remember a particular house they lived in , by remembering the trees, the hedges ,size of the lawns , the flowers and the fruits. She can go on for hours telling you about the guawas we had in our Allahabad house and the Litchis trees at Pantnagar. Despite shifting homes every 3-4 years , my parents never lost their love for ‘ farming’ . Both of them , by the way , had no farming genes, as they came from urban backgrounds and  yet loved gardening so much. In fact a lot of my gardening trivia came from my father’s extensive reading e.g. he taught me names of different variety of roses and dahlias , the stories of famous gardens and gardeners and the tips on growing best plants.I use to take pride in knowing names of plants in three or four languages but like most others in north India, we  normally used urdu/hindustani names of plants . I have already mentioned in this blog how my parents used to shift on transfers with their favorite plants in tow .
Within days of landing up in a new place , my father would start planting banana and papaya trees. Within a year or so the fruits were ready for the family and neighbours. His another favorite activity was growing vegetables like bottle gourd (lauki), bitter gourd and ridge gourd(taroi). If the space was available, he will experiment with other fancy vegetables like beans, carrots and cauliflowers too , but these three were staple. God…how much we kids hated eating these on a regular basis . But the pride with which these were presented was unparalleled . Even comparing notes with neighbours on size of rose or vegetables was part of the gardening tradition of the family- sometimes to the embarrassment of us kids.This vegetable growing was improved further when Papa  went for deputation to Pantanagar Agriculture University ( a very appropriate choice for him!!) Mom was no less. She would find a particular flowering shurb in somebody's house and would immediately ask for a branch and next day mali would be ordered to find it out in nurseries . Once she developed a fad for all colours of Canna and hibiscus(gulhad) and within days our backside garden was full of these two in most unusal colours. Even in my mom’s parental house at Agra, gardening is a passion, a topic of discussion on dining table and a skill much valued . My uncle is a proud gardener with a ‘ vision’. He will design his garden in one way and would get bored with it after a while and believe it or not , overnight the garden would be ‘shifted’ to another design ….with hedges and shrubs and all -intact ! How he ensured that none of the plants die in this shifting is a mystery to me but he did it with such skill that it looked like magic .

Many of these plants travelled with us from one house to another and some others , we left flowering for the new occupants . No wonder,when my parents built their own house one of the pre-condition was existence of a lawn and place to grow vegetables. They did not mind settling down slightly far away from the city,as this requirement was non negotiable. It was difficult not to learn something about gardens and plants in a family like mine. Though the most talented of us sisters is my elder sis, I too realized off late that I cannot live without some plants and flowers to look after . It was however  difficult for me to find a niche area to specialize in the family. Father was all for flowers and specially roses , mom experimented with what she called useful plants – tulsi, chillies, mint leaves, coriander, tomatoes and the like . My sis loved the decorative greens - crotons and ferns, African grass and money plants .Now thanks to her efforts, our Lucknow house looks like all green - with creepers and climbers covering the front .

For some reason I was always partial for the scents . With the help of our gardeners,I carefully planted scents like harsingar(shefali), ratrani, kamini, malti, juhi, chameli and my most favorite - bela . Those who are familiar with these can imagine how fragrant the house would be when all of these are on bloom(usually around rainy season). In the early winters and again in summers , collecting the delicate and fragrant flowers below the tree was my favorite morning activity
Anyways , I was struggling with my gardening genes for past few weeks. I shifted to a new house last January and left my ground floor house with garden full of winter blooms for the next occupant. Now this new house on the first floor , has limitations for gardening . Still, I managed to gather about 40 potted plants .

Pride of my last year's winter bloom. My biggest Dahlia in a pot
Now with the winter approaching, I almost ache for the familiar sights of pansies, dahlias, cinerarias, sweet peas and marigolds. I told myself to resist this urge this year . I mean I hardly get time these days to pick up my gardening trowel and Pruning shears to look after my plants. But the funny part about genes is- you can’t resist them for long. So here I was this afternoon , standing in a nursery missing my lunch , picking up plants and fertilizers for the winter flowers . Now that I am again ready with my gardening tools ,let’s see how my winter 2011 collection goes. After all, the best thing about gardening is the anticipation and hope it provides to a person.

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