Sunday, March 30, 2008

March Past

One of the best things about the garden is that you can enjoy it round the year. When the 'Peak display' season is past, and when even the most houseproud of gardeners have stopped patting themselves on the back for their success with cold-weather annuals, there are a few showers. The grass turns green again after winter's crackly brown; summer's birds call out all day long, and Nature takes over. All is as it should be.

The last of our valiant dahlias make showy, if slightly minimized, appearances, mistaking every cool rainy evening for a return of 'their' season. The beds which we'd planted out last of all in early December burst with blooms. These are generally the 'leftovers' beds, where miscellaneous seedlings are planted after the regular beds are full. One such is near the back gate.

It's a variation of the riotous border, and colourfully named 'Pagla Palang' by our Dooars gardeners. 'Pagla' means mad, but is used here to mean 'not regular'. The Pagla Palang is planted out in the generous spirit of inclusion. No flower is too 'common' to be a part of it.

Out in the front lawn, while we're looking out for Easter lilies, one of the prettiest flowering shrubs of the region gets into its act.

It's called 'Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow'. The blooms are mauve on the first day, lilac on the second day, and fade to white on the third day. The garden is filled with the mild, soothing, lavender-like fragrance of the flowers all evening.

And then there are the Late Latifs. That's what hollyhocks are. This white beauty was certainly worth waiting for.

(You might like to read about the same garden at another time)

Click HERE to see More Flowers

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sikkim : All In Order

Progress has its pleasant side, too. Gangtok's main street, MG Road, is now closed to traffic. It has a nice new paved surface, and there is a wide granite road divider down the centre of the street, with benches placed on either side. The street was looking all festive for the International Flower Show. All of the town's residents seemed to have gathered at MG Road after dark on the inaugural evening of the Show. (The camera never came out of my bag for this reason!)We were told that they were waiting to receive 'VIP's. Not again! No, this time, we heard, they meant the Chief Minister and the Governor, and some bigwig from Delhi. When we saw that the crowds were growing, we decided we'd leave while we could.
Sikkim's people, we realized, are orderly in crowds. Nowhere in the region have I seen such large numbers of people move around without shouting, or shoving, or getting angry with one another. Before we could say 'All hail!’ the heavens opened. It was hailing! The crowds were still orderly, though in a hurry. We found shelter in a little tour operator's office and watched the hail turn the streets white in no time.
Oh, the beautiful flowers! What would become of them?
The next morning, to our relief, we found that Saramsa Garden had had only had a little rain, and no hail at all!

Among the attractions at the Flower Show were the performances by army bands, both at Saramsa Park, the venue of the flower show, and up at MG Road in Gangtok.

Sikkim : Peak Practice

Elegant Young Ladies of Sikkim

Preservation of the environment comes naturally to the Sikkimese people. Conservation is a part of their tradition; it's as old as the hills. They worship lakes and mountain peaks. On every visit to Gangtok, we have headed to the nearby peaks of Hanuman Tok, Ganesh Tok and Tashi View Point. The last named has a little cafeteria at the base of the hill, and a steep, short climb -- over stairs -- to the peak. I have often seen a Sikkimese man or woman leave a little heap of smouldering dried pine leaves at the hilltop, as a gesture of worship. When we visited last weekend, it was after a gap of a few years. I was horrified to find the peak 'occupied' by a large, three-storied polygonal building with a glass-fronted top floor. What an ugly piece of unnecessary construction! It completely took away the charm of the little peak. We expected the same developments at Ganesh Tok, and sure enough, that peak,too, which once housed the tiniest and simplest of shrines, had been built up in a big way.

...Cooling off at Tashi View Point Cafe!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sikkim Flower Show

An International Flower Show was held at Sarasma Garden at Ranipool, near Gangtok, Sikkim, last weekend. We drove up on the inaugural day.
When we crossed the border from West Bengal into Sikkim at Rangpo, we saw that the check post and entry gate were decorated with large numbers of potted petunias.
Musician Welcomes Guests at Rangpo
We were surprised to see a little squad of men with masks and chemical sprayers. They sprayed the wheels of our car, and then asked us to get down and cross the border on foot -- walking over disinfectant-soaked sheets of sacking -- and I was reminded of those movie scenes of prisoners entering concentration camps. Meanwhile they gave the insides of our car a good blast with their sprayers. Why, we wondered. 'Bird-flu! Bird flu!' was the answer.

Our cars were stopped again, just after Ranipool, and we were told we'd have to walk the rest of the way to Saramsa (almost 3kms). The prisoner motif popped up again when a policeman at the parking lot allowed us to use the toilets in what turned out to be the local station's lock-up! There were large crowds walking down to the flower show.

'Only VIP cars allowed.' The 'VIP!' word filled the air. This seemed to be a rather ambiguous and inclusive term. It covered people like tourists (especially overseas visitors), government officials and participants! We were welcomed at the entry gate after our long trek as some variety of 'VIP' on the strength of our touristy hats.
Pic shows Saramsa Garden, viewed from the highway
It didn’t take long for us to realise that the show did not have much 'international' participation. What it did have was participation by a small number of Indian states, horticultural departments, nurseries and professional horticulturists of the region.

They displayed some wonderful orchids, roses, liliums and anthuriums. There were beautiful exhibits of exotic flowers imported by private businesses in Delhi and other places among the stalls, but that wasn’t quite what we had expected.
The real marvels were the plants growing in the Saramsa Garden itself - Primulas; Sikkim's special flowers, pansies, petunias, cinerarias, and klanchoes, in beds after beds, in borders and niches.

The local paper explained that the farmers of the region had been handed out seeds some months before the show. They brought back thousands of flowering plants, which were bought off them and then placed all over the garden. Really ingenious as a cooperative effort - and the farmers benefited from the show thanks to this bright idea!

The Beauties of Nagaland!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Red and White

Easter is a big flowering time in the garden. Ever since I can remember, we had Easter lilies (Hippeastrum) growing at home. Huge trumpets of red lilies and lovely succulent white ones. These gorgeous lilies bloom once a year, and only for a few days.

All lilies are really easy to care for, and they propagate like anything, if you take the trouble to separate bulb clusters and plant out the bulbs. We had a clump of them growing here when we moved into Moraghat -- in a little bed behind the bathrooms, at the back of the house! They were removed carefully and planted out in the front, and for the last eleven years, they've bloomed in thousands. No credit to anyone. They are hardy plants, and are just waiting for a chance to thrive.

My friend Lesley had another variety of Easter lily, Amaryllis, growing in her garden in Gandrapara. She gave us a few bulbs, and now there's a profusion of these, waiting to burst into bloom. These are pure white in colour and have a lovely fragrance. Up in Sikkim at Saramsa Park last weekend, I saw them in another colour. They were in beds as big as small lawns, and only one or two of those hundreds of plants had opened a few buds. They were in the colour that was called Crimson Lake in our school paintboxes. To think that that garden must be in full bloom now!

Over the last few years, our Easter lilies have bloomed and disappeared well before Easter. Sometimes, however, they bloom as late as April, in time for our Vishu Kani. Today is Good Friday, and they're just beginning to peep out. The red always bloom first, and when they have almost all wilted, the white ones come out. It's as if they're telling the story of the Passion (suffering) and the Resurrection of Christ.

P.S.Today is the first Sunday after Easter, and a number of white lilies are out in the garden.

Time Out

There are some evenings that make you feel as if time has stood still. Yesterday, 20 March, was one of them. The hush that fell all around shortly after sunset was almost sacred. One couldn’t disturb it. Looking around, I got the feeling that I could have been anywhere, and of any age; seventy, or seven, and it wouldn’t have made a difference. The stillness, and that moment, which were bigger than time and space, would have had the same effect on me. A huge, nearly full moon rose in the silence. It was pale, and grew golden by the moment. The tree behind which it rose grew darker, until it became a silhouette. Suddenly the electric lights came on, and it was all over.