Monday, August 31, 2009

the green in the blue...

Blue enamors me, and so does Jaipur's famed blue pottery. Blue pottery has persian origin and traveled with Mughals to India. It has a time-consuming process but the results are excellent. This craft now has the Geographical Indications (GI) status that will save its uniqueness and protect the artisans from losing business to cheaper versions available elsewhere.

I picked up these beautiful planters from Jaipur that now adorns my living space.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Phlox tips

This was phlox bloom last spring. Phlox makes for a bright border plant and grows well in containers. It's a beginner's delight since it's relatively easy to grow. They are available in wide range of colors like pink, red, lavender, purple, and white. You could plant it with ferns or vines or other herbaceous perennials to make it more attractive. See the bright green sweet potato vine in the picture. Isn't it beautiful?
Phlox grows from seeds and need shade, moisture and loose soil to germinate quickly. The seedlings can be transplanted in 3 weeks into containers and window boxes. A well-draining potting soil mixed with organic compost works best. Phlox thrives in sun and needs to be well watered but not allowed to sit in water-logged soil. Left to dry, phlox wilts and the leaves turn brown. As the plant grows and the tips are pinched, flower heads will be more. The plant might need to be staked as they grow unless you like the trailing effect. They begin flowering in 2.5-3 months from sowing, and bloom for 2 months.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gardens at Amber Fort, Jaipur

Amber Fort, Jaipur (Source: Web, since I had a hazy image for this one)

Kesar Kyari (saffron garden)

Charbagh (paradise garden)

Charbagh (paradise garden), Source: Web
I visit Jaipur almost every month, and pass by this 13th century palace on my way home. A fusion of Hindu and Mughal architecture, this fort is a visual treat. It was built over two centuries in red sandstone and white marble. As you set out to explore the fort atop the rugged hills, on foot or a elephant - the view is breath-taking. On your way up and inside the palace, among other magnificient features, you cannot miss the gardens.

Across the entire fort there are fountains, waterways, gardens and courtyards. The fort rises above the waters of the Maotha Lake, an artificial lake. The Kesar Kyari (saffron garden) lies in the centre of this lake, laid out like a persian carpet. The garden was planted with saffron for the fragrance to waft into the palace above. The garden is under restoration. Further on, the fort is entered through the 'Dil-e-Aaram' Garden (in the traditional Mughal style). Inside the palace, lies a series of corridors, centering on a typical Mughal 'Charbagh' garden or also known as Paradise gardens. Char bagh literally, means four gardens. The philosophy of Charbagh is stated below.

Charbagh in the Amber Fort demonstrates how the basic four parts can divided in complex geometric ways. The concept of the paradise garden was one the Mughals brought from Persian Timurid gardens. It was the first architectural expression they made in the Indian sub-continent, fulfilling diverse functions with strong symbolic meanings. Known as the charbagh, in its ideal form it was laid out as a square subdivided into four equal parts. The symbolism of the garden and its divisions are noted in mystic Islamic texts which describe paradise as a garden filled with abundant trees, flowers and plants. Water also plays a key role in these descriptions: In Paradise four rivers source at a central spring or mountain, and separate the garden by flowing towards the cardinal points. They represent the promised rivers of water, milk, wine and honey. The centre of the garden, at the intersection of the divisions is highly symbolically charged and is where, in the ideal form, a pavilion, pool or tomb would be situated. (Reference: wiki/Citizendium)

Farming broccoli and cabbages

My father is an avid gardener and here you see his labor of love. He's a pro at raising cabbages, broccoli (leafy plants in the picture), tomatoes, carrots, spinach, radish, turnips, onions, aubergines, cucumber, beans, coriander, mint and practically everything you can possibly imagine. He has sent me tips on growing cabbage and broccoli in containers and here is how he does it.
  • Seeds are easily available and late monsoons are a good time to sow, once the showers end or are a few and far between.
  • Soak the seeds overnight, strain and sow them an inch deep in dry and loose soil. Make sure the seeds are well spaced out and the soil is not compact. No fertilizers needed at this point. Partial shade and very light watering is advisable to enable germination. The seeds sprout in about a week, and are ready to be transplanted to bigger containers in about 3 weeks when they are around 6 inches tall.  
  • Soil to be well-draining and mixed with compost. As the plant stabilises, full sun is essential. Broccoli needs regular top ups of organic nitrogen fertiliser in every 3 weeks. Use neem cake (Azadirachta indica) as a natural fertilizer and pesticide once a month in very small quantities. 
  • Cabbage is usually ready for harvest in 2.5-3 months.
  • For broccoli, as the plants grow taller you may need to stake the plants. Your first harvest is when the broccoli buds of the main head (central stem) look compact. Don’t wait for it to loosen and form yellow flowers. Cutting off the main spear will produce side shoots/florets. As these shoots grow, you can harvest them for over 6 weeks.
  • You will not need many plants as each plant will produce continuously over time, but you may need to plant successively for an harvest until summer.
Now that you have a guide here, I would like to add that you don't need to get everything right. We try and learn from our experiences. On this note of broccoli inspiration, I picture an amazingly delicious broccoli soup with mushrooms.

It's worth a mention that studies have shown that cabbage and broccoli have anti-cancer benefits.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Growing potatoes in containers

I vouch for a superb crop of potatoes within limited space, in containers. The picture you see here, is our kitchen garden harvest. Its highly recommended that you try it at home. It's a very easy thing to do. All you need are deep containers left in full sun, with well drained loose soil mixed with compost. Potatoes grow underground, so the soil cannot be clayey and compact. You could grow potatoes in tall pots, or wooden boxes too.

What and how to plant?
Any potato variety can be propagated vegetatively. You shall need seed-potatoes and they are the ones you see producing shoots in the potato eyes when stored in kitchen for too long. You can plant seed potatoes, or cut them up into “eyes,” with each eye having a sprout, then mound the earth up around them in the container and water lightly. The plant takes a bush-like appearance with very little care. The crop is usually ready to harvest in 2-3 months and once you see the top of the plant dying off. You can leave the potatoes in the ground for a few weeks longer, as long as the soil is left dry. Dig out the potatoes carefully to avoid bruising them, and brush off the dirt. Do not wash them until you are ready to use them. Happy farming!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

hanging garden at home

One of the best ways to add color and charm to your garden is with hanging baskets. Here’s to how you could do it.

Fix the place you would hang them before you start making them. There are whole host to things you must sort like location – sun/shade/wind, watering/pruning ease, size of basket, weight/structure (wire or plastic or clay). Once you’ve chosen a basket and a place to hang it, they need to be lined with sphagnum moss or coconut fibre to retain adequate water and soil. It is best to soak the moss or fibre first for a couple of hours because it will be easier to work with. Squeeze the water out and pack the moss tightly between the wires making an even layer around the basket. Fill the bottom of the basket with potting soil mixed in with compost. Poke slits in the coconut fiber where you want to insert plants. You could arrange the plants all around the pot. Place trailing plants/vines at the bottom of the pot, and hanging plants on the sides so that they cover the sides of the basket. The upright plants are planted at the top of the basket. Insert the plants into the slits and you do that, pour in more soil to hold them in the pot. A mix of colorful flowers and foliage would look great, so choose plants carefully.

Watering is extremely important. Your basket may dry out quickly and your plants will not do well unless the soil and moss remain moist. Keep the moss moist by watering the sides of the basket, and twice a day.

Photo source: Web, for now. My baskets would be vamped up and ready for display soon.

Do you have the bachelor’s button?

Gomphrena globosa (bachelor’s buttons) is a low maintenance, heat resistant annual with a bushy appearance. They are excellent plant for containers and look brilliant with their brightly colored globe-shaped flower heads. The plant is easy to grow, flowers profusely, needs the full sun and regular watering (not over-watering) during summers. The soil type should be both water retentive and well-draining and could be prepared with a combination of peat moss, sand and garden soil. Feeding it monthly with a balanced fertilizer is beneficial.


To encourage branching and hence more blooms, pinch the tips of plant. They are easily propagated by seeds or simple layering. Bend down a stem such that the node is covered with soil. Keep it moist for rooting and separate from the main plant when rooted and transplant as a new plant.

A must-have for summer gardens and butterfly lovers! Did you also know that Gomphrena can be used for dried flower arrangements? Cut the stems just as the flower heads are beginning to open and hang upside down in a warm, dark place to dry.

There are names for Gomphrena colors too. ‘Buddy’ for purple flower heads; ‘Strawberry Fields’ for bright red flower heads; ‘Lavender Lady/Queen’ for lavender flowerheads; and ‘Cissy’ for white ones

Which one are you?

throw in shoe flowers

Hibiscus rosa sinensis or china-rose is an evergreen perennial shrub. Generally red in original variety, now there are varieties differentiating in bloom size, colors and other aspects. The bloom can be single, semi-double or double, depending upon the variety. Also many colors are available in a single, double or multi-shades.

In a climate like ours, they flower more in summer than winter. It does not prefer extreme temperatures, but needs light and warmth to thrive. They grow best in well drained loamy soil, rich in organic matter is ideal. Water stagnant or soggy soil will adversely affect the flowering and growth of the plant. Once assured of a well-draining soil, it is safe to water the plant regularly.

Pruning is done to shape the plant, keep it bushy and full of blooms and and is normally done in late summer or early monsoon. Use a sharp cutter and cut just 1/4th of an inch above about an eye that is pointing in the direction you want the new growth to appear. Alternatively, pinch off the tips of branches to encourage multiple growth tips further down the stem.

Don’t feed your plant after pruning. Watch for new shoots to appear and then start feeding. Hibiscus like organic feed, so feed your plant with bone meal or once in every two months. Remember winter is the resting period for your hibiscus, so do not fertilize in winter. In summer, fortnightly feed it with a balanced fertilizer mix. The health of the plant may be gauged from its foliage that should be a deep glossy green.

At a time when you observe roots coming out of the bottom of the pot through the drainage holes or the soil is compact and difficult to break through due to the roots, this is a good time to re-pot, but only in early autumn. When the root ball has been carefully loosened and lifted out of the pot, completely cut away any dark brown and soft roots and re-pot. Never prune off more than 1/3 of the root mass. Propagation is by layering, cutting, and grafting. Green semi-woody tip cuttings, treated with rooting hormone, does well.

Other names for hibiscus are Jaba Kusum (Bengali), Gudhal (Hindi); Shoe flower is another common name in a reference to the use of the crushed flowers as a black shoe polish.

Zinnias for late summers

Zinnia elegans are popular summer flowers, usually grown from seed, and preferably in fertile, rich, and well-drained soil, in an area with full sun. Zinnias come in many sizes and are often available in mixed colors. They’re great for brightening up your late summer garden when most annuals are on their way out. In containers, small to medium-sized zinnias make bright companions for other annuals such as petunias, cosmos, sunflowers and moss rose. Taller versions look good with perennials or foliage in containers.

The propagation is through seeds that can be sown directly in the ground and it will germinate in one to two weeks. Sprinkle seeds over soil mix and lightly cover. Thoroughly moisten soil and keep it moist and not soggy. They grow quickly and may bloom in just six weeks. Successive sowing every few weeks beginning from April through early July will ensure continuous flowering through summer and monsoon. The plants may also self-seed in the garden and some varieties are available from nurseries.

To encourage quick growth and best performance, enrich the soil with compost. Add a general purpose fertilizer once a month. Pinch young plants when they are 5-6 inches high to promote bushy growth and deadhead spent flowers regularly to promote more bloom.
Photos courtesy: Web

song of india

Dracaena reflexa, known as Song of India is a yellow-green striped foliage shrub grows fabulously in bright, indirect sunlight.

This plant needs a good potting soil that would both retain water and drain well i.e. 1 part garden soil, 1 part peat moss and 1 part sand. Drench the soil and then allow dracaena to dry slightly until watering it next. Feed every 2-3 months with a water soluble fertilizer. If it gets too tall, prune it back in early autumn or spring. To propagate, air-layer, remove basal shoots or stem cuttings in spring. Chop off a foot length, remove the leaves from the bottom half, and push in into some compost soil. Keep it moist, in indirect light and wait a few weeks. Some of the original leaves may drop off, but after a while it should bounce back to life.

a.k.a Moss rose, Nine O’clock, Sun plant, Portulaca Grandiflora

It’s the perfect pretty flower for summers in North India. The flowers bloom little before nine and close a little after noon. It’s a tough plant that needs little moisture to thrive and bloom. It is heat tolerant, loves the sun that make other flowers wilt. It’s a hardy annual that produces vivid colored blooms in shades of yellow, orange, red, purple, white and pink. They look good in containers and hanging pots.

They grow from seeds but it’s best to plant cuttings. They are very easy to grow. Get a small stalk that is not flowering or about to flower and place it in the soil. They will grow and multiply very quickly. The plants prefer loose, sandy or loam soil with a well-draining composition. Water sparingly, if at all. Allow soil to dry out between waterings. Pinch off spent blooms to encourage flowering and to keep the plant tidy. Fertilize once or twice in mid or late summer.

vibrant crotons

This is my favorite houseplant.

It’s a woody and erect perennial, bushy, compact with variegated coloring. Exposure to bright light intensifies colors. Full sunlight is needed but not the oppressive summer heat that might discolor and burn the leaves. Over-watering or too low temperatures or low light might cause leaves to wilt and fall off. Houseplants need better management in terms of light and water. Fertilize once a month and lightly with a balanced soluble food easily available in markets these days. Autumn and spring are a good time to prune and cut back on height.

Beware of mealy bugs (tiny white bugs) and spider webs that are some of the more common pests. Remove infested leaves and spray water soluble pesticide on the plant.

Photo Source: Web

Terranium bytes

How to start?

Fetch a glass container (round or rectangular) with a sealable lid. Start with a layer of gravel, a layer of sand, then charcoal (half of sand) and top it with potting soil. Make sure there are no clumps in soil – mix it very lightly with sand for a well draining texture. For plants, preferably use moss and button ferns, crotons and slow growing plants for the tropical feel. Avoid cacti since they suffocate in excess moisture. Do not mix desert plants with moisture loving tropicals. You could try herbs too, but pruning might need extra attention.

Once you have found your plants, carefully plant a small sample of plant you choose. Make sure you give it some room to breathe and grow and water very lightly, just spray and replace the lid. No direct sunlight is needed. Ambient light will do else you’ll see condensation on the glass. For the next few days, watch your terrarium closely, and see what balance of moisture and air it needs. Depending on the size of the plant it may need more or less water than you’re giving it. If it seems as though there is too much water, leave the lid off for a day, and let it dry out a bit. Make sure you remove dead matter, trim plant on a regular basis. Once the terranium looks stable, water once in few weeks and don’t care. You could also design a landscape within, create uneven surfaces (hill look with lumps of soil covered with moss) and grow plants in sections. Use bridges, craft animals, birds, other structures for a dramatic presentation. Once you are comfortable with the terranium environment bit and feel confident to experiment more, you could move to other plants like mini-foliage and flowering plants.

Just in case you do not have lid for the terranium, you will have to care for it a little more. The open-terranium needs to watered once in few days unlike the closed ones. Everything remains the same.

Growing coleus

Coleus is a beautiful plant, a tiny specimen of which grows up rather quickly to fill up a pot. Humid conditions are most helpful. It needs a lot of direct sunlight but all coleus are tender and cannot survive peak summers or frosty winters. Partial shade in such conditions would prevent stunted growth, leaf damage, burning and discoloration.

A single coleus plant could be planted in a small pot, or 3-4 different types could be planted together in a larger pot for dramatic presentation. The soil mix should be of good quality, airy, and well-drained. A combination of garden soil, peat moss, sand and compost is recommended. Daily watering may be necessary to keep the soil evenly moist and do not allow the soil to dry out. Watering is best done in the early morning so the leaves have time to dry before the sun hits them. Use a fertilizer conservatively as long as the soil nutrients are intact. Pinch off the tips of the plant frequently to encourage the plant to branch and look bushy. Some coleus plants will bloom, and the blooms may be pinched off too. All coleus are grown from seeds and cuttings. Early autumn and spring are a good time to raise these plants. Cuttings can be either planted directly into soil or left in clean water, partial shade for 2-3 weeks until roots appear (see pictures)

pencil sticks on fire!!

Euphorbia tirucalli is popularly known as pencil tree, milkbush, finger tree, red pencil tree, sticks on fire. The Pencil tree makes a dramatic plant for containers. It grows with single or multiple trunks that have a tangle of light green, pencil thick, succulent branches. The tips of these branches are of a beautiful orange color. This plant must be grown in full sun, therefore if you want the good color, it’s the solar power. The color tends to fade in the summer, and becomes redder in the winter. The small leaves are inconspicuous and soon drop. The tree can be trained and shaped to grow in any pattern that you may like. It can be propagated by cuttings. They take a little while to acclimatize and when they do, they show robust growth. It needs to be watered only when dry since it’s drought tolerant and hardy and thrives in the driest atmosphere with ordinary soil, water, and feeding.

Note: The milky sap that it oozes when damaged or cut may cause skin rash, itching and general discomfort.

Welcome to frangipani

Plumeria or Frangipani is popularly known as “Temple Tree” or “Champa” in India, and grow to be large flowering trees. They can be grown in containers since it’s very adaptive and you can control the size of your plant by the size of container you choose for it. Plumerias love full sun, water and fertilizer to thrive.

You can grow Plumeria from cuttings, usually a foot in length. Apply rooting hormone to the base of the cutting and plant it good three inches into a pot with well-draining soil. Wet thoroughly, do not water again until you have 2-3 well formed leaves. It will take about a month for the cutting to root. Until then, the soil needs to be kept slightly moist. The cuttings need a green-house environment to emerge faster. A pink plumeria cutting that we planted, showed signs of growth after four months, so each type of cutting will have its own growing characteristics and you have to patient with them. At this stage and beyond, watering should be such that the soil never gets soggy and the soil should be a well-draining one.

The secret to lot of blooms is a lot of branching. Each tip on the tree produces a flower stock that in turn causes it to create multiple branches on each tip. I recommend fertilizer high in phosphorous that will promote this flowering/branching process. A water soluble fertilizer feed every other week will work wonders. Plumeria begin to go dormant in autumn and all through winter. You may stop fertilizer feeding around September until spring. Prune the fine roots every spring, or re-pot if you think the plant needs space to expand. In case you don’t re-pot, I’d suggest you remove some top soil and add fresh soil mix to refresh the plant.

This spring, all our plumerias have been kind to us. We’ve seen a beautiful sweet-smelling bloom, the ones you see in pictures. By the way, did you know champa flowers have no nectar and simply fool their pollinators?

the mint express

Mint is a great kitchen window sil plant as long as it meets some sunlight and is well-watered. Mint has roots which can be broken off and placed either directly in the ground or in pots. It prefers partial shade and water retentive soil and little maintenance is needed. A twice yearly feeding with bonemeal will keep it happy. Keep using its twigs and leaves in your cooking and soon it’ll swell and fill the pot. Given half a chance, it has the promise to take over a garden. Summer is a good time to try, bring mint seedlings and get going. Coriander could be the next to follow your mint success.

It's raining lilies!

Rain lilies that you see here in yellow and pink are autumn blooms, lasts for a day and flourishes throughout the rainy season, especially after heavy showers. Soon after flowering, the heads brown and dry up and these are the seed pods. You can harvest the seed pods, break them open and find black flakes. These flakes can be sowed immediately in a slightly moist environment for the seeds to germinate. I have both the yellow and pink ones planted in a shallow rectangular container that I shift around for display. My pink ones surprised me with a bloom this spring. Since I forgot to take snaps, I’ve put up pictures from the web for your ease. There are white rain lilies too, though I’m yet to lay my hands on them.

Where the lilies bloom...

These red lilies were a part of my spring bloom early this year.

Growing lilies in containers brightens up the garden and provides an attractive display for one season, remaining unnoticed for the rest of the year. With careful planning, the bulbs may be lifted after flowering and replanted each year to make room for other seasonal plants in limited spaces. The bought or stored bulbs of the lilies are planted in late summer or early autumn to be ready for display in spring. The bulbs are planted in free- draining fresh compost to avoid water-logging or the bulbs may rot. They are planted at twice their own depth and one bulb’s width apart with the growing tip facing the top. Avoid over crowding bulbs in a pot. Once planted, the bulbs in containers should not be allowed to dry out when in growth and should be fed regularly in 2-3 weeks with high potash low nitrogen fertilizer to boost flowering.

When foliage leaves begin to turn yellow, usually a month after flowering, gently lift the bulbs, clean off the soil, and dead and dry flakes. Cut the drying foliage, leave it overnight to dry, dust them with fungicide and store them in clean labelled paper bags in a cool and dry place in summer. Alternatively after flowering, the bulbs may remain in the pot, kept moist and shifted to a shaded place to rest till early autumn.