I cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be called an industrious gardener. Indeed, I cannot be called a gardener at all. I don’t particularly like examining the soil and its contents at close quarters. But, the combination of a family affinity for plants, a childhood spent in green cantonments, and a dislike of combining vegetable and fruit peels with the rest of the garbage, means that our terrace garden is always full of plants. Some of these elude recognition not only by rank amateurs of my kind, but also the malis who profess to know more and who, occasionally deign to climb up to our third-floor flat to disapprovingly survey the mad profusion in our pots.
The more direct of them, tell me outright, that I simply must not grow more than one plant in a pot. Snehanshu, who likes method in all things, and expends much effort in buying and hauling pedigreed chandni, bel, juhi and other such lovelies up the long flight of stairs, heartily concurs. But there’s the rub. I don’t actually plant anything. The nearest I have got to deliberately planting, is when I pushed in the seed of a particularly sweet mango in one of my seemingly unoccupied pots. And nothing has emerged as yet. But then, like Contrary Mary, How does my garden grow?
I attribute it essentially to luck and laziness. Since I do not have a compost heap, I liberally distribute tea leaves, apricot shells, fruit and vegetable peels and other such things in all my pots. And nature does the rest. So, we are constantly being surprised by new vegetation. The four pomegranates which are now taller than me, sprung up themselves. I have also, in various stages of growth among the bougainvilleas, hibiscus, champas and lilies, three jamuns, two chikoos, lots of musk-melon plants, beans, pumpkin, and one tenacious green which has been variously identified as bathua, jakhia, and a wild non-edible. This summer, we had an exciting time tracking tomatoes as they changed from yellow flowers to green to yellow to orange to red fruits. All in all, we harvested about 70 tiny ones, and they were a great attraction to the children in the neighbourhood, and very sweet to eat. They grew themselves in pots designated for statelier plants, who have now reasserted themselves. I myself think, it’s a more efficient use of space, though this arrangement cannot strictly be called tidy.
The birds and beasts, at least, seem to like my casual scattering of seeds – and crumbs. The regulars in our terrace are a rakish bulbul with a particularly endearing tousle-head and his family, three polite doves (who incidentally were born and grew up on the old deer-antlers on our landing, and have merely moved further in, I suppose), many nameless blue-rock pigeons (I understand that is the attractive name they go under) who ponderously upset whatever they can, and one vociferous crow. On occasion, we have also been privileged by the visit of blue sunbirds, brown sparrows, bright green parrots, and once even a family of little weaver-birds who built their nest in one of our larger plants. And then there are of course, the squirrels, baby lizards, moths, butterflies and wasps who have adopted our terrace, and like the Camel with the Arab, now believe that our rooms are as much theirs as the terrace.
So altogether, it’s a full house.