Or to put it another way, it never rains but it pours.
Come to think of it, it has been neither raining nor pouring on my garden, not in the last two weeks at least. But still. This weekend, it has poured in a different way.
Let’s start with the grass.
So the front part of the lawn had a concrete foundation. Not a good thing if you want to grow something there. Our poor grass was struggling, but there was no water to be had and not much nourishment either – since grass doesn’t seem to flourish on a diet of cement, dry or casted. So then we had these guys come and rip up our lawn and uproot our darling neem tree while they were at it. The neem tree has recovered nicely now, though its younger and weaker sibling is now much bigger and healthier. Anyhow, we were left with a hole in our lawn of some 15×20 sq ft dimension. Nice enough to be a swimming pool, if it had only been five feet or so deeper (and if we’d only had the water for it). Amit was dead against getting another contractor to come and lay the lawn, so we had no option but to do it ourselves. It wasn’t something that I was looking forward to. But Amit wasn’t letting any grass grow beneath his feet and he went and ordered first some 370 kgs of cocopeat, then one tonne (1000 kg) of compost. We had two back breaking sessions of emptying those, sequentially, into our swimming-pool-sized hole and were left with a substantial gap in the level of what was left of our lawn and this hole. So he ordered another tonne of compost.
Now it’s all very well to talk cavalierly about a tonne of compost, but do you know what this really is? It’s 20 fifty-kilo bags of powder so fine it might as well be ash. Fifty-kilo bags, I said – I know some people, adults, who weigh less than that. And there’s 20 of them in a tonne. And you have to spread this tonne of ash-like powder out over a 300-sq-ft hole in the ground. Not an easy task.
By the time we had that done, our horrible red-and-white cement dust laden swimming pool had turned into a rich, black layer of soil that looked good enough to eat. Now all we have to do is to get the grass.
The last layer of 1000 kilos of compost was done this Saturday morning. Tara had a table class at 10 (which, it turned out, was cancelled, but we didn’t know about that until Amit got there to drop her off). I had tennis at 6, as usual. By the time I got back and we were done with breakfast, it was 8 a.m. The first thing we did was to plant the jacaranda sapling we’d bought at Lalbagh last Sunday. We’d already planted the gulmohar last weekend, but it was dark by then, so we’d left the jacaranda in its bag for an entire week. Luckily, the soil outside the gate was not too bad, so Amit got the digging done in about 10 minutes and in less than half an hour, the deed was done. Now we have the born-again neem tree, a gulmohar, and a jacaranda outside the gate, leaving precious little space for me to park my car.
Then we had a coffee break and got down to the back-breaking and extremely dusty work of laying out the one tonne of compost. I had developed a neat technique of emptying out the powder such that you didn’t need to do a lot of raking to spread it out. So Amit lugged the 50-kilo sacks into place and went off to become respectable and take Tara for her putative table class, while I cut the sacks open and poured them out. By 10.30-ish, I was done.
But that was just the beginning of my day.
In the parts of the lawn where the grass had grown, it had grown tall and lush. It now needed a haircut – and a real cut, not just a trim. But we didn’t have the necessary equipment – viz a lawn mower. Last weekend, I took the initiative and made a couple of phone calls and then made a quick visit to a showroom and put down an advance, and on Thursday it was delivered. It’s nothing like the fat old lawn mowers of 20 (or is it 30) years ago. It’s small and sleek and yellow and – of course – electric. I’d done a test run of the machine when it was delivered, but now it was time to give all parts of the lawn the cropping they so desperately needed. Thankfully, it wasn’t too difficult lugging the vehicle down into the basement and out into the basement garden. By noon, I was done with all the mowing.
Then I got on to raking leaves and stuff, planting stakes for some of the saplings that needed them, tying the bougainvillea into a slightly neater assemblage, and watering everything. By the time I’d put away all the implements – spades, scissors, pump, hose pipe, lawn mower, rope, and assorted other stuff – it was 1 p.m. and I was filthy. And exhausted.
But it was a big day. I’d finally got two of the four trees on my wishlist planted, and I’d finally given my lawn its very first haircut. I went to sleep feeling extremely satisfied with the state of affairs.
On Sunday, our neighbor had very sweetly volunteered to take Amit to a nursery where he could buy grass. They set out at 1 p.m., at which time I hadn’t even started making lunch. Amit had fortified himself with nothing more than a cup of coffee and a couple of pieces of gluten-free chocolate cake (which, of course, I’d somehow found the time to make). At this time, I had not done the grocery shopping and I had no idea what lunch was going to be, apart from the fact that it was going to have chicken in it. (In the end, it turned out to be chicken biriyani, as usual.)
After he’d left, I started cooking. I was done with the cooking and all set to eat when the calls and messages started pouring in. Does this look like what you’re looking for? What about that one? Is it a laburnum or a cassia? Can’t you recognize it from a picture of its leaves? Pink flowers? Yellow flowers? And so on. At the end of it, over phone, What’s App, and email, we had settled on: a golden shower tree (cassia fistula); an apple blossom tree (cassia javanica); an ice cream creeper (antigonon leptopus); two hedge plants (names so far unknown to me); and, of course, the grass.
Actually, I’m thrilled beyond words. I’d thought I wouldn’t have too much trouble getting the golden shower tree, because it’s very common in Bangalore. But the java cassia is rare here, so I wasn’t very optimistic. In any case, multiple visits to Lalbagh had drawn a blank on both accounts. As for the ice cream creeper, I’ve never heard of it or seen it here. I know of it only because it used to adorn the walls in my maternal grandmother’s house and that was in Chandigarh. I actually thought I might have to buy it online.
All the trees – gulmohar, jacaranda, golden shower, and java cassia, have been on my wishlist ever since I began to dream about the garden we’d have in this new home of ours. The ice cream creeper was a later entrant, but no less dear. The grass I’d always been determined to have, despite what seemed like an uphill battle to get it going. The hedge had been an impulse desire, something I’d seen very effectively done elsewhere and thought, vaguely, that it might be nice. I’d hoped to get some of the elements of my garden together in this monsoon season, but I’d resigned myself to a long and potentially fruitless wait to complete the list.
And now, all of a sudden, in the space of one week, I have all of them right in front of my eyes. It’s almost too good to be true.
Planting is tiring hard work. Amit did almost all of the digging, but even so. By the time we had our two trees, dozen hedge plants, and sweet little ice cream creeper planted, my body was aching from top to toe. And we haven’t even started on the grass yet. The swimming pool is still rich black compost awaiting a layer of red soil, and the trees are all just saplings, little babies that sway perilously in the breeze looking as though they might snap in the middle at any moment. But in my mind, I see it all 20 years from today – a lush expanse of green underfoot and overhead, punctuated by red, yellow, purple, and pink flowers in the trees, with flashes of pink, orange, purple, and white from the bougainvillea and a wash of pink from the ice cream creeper below. Some day, all going well, my garden will look like that.
Right now, however, it looks like this.
Golden shower or golden chain or Indian laburnum or what’s actually supposed to be called Cassia Fistula – yellow flowers and it flowers even when it’s quite small, so hopefully I only have to wait four or five years.
The ice cream creeper, antigonon leptopus. It should have a riot of pretty little pink flowers. My aunt has warned me that it grows like a weed and will be springing up all over the place in no time. Doesn’t look like much right now, though, does it? The kids are going to be disappointed with this one – they expect it to grow ice cream (and who can blame them?).
And this one is a bit of a surprise. It was a geranium when we planted it months ago. Then we went off on vacation and nobody watered it for a week or so and all the other flowering plants in its neighborhood died. This one looked pretty much dead too. But I kept on watering it and what do you know – it now has flowers!
And finally, here’s what the trees are going to look like 20 years from now (these photos courtesy the internet).