I have to buy a couple of new plants for my garden. My rose bushes are not doing too well, the vethalai kodi (betel vine) wilted in the summer heat and the curry plant has contracted a strange disease, it puts out dull coloured berries that turn stone hard and there are fewer and fewer healthy looking leaves. So rose plants, vethalai creeper and a curry plant are a must buys.
I burnt my heart the first year that I created my terrace garden by growing many hibiscus plants, I had the red hibiscus – single-petalled and the muti-petalled, pink and white hibiscus, several hybrid varieties that put out yellow, orange and lilac coloured flowers. They were a treat for butterflies and the bees, but my gardener and I had to wage a perennial war against the two formidable pests that commonly assail hibiscus plants – aphids and white flies. We combated these insects by hosing water, scraping them away from the stem, pinching away the infected leaves, and spraying insecticide as the last option. Though the plants put out many flowers, they succumbed gradually over a period of one year, to the insects that attacked again and again. I had ten varieties of hibiscus plants and not one survived at the end of the year.
I mourned for my hibiscus plants for over a year and sought solace in my jasmines and ixoras that proved to be quite hardy, there was not a colourless, fragranceless day the whole of last year.
Now, a little over a year since the hibiscus debacle, I am emerging a confident gardener. Also, hardcore pragmatism towards gardening has rubbed off on me from my gardener. He has taught me the correct way to tend plants, protect them from pests, fight the pests that attack the plants and if they die, not to mourn. If he were to mourn for one year over every plant that died, he would have had to swap professions.
Now, do not mistake my gardener to be unfeeling. He fiercely protects and tends plants till they die on their own. He will stand by the dying plants, infuse energy and life into every fibre of their existence to make them live a day longer.
I know that when I buy a new curry plant, the old one will stay, pathetically sticking its arms and berries out. The plant will be tended till the day it dies. Similarly my entire lack luster rose plants will get to stay, pruned and tended carefully week after week as long as they live.
Also, when saplings of basil, sungu pushpam (Clittoria vine) and pasala keerai ( Indian spinach) germinate on their own in pots assigned to other plants, my gardener lets these little intruders stay on. An errant sungu pushpam creeper will cling its dainty tendril all over the thorny stems of the rose bush to merrily put out purple flowers. The rose bush gracefully looks on like a perfect host. And here my plant activist will indulge the camaraderie between the two plants.
Since my gardener does not have the heart to move out a single plant I have half a dozen basil plants, many pasala kodi creepers, four pots of chrysanthemums, innumerable clittoria vines being buddy with temple tree, oleander and ixora plants. I wonder what to do with these multiple plants, should I gift them away? Receiving plants as gifts is too much a responsibility, can’t put plants away as you would the books that are gifted to you. I care too much for my friends to burden them with such a responsibility. So all the plants get to stay and my over crowded terrace turns a veritable haven for butterflies, dragon flies, honey bees, bumble bees, squirrels, pigeons and crows.