A labour of…erm…love.

I found myself questioning my motivations at the end of a day spent doing something generally regarded as a relaxing pastime.

It was (relatively) early Sunday morning that I was seized by a sudden urge to beautify my courtyard. To that end, a trip to the nearby plant nursery was deemed a necessary expedition, and once again I am struck by how willingly Huz lets himself be dragged along by my whims. The day promised to be a scorcher, and I’m sure his idea of a leisurely Sunday morning did not involve browsing a plant nursery in the sun. Yet, instead of perusing the delightful new Express Tribune spread out under the fan in the living room, he was to be found driving me to Lalazar….in other words, foliage heaven.

My goals were simple: I needed to add a few plants to my as yet nascent vegetable garden. Ideally, it would have been more fun to get the seeds so I could revel in the joys of germination, but the sheer convenience of the availability of half-grown plants in this teeming nursery easily pushed over my desire to grow from scratch.

the spinach i am growing from seed
and still growing..

My courtyard had a variety of aspirations, Thai, Italian, Mexican and Greek being amongst them, but after giving it a much needed makeover, however, it seems to have assumed an unassuming identity all its own. The main feature, if it can be called that, is a trellis made of bamboo, which affords a partial, dappled shade over half the courtyard. The idea was to train a few creepers over the top, which would eventually not only add a rustic, romantic and wild charm, but also mesh over the gaps in the bamboo and create a verdant shadiness underneath.

the bamboo trellis..

Fate has thus far conspired against me though, and the yellow-flowered Allamanda I have tried to proliferate refuses to cooperate, and keeps getting infested with those vile white bugs that feed on budding leaves and cause black rot.

a glimpse of the lone surviving Allamanda

So, it was time to look for a different creeper, and browsing through Lalazar, I chanced upon the one I was looking for. I don’t know what it’s called, but I have a nostalgic connection with it, as it reminds me of sunny childhood weekends spent happily with my cousin Sheroo. This creeper blooms with delicate long-stemmed flowers in shades of pink, which you can join together on their own to form chains of flowers…these can be looped together at varying lengths to form necklaces and bracelets, and a single stem can fit into its own flower to make a ring. We used to pick clumps of these hanging flowers, make lots of chains and adorn ourselves with them, pretending to be Hawaiian or something and I was delighted to find it, despite being warned by Sheroo that it attracts bees, and immediately asked the head gardener at the nursery to fish it out from the jungle of tangled creepers it was enmeshed in.

Huz and I walked triumphantly out of the nursery, having acquired some lovely citrus-fruiting lemon and tangerine pots, a couple of fragrant mint and curry-patta pots, the nostalgic creeper, a distinctly tropical frangipani and a typically subcontinental Flame of the forest a.k.a Gulmohar, the latter having been advised by my mother (presumably to indulge her own nostalgia)

The thing about buying plants from nurseries is that you need to re-pot them, as they invariably come in rather shabby, mossy-looking ones. Transplanting them into bigger containers also gives the roots more room to spread out, and the more comfortably anchored plant can then proceed to realise its full potential and grow bigger and stronger. Therefore, after the nursery visit, it became imperative to make our way to a ‘gamlay-wala’. These pot sellers can be found dotting the landscape especially near nurseries and they are open air enterprises, presenting the buyer with a cornucopia of pottery and clay-related decorative objects.

There is something earthy about clay pots, and I am drawn to them in their purest form, unadorned and unpainted. Choosing pots for re-planting is a pleasure, and I watched with satisfaction as the shopkeeper lugged and deposited two large and two medium sized pots into the boot of the car. These we happily drove home, and I smiled in anticipation, mentally rubbing my hands in glee, as I contemplated an afternoon of peaceful gardening.

Five hours later, I am covered in sweat and dirt. My hair has been whipped frizzy by the wind. My hands are sore and calloused from lifting and pulling and pushing and digging and my aching back is a painful reminder that I am no longer in my twenties. Yet, a lot of work has been done, almost entirely by me. Plants have been re-potted, dying plants uprooted and thrown out, the entire courtyard swept and re-arranged. Later, as the labours of the day manifest themselves in their full achiness, and I am forced to take painkillers and groan pathetically enough to induce Huz to give me a much-needed back massage, I wonder why I subject myself to these bouts of insanity. Anyone would pay a ‘maali’ to do the work for them and have a beautifully tended garden with absolutely none of the effort. Or, I could just stop trying to delude myself into believing I have a green thumb, and just….stop. Who needs greenery? Who needs to grow their own veggies? Who needs to learn more about compost? Why is it so important for me to have my own lemon tree, if it means watching out for caterpillars? I broke my own heart last week when I used bad judgment and tried transferring my cucumber seedlings into multiple pots and jeopardised their wonderful growth at my own hands.

the lone surviving cucumber seedling..

Perhaps the answer is sheer doggedness, and the stubborn desire to understand what makes plants tick. The madness lies, of course, in doing it without help, and without gloves, and with a tendency towards respiratory allergies. Despite everything, it was still an afternoon well spent, and when I lean out of a window that overlooks the courtyard, I do feel a twinge of pride and happiness at my unskilled yet passionate efforts. There’s no sappy ‘being at one with Nature’ feeling. I think I just like watching things grow. And I guess messing around with dirt is my thing. 🙂

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10 thoughts on “A labour of…erm…love.

  1. saxophone April 20, 2010 / 4:10 am

    hey mun..thoroughly enjoyable read….i love your writing and wonder at you being my sister…does your eloquence stem from extensive reading with a dictionary in your hand….happy to see you kept alive at least one cucumber plant and hopefully we’ll get to eat it’s fruit…must come over to peruse your erm labour of love…:)

  2. aamir82 April 20, 2010 / 7:47 pm

    thats a brilliant post munira! totally agreed with u on the “maali” thing..
    u should do a series.. i wanna see ’em grow too 🙂 great screenshots and captions..

  3. suresh manian April 29, 2010 / 9:33 am

    Quite a joy. Reading it, I meant. I personally would rather just hang around, chatting with the gardener as he goes about his business for my pleasure:)

  4. auntyuta June 3, 2013 / 8:01 pm

    I’m glad I found this post of yours about gardening, You wrote this more than three years ago. But I guess it could have been written today, Or please tell me, dear Munira, what changes you made during the last three years. Love to hear from you! 🙂

    • Munira June 4, 2013 / 6:22 am

      Thanks to you, I read it again 🙂
      Well…I have done a lot since then…so many experiments, some successes, some failures. I guess the enthusiasm has worn out a bit as I have found other pursuits along the way, so gardening has taken a backseat. I’m happy to report that the courtyard is flourishing right now though, without much help from me. I love sitting there with a mug of tea in the evening or sometimes late at night with a few lights on. It’s my peaceful outdoor living room, wild and green…. 🙂

  5. auntyuta June 4, 2013 / 6:30 am

    Sounds lovely, Munira. 🙂
    We too enjoy tea or coffee breaks sitting in our overgrown backyard. Our trees have grown a real lot which gives beautiful shade in summer. In winter we love to sit in the sun. Now in our winter we have a bit of a problem to find a sunny spot. The trees take so much of the sun away!

    • Munira June 4, 2013 / 6:41 am

      I love your garden…to me, it’s perfect, just the way gardens should be. Organized landscaped gardens have their good points I’m sure, but I am a fan of overgrown plants and trees….they seem more natural to me somehow, and people who grow food seem more in tune with what counts in life. Not sure what that is exactly, but an affinity for nature must count for something! 🙂
      We’re travelling to Sri Lanka on Friday and I’m a bit worried about our cat. I do intend to keep a journal and take a lot of photos, so hopefully there’ll be a lot to blog about when we get back.

  6. auntyuta June 4, 2013 / 6:44 am

    Have a good trip, Munira. Looking forward to your bog about it! 🙂

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