Thursday, May 28, 2015

Story of my Chinese Hat Shrub

A group photo in a 'plant subject', you may be wondering.  This is the only photo I have in which the person connected with the plant is in. I have put her name "Chitra" there. Her father was Dr.C.Srikantia, seated second from right, son-in-law of my great grandfather and a close chum of my grandfather [explains why they are seated next to one another]. Even after Srikantia lost his first wife [in 1918, another interesting story - read to click here if you like], our family kept in touch with them.  Chitra was the daughter from his second wife [seated in front of Chitra]. This is a picture from 1956, taken at my grandfather's 60th birthday. We kept in touch till all three died at different times. Chitra was the last to go, after being alone for some years, in 2001 or so.  We used to call her 'Chitru'.

Going to Srikantia's house was a always a great joy to me because they had a vast yard full of fruit trees, in Yadavgiri. Chitru had to sell the garden portion in her later lifetime.  In the 60s and 70s she was kind to bring guavas, mangoes, papayas or sapotas whenever she visited us and when I went there usually with my aunt, I was allowed to pluck guavas, which I enjoyed.  

In my young age, Chitru had also given us many toys from Japan where Srikantia had gone to study as early as in the 1930s. They are still in our showcase, much cherished.

 But one living item is equally cherished is in the form of a plant, commonly known as 'Chinese Hat' or 'Cup and saucer'.  Botanically, Holmskioldia sanguinea. 

Chitru was very fond of gardening. She had grown some plants around her house and along the compound wall. When I was older,  and spotting my love for gardening, she used to take me around her garden and briefly tell about the plants. It must be in the mid 1980s that she gave me cuttings of this lovely shrub.  "You grow them, they will be very nice." She herself cut suitable twigs for me, from all the three colours she had.  

At that time, we were in the house at Chamarajapuram. We had a lot of space around the house that was dotted with several plants.  I had started to take over as 'gardener'.  It was with great delight that I watched baby leaves sprout from Chitru's cuttings.  When they were mature enough for transplant, I put them along the compound wall where I had planned their space.  They grew beautifully. I had made the yard greener than at any other time.  This is the only photo [which I took before the house had to be vacated] where a part of the Chinese Hat shrub is visible.  Though there was a small film camera, I never used it for taking views of the yard.

They were so attractive when in bloom and it was not difficult to maintain, despite its irregular shape. 
Three colours.  Yellow appears to be rare.

In 1998, I left this house with family to move into another house in neighbouring Lakshmipuram built by my great grandfather in 1911.  Mother and brother continued to live there. There was enough open space for many shrubs in my 'new abode' also.  I took cuttings of all of them to grow alongside the compound wall.  I had made the yard green here also. See image [taken from the top of a new house which was coming up in 2008] below and look for 'Chinese Hat', labeled.  

In 2008-9, the two houses underwent a family division.  The Chamarajapuram house had to be vacated. Now this house also underwent a physical division. So my garden also shifted from 'that half to this half' as I continued to live in the same place while the brother sold off his half.  With the plot divided, the area along the compound wall was the only space left for my gardening activity. Most of the front yard was out of question due to the presence of 3 trees.  Once again, all the shrubs that had become bushy in 8-9 years were in jeopardy.  I called this 'green tunnel', comprising of Caesalpinia, Thevetia peruviana, Chinese Hat, etc. 

A completely new look was on the cards. Had to chop off well established shrubs.

My 'new' garden taking shape.

The Chinese Hat is the standout plant at the back with red blooms, 2009.

This had grown beautifully and had become nicely woody.

See a part of the yellow blooms and the red ones to the right, where the scooter shed came.

In 2010, we demolished an old, dilapidated and separate structure to build a new house, behind our old house.  So more changes had become inevitable in this yard.  Two sheds had become necessary.  One scooter shed was planned where the Chinese Hat plants were and another for other junk items.  I somehow wanted to retain at least one Chitru's plant in her memory, moreover for its great liking by Sunbirds and Tailorbirds. I could not save the yellow variety. Since the shed was just a tiled shelter, I left the red one as it is.  

Purple-rumped Sunbird, 'doing a hummingbird'!  A rare shot I managed. 

Now this plant would have its feet in the shade and head in the sun

Feet in the shade. No further explanation required! Its roots can draw water from the ground. 

Head in the sun!  
Outside the compound wall, the passing cows would do the pruning job! 

A flower thief.  Morning walkers do this nasty act.  They steal other flowers like hibiscuses or the likes and clean up whatever is in sight. 

I pruned the well-grown branches to allow my new vine Jacquemontia to grow and kept the Chinese Hat branches to overhang outside the compound.  Jacquemontia took over to give some blue sprays. 

I continue to enjoy the beauty of the Chitru Shrub while the Sunbirds feast on the nectar. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Peacock Flower Shrub - beautiful plant

Peacock Flower, Pride of Barbados, Dwarf Poincinia, Mexican Bird of Paradise are all common names of "Caesalpinia pulcherrima'.  In Kannada it is called ಕೆಂಜಿಗೆ [kenjige].  But I never knew any of these names during my school days, from where my memory of this little tree-like shrubby plant starts.  See this picture of 2011 and notice the compound wall in the background.  During my days there in the 1960s all along that compound wall were several of these shrubs, which were looking beautiful. 

The people you see in the foreground were all in the same class and we had gathered there at the First Alumni Meet of Christ the King Convent [2011]. What a grand and thrilling occasion it was, as many old mates were seeing each other after 41 years.  We were children again! We were together from Class 1 till 7.  

Among other highly nostalgic memories many of us recalled that row of  Peacock Flower plants. In our smaller classes, we were plucking the leaves and buds from the drooping tips of slender branches.  I later learnt in College Botany that it was called 'inflorescence'.

That part.  
Why did we pluck?  Because, there was a funny 'belief' among the kids that if this was kept pressed in our school books for some days, it would turn into a lovely little kitten!!  Most of us remembered how we used to do keep it in the book with a mantra "Gulteria gulteria, give me a kitten". We knew that plant as 'Gulteria'.  In fact in Hindi, it is 'Guletura'.

It was my favourite plant also.  For some reasons that I could not think of at that tender age I used to look at it often. It was most probably for its neatness in the flower and bud arrangement and even the compound leaves.

Later wherever I saw this, I could not help extending my glance and reminiscing those days. 

In my workplace campus also there are a few planted at strategic spots so that they stand out against the architecture.  I think it was from one of these I got seeds in 1999 or so.  I had moved over to our ancestral house in 1998 where I could have at least three of these growing along our own compound wall.  It was something like a dream-come-true. 

In ten years I had grown 3 of these and other shrubs to look like that [above]. 2008 photo.  Will continue with this short story after you see some of the pictures of the flowers I had taken in their full glory.

 I had 3 varieties.  Red-yellow...


...and yellow.

The yard used to look like this at the time of property division in 2008.   I used to call it as 'green tunnel'.

With the other portion of the house being literally divided and most of my gardening area gone to that portion, this narrow yard was the only suitable space to pursue my gardening.  So, the only option left was to chop down all the shrubby plants I had grown for about 8 years.

Simultaneously while renovation work went on, I had slowly shifted some plants to this side after completely removing the roots also. 

You saw a long shot of our house up there.... now it became like this, after the house got ready and white-washed.

My new-look garden did not last long.  In 2010, we planned a small new house in the place where the tiled structure just behind our big house was.  The last surviving Peacock Flower plant was in jeopardy. Seen above.  It was in the corner of the plot and had grown quite tall.  [Below]

This was the start - the axing of it to make way for the new house.

Basement diggers take a short break at where roots of my last favourite Peacock Flower plant had grown.

Now, with all the old plants gone, but two [another two stories], my garden shrunk in area....

I miss the lovely plant as much as the Rose-ringed parakeets - they were very fond of the raw seeds.

The Sunbirds too relished the nectar... not to speak of several butterflies and bees.  
I continue to cherish the memory of bringing the plucked part home to make a kitten!