My morning walk amidst the beautifully landscaped environs of the gated community where our children live, brought on a sudden wave of nostalgia for the gardens of my childhood. Last night’s rain had washed the shrubs and trees, and the blossoms and flowers looked bright and cheerful against the verdant hues. Bright red poinsettias and hibiscus, fragrant frangipani and night-blooming jasmine flowers, laburnum and gulmohar trees still in their infancy but laden with bunches of flowers, and the multi-coloured lantana bushes…i was admiring them all when suddenly it struck me that my sub conscious mind was rattling out names that were such a familiar part of my childhood!
One of the many privileges of growing up in small cantonments around the country was living in houses, even British-era-bungalows, that were surrounded by large open spaces so perfect for converting into manicured garden-spaces. My parents were avid gardeners and one of their favourite stories used to be about moving into a newly constructed government house and landscaping the area around it (it was a corner house) into a beautiful garden that won the first prize in the local gardening show. And the biggest boast was the nine-inch-diameter marigold flower that had blossomed from the specially ordered ‘Pocha’ seeds (just as an aside, this vegetable and flower seeds seller comes up on Google search even today, and those seeds were parcelled and sent by post in an era when there were no courier-delivery-services!). Under the guidance of my father or mother some work would always be going on…the previous season’s withering and drooping plants removed and fresh manure mixed in and the soil prepared for the blossoms of the coming season. Summers, in North India were lean periods but some colourful ‘portulacas’, ‘cosmos’ with their orange-yellow blooms, ‘zinnias’-both single and double varieties, the ‘cockscomb’ (probably so called because their crested flower heads actually resemble the plume atop a roosters head!) with their fiery maroon-red large furry blooms, multi-hued ‘balsams’ and of course, those green balls of ‘kochia’ plants (such a soothing sight in the blazing heat)…they would all flourish and bloom in the garden. Canna lilies flowered through the rains and before the winter flowers were planted, came those beautiful ‘chrysanthemums’, each plant weighed down by the profuse bunches that would suddenly bloom.
The maximum enthusiasm went in to preparing for the winter garden that provided great colour and joy till the month of April. It was a set, organised routine that began with the thorough digging of flower beds around the lawn. The gardener would make a trellis-like structure with bamboos and rope to form an outer wall on which the sweet-pea plants would climb as they grew (ah! what sweet fragrance they would spread!) Thereafter in decreasing order of their heights would come a host of others—hollyhocks, larkspur, lady’s lace, snap dragon, phlox, ice-flowers are just some names that still spring to mind. The childish glee with which we would pluck the snap dragon and squeeze it laterally to make it open and close its mouth fancying that it looked like a barking dog…it still makes me smile.
The space-crunch of city-living has unfortunately made those pastimes just beautiful memories. Nor do our lifestyles allow us to spend that kind of time coaxing the soil to throw up such blossoms and blooms. And so one tries to relive some of those days by bringing in some flowering pots into our apartment-balconies and enjoying aesthetically laid out public parks and gardens. Keats may seem out of context here but for some reason when i think of flowers, his lines spring to mind~
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness…”