The backyard garden is a tiny but happening place, more so ever since mother moved in and brought along with her, her vegetable plants in grow bags. In her collection are brinjal, green chilly, okra, ivy gourd, bitter gourd and long beans. By the way, did you know long beans are an ancient vegetable, with wild varieties of these plants still growing in tropical Africa? Neither did I, just happened to read it now. Trivia: they are also called long-podded cowpea, asparagus bean, snake bean, and/or Chinese long bean. Ohh la la. So many names for one bean!
Mother has now gone to visit my brother and so taking care of her plants has fallen on us. Not that we do as good a job as her. Well, in fact I do practically nothing other than give occasional suggestions on how to go about caring for them, walk around enjoying their presence, take pictures and perhaps write a blog like this one on them. The ‘taking care’ proper is more of the L&M’s forte.
The last time I checked, the long beans were covered with ants. When I told mother she said they, meaning the ants, had to eat too, so let ’em. This attitude is great news. I am hoping hungry parakeets would hear about the generous offer and fly over to feast on the few tender beans before the ants finish them all. And IF they do, believe me, I would be ready and waiting with my camera. The other day I noticed the rufous treepie perched near the bean vine and thought, ‘Hello! Here’s another fan of the long beans.’ But the bird was only interested in pecking at the ants nibbling the beans. Or may be it was some other insects, because it flew off after a few pecks.
The fresh mint is flourishing. The pani koorka or the Mexican mint, a semi-succulent perennial plant with a pungent oregano-like flavor is too. The aloe vera has flowered. The three varieties of hibiscus have blooms and on them frolic the sunbirds and tailorbirds. The lantana camara bush, which was planted only as a butterfly bait, has had a mysterious ailment and lost all leaves and flowers as if overnight. So the butterflies have to make do with the hibiscus and the ixora flowers, both red and orange kind. The mossanda refuses to flower, staying green, and growing greener by the day.
The neem has put out fresh, tender leaves. Next to it is growing a cinnamon tree, still young. We are debating whether it is indeed cinnamon or a variant, whose leaves are used to roll a sweet dough made of jaggery, scraped coconut, bananas and rice poweder, which is then steamed to make a yummy something called therali. But for now we believe it’s cinnamon. To its right is an as yet small tree whose fruit is called the rama pazham or bullock’s heart. I am not too fond of it, but its counterpart, the sita pazham or custard apple is a hot favorite.
The nameless plant with lavender flowers comes next. And on its leaf I found a golden colored insect who stared at me open-mouthed when I took its picture. The drumstick tree in the neighbor’s garden has branches growing right into our space, and on its flowers blue-winged carpenter bees buzz away. What did I tell you, a pocket-sized space, but a happening place, the backyard.
The other day I had to call mother and inform her of the sad demise of her bitter gourd vine. Luci had got herself entangled in it while involved in tracking down a bandicoot rat and unceremoniously brought it down. It is another matter that the bandicoot rat probably was on the other side of the continent by the time she went after it. That scarce matters to Luci, what matters is only the scent, and the scent existed in the here and now, and she simply had to go after it the clumsy Labradorean way. Mother laughed at the death of her plant, but then who can ever be angry with Luci?
©Shail Mohan 2018