A monsoon garden's bounty

gardening

A monsoon garden's bounty

Are the rains wreaking havoc in your garden? Worry not, as Rashmi Shrinivas shows even wet soil is good for some plants.

Are the rains wreaking havoc in your garden? Worry not, as Rashmi Shrinivas shows even wet soil is good for some pWith Monsoon reaching its peak and soil remaining damp all the time, most gardeners wonder how to maintain their garden since not many plants thrive well in such a soil. Though water in various quantities is essential for all the plants to survive and grow, some plants simply love damp soil though well drained. It is only wise to select such plants for your Monsoon garden and enjoy the beauty.

Bird of Paradise or Crane flower, botanically known as Strelitzia is one such ornamental plant that thrives very well in well drained, rich, loamy, wet soil. It is a close relative of popular Canna, Ginger, Banana etc. The leaves resemble those of Canna, but have a long stalk. Its orange and bluish purple flower emerges from a green covering called Spathe which remains perpendicular to the stem, thus giving the appearance of a beautiful bird sitting on the plant and hence the name. It is a native of South Africa where it grows on river banks. Though it may grow taller in other areas, in Bangalore conditions its height is generally limited to 2-3 feet. Though it may not flower for one or two years initially, once it starts flowering, it blooms several times a year, a real treat for your long wait! Once established, it thrives well for many years.

Its cousin False Bird of Paradise or Lobster’s claw, botanically known as Heliconia, is an equally beautiful plant that thrives very well in wet soil rich in humus. It grows by underground stem horizontally and the slender pseudo stem rising up vertically is made up of overlapping leaf sheaths. It reaches a height of about 6-7 feet. Its flowers generally in yellow or bright orange colours, are borne in large panicles. In red and yellow variety, the inflorescence droops down, just like in Banana, probably because its weight is too much for its slender stalk to hold. Interestingly, what appears to be flower in this plant is actually a bract which holds a tiny flower within. This bright red coloured waxy bract with yellowish tip remains fresh for many days though the flower within falls down periodically. Since each inflorescence contains not less than twenty flowers and every day a flower blooms, it lasts for several days on plant. Flowers are arranged alternately on either side of a long stalk. Though this plant as well may not flower in the initial year, it need not be discarded because, once established, it never dies and yields long lasting attractive flowers year after year! Once all the flowers in its infloresc­e­nce are completely bloomed, that parti­c­ular plant is to be discarded, because each plant flowers only once in its life time just as Banana, Canna etc. Since it starts flowering in Monsoon, of late it also finds place in Ganesh Chaturthi flower decoration.      
                                 Variegated Shell Ginger, botanically known as Alpinia zerumbet is another ideal plant for wet soil. In fact, it does not like the dry soil at all. It is native of east Asia. A close cousin of Ginger, it is more popular for its attractive leaves having yellowish stripes on them than its flowers, though it has gained its name because of its shell pink flower buds resembling the sea shells. Each flower is yellow from inside, with red throat. It starts flowering from second year onwards. It generally attains a height of about 2 feet and grows like a small bush just as Bird of Paradise.    
                                                       Butterfly Ginger Lily, is for those who are fond of fragrant flowers in their garden. A close relative of ginger, it is botanically known as Hedychium and in Kannada, as Sugandhi. As the name suggests, it bears strong but pleasant floral smell. The plants resemble the ginger plants and reach a height of about 3-4 feet in Bangalore. Fragrant and delicate white flowers that bloom in the evening, resemble the butterfly and hence the name. 

Do you know that our own Turmeric plant is grown more for its leaves than its roots in Western Ghats?  Rice flour smeared on Turmeric leaves and coconut and jaggery mix used as filling before closing and steam boiling is a delicacy in Malnad region and is known as Patholi, a must during Nagarpanchami, Krishnashtami and Ganesh Chaturthi menu. Since no frying pan is used on Nagarpanchami, these Patholis are popular. Sappe Kheer cooked on Gowri Tritiya is flavoured with these leaves. Even sweet idlis of cucumber wrapped in turmeric leaves are common in Malnad cuisine in Monsoon. Turmeric grows very well in wet soil. These plants are sold at the time of Sankranti, and can easily be grown even in pots.
  Ginger bought for our own kitchen use can just be planted horizontally in any pot of suitable size and it gives out vertical plants from the horizontal underground rhizomes. When the plant wilts, falls and dries, the ginger is to be harvested.

One can hardly forget Hydrangea, a popular ornamental plant that thrives very well in wet soil. Though a native of South and East Asia, it is popular in other areas too. This plant with its sizably big serrate roundish leaves tapering at the end, reaches a size of about 2 -3 feet. The flowers borne in a bunch are generally sterile! The beautiful bunch of flowers lasts for many days on the plant. Strangely, colour of flower can be determined by changing the pH level of the soil. If the soil is acidic, the flower bunch turns blue in colour. If the soil is alkaline, the flower bunch turns pink in colour. So, if you want pink flowers, add a bit of lime to the soil. Propagation is either by cuttings or by plants procured from nurseries.

All these plants grow very well on ground and their growth is restricted in pots like many other plants.

Balsam, known as Karnakundala, Gowri or Sone (shravana) hoovu, is anot­her herbaceous south Asian plant with succulent stem that thrives very well in wet soil. Impatiens balsamina is the botanical name of this plant. As the name suggests the plant is impatient to bloom! That means flowers bloom in large numbers. An additional appendage called ‘spur’ existing at the bottom of the petals, gives this flower a special look! They flower profusely. Flowers are in red, orange, purple, white or various shades of these colours because of cross pollinat­ion. Both bear fruits which dehisce the moment they are touched. They produce a large number of seeds. 
The seeds of the former are comparatively larger, since the latter bear tiny seeds. In fact this plant is used in school laboratories to show that roots absorb water and transport it to other parts of the plant by keeping the plant dipped in red/blue ink, which can easily be tracked in the stems. Propagation is either by cuttings or by seeds available in the market. This plant grows well even in pots.

Lastly, when so much is told about various water loving plants whether ornamental, culinary, medicinal or fragrant, there is one plant that does not belong to any of these categories, yet needs a mention here. Because, not very long ago, when slate and chalk piece was still very much in use in schools in rural areas, one popular weed full of water in its stems and leaves was used by school children to wipe their slate. Those with rural background can hardly forget this plant. This plant, known locally as Neerugida, is botanically known as Peperomia. It is a small weed with triangular leaves that grows on all vacant sites in Malnad’s wet soil in Monsoon. Strangely, though a small herb, it is closely related to Pepper, a big climber clinging to the Areca nut or Silver oak trees in plantations!  If you bring this during a casual tour to Western Ghats and grow in your garden, it simply brings back your long-lost childhood!lants.

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