Saturday, 1 October 2011

Black Pepper, Bonsais and Fruit Trees

The title of this post sums up the highlights of my mother-in-law's garden. Last weekend, my family and I visited my in-laws, who live in Bangalore. An avid gardener, my mother-in-law has created a charming garden over several decades. The garden is well-balanced, one that has fruit trees, vegetables, herbs, flowers and ornamental foliage plants adequately represented.
L to R: Fern, Begonia, Unknown, Lime, Rose, Succulent, Orchid Crown of Thorns, Ornamental Foliage and Anthurium
A Section of the Garden Downstairs
The narrow strips of land bordering the house are cluttered with plants and trees of various kinds. Many fruits and vegetables grow here, leaving just enough space to move around. On the other hand, the roof garden is well organised and more ornamental. Here, the family enjoys its evening tea sessions.
The Family Chai Adda: Part of the Roof Garden
Besides other plants, the roof garden has an an envious collection of succulents. And though I was given several specimens of these, I must admit, I haven't quite succeeded in growing them. Could I blame my failure on the humidity of Chennai or is it my habit of over-watering that did them in? Succulents and cacti, though hardy, need to be watered carefully and I haven't really figured it out.
A Succulent. Harvested Paddy Hanging Beside It
Rose Tinted Succulent
Another Fleshy Succulent
The roof garden also boasts of two dainty bonsai trees. They are both Ficus benjamina that have aged gracefully over nearly two decades. While I have been witness to their re-potting, there are many other tricks of the bonsai trade that I am yet to learn. Pruning, wiring and careful watering are few of the secrets.
Ficus Benjamina Bonsai
Ornamentals add beauty to a garden. But homegrown vegetables and fruits are what truly delight us. Currently, the list of fruits and vegetables include limes, bitter gourds, pumpkins, pomegranates, custard apples, chikoos and coconuts.
Bitter Gourd Creeper Climbing on the Water Well
Near the entrance of the house is the Chikoo or Sapota tree. This tree seems to be perpetually brimming with chikoos that are intensely sweet. While the outside of a ripe chikoo looks and feels like sandpaper, the inside is soft and almost creamy. No wonder sapotas are excellent in milk shakes. Picking sapotas at the right stage is very tricky. They can be picked before they ripen, but if picked prematurely, they remain stone hard and will not ripen. Yet, if one were to wait for the fruit to ripen on the tree, chances are that they will be eaten by bats. (Fruit bats are hugely fond of Chikoos.)
Sapota or Chikoo Tree
The two coconut trees, planted by my husband and his sister in their childhood are also extremely prolific. My mother-in-law has to constantly find ways of distributing the hundreds of coconuts that are harvested each season. While some are given away to the coconut tree climber, some make it to the neighbours' kitchens. Still others are carried all the way to Chennai, whenever they visit us. The remaining coconuts are dried and used as copra.
Under the Coconut Tree
At present, one of the coconut trees supports a Black Pepper vine. As you can see, the vine is laden with pepper corns. Yet, this was not always the case. Apparently, Black Pepper needs plenty of mulch at its roots as it likes moist soil. It was only after my mother-in-law added loads of coconut husk fibre at the base of the vine, that the pepper yield increased. I also learnt from her how peppercorns get their various colours. The green unripe peppercorns are picked and dried in the sun to get black pepper. To get white pepper, the same black pepper is boiled and its skin is removed. And if you want red pepper, wait for the green unripe peppercorns to ripen, just as you would tomatoes. 
Unripe Pepper Corns on the Vine
Our trip to Bangalore was also marked by a visit to the famous Lalbagh gardens. For those who don't know, the Lalbagh Botanical Garden initially a garden created for Mysore royalty in the late 18th century  is a sprawling garden and a botanical study centre of international repute. We had a delightful picnic lunch under the trees there. And after lunch, we did some garden shopping at the nursery. While I chose some seeds and bulbs, my mother-in-law bought large sacks of horse manure and vermicompost. No doubt her plants are well fed. But they thrive for another reason: Tender Loving Care (TLC). My mother-in-law regularly talks to her plants. A little love goes a long way.
At Lalbagh Gardens: Bottle Brush Tree in Bloom


  1. Wow, that is a really interesting post. I think you have identified for me the fruit I tried once when holidaying in Shimla - the Sapota. Having a pepper vine in your garden must be really amazing. And what would I give to have a coconut tree like that in my garden?!

  2. Hi Anita...this is exactly the place after my heart!! I kept admiring the plants and the way some of them are displayed and I didn't want your post to end!! What a collection and they all look so healthy and happy!

    Love the chai adda! I think Bangalore gardeners are also blessed by the weather gods too! BTW, I love the paddy displayed on the hanging pot.

  3. I agree with you , Kanak. Bangalore has wonderful, garden-friendly weather. No wonder, Bangalore is known as Garden City.

  4. vasanti said:

    Wow! What a lovely garden! Lovely pepper and coconuts.Haven't seen such healthy pepper outside

  5. Stunning, stunning! Convey my regards to your MIL and let her know I admire her garden. :)

  6. Hello,

    what a beautiful series of photographs of plants, flowers and trees. Really very attractive.

    Greetings from Holland by Helma