What a difference latitude makes!
Here in Delhi, I've arrived to poppies, snapdragons, hollyhocks, dahlias and bourgainvillea in riotous bloom! Not to mention hibiscus, gerberas, verbena and amaryllis! It makes my gardening limbs ache! How I long to grab a fork and get digging.
Alas, while we are surrounded by lovely communal parks, they are strictly the domain of the local malis, or gardeners, who are themselves beholden to local ladies of influence. I say "communal parks" (they are owned by the city and maintained by our local resident's association)... but given India's propensity for simmering, nasty, centuries-long territorial disputes, you have to be very careful how and where you tread!
Our lovely park, pictured, seems to be the unofficial domain of a lady neighbor, let's call her Mrs Verma. She's a very pretty, pleasant lady with a quick smile and long beautiful hair. She lives next door to us in a building of three flats, all occupied by her extended family.
In England, when a lady does her gardening... she might don some gloves, grab her pruning shears and sun hat and gently sweat over her roses... Here, ladies never, ever break a sweat.
She pointed. He clipped.
Clip... clip...... clip!
Many times, I've seen her instructing the malis on where to plant things. She goes away, they dig, plant, feed, water.
Yet Mrs Verma is very proud of 'her' garden. She routinely chides small children and their ayahs, informing them that she spends a lot of money on the flowers. She often yells from her balcony if older children venture into the park with a ball (have you seen what a football can do to stately gerberas?) Quite often, subtle bamboo barriers go up... or malis magically appear right at playtime to start flooding the lawn with smelly water.
My personal gardening domain consists of one large balcony that catches all the morning sun... and a sizeable concrete roof terrace where India's mid-day rays will burn a hole through all but the toughest leaf. It was exactly a year ago that I began to turn the upstairs terrace into what I hoped would be a lush, tropical garden.
My bright idea of turning a tandoor oven into a terracotta composter turned out not to be so bright after all! In the first rains, the un-fired tandoor began to wash away. And half my plants died over the summer... so back to square one. The trouble is that while in England, the gardening season is just beginning, here in India, it's nearly over! Once the temperatures soar to near 50℃ (122℉), I'll be lucky if anything survives, including me!
So in celebration of India's precocious spring... let me leave you with a lovely image of Indian gooseberries (aamla) - much bigger than their dainty English counterparts - though just as tart! And a couple of recipes for what we Indians do with them:
10-15 aamla, seeded, quartered
2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds (or substitute 3 tsp fennel seeds)
Handful fresh or dried curry leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tsp red chilli powder
Salt to taste
4 tbsp oil
Dry roast the mustard, curry leaves, fenugreek and/or fennel seeds in a pan until they change color. Coarse grind. Heat the oil. Add the turmeric and the aamla and cook 5-10 minutes until tender. Add the chilli powder, salt and dry roasted powder and mix well. Take off the heat, allow to cool. Turn into sterilized jar, seal and mature for at least 10 days.
6 Indian aamla, or 10 English ones, seeded
2-4 green chillies (depending on taste)
4 garlic cloves, peeled
large bunch of fresh coriander
3 sprigs of mint
2 tsp cumin seeds
salt, to taste
Blend. That's it... you're done! Eat with just about any savory to add a super-healthy anti-oxidant laden kick!!
Or good old-fashioned English CRUMBLED:
Best recipe I've found so far. Just make sure you refrigerate your crumble and then re-heat the next day for even gooier, oozier taste! Maybe serve with a bit of mango ice cream?? Yum!