My Secret Garden

Along with a manor house of slightly more than modest proportions, we  `inherited` a garden when we moved to the Nilgiris. There were two largish slivers of lawn, row after row of flower beds, half an acre of kitchen garden. The last blooms of summer flamed here and there, a veritable riot of colour. Visions of neatly planned trellises, a flourishing herbery and a rose bowery shone in my mind. It was time to resurrect my green thumb, suppressed by all those years of apartment- box living.

While my gardener Dhanapal came equipped with a prominently green thumb, he wasn`t too good with names, botanical, common or garden. I riffled through all the botany texts I could lay my hands on but the plethora of information therein did not carry too many accompanying (and for me, identifying) photographs. Every time I went to the nurseries, the owners were mysteriously out, leaving me to clear linguistic hurdles with the staff. I'd point to a particularly striking plant and ask its name. They would promplty oblige... with the Tamil name, that is.

I soon discovered that botany is a science created mainly to mislead amateur gardeners. Brilliant fuchsia-coloured plants were not named fuchsia, instead magenta and white blooms were. If a fantailed miniature tree was called palm, so were a dozen other plants, not one of them looking like a decent palm ought to look. The astrophytum is a cacti, the aconium, which looks like a cacti, is not.

So, my secret garden came up as an act of defiance. I planted exotic blooms and gave them exotic names. ``What are those pretty white flowers,`` my husband would ask. ``Iris lilies,`` I would reply airily. ``Here are some geraniums,`` I once told him, indicating a row of pink flowers. ``I think they are gardenias,`` my spouse said, clearly trying to score one over me, since I know he knows as little about plant names as I do. ``Oh, sorry,`` I said nonchalantly. ``The geraniums are over there.`` He looked at the claret-coloured flowers, then at me, opened his mouth to say something, encountered a look and shut up.

Every morning, I go for a walk down the paved paths of my garden. And I talk to my plants. ``Hi, rambling rose,`` I tell the thorny plant climbing up the sides of the gazebo. It hasn`t flowered yet but I am sure it will produce small roses some time or the other. ``Are you well, honeysuckle,`` I ask the dense creeper in the verandah. The botany text (yup, the same one) told me honeysuckle has deep yellow flowers and dark green foliage; this one has both. ``Well, my lovelies,`` I greet the tall- stemmed blue flowers. I am almost sure they are clerodendrons but they are new additions to my secret garden so I don`t want to wound their sensibiliities. Yet.

Like someone famously said, what's in a name? I know for a fact that I have  a patch of strawberries, a brace of plum trees, a peach tree and two lime trees in my garden. The rest, let it remain a beautiful enigma. For all you know, those blooms down by the drive are crossandras, jacobinias and allamandas. I hope I can convince my botanist aunt that the clump of mauve flowers tinged with white are indeed the digitalis purpurea she is coming to see, all the away from arid Arizona. 

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