Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Old Ways and New Plants

First off, here is an article from Scroll.in about the successful preservation of a traditional irrigation system that is helping some farmers in northern Kerala and a part of Karnataka to deal with the effects of an ongoing drought:

How Farmers in North Kerala Are Using an Age-Old Water System to Beat the Drought

On the one hand, it is great when traditional, sustainable practices can be preserved and help people cope. At the same time, that even Kerala, usually one of India's less arid states, is struggling with ongoing drought is very worrying indeed.

On a perhaps more lighthearted note, here is another piece briefly profiling the work of several female Indian botanist-plant breeders who are developing new varieties to address particular needs of Indian agriculture and horticulture:

Meet the Women Who Make India's Chillies Hotter, Flowers Cheaper and Mangoes Last Longer

Not that I am always a fan of new hybrids - my love for and fascination with many heirloom flowers and crops should be rather evident on this blog - but this kind of work is still important and cool, and rarely gets any attention.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

New Acquisitions

After lunch with a friend yesterday I could not resist checking out another nursery that was *kind of* on the way back. I was hoping they would suitable waterproof yet tasteful pots for my little rice seedlings but unfortunately all their container options were not really to my taste and very pricey. However, of course I did not walk away entirely empty-handed. I picked up a lovely deep blue pigeon pea (Clitoria ternatea) full of buds, a nice clay pot with three different varieties of Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) - one of the flowers commonly used here to provide color during this, the hottest time of the year - and a little curry leaf sapling (Murraya koenigii).

Butterfly pea buds opening

Three variations of the Madagascar periwinkle

Now off to the library... Of course, I still do not have suitable pots for the some of these new additions and some other things that need potting up, so I am going to have to detour to the  pottery and ceramics market on the way back. They have lovely stuff and by American standards most of it is incredibly cheap. However, lugging home half a dozen large terracotta pieces in an Uber can be a bit awkward.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Rice Again

I was not planning to grow rice this year since I am not home in New England - although I did order seeds of a few more varieties from Wild Folk Farm for next year, out of a fear that those varieties might not be available then - but then a handful of rice seed essentially fell into my lap. A few days ago I bought a bundle of fresh mint at a small neighborhood supermarket here in my part of Delhi. Upon closer examination, I found that it had been tied with a shoot of a rice plant - complete with a ripe panicle of long-grained seeds still attached.

A first few seeds germinating on moist paper towel on the kitchen window sill, soon to be potted up with soil

I sowed a few of the seeds to see if they are indeed viable on some moist paper towel and they are all germinating. Obviously I will try to grow these on, to which end I will have to get some suitable waterproof containers. Even if this batch does not work out however - and I have never before gardened under quite these climatic conditions, so lots of learning for me to do across the board! - I luckily still have some more to try again.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Budding in Berlin: Botanischer Garten Berlin-Dahlem

More from my travels earlier this year, this time the massive Botanic Garden in the Berlin district of Lichterfelde, the largest in Germany - a country where every major university and every city of decent size seems to have an impressive botanical garden. Spring, not surprisingly, was a bit further along here than in Stockholm a week earlier, though not by terribly much. I headed to the massive greenhouse complex first, though afterwards I discovered that there was quite a bit in bloom in the many outdoor areas of the garden, a large part of which is organized geographically around plants' places and habitats of origin.

The steep, imposing Mediterranean House

A Cistus flower in the Mediterranean House

 A Canary Island bellflower (Canarina canariensis) - still always impressive when I see them

Tree ferns in the fernery attached to the Mediterranean House

A view towards the main greenhouse complex from the extensive rock gardens

Indoor tropics

In a wing dedicated mainly to bromeliads

The amazing camellia and azalea house

A particularly sumptuous white camellia

Pillows of azaleas

Lobster claw or kōwhai ngutu-kākā (Clianthus puniceus) in the greenhouse dedicated to plants from Australia and New Zealand

Back outside, spring meadow saffron (Colchicum bulbocodium) emerging

Another spring-blooming Colchicum, Colchicum kesselringii

Cyclamen coum bejeweling the ground

A young deodar or Himalayan cedar (Cedrus deodara)

The beautiful flowers of Amur adonis (Adonis amurensis)

Even with comparatively little to see in the outside areas I spent several hours in the garden. In later spring and summer one can probably spend the better part of a day discovering things. There is also a botanical museum to which I have not been since I was really craving being outside on one of the first nice spring days during my stay in Berlin and in between working inside at the Staatsbibliothek.

Happy Earth Day - We Need to Do Better

I do not often talk explicitly about environmental issues on this blog but they are obviously something I care about deeply - as I feel anyone with a love for gardening should. There are many little individual actions all of us can and should take to help lessen humanity's disastrous impact on the world we call home - from recycling to conserving electricity to avoiding the use of harmful chemicals in our gardening and reducing excessive expanses of water-guzzling, bio-diversity free lawns. However, beyond all of these individual actions at the most local level how we treat our environment is first and foremost a political issue today.

A dhaak or palaash tree (Butea monosperma), well adapted to dry and extremely hot environments, stretching towards the evening sky in a neighborhood park in New Delhi

The political landscape of much of the world appears to have gone into a complete tailspin recently, from the reprehensible regime trying hard to do the absolute worst for everybody in the US to the crazy-eyed Thatcher wannabe seemingly obsessed with unfettered personal power determined to yank the UK out of Europe in as damaging a way as possible, to the complete and utter destruction of democracy under way in countries like Turkey, Venezuela, Hungary, and Poland. France might well join this bandwagon of political insanity with the election that begins tomorrow. Then of course there are places ravaged by outright war, like Syria and Yemen. What often falls by the wayside as we consider all of this is that it is also an environmental catastrophe in the making, as virtually all these populist and/or far-right and/or nationalist movements also show a complete disregard for environmental issues. There is the climate change denial, Exxon-exec-as-secretary-of-state and EPA-hater-as-head-of-EPA callousness of the US regime; there are environmental and consumer protection regulations the UK might lose in leaving the EU; there is the rise of the terrifying "Bullets, Beef, and Bible" faction in Brazil's current right-wing government that wants to turn even more of the Amazon into cow pasture,  erasing both the biodiversity and indigenous populations that stand in their way; there is Indonesia burning even the last slivers of rainforest home to orang-utans and thousands of other species, enveloping much of Southeast Asia in noxious haze in the process, to feed global consumer culture's thirst for palm oil, amongst a society increasingly riven by religious extremism and ever more hostile to minorities; and the list goes on and on. Bad people are in power or trying to get into power in huge chunks of the world and just because they are busy doing awful things that immediately affect particular people we should not forget that they are also doing environmentally awful things that indirectly affect all of us, regardless of where in the world we are. Sadly, one also has to note that otherwise laudable governments can pursue environmentally questionable policies, as is the case with Justin Trudeau's current Canadian government and fossil fuels. Problems like climate change and many forms of pollution are global in scale and, while we can all do our part, ultimately need to also be addressed globally in a concerted manner. For that to happen, we all need to do what we can politically as well, by voting, organizing, being active and involved, and holding politicians accountable wherever possible. We need to support politics that actively link environmental well-being and the flourishing of human communities, rather setting them in opposition to each other, as is happening in far too many places today, and toward that end we need to strive to empathize with both people and nature both locally and globally.