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Gardening in an Indian Summer

As April slowly turns to May, the weather begins to warm and most temperate gardens begin to awake from their slumber, the gardens of the North-Indian plains start preparing for a sultry, summer-lull that lasts for the better part of three months till the arrival of the monsoons. From the frenzied, floriferous excitement of winter, the garden is overcome with a sense of heat-induced lethargy.

Traditionally, Indian gardens rely on native summer-blooming trees for interest during these months. Some flower on bare branches and put on quite a show, but people who sit out in the heat of the day prefer those that produce beautifully fragrant if inconspicuous flowers in a dense, cool canopy. But what of container gardeners like myself?

Although North India has some beautiful native summer blooming shrubs that could potentially be cultivated in containers and on terraces, these are seldom widely available in the nursery trade. I, and many other terrace-gardeners rely on exotic (non-native) foliage perennials - Ficus, Bauhinias, Palms (Licuala, Chamaerops, Chamaedorea, Areca, Dypsis, and others), snow bushes, Dracaenas, Cordyline, Syngoniums, Anthuriums and Diffenbachias to name a few from my garden.

While tropical perennials provide a nice backdrop, some annual interest is possible. Marigolds, Celosias, Zinnias, Basil, Coriander, Fennel, Chillies and Tomatoes are started from seed at the beginning of the season. I typically also re-start my Coleus from cuttings at this time, because they've grown too wild over the winter, and have started looking unruly. I start Cape Periwinkles (known as "Sadabahar" in Hindi, which translates to "Ever-blooming) from nursery-bought plug plants as well, as I find they're good for cutting.

There are some perennial shrubs that bloom as well. Jatropha, Oleander, Hamelia, Crossandra, Plumbago, and of course the many species of Jasmine are favourites. These can grow quite large in pots, though they can sometimes be unreliable in terms of flowering.

While it may seem like the season has a lot to offer, and interest in the garden is high, the fact is that not many of these flowers flower at the same time. They come and go. Mostly, my garden jobs involve making sure everything is watered, weeded and isn't burning in the sun. There is something about an Indian summer that can't be put in a pot and grown on a balcony - it needs to play out on a grand scale, be fiery and flamboyant.

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