This is one of the most exciting times for those of us who enjoy pottering around in the garden. A little like the week before your birthday, back when you could count the candles on the cake at a glance. You know that the best is yet to come, but you also know that the best, when it does arrive, will be short-lived. A burst of winter flowers, colour, fragrance and happiness before the summer digs in.
So here we are, watching over this year’s annuals, checking to see if morale is dipping anywhere, pinching, training, staking. I keep reminding myself not to peer at them every few hours. Remember what your mother told you about that watched pot?
Add a pinch of purple
A few days ago, I almost stepped on the brakes on bustling Man Singh Road in New Delhi when I spotted two nasturtium flowers peeping out from under round, green leaves. Yup, sure as Delhi’s January fog, there they were, earlier than expected. But even now, in spite of the chrysanthemums putting in their early appearance as harbingers of a great flowering season, there is very little colour variety on the gardener’s palette. Mostly shades of green. A little orange comes in from some calendula.
(Left) Give me red: Begonias add colour even before blooming.(right) Bold Brassica: This colourful kale is related to edible cabbages.
On the whole, it is a couple of weeks to the full burst of annuals. Till then, what about some mauve and purple leaves?
Topping the list is the ornamental kale. If you’ve been plant-shopping recently, you’d have noticed what nurseries describe as “ornamental gobi (cabbage)”. Well, since they have a distinct whorl of differently coloured leaves in the centre, these are actually flowering kales. The plant should be as edible as any other kale, but the ornamental ones are grown almost entirely for their brilliant leaves, though the gardener suggest using a bed of them to garnish a salad platter. Some prefer the cream rosettes, but I think the mauves, lavenders and pinks look stunning for a winter garden. And they’ll not last beyond another month or so, so get them before they fade.
Designer looks—and prices
The Dracaena rubra is another safe purple addition to your collection. It is easy to care for and a slow grower, which means it ought to hang around for a while. Like any other Dracaena, it is hardy and not too fussy about sunlight. That makes it an ideal house plant. Of course, when the nurseryman tells me a medium one costs around Rs2,200, I explore other options.
And turn to the black Philodendron, its liver leaves glossy even in Delhi’s winter. The large, lush leaves fill space and just one plant can do wonders for a dull corner of a room. Alas. That too comes for Rs1,500. Unless you’re sure of your skills as a gardener and can safely tell one end of a plant from the other, you may prefer to give these a miss.
If you’re not looking to invest quite so much, pick up some cheerful polka-dot plants (Hypoestes phyllostachya) for Rs25-50, or some red-leaved begonia for a trifle more.
The red begonia flowers are a perfect foil to their red-brown leaves. Begonias will do well outdoors in well-drained soil. Although begonias can be grown from leaves half-buried in sand, that’s a slow process best left to the nurseries. Get small pots instead.
Bunched together, that’s a good deal of colour till the winter annuals flower in joyful abandon.
The author is a journalist and writer of children’s books, with a passion for gardening.
Write to Benita at email@example.com