India – In love with flowers
Travel often changes your life, and sometimes it changes your garden too. Find out what happened when Linda went to India.
Words: Linda Ross. Photos: Brett Cole
India is a country in technicolour. The forest green and cobalt blue of the peacock, the sun-gold of marigolds, the colours of stained glass windows, the glistening tones of the semi-precious jewels inlaid in the Taj Mahal: all are repeated in the colours of the women’s saris on the street, and the colours of the teeming, spice-smelling markets. India adores colour with a passion that made me a feel that we are all a bit dull, with our chic, neutral stylings and black-is-the-new-black outfits. Following my short but adventurous passage to India, I feel ready to embrace colour of my own. The inspiration – you won’t be surprised – was flowers.
India’s overwhelming displays of flowers brighten every corner. Flowers rule: smiling children carry armfuls of them; roadside stallholders tend potted flowering plants on quaint wooden carts; old women sell basket-loads of petals in the manic spice markets of Old Delhi; and peacocks strut through meadows of marigolds.
Bright as the sun
The humble marigold is as ubiquitous as the vibrant Indian sun. Portuguese traders introduced marigolds to India from Central America in the early 16th century. The flower was sacred to the Aztecs of Mexico, where it was used in religious ceremonies and healing practices. (Apparently it’s a cure-all for hiccups!) In Mexico, the marigold is still integral to the festival of Dia de los Muertos. On this day, when people celebrate the souls of family members past, the flowers’ strong scent guides the lost souls to the altar.
In India, marigolds are widely cultivated and cut to make golden chains or garlands. Many are grown in flower farms cradled in the valleys of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan. Irrigation channels woven through the chapatti wheat fields water both flowers and food, and families tend the wheat and marigolds together.
The flowers are used for festivals, marriages and other ceremonies, for decorating shrines and for seeking the blessing of Ganesha, the popular elephant-headed god. For the important Indian festivals of Dussehra people adorn not just their homes, but also their cars, motorbikes, or bicycles with garlands of marigolds.
In the spice market, Khari Baoli, in Old Delhi, we were amazed by the colour intensity of the strings of marigolds, matched by the eye-popping towers of powdered chilli and turmeric and the psychedelic gulal powders used in the Holi spring festival of colour, in which people celebrate love, goodness, gratitude and fun by pelting each other with brilliant colour.
Flowers triumph in the Presidential Palace in Delhi, known as Rashtrapati Bhavan, the grounds of which are open to the public through February. It feels like all the flowers of the world have come along for the ride! Flowers that in Australia click over from one month to the next, here flower in brilliant unison. Sweet peas reach skyward, walls drip with orange trumpet vine and gigantic dahlias dazzle in gold, purple and terracotta. There are gladioli in lemon and peach, rings of cobalt larkspurs, purple cornflowers, pigs face and soft apricot stocks, all in beds and informal borders edged with yet more flowers. And even that’s not enough flowers! On a lawn as green and flat and smooth as a bowling green was a floral carpet some two metres across, formed from thousands of meticulously placed flowers, the ends fringed with fragrant tuberoses.
Flowers and romance
We found more floral wonders at the impossibly romantic Lake Palace Hotel, which floats like a dream on Lake Udaipur. Throughout the hotel we admired the lotus-shaped marble bowls filled with flowers arranged in designs that changed daily. At night a pathway of petals lined our way to dinner.
Flowers for me
India reminded me that I needed more flowers in my life. I came home, added an Old School Flower Show to Collectors’ Plant Fair, and fresh from the inspiring sight of gardeners cramming dahlias and roses into little green bottles, gathered a family consensus to give over half of the Ross kitchen garden beds to growing flowers – flowers specifically for picking.
So, in mid-autumn we put in a bed of polar-white Iceland poppies, tepees of white sweet peas and white ‘Picasso’ ranunculus to light up winter and early spring.
Next, we’re planning to dazzle with jewel-bright colours that will shine through summer. Marigolds, nasturtium, zinnias and sunflowers will be planted from seed and seedling. Our aim is to find flowers that have strong stems and a long vase life. Turn to page 60 for more details about what we’re doing in our new picking garden this season and join in the flower love!
Come with us
We have curated the best 14 days you could imagine in India, taking in Jaipur, Agra, Delphi, Udaipur and Ranthambore, including a day on safari looking for tigers! Find out more at www.rosstours.com.au or call Royce or Ros on 1300 233 200.