Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mosaic Stepping Stone project

Contents in this post are the same as the one in my other blogpost in a separate blog [on Junk] - click on that if you want to go to that blog.  I am posting it here also because it is related to the subject of Garden.

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My workplace is in a century old palatial building that was built by the Mysore King.  

Cheluvamba Vilas

Some years ago, they were replacing the entire original mosaic floor of a room.  The beautiful little chips in perfect geometrical shapes and dimensions were being broken.  It was an exercise too difficult to watch and I wish not to divulge into detail. 

That is one of the three mansions built for the three Princesses at that time.  All the structures are a delight to connoisseurs.  Their interiors are exquisite.  Just to show how varied the patterns and colours were, in many such palatial buildings, let me show you the flooring of the other mansion [Karanji Mansion] which I visited some time ago.

This was not in good shape.

Now it houses the PTC.

Now let me come to ours.  Pictured below is a portion of the original floor and design the entire floor area had.  Observe the shapes and colours. They had been imported from England at the time of building these mansions.  Such mosaic floors of that period are so pleasing to the eye.

The broken floor debris were being heaped in the room to be loaded to trucks for landfills.  So sad.  Being a lover of heritage, I thought of preserving a tiny portion of these chips in my home.  In "Dave's Garden" I had seen what gardeners create with mosaic chips.  So I randomly picked up some of those to try my hand.  Mosaic art is a vast and creative subject many gardeners and hobbyists do for passion.

'Stepping stones' was an idea I had in mind. Those chips were now separate.  I tried different combinations and found that many different patterns were possible.  I set about working on the project.  Sand and cement were ready.  I put a piece of chicken mesh at the bottom for extra strength and carefully filled cement and placed the chips in the patterns I created.  See picture of 'work in progress': 

Five distinct patterns were made from the available good chips and embedded the 'stepping stones' in my yard, after proper curing.

The following picture shows the work I did in the centre of our living room with better pieces. 

But now we can see only one half of it.  Shortly after this was created, it so happened that a wall ran through the hall at that very spot.  Picture below shows the base for the wall getting ready. Observe the visible portion of the tiles. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Met another garden-lover from DG

In the first quarter of 2010, I found a mail in the box at "Dave's Garden" [DG]. It was wonderful to read.  You also read:

Hi Dinu, I happened across your blog and diary at DG, which is one of my favorite places to visit on the web! Looks like we share similar passions - gardening, coffee and a strong love for Mysore...actually Banglaore, but my fondest memories of childhoold are from Mysore where we went most summers.  My mother is from Mysore :)   I love the "Somari katte" [lazybone benches] that most houses welcome you onto...and remember all the older, grand homes that sport a large courtyard..much like the ones that you have on your page. How lucky to be living there! I did not realize this until I figured out how difficult it is to garden in a place that is not forutnate to have the climate of Bangalore/Mysore..I am now in Dallas TX and am constantly battling the weather..phew.  Enough said from my about you..Coffee aitha? Hope to hear from you soon ~ Malini

That was in March.  In April, she wrote this:

Well, what do you know! I will be visiting Blore in June. I am excited to go back home during the mango season, hope there will still be some left! And can't wait for jackfruit...yum! Do you travel to Blore often? If so, maybe you can visit us. I would love to find seeds/plants of Parijata..I have been yearning for the flowers.  And a sampige too..hmmm..I have a big wish list!

She was also a member on DG and an avid garden lover.  Another mail confirmed this:

It is still cold out here..and am wating for it to warm up..then pretty soon it will be scorching heat in the 100s (40 C). Thats TX :) How I miss Bangalore weather where I could garden all year long..almost!

She was visiting Bangalore in June.  At the same time, my other DG friend Kimberley in Ohio had a little packet of knick-knacks ready for me.  Since Malini was traveling, she kindly agreed to bring it for me in spite of her own luggage and kids.  Then I requested Kim to send it to Malini.  

One of the items Kim sent: Oliver Hardy pen holder. 

She could not come to Mysore on that trip as she planned, but I found out that she stayed close to my old classmate Rupa's house.  So I gave directions to her house.  In a few days, one of Rupa's chauffeurs was driving down here in August.  So I picked that packet from him at the said location here!  Amazing change of hands!  

Kim and her Stella! This is the same Kim  [click for her 'plot'] I mention in "My Gardening Story" in this blog.

What are gardeners doing here?  Exchanging gifts?  Kim also had sent two little books.

One is Garden Quotations.

Many months passed.  Came July 2012.  There was another chance to meet as she was traveling to Mysore also on a very short trip.  A 'flying trip'.  She was visiting the house only a mile from my house.  I rushed to that address.  We were so happy to be meeting each other.  DG had become instrumental for this!  She showed the few potted plants in that house with the typical enthusiasm of a plant-lover. Her trip was so short that she could not visit my Yarden in spite of my house being so close.  There is always a first time and there is always a next time. 

  Before bidding goodbye, she reminded me about seeds of her favourite 'Parijata' [Nyctanthes], 'Sampige' [Michaelia champaka] and Neem that she intends trying to grow in Texas.  Let us see if that goes to fruition. 

After Kenton visited, Malini becomes the second DG'r to visit my yarden.  It is commonplace in the USA where DG is located and a majority of its members are.  But it is quite a special occasion if it happens here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tailorbird from up close

This morning I had the closest encounter with my favourite little Tailorbirds.  They fly by on several occasions  during the day searching for insects for their food requirement. I started to sip hot coffee sitting on the stone bench beneath the Papaya Tree.  I noticed there were 4 or 5 birds tweeting and hopping from branch to branch of the Mexican Hat shrub.  

They were catching something and flying to the nearby Almond tree and returning to the shrub.  It was an indication that there could be its nest and some chicks there.  The leaves are huge which make it difficult to spot the nest.  

The speed with which they were catching some insect on the branch was too quick for my eye to follow.  All of a sudden, there would be something in its beak, much the same way magicians produce something out of nowhere with their sleight of hand.  They were tweeting even while holding it there for adjusting its angle for swallowing. It is interesting to watch them rub-clean their beaks against the branch after they swallow. 

I was sitting perfectly still, coffee glass in one hand.  For once, they could not identify my presence under the papaya tree!  The nearest two birds came was about 3 feet, on the papaya leaf above my head. I could not tilt my head up to see because this little movement could scare them.  I moved only my eyeballs to see it up close, its pink legs and lovely eyes as it chirped happily.  Today they were chirping more.  I wondered why.   After they flew to another shrub next to the papaya tree, I noticed two little chicks there.  The chicks are smaller, have short tails and beaks and tweet with a low 'voice'. They seemed to be learning their early lessons from their parents.  They may have been hatched recently in a nest on our Almond tree itself, like they did before and probably doing every nesting season. Now the parents would have been looking to feed them while teaching lessons. 

My ears were filled with their delightful music - tuvvytuvvee...... Shrill but thrill it was, coming from as close as just 3 feet.  And what a great way to start the day.   Here is an old video I had shot where you can listen to its song clearly:

The entertainment made me forget for once, that my coffee was getting cold in my own hand. When they flew away, I had to drink the the now cold beverage.  And for once, I had to stay still without even having the time to think of rushing in to bring the camera.  I had to content with what I was seeing.  It was absolutely delightful anyhow. 

Some old pictures:
Its nest with the Almond leaf

 The chick.

Food in beak for feeding chicks.

A Stone Bird Bath At Last!

I wanted to make another bird bath project even though my triangular one had become a well known spot for the birds.  I borrowed an idea from another DIY project on a website and it appeared simple to do.  I made one from cement, using a lampshade for the curvature of the trough.

Upside down, wet cement.

Lampshade I used for the trough curvature.

The project came out nicely, but I did not keep it for long.  For some unknown reason, the birds that were so frequently visiting the triangular bird bath in that same spot before seemed to stay away.  I was puzzled.  Was it too shallow?  Was it too small?  What was missing?  Someone had told that it takes some time for the birds to get accustomed to changes or to spot their places for water.

Changes in the family front was on course and I was to move into my new garden area.  So I put back the old triangular bird bath and again, the birds welcomed it!

Within a few weeks of making my circular birdbath that was surprisingly rejected by the birds, we came across a stone smith who had to be urgently summoned to break a mammoth grinding stone during the construction of a new house in our plot.

The stone was in line with the wall.  It had to be removed.  The idea of lifting it out of the ground was dropped because it was bulky, heavy and strong.  How strong it was, was proved by the stone smith as he broke a few chisels, trying to break it into two, to lift up the top portion which was the intended plan. After two days of hammering, he was finally able to crack it, but the crack came upwards.  So it was further broken there and the large pieces had to be used as foundation for the compound wall in its line!

It was that grinding stone and its position which brought this stone smith to us who was to give me and the birds a fine bird bath based on Sadanand's model.

There were also now more nice stones to choose from, since many had been removed from the old structure that was pulled down to give way for a new house.  By that time, I had been well convinced about the value of a bird bath in the garden, more importantly for the birds and then experiencing the joy of watching them enjoy it.

Gurumurthy, the stone smith agreed to it the way I wanted and the technical design Sadananda had explained me.  He had said that some birds would first like to feel the shallow depth and then feel safe. So, a slope in its floor was necessary since it was rectangular.  One inch deep at one end and going deeper to two inches at the other end.  The stone size was about 18"x12".  A fee was fixed for the job. I was now bent upon getting it done even if he quoted high!  

I chose that slab and Gurumurthy, is seen cutting the desired piece.

Tap, tap, tip tap..... It was time-consuming work to chip out the rectangular basin.

New and old. I later kept aside the triangular bath.  

I asked Gurumurthy himself to 'inaugurate' it with its first fill of water.  It was on New Year's day, 2011. My bird bath should be good enough to last for 300 years.  Granite!

Bulbul having a dip.

Now it is used by many.

A Mynah in it.  It must have been warm because the Mynah is not a frequent dipper.

A Squirrel having a fill.

Once you watch their need for water, you will realize how important water is for them also and how long this little service can go.  It is a satisfying feeling. 

New idea for a stone bird bath

When I visited my elderly friend Sadanand's garden he showed me a beautiful rectangular stone bird bath.  There was even a Robin taking a dip at that time.   Instantly I dreamed of one in my garden since there were many granite stones lying around.  Soon, I inquired a stone smith for this project and was very disappointed when he quoted an exorbitant price for the job.  For a while I had dropped the idea.

Mrs. Yadugiri, an amazing old lady, a wonderful neighbour for more than five decades had to move out of town some years ago.  She had a green thumb and an avid gardener in her small yard.

Mrs. Y in 2007, when we visited her.  She left all of us in 2009.  

Before Yadugiri and her family left Mysore, she had given me a stone mortar which she used to grind material to prepare her 'traditional medicines'.  I kept this in the garden as a 'bird bath' and much to my joy, it found quick acceptance. 

A couple of Spotted Doves seemed to enjoy that.  This is a scene from my old garden.

A Magpie Robin was routinely taking a dip in it.

The stone trough brought from our old home had been planted with water lilies, another inspirational idea from the websites under 'water gardens'.  Koels, Mynahs, Doves and Pigeons had chosen this for their water requirement.  A male Koel is looking around if the ground was clear before bending to take its sip.

One fine day a brilliant idea struck on the lines of Sadanand's bird bath.  I thought why all the trouble of scooping out stone?  Why not build a little cement wall around to hold water on the stone?  Now I set about searching for a stone that was not suitable for anything else. An odd shaped triangular slab was chosen and almost immediately sat on the job that evening.

Set to cure.

Got it painted.

Our locality fortunately has some greenery and hence many birds thrive.  As my 'yarden' also has some greenery, they stop by.  The birds somehow find their water sources and they soon found one here. I had placed the bird bath strategically close to my room window so that I could observe from a close range. The birds are extremely sensitive.  They protect themselves by flying away at the slightest hint of danger.  So when I had to photograph, I had to open the mesh window, but had to be very careful not to make even any slight movement or sound.  I had to be absolutely still if I had to capture a picture from about 7-8 feet.

Some pictures:

The Great Tit is wondering about the low level of water!  I had failed to fill it to the brim.

The Female Sunbird is a rare dipper. Only once I saw it dipping in water, at least when I was around.

I had observed that the Robin and Bulbul liked a little more water even when it was brim-full. 

So I raised the brim as you can see here.  Red whiskered Bulbul enjoying.

This is a male Koel, sipping some water.

Crow pheasant, Robin, Koel and Bulbul in the above collage of pictures.

My idea of making such a bird bath was working fine. It is such a joy to see the birds, visit, look around if they are secure, feel and play in water, perch on something near it and dry their wings before flying off.  Some varieties drink but do not dip. Some only dip but do not drink.  Anyhow, it is a great boon to them esp. on warm days.  We will be doing our little bit if we provide some water source for these beautiful creatures that are so important to our ecology. 

In my next post, you will see my dream coming to fruition - the rectangular stone bird bath.

My flopped bird bath

My workplace is a heritage palace building.  There are pillared courtyards in it.  All the three courtyards have a fountain cum birdbath in the centre. One of them was right in front of my workplace door.  I have always admired this beautiful setting and dreamt of having at least a bird bath after the gardening bug had bit me.

This beautiful vintage fountain [Made in Glasgow] is not used regularly for reasons of water conservation.  Entry to birds to the courtyards were blocked with mesh since many decades because of their disturbance in various ways.

When internet first arrived, I had seen pictures of bird baths on Dave's Garden and also on a site called 'Better Homes and Gardens' .  Many gardeners across the world had installed bird baths in their gardens.  I too wanted to have one.  There were many impressive DIY [do it yourself] projects that were simple and beautiful in the latter site.  I did make one myself from one such DIY project, from junked items.

See this rare picture I had captured.  Rare because I think this must be the only time when a bird, a Robin here had got on it!  I was so happy to capture an image as I was out in the garden with my new camera at that time!  Can you read the disappointment writ large in the Robin's posture and expression?

This project turned out to be an utter flop and that Robin confirmed it!  I came to know later that the birds do not get attracted to glitter but prefer the rustic and natural settings.  The steel plate I had used was very shallow too!  All I did was clean and replace new water often, thus exposing the shiny plate!  This worthless exercise went on for sometime and then I put it away, disgusted.

I looked for fresh ideas while I just watched the birds chirp around happily in the yard.  But I was determined to provide water for the birds' welfare.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

My Gardening Story - 3

What has photography got to do with gardening?  Find out!

My passion in Photography, among my other hobbies, was to take shape.  When I saw pictures shared by others on Dave's Garden I was tempted to take my pictures with my film camera, but uploading was a cumbersome process for me [at workplace].  Generous help came from my colleague's husband, Mr.Thomas.  He was aware of my love for plants.  When I told him about DG, he offered to lend his Sony Mavica digital camera for a day or two whenever I required to take images.  I was on Cloud 9.  It was one of the earliest models that recorded images on a 1.44MB floppy disk. Some flower images I captured with it in that early stage when there was plenty of variety in my garden drew some audience!  I am profoundly thankful to Mr.Thomas for such an encouragement.  In fact, he became an important link in the long chain in the events that followed.

DG's plant database provided invaluable information to gardeners around the world and my pictures added value to it.  The database had got popular worldwide.  Despite the images having limitations [due to available technology at that time, only 10 years ago!] people used to express their appreciation of the few images I used to share.  One day Mr.Thomas informed the bad news that his Sony had been spoiled by some neighbour who had borrowed. In the meanwhile, newer things had already begun to take shape.

My garden in 2005, taken with Sony Mavica.  I was so happy with this quality at that time!

I had uploaded this to the database.  I was so thrilled!  

2006 was a year that brought about many changes.  My cyberslacking was no longer a secret among fellow gardeners on DG and even many 'understanding' colleagues.  So also, about my borrowed Sony.  A kind elderly DG member, Mr.George, sent me his small Emprex Digital Camera [DC] that he did not need.  It became my first DC!  My neighbourhood friend Sathish who came from the US at that time carried it for me.

Shortly afterwards, a lady DG-er, Kim from Pennsylvania, United States worked out a plan without my knowledge, to send me a Fuji which turned out to be a wonderful 'upgrade' to Emprex.   Kim had seen my pictures and wanted to gift me.  This time, I had requested my old friend Kashi who was coming down from Chicago to bring it for me. So Kim had sent it to Kashi.

George's Emprex on the left, Kim's Fuji [FinePix A120] on the right, posing for me!

Around the same time, a kind elderly lady Ursula from Chile, South America had already secretly planned something for me. She was half way round the Earth and not familiar to me at all, except for an earlier occasion when she had collected my address and sent me a wonderful packet that contained numerous varieties of seeds.  I came to know later that she had done it to many others as well, in acts of generous giving.  It is unfortunate that none of the seeds germinated well enough to survive.  Ursula later wrote that she was following my posts and pictures. As was her wont, wanted to do something to 'better me'.

Fuji was taking good pictures. It went kaput after a long service.

Ursula's e-mail in my inbox one day was to change many things.  I did not know what to do after reading it.  She wrote that Dave and team had earlier permitted her to go about in the 'Dinu Project' [completely without my knowledge] and that a whopping sum of $1000 was collected!  Her main intention was to present me with a good digital camera as she loved whatever scenes and descriptions I posted in the discussion forums.  There was appreciation of my pictures from many members but she went one step ahead.

I later learnt that Ursula had earned a very fine reputation among gardeners and that there were many recipients of her wholehearted generosity.  We exchanged e-mails.  She expressed her physical condition and also the various situations when luck had betrayed her. It was really touching that such a kind-hearted person was so much tormented by life.  It is natural in the usual course to doubt actions like these from strangers, but her honesty, sincerity and affection were writ all over her mails.  What a human I thought!

Ursula lives close to the Andes Mountain Range.  Despite her arthritis among other things, she collected many plant seeds from the mountain slopes, sorted, packed, labeled and had sold online.  Her 'Dinu Project' found overwhelming response, much beyond her expectations.  Now she made me accept this gift from her effort.  Decision to accept was very tricky.  But I did it on my own condition that this is going to be a 'pay forward' thing, which found Ursula's liking. This chapter of my story will remain incomplete till the condition gets fulfilled.  I will revert and write here whenever that happens to 'complete the cycle'.  Kashi had also carried this thousand dollar cheque along with Kim's Fuji. 

Since the amount was that much, Ursula suggested me to buy a PC!  After getting some inputs from another kind friend Kimberley in Ohio, I chose the PC and got it assembled.

There was some balance left from it, enough now for a digital camera, which in fact, was Ursula's main intention. Another kind friend Ashok guided me to his friend Murali who was on a business trip to US.  He was kind to agree, buy and bring.  After reviewing many models on the Web, Panasonic Lumix FZ8 was chosen and Murali was let known.  This was also just right for the available budget.  He brought it to Bangalore and my cousin Ravi picked it up for me.   I collected it during my visit to his parents' house soon afterward.

Panasonic FZ8 just opened from the box.  Took the shot with Fuji.

My sincere thanks all those who came in this 'chain', particularly this Angel! I have no proper permission to share this picture:

An old picture she sent from Santiago, Chile.  She taught me the joy in 'giving'.  She made me receive! 

This changed the way I lived.  It changed my outlook, opened new pastures and naturally the way I 'gardened'.  Such exceptionally noble acts can move many a heart.  That this Angel is unavailable for communication is a matter of concern to many on DG.  But I learn that she is not having proper access to the internet where she is now living [after she moved her apartment, building her own, using eco-matarials near the hills] and I hope she is okay and all we can do is pray for her well being.

Internet connectivity that naturally followed its way to our house also was to alter our routines. Despite that, my cyberslacking was unaffected!

In another instance of kindness and generosity on DG, among several, was when another kind lady Debi [from Massachusetts] simply sent my daughters some Barbie Dolls and a lot of little knick-knack gifts - the huge parcel brought so much joy to all of us. She later said she loved kids!  She had sent me some day lily bulbs too.  They bloomed two seasons and could not survive the tropics.

In yet another instance, the DG  team itself, sent me the new DG T-shirt.  Self-shot image for this post:

You must be wondering why I have named as 'Dinu's Yarden'.  I love this word 'yarden'. It was my Chinese friend Jianhua, also on DG who is to be credited for this new word: Yard + Garden! He is a very talented and dedicated school teacher in China and a very enthusiastic gardener.  What a wonderful person!  When I informed him about this, he was kind to allow me to use this picture.

Don't miss the DG T-shirt Jianhua is also proudly wearing.

DG also has brought about many friendships across continents.  It brought one Kenton from the US, here to "My Eden".

Camera and Computer became important e-tools that brought out many latent things out of me.


There came another new website called "Cubits".  One American gardener Nancy wanted to interview me for her article in that site.  It was for her 'Spotlight' series.  It was fun to answer some questions.
Here it is. [click]

When my other posts follow, the photography aspect that I mentioned at the outset, will get shown.  But here is a collage showing the tip of the iceberg to end of final and Part 3 of the 3-part series.