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Keya Sarkar: Flowers in season

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Keya Sarkar  |  New Delhi 

Every year it starts by September. The time when most house-owners in Santiniketan start to think of planting their favourite varieties of "season" flowers. Our gardener, too, begins to ask me what he should plant and where. Every year he is disappointed with my answer. I indicate small plots between vegetable patches and sanction small sums of money to buy flower pots or season flower seeds and saplings.
As he realises that our garden is not going to work wonders for his resume, I have a feeling we are going to lose him. He is going to opt to work with any of those who live up to the Santiniketan traditions as far as the flower season is concerned.
There are two types of houses in Santiniketan. Those where owners live, and others that have caretakers, with the owners visiting occasionally. Between September to March, however, one is unable to tell the difference between houses that are lived-in and those that are not. Because all gardeners behave alike in their following of the ritual. The flowers that bloom in the gardens of houses that are not lived-in kind of stand at attention all the time, anticipating absentee owners to show up any time. It is almost as if they know that signs of bad performance will take its toll on the gardener and his ability to keep his job.
First, with the onset of the season, pots are acquired in hundreds. Then, these are all painted a uniform red. Seeds and saplings are then bought and planted in numbers which will allow elaborate garden decorations when the plants being to flower. Those that do not believe in pots get involved in precise calculations of flower-bed placements. I often wonder whether the gardeners are capable of accurate arithmetic and geometry or whether house owners, too, need to get involved.
These pots are then placed in the garden, along the fence, in front of the house, spots that will attract the attention of guests to the house. So when we are visiting, I am often amazed at the precise gaps left between pots of dahlias, or chrysanthemums or marigolds.
There is also a penchant for fertilising soils to puff up the flowers and often as I am sitting in friends' gardens, I have a sense of a science fiction nightmare. Of course, all that I allow myself to say aloud is "Amazing. What colours, what size!" The owner never gets to know how nightmarish all this actually feels.
I do not expect my gardener to share my sense of garden aesthetics, but I do try to explain my stand. "So many flowers do not allow you to appreciate any," I try to explain as he looks at me quite bewildered. "In a pond, a lotus looks nice amongst lots of leaves," I tell him. "Can you imagine how the pond would look if it was stuffed only with flowers?" All that I cannot tell all my acquaintances who swear by their season flowers.
"Can we have a few pots that will flower during the mela at least?" he asks beseechingly. The mela or the Paus Mela held late December is a big event in Santiniketan and when, for some reason, all proud flower-pot owners line up their treasures in front of their gates. I conceded but made him promise that he would go easy on sweeping the garden to rid it of every falling winter leaf. He cannot understand why unlike others I did not like my garden to be clean with rows of pots in military precision. I explain that I like the sound of dried leaves under my feet. He looks at me in disbelief.
But the last word on the subject of gardens and season flowers was when a like-minded friend from Santiniketan told me that whenever he sees gardens stuffed with season flowers, he feels like he is passing a funeral parlour and that he should enter and offer his condolences! Once I heard that, I got more strict with my gardener.

First Published: Sat, February 11 2006. 00:00 IST
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