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Oh, Where Have All the Wildflowers Gone?

~ Hazel Kocherla, OWC member with a finger in many pies

It is very hard to believe that Bangalore was once a Garden City. Most gardens have disappeared; the city’s concrete buildings and pavements have buried the seedlings that would spring to life in April & May.

Fortunately, some neglected patch of soil does reveal its floral secrets after the first rains. They remind us that, like the Tabebuia, Jacaranda and Gulmohar trees that have become a popular tourist attraction, they too were considered a representation of this ‘garden city’.

Wild Petunias & Periwinkle

I think some of these wildflowers are not native to Bangalore but were brought here centuries ago. They self-seed and look best when allowed to grow wild. No amount of watering will get them to flower in other seasons. They wait patiently for the rains, add colour and fragrance to the garden, attract butterflies, bees and syrphid bugs during their flowering season, and give us lovely cut flowers for vases.

I’ll introduce you to the ones that grow on their own in neglected areas of my garden. They are hardy and are disliked by rodents who eat most other roots and tubers in the city. Their seeds need the first April showers to sprout, but once sprouted, they will continue to flourish and flower in dry weather.

Coral Vine

Coral Vine, Hearts on a Chain: A climbing vine that I find has a mind of its own and refuses to be transplanted. I have unsuccessfully tried to get it to cover a trellis where I need a screen but they will clamber happily over other areas on their own. Its flowers are so pretty that I leave them to grow at will but clip them back when they start covering nearby bushes.

Periwinkle, Vinca

Periwinkle, Vinca, Graveyard Plant: an invasive species that seed profusely but are easy to transplant. They do flower throughout the year but are at their best from April to October. They were planted all around Avalon, the property donated by the Maharajah of Mysore to the National Institute of Tuberculosis, as they believed the plants purified the air and helped cure pulmonary tuberculosis. Graveyards, pavements and lanes between bungalows and institutions used to be their favourite home. The flowers are edible and are supposed to help diabetics. I have seen walkers chew the flowers that grow wild on the pavements in our cul-de-sac.

Rangoon Creeper

Rangoon Creeper: AKA Drunken Sailor because the flowers turn from white to red as day turns to dusk. They fill the evening air with beautiful fragrance which the hybrid varieties lack. Their showy flowers cover the fences and trees they grow on & they look beautiful festooned on our Norfolk Island Pine.

Sweet Clock-Vine

Sweet Clock-Vine, White Lady: A really attractive climbing vine, native to South India. It doesn’t have a season, self-seeds and flowers profusely throughout the year in any sunny spot. Strangely, the beautiful white flowers do not have a fragrance but the vines do. The street cleaners ask for the leaves to rub on cuts and insect bites.

Thunder Lilies

Thunder Lilies, Rain Lilies: These can really surprise newcomers to Bangalore. You can wake up on a rainy morning to a lawn filled with ‘Indian daffodils’, their tiny little citron coloured flowers swaying in the rain. Nurseries have started selling the bulbs but they do best if you let them self-seed instead of planting bulbs. Their bulbs will not flower the following year unlike their more obliging pink or white hybrid cousins.

Wild Hibiscus, Roselle

Wild Hibiscus, Pink Mallow, Roselle: AKA locally as Gongura, an edible weed. Its red maple shaped leaves and pink flowers look really pretty in a vase or in a glass pitcher of infused water. The leaves are tart and make a delicious chutney. They can also be cooked with lentils and are a very good source of iron and vitamin C. The fruit is boiled to make a pink cordial which I add to lemon juice to make my own version of Pink Lemonade. They used to grow wild along hiking paths and hills but are now hard to find in the city or urbanised hills.

Wild Petunias

Wild Petunias: You’ll see this reed like plant growing along lakes, ditches and drains. It’s very invasive so pull them out if they start growing in pots or flower beds because they’re good at killing the original inhabitants by suffocating them. We give them freedom and allow them to flourish in neglected corners, along walls or between flagstones and they reward us with beautiful blooms when they’re ready to flower. They don’t flower as well the following year so weed them out after the flowering season and new seedlings will take their place.

Wild Sunflowers

Wild Sunflowers, Mexican Sunflowers: We still have some in our garden that self-seed and flower perennially but they seem to have disappeared from Bangalore city. They would grow as tall as a small tree and you could see the showy flowers over fences and walls. Fortunately, there are plenty on the drive to Coorg, Mysore and Ooty

Four O'Clocks

Four O'Clocks: They self sow in full sun but the buds open around 4 pm, earlier on a cloudy day, stay open till sunrise but wilt soon after. They flower continuously till January and look beautiful in flower beds or as a hedge. They seed profusely & strike back again in April after the first rains. The flowers were used as food colouring in my grandmother's recipe book but I've heard they are hallucinogenic. I bet those desserts and soft drinks made her parties very interesting. I blend the flowers in my henna mix to add red glints to my hair.

I collect wildflower seeds from the garden to sprinkle on muddy patches on roads, under flyovers & in empty plots, hoping to bring the wild flowers back to the city. I am an optimist and am sure they’ll greet us very soon all around Bangalore, nodding their floral heads as we pass by.

Norfolk Island Pine festooned with Rangoon Creepers

A hedge of Four O'Clocks


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