Homes and gardens

Following the flying colours

FLUTTER TALES: Chitra Ratnakumar and Edger Ratnakumar at their garden in Hawa Valley. Photo: G. Moorthy

FLUTTER TALES: Chitra Ratnakumar and Edger Ratnakumar at their garden in Hawa Valley. Photo: G. Moorthy   | Photo Credit: G_Moorthy

The evening sun casts an orange glow over the bushy terrain of the Kiluvamalai hills at Kadavur, as Chitra Rathnakumar strolls around in her 20 cents garden adjoining the slopes. She gingerly walks between hedges of flowering shrubs and stops at a lantana bush laden with little red flowers standing next to a lilly pond. And amidst the scaly leaves of the plant, a group of Blue Tigers flutter around frantically. Can tigers fly? “Yes, winged tigers can,” says Chitra. “The blue Tiger is a butterfly with stripes of the big cat but in an iridescent blue. We get big groups of them visiting us. They can be seen either taking nectar from the flowers or looking to lay eggs beneath the leaves.” Just then, a pair of Common Jezebel with bright yellow stripes and vermillion red spots plays hide-and-seek in the air. “They are a mating pair and the male is following the female.”

Elderly couple Chitra, a retd., civil engineer and her husband Edgar Rathnakumar, a mechanical engineer, are ardent nature lovers who have transformed their weekend home at Hawa Valley into a haven for birds and butterflies. They share the space with two dozen species of butterflies, a number of small and big birds including peacocks and small mammals such as the black napped hare, mongoose and monkeys. From planting native species of fruiting trees and following a very earthy way of gardening sans the use of pesticides or fertilizers to even avoiding an Italian grass lawn in favour of small insects, the couple also forego all the fruits in the mango trees to parakeets, squirrels, monkeys and feel happy about it.

However, their love for butterflies in particular started after visiting the Butterfly show in Cincinnati in the US. “We were totally thrilled to see so many of the winged wonders fluttering all over us. I find butterflies as flying flowers and they symbolise the delicateness of life,” recalls Edgar, who took suggestions from her friend Joy Sharmila, Assistant Professor of Zoology, The American College, on ways to attract butterflies to the garden. For Chitra, butterflies add lustre to life in a fast paced, tedious world. “Wordsworth says, ‘My heart leaps when I behold Rainbow,’ but my heart jumps when I see a swarm of butterflies,” she says. “Another reason I love watching butterflies is the metamorphosis which transforms the ugly caterpillar into a beautiful lovely creature.”

“I suggested them plants that attract and host butterflies. In just a few months we could see the result as there was a spurt in number and later the varieties also,” says Joy Sharmila, who has done a research on the butterflies of Azhagar Hills. “Since Kadavur falls in the foothills of Azhagar ranges, we could see almost all of the species found atop the hills.” Apart from rare native plants such as Charakondrai, Mayil manickam, Kilukiluppai and Nitya Kalyani, the garden also houses flowering climbers such as malli and pichi, tapioca and bougainvillea. “The Hawa Valley campus also has kadamba trees, thorny usil trees that form the Kiluvamalai forest, Konna maram, Bodhi trees and a range of other native trees,” says Edgar, who is also a member of Tamil Nadu Butterfly Society. “I post pictures of butterflies that visit our garden on the fb page of the group and the members have evinced interest in conducting a butterfly walk here soon.”

Edgar and Chitra have taken extra efforts by creating pebble-laden puddles for butterflies to mud-puddle and insect waterholes across the garden. “An insect waterhole can be easily created by burying an earthen pot in the mud and filling it up with sand, pebbles, salt and water. The same attracts butterflies as they need the moisture and minerals from the sand,” explains Chitra. “Using bio manure, cow dung and goat pellets also attract butterflies as they feed on faecal matter. Likewise, we don’t maintain a neatly manicured garden. Parts of the garden are left wild with fallen leaves, twigs and plant parts left to rot, which again attracts insects and butterflies. We also get a number of birds that feed on butterflies.”

The species found at Rathnakumars’ garden are Blue mormon, Common mormom, Common jezebel, banded peacock (the biggest butterfly in the surroundings and the most beautiful with shades of blue and green on either side of the wings), Lime yellow, Blue tit, Angle cast, Blue Tiger, Crimson rose, Common rose, Indian crow, Lemon pansy, Plain tiger, Striped tiger, Common emigrant, Common grass yellow, Great orange tip, Mottled emigrant, Yellow orange tip, Grass Blue (the tiniest in the garden) and Common leopard.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 8:47:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/Following-the-flying-colours/article14641491.ece

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