Indian Christmas #1 Ever wondered where your cuppa comes from?

We’ve all heard stories about the number of children who don’t know that carrots grow in the ground or that milk comes from cows. There is so much enthusiasm about growing your own but at the same time the vast majority of us are almost completely disconnected from how our food – and drink – is produced.

On our recent (fantastic) trip to Kerala in South India I realised that there are plenty of food plants in my diet whose origins and cultivation I have a woefully poor understanding of. The most striking of these? Tea and coffee. I am ashamed to say I have given very little thought in my time to how these plants are actually grown, harvested and processed. We had a good chance to find out during our visit; we drove and walked through tea plantations and stayed on a coffee plantation.

During a hike that went through a tea plantation in Wayanad, northern Kerala, our

guide told me that the women are paid 147 rupees a day to pick tea, that’s less than £2. As you walk by there is the constant clip-clip sound made by the shears and the harvested leaves are put into the bags the women carry on their backs suspended from their heads. The whole process of how the leaves are cut, fermented, dried, bags etc was revealed when we visited a tea factory in the town of Ooty, a so-called hill station further south in the Western Ghats (trivia: snooker was invented in Ooty, apparently). Of course we bought loads of the stuff which we then had to carry round for the rest of the trip! The way we drank tea in India – very milky and with oodles of sugar – is yummy but dangerous..

With design goggles on the landscape produced from the clipping of tea leaves over decades of cultivation is just stunning, reminiscent of clipped topiary but on a vast landscape scale. The effect is heightened by the presence of tall, skinny trees at regular intervals through the plantations, for shade as I understand it. Surely there is some inspiration there for garden design.

Onto coffee. We stayed on a coffee plantation,  that was in a truly breathtaking setting and I am so glad I booked the stunning treehouse which dangled rather precariously on the edge of the steep ravine which marked the edge of the plantation. The coffee bushes themselves are about 1.5m high with large, ridged leaves and the beans grow directly off the wood, turning from green to a vibrant orangey red. The beans were just ripening as we were there and everything was gearing up to harvest time in the few weeks.

This plantation is small and family-run with a dedicated team of workers who help out with the homestay too. They grow and roast on site then sell to the local market. We drank the coffee at every available opportunity and it was delicious (more than we can say for most of the other coffee we had during our trip!) If you ever have the chance to go this neck of the woods, I would strongly recommend you stay here, it was a fabulous experience: Aranyakam

There are definitely a couple of more posts likely to come out of our trip to India and the many, many photos we have! Thank you for reading now my blog is on my new website – still getting used to WordPress after nearly a year on Blogger. Please sign up for email updates of posts if you’d like them. As I develop my garden design business in the coming months I hope to keep blogging here and there about things related to gardens, designs and plants in general. It’s the pictures that seem to drive my posts and certainly I’ve had feedback that people like the picture emphasis so I’ll keep that up!


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