How lovely it would be, I thought, to take some lupins back to England. To recreate a little corner of Gulmarg at home in West Sussex. It was July last year and I was in Gulmarg in the north Indian state of Kashmir and Jammu. I wrote here of how much I loved Kashmir and the Kashmiri people. I had stayed on Lake Dal in a wonderful Butt's Cleremont houseboat moored on the northern shore of the lake looking out across its mirror flat waters to the mountains. I watched the incredible variety of birds who nest there and the people who make their simple living on its shores.
Then to Gulmarg ('Meadow of Flowers'). I was to stay with Daisy Nedou at Nedous Hotel, the top hotel at this popular winter ski resort. We chattered for an hour + as her car wound up the mountain from Srinigar to 8000'. The ski crowd love them place because of its wonderful powder snow and the famous gondola which them up to 13500'.
I could only imagine all this - the whole village under a blanket of snow from November to March - hearty skiers swooshing by in sub-freezing temperatures. July is high summer and the village is popular with local tourists riding ponies round the meadows and enjoying the summer sunshine. Soon after the snow clears in March the flowers appear - daffodils and daisies, then lupins. Daisy's husband's great-grandfather, who started the hotel in 1888 , brought lupin seed from England and they have since blown all over the village.
It was perhaps a bit early for them, but I picked some of the more advanced silver downy seed heads from the bank outside my cottage at Nedous, and made a bag from some (rather nasty) synthetic material with fine holes where I thought they would be secure and well aired. I would take a photograph of my lupins and send it to Daisy.
I hung my bag in a cool dry place when I got home and in March I opened the silvery pods and gathered the tiny seed… Not many, I must say. I sowed them in fine compost and put a plastic bag over to encourage germination on my kitchen windowsill, and waited… and kept them moist, not too wet. I think I did get a bit precious about my lupins; consulting gardening experts on what I should do to encourage them, planning the site under the cherry tree towards the Downs. My own little bit of Kashmir, here at home. The trouble with travelling alone is that when you reminisce it has to be with someone who wasn't there. I think eyes did roll heavenward.
Out of all those pods, only two seeds came up, and a cheeky blade of grass. One of my seeds looked good from the start, the other always looked weak. I kept them in the kitchen until the stronger one looked well established, and then moved the pot out to the greenhouse. The little one died, as I feared it would, but the other thrived. Never mind, I thought, from one lupin a meadow can grow. But as its leaves (4 or 5) appeared they looked rather more coarse than I would have expected, thicker and without the crinkly edges I imagine a tiny lupin leaf to have.
Next to my lupin pot a couple of my husband's tomato plants looked on as I cooed over my Kashmiri lupin. And then it dawned on me - that I was cooing over a small tomato plant…. How did that happen?
"Oh dear!" my sister failed to stifle her mirth. "Do you think it is an indian tomato plant?" No. Quite obviously it is a very ordinary, well loved, english tomato plant.