Like any fairly tale, my garden story also has its share of ups and down, but ends on a happily ever after note….
Not too long ago, my grandmother’s green thumb and love for a garden made our home a beautiful space. This garden has undergone several changes over the years – from a flowering paradise to a lawn to a wild area to a veggie patch and is finally home to a fish shaped fish pond now. But throughout its various avatars, honge, avocado, sampige, neem and coconut have silently stood on guard and become huge shade providing trees over the years.
Here I’ve got to mention that the 2 coconut trees we have were brought over from Chickmagalur (my grandmother’s hometown) by my great-grandfather and planted in the 1960’s. It’s yield is so bountiful that we have not bought a coconut ever. To celebrate the long awaited birth of my cousins 21 years ago, we planted an avocado tree. It is an absolutely massive tree and within 6-7 years of planting, it started giving us fruit – the usual shaped avocados that we see in the market. But from 2010 onwards it started giving us humongous avocados (each weighing in at 1 kilogram) which left us wondering what shot of growth hormone had been given!! The growth hormone was none other than our composting pile, which is less than 3 feet away from the base of the avocado tree. Naturally the tree roots picked up booster doses of all the nutrients and just got fabulous. For about 5 years in a row we got nearly 100 avocados per season!!
So I grew up surrounded by greenery that I had to do nothing to take care of and realised this only when I moved to my in-laws house where we did not have a garden. As there were so many adjustments and changes happening in that first year of married life, I didn’t realise that I was missing out on having a garden. But in our second year, my husband and I decided to give it a try and have a veggie patch. So my mother brought across various vegetable saplings from her garden and we set it up in our terrace space. We were not regular with watering the plants and found that we did not spend any time in the terrace because of a resident rat that we were terrified of. So you can imagine what happened – the plants did not survive and we felt horrible that we had killed them all.
I was so traumatised by that experience that I decided that we were not going to bring in any plants, until we were more capable of taking care of them – after all, they are living and breathing entities.
Fast forward to the summer of 2019. We had built on an additional space in my in-law’s house which made the terrace feel like a part of the house rather than a godforsaken space. While two solar panels dominated the space, plans to put in a few pots starred in my dreams. So I decided to reach out to a friend – Vandana – who runs UrbanMali – an enterprise that does urban gardening and more importantly they source native varieties of plants. Vandana suggested putting in a few hanging pots on the grill on our terrace along with a few ground pots. She also gave us the idea of having indoor plants. June 11, 2019 was a turning point for me as this was the day that the UrbanMali team came home and put in all the plants. My husband and I were proud owners of nearly 25 plants (both indoor and outdoor). We decided that we would start small and slowly increase the number after we proved to ourselves that we could keep these alive. We started watering them regularly and the ones on the terrace thrived.
However the indoor ones were clearly struggling and I couldn’t believe that we were going to kill another batch of plants!!! Several SOS’s to Vandana and reaching out to other gardening friends, helped me understand that the care the indoor plants needed is vastly different from the outdoor ones. Despite having grown up around greenery, I had never been wholly responsible for a plant and was a novice at this.
By the end of 1 month, my husband and I were very happy to note that we had killed only 2 plants out of the 25. By October 2019, the remaining plants had thrived and some even had baby plants. I was so thrilled – I bought more pots and started taking cuttings from the existing plants and potting them. We decided not to buy any more plants at that point but expand our garden from cuttings from my parental home garden and my aunt’s garden. All the cuttings rooted and we had nearly 40 plants.
In November we decided to be a little more adventurous and bought succulents. I foraged through our houses and found really cute cups, vessels, items that could be used to house the succulents. I studied up on the watering, nutrition and general needs of succulents (there were such differing opinions that I came across) and put all my learnings to the test. Which I failed miserably. The new year did not bring good news with regard to our succulents. Nearly 60% of them had not survived. Thankfully the remaining are continuing to do well – obviously they are the hardier variety.
We had been gifted an outdoor table with 2 chairs by a cousin of my husband’s on our wedding and had not used it for a long time. However during the lockdown in April 2020, I started to spend lots of time out in our small garden and we put the table and chairs into use. I sat out with my reading, embroidery and spent hours dreaming of the potential of our garden space if the solar panels were moved to another part of the roof. I didn’t have to wait long and by mid-August, the solar panels had been shifted and suddenly there was double the space to grow more greenery. It was so exciting!!!
My husband and I had grand plans of having one area as a herb patch, another as a veggie patch, then a flowering area, etc. I’m glad we came to our senses and realised that going simpler is still the way to go for us. So we decided to go ahead with hardy flowering plants and greenery. The UrbanMali team came back in the first week of September and put in a whole bunch of plants and creepers.
The timing of all of these projects could not have been better. We fell ill with covid just then and were quarantined at home. The terrace garden became my second home – I spent hours outside, soaking in the sun and enjoying the greenery. It was truly a solace for my weak body and tired mind. I started noticing all the various colours in our garden and spent my convalescence taking pictures of the plants, collating them by colour, etc and sending it out to friends and family. That’s when I realised that we have nearly 150 pots in our terrace and about 60 indoor plants!!! I’m amazed at how quickly our collection (and confidence) has grown. It has only been 16 months since we re-started our garden and we have over 200 plants. My family remarked that my grandmother’s green thumb has also been passed onto me, though it took some time to show up.
I’m sitting out in our garden as I’m writing this piece, with the early morning sun shining, birds chirping, a few butterflies flitting around and feeling an amazing sense of peace and contentment. I’m thrilled that after all the trials and tribulations, our garden story has such a beautiful happily ever after ending. Here’s hoping that all of you also take the plunge into growing some greenery – no matter how small a space you have.