Gardening as a kid
When I was around 4 years of age, my parents bought an independent home in a faraway suburb (then) in Chennai and we immediately moved in. The house had lots of area around for a good garden. My parents had planted a few coconut trees, a mango tree, a guava tree, a drumstick tree, a gooseberry tree, a few papayas, erm, you get the drift. As I and my baby brother grew up, these trees grew alongside. When I was around 6 or 7 years of age, my mother had planted a few beans plants. These plants grew up to be huge climbers that stretched from the ground till as far as our sunshade and gave us bountiful harvests. It was my responsibility to pluck the beans out of the plants. There was a reason to this. The beans were on a height that one couldn’t reach it by a simple stool and there were so many of them too! So, my father used to lift me up onto the sunshade on which, I used to perch upon and harvest the beans. I was the ideal one for it, because I could be lifted up easily and the sunshade could take my weight without itself being damaged in any way. This was a task I used to enjoy and detest at the same time! While it was quite a fun being perched on the sunshade and harvesting beans, eating the harvested beans was not so! I quite used to hate the beans actually. And to my dismay, there were too many of them. We used to give it away to our neighbours and sun-dry it too (which is the only form in which I like the vegetable).
That wasn’t all with my childhood gardening encounter. If we had a good garden, so did our neighbours. Almost everyone around us had coconut trees and mango trees and a few of them even had jasmine plants, henna plants, lemon trees, so on and so forth.
So, my early childhood was spent growing with the plants though my share in gardening was quite limited to only harvesting them.
After a few years of this blissful suburb life, we moved to an apartment in the city centre. We had balconies but no garden and with this house shift, ended my tryst with gardening for a long time.
My first plant ever
Fast forward to twenty years hence; I am married, living in an apartment again. I and my husband (who is a gardening Virgin like me) adopted our very first child – a very easy to grow plant. We were so happy when it started flowering. But our happiness didn’t last very long. It soon withered. I tried with another plant, and it too gave up its life shortly after. So, two consecutive plant deaths were too much for me to take and I kept myself away from gardening for a long time again.
Fast forward to five years hence; I am a mother to two lovely kids, my daughter just a three month old baby when we shift to another house in a different city. This house had a huge open terrace beautifully tiled with brown outdoor tiles. The balcony was the highlight of the house; my kids used to play in the terrace all the time and all our visitors complimented us on the delightful space and asked us to get some nice plants to spruce it up. I couldn’t resist another attempt at raising plant kids. This time, I chose a tall areca palm plant that was quite in its teenage I must say. It was a beautiful plant, making the best backdrops ever, for all our photos taken in the well-lit terrace. This plant stayed with us for good two years. Our stay in the beautiful house was to end soon as were moving cities again. I wanted to gift my plant kid to one of my friends before I moved out. But, alas! The beautiful palm tree was infested with some really scary caterpillar-type insects. I had to abandon my plant and shift out.
A slow start
Fast forward to five years hence; another house shift - to a beautiful home with two large balconies that have an amazing view onto a creek with aquatic birds flying in. This is where I currently reside. In between, there were several attempts to have a few simple plants such as tulsi (basil), or Turmeric, but nothing worked out.
Ever since I moved into my current residence, I had been itching to start a garden, a real balcony garden with a lot of plants and a sit out where I can have a cup of hot piping sea enjoying the view outside. I mentally had huge plans for this place. I wanted to clear out all the existing pots our house owner had left behind and start afresh. But, very soon after we moved in, the era of Covid – lockdowns started and my gardening interest took a back seat. Between the lockdowns, my mother in law engaged a gardener to plant some turmeric roots. This gardener cleared the existing pots and filled them with fresh soil and potting mix. He planted turmeric in one, a flowering plant in another with the other ones vacant. The turmeric and the flowering plant started growing quite well. Encouraged by that, I sowed some seeds I had taken from a ripe bitter-guard. To my surprise, the seeds actually germinated! Slowly, one by one they grew into tiny plants and then into tall climbers. The bird-net in my balcony gave it the right support and my baby starting giving me grand-babies! I harvested scores of bitter-guards multiple times. This was my first ever successful seed-to-harvest attempt. This bitter-guard plant was the apple of my eye for many months. I used to wake up every day to locate fresh flowers and fruits that have formed. I used to water it lovingly several times a day. To give it company, I planted an arbi plant out of a sprouted vegetable. The arbi plant grew beautifully with large leaves. It is really a fascinating experience to watch fresh leaves form on this plant. One leaf grows from another, slowly unrolls and branches out.
DIY fever kicks in
After experiencing success in one balcony, now it was time to move to the other one. Now, this balcony does not have a bird net and hence pigeons and crows throng to this place all the time. It needed a good cleaning and a face lift. Initially, I thought of engaging an interior designer or a landscape artist. But then, a wave of DIY fever kicked in and I started doing little things by myself. I first painted the balcony grills, then the walls. I drew and painted a little warli art giving the balcony a slightly Indian look.
Then, came the plants, one by one. Areca palm tree of course, then a hibiscus plant (on request by my daughter), a tomato plant, a ginger plant and lots of money plants and other ornamental plants in either glass bottles or diy jars. A discarded shoe shelf now sits in my balcony with the higher shelf holding small pot plants and the lower shelves holding an assortment of gardening tools and paints.
While all this was happening, I took inspiration from a multitude of pinterest, instagram posts and youtube videos which helped me in thinking of new ways to decorate and beautify my outdoor space. I was a complete rookie and couldn’t distinguish one paint from another or one brush from another. Here is where social media undeniably helped me learn and execute.
Zero waste Gardening
I have been composting for almost five years now and these inspiring posts and videos have furthered my zero waste journeys and have helped me extend the same to gardening as well. In fact, gardening readily lends itself to zero-waste lifestyle. All the biodegradable wastes become compost or bio-enzymes while the plastics become the beautiful planters. I now try and minimize my purchase of planters and other decorative materials and instead scourge around my house and outside looking for items that I can with minimum efforts convert into planters. Coconut shells, plastic water bottles, curd boxes are the first things that have got a new life as planters.
My daughter is my gardening partner at home. She spends a lot of time in the garden watering the plants, arranging and re-arranging the pots, decorating them with pebbles and shooing away birds that encroach into the balcony. She has a keen eye for any pests on the plants and checks each plant thoroughly every day. Hibiscus is her favourite plant and every day, she offers the flower that is blossomed to Ganpati Bappa.
Sometimes, we try out the DIY painting stuff together and try out various combinations for balcony decor with recycled stuff. On her insistence, we got an old tyre from a workshop which she wanted to convert into a balcony seating arrangement. We have painted it now and it rests below a cable-spool that I picked up from nowhere. The newly painted cable-spool and tyre combo acts as a balcony table.
You can do it too!
Thus, ever evolving is my gardening hobby with respect to growing plants and decorating the garden suitably. I have a long way to go, but as the adage goes, every journey begins with a small step. I thank my bitter-guard plant that grew and fruited filling my heart with joy and confidence to grow more plants.
This doesn’t mean all my planting experiences have been a success. Many of my plant kids have died due to pests or even over/ under watering. I guess, it takes a few attempts before one even faintly becomes a decent gardener.
I believe my story will resonate with every self-made gardener or wish-to-be gardeners on some level. With this post I wish to encourage my readers that if I can do it, you can do it too. All the best!