Bengaluru earned its sobriquet of ‘Garden City’ quite naturally all those years ago. But now, a strong effort needs to be made to help us hold on to that title. Of course, it helps when most people you meet tend to have a love for plants. It’s heartening to see little pots and bottles lining window sills and parapets. Sure, they are not full-fledged gardens, but they are a move in the right direction. Now, if you want to start a garden of your own, chances are, you already have read all there is on prepping and starting a garden for the space that you have. So, while we will talk about all that, let’s also get into the kind of gardens you can have, and bust some of those myths about gardening that you are holding on to.
Do you really want a garden?
If you are planning to start a garden, there are a few things to ask yourself first, believes Reena Chengappa, co-founder, MySunnyBalcony, an urban gardening company. “Considering that a garden has become more of an installation for most people, ask yourself why you really want a garden and how much time are you willing to spare for it. What most people don’t realise is that a garden needs a primary caregiver who understands the plants that are there, what they need and nurtures it well. Handing it over to the domestic help or making a chore out of it for the family will not really help, as each one approaches the upkeep of a garden in different ways, sometimes not keeping the well-being of the garden in mind.”
There are also a few important things that need to be understood about plants ‑ that every plant has a life cycle, which includes a flowering period and a hibernation period, a down time for it. But the good thing about Bengaluru is that almost everything grows here except for a few plants like tulips etc. There are a lot of native plants that flourish very well here. It is ideal to consider beginning with a mix of fruits, vegetables and flowers, of course, based on personal choices, space and time for maintenance.
Making a start
Considering the landscape of Bengaluru, we have primarily two kinds of garden spaces that can be cultivated – the open terrace or balcony gardens of apartment complexes and homes designed to have terraces. And the second being the ground based gardens, common to standalone homes in older residential localities and plotted developments.
What you grow begins with what facilities you have. “I decided what to grow based on the amount of sunlight on my terrace, which was quite a lot as it was a fully open one,” says Aparna George, a homemaker and nurturer of a fairly large edible garden in BTM Layout, before she moved out of the City. “As mine was mainly a terrace garden, the few ornamentals I had were flowers (some for pest control like marigold) and some succulents.”
She points out that the main thing to take care of is the water drainage, and generally, nothing special needs to be done when growing in pots, as the usual waterproofing for a terrace is sufficient in that case. But if you are finicky about keeping the ground clean, then you can plan platform structures for the plants.
When it came to planning a ground-based garden around her home in Marathahalli, Monika Manchanda, a food consultant and blogger had two spaces to work with – the backyard and the front area. “I typically use the backyard and the sides for vegetables and the front area for ornamental plants. Sometimes, it also depends on which area gets more sun. For example, I have a pepper creeper that I planted right in front of my house since I needed the support of the wall and a mix of sun and shade to grow,” she explains.
Monika found that getting the soil ready was the biggest step for her, especially since she had gravel heavy soil. “One thing I learnt is not to be hesitant to hire a gardener as they are great help and give out some great pointers too,” she adds.
Starting small and working your way to a larger garden is the way to go, according to most people. “Growing is a learning experience and it’s good to develop knowledge before going all out,” says Aparna.
Monika says that the garden we see in her home today is work that has taken place over the last decade. “Now that I have a garden set up and running, I typically do a nursery visit once a quarter and have a gardener who comes once a week,” she says. “And if something catches my eye online, I order it. I actually tend to get something for my garden from all my travels, a small plant if we are on road, seeds from a family friend, or from a home stay and some such.”
Making sense of watering
One of the main misconceptions about a home garden is that it dies from underwatering. Many times, the idea of what a dead plant is not clear to people. A plant that is not flowering is often misconstrued as being dead. Underwatering or overwatering can be the cause of rotting roots.
“We do not see beyond the upright part of the plant,” says Reena. “That is why it is important to start small, understand what each plant needs and then work on nurturing your garden slowly”.
Mulching is very popular – that is, using a material to prevent water from evaporating too quickly – gravel, pebbles, moss, leaf debris and the like. Automated watering systems are also available. Avoid using a hose as this tends to cause wastage – the bucket and mug system works much more efficiently. And where you have the opportunity, like Monika, consider using harvested rainwater and waste from the RO.
Fun lessons to learn
As a home gardener, you will find that your garden can teach you quite a bit. Aparna recounts her experience saying, “I learnt a lot about simple facts like pollination, and how it might need to be done manually in places where the natural pollinators are not available. This might mean being armed with a paintbrush at 9 pm as the zucchini flower only opens up at that time! In general, handfuls of compost or manure can be used at the time of flowering to provide extra nutrition for the fruit to be formed. Pests can be a big issue especially in small balconies and terrace gardens, but it’s important to strike a balance and not keep using pesticides, even if organic. A better approach is to strengthen the plant so that pest attacks are reduced”.
Monika has learnt that when it comes to manure, more is less. “I manure once a month and use the vermicompost we make at home. Also, neem oil can be your best friend for bugs. Discarded tea leaves, coffee powder and egg shells are great food for your plants. And one very easy and handy insect repellent is the garlic spray. Simply grind a couple of garlic bulbs, add a spoon of very mild soap, dilute, and spray on plants”.
So there you have it – personal experiences and expert talk on getting you started with your garden. Go on, let’s get cracking on bringing back the green to Bengaluru.