Not with silver bells and cockle shells, but this Chennai woman plants everything from strawberries and bleeding hearts, to brinjals, beans and kale
It all started with the hibiscus.
Walking her way flanked by rows of adeniums on the terrace of her two-storied house at Besant Nagar, 58-year-old Sujatha Ravi narrates how she turned her terrace into a veritable garden. “About three years ago, I wanted to grow hibiscus flowers, because we needed them for our pujas.”
Today, it’s not just hibiscus flowers: cabbage blooms invite you onto the terrace while banana trees stand sentry. The spinach rest under a pale-coloured mosquito net, protected from squirrels, while baby carrots are nestled inside the soil. The brinjal is not the usual round and purple, but white and long.
Sujatha takes us around the garden, the sun winking at her through the criss-cross grid of the bamboo shed. From this grid, hang bottle gourd, elbowing their way through the more decorative pots of bluebells, cosmos, bleeding hearts and ivy. The guavas are ready, the strawberries still green, getting ready to be plucked, while the grape vine has a while to go.
As she runs her fingers through the tulsi, I take a whiff of the adjacent basil plant, the aroma enveloping us. She plucks a single ‘mint-tulsi’ leaf, and offers it to me. Rolling it around in the mouth instantly cools the tongue down. “One leaf is enough to act as a mouth freshener,” she says.
Finding a community
Sujatha, like many in this generation, has woken up to the benefits of organic farming — of knowing exactly what is on your plate. “There’s a belief that organic farming is expensive,” she says. The solution? Finding a community where you can share the saplings and reduce costs. The Facebook group, Organic Garden Foundation, is this community for her, and presumably, for its over 35,000 members.
“Three months after I began gardening, one of my friends introduced me to Organic Garden Foundation,” says Sujatha. The group discusses techniques to solve problems of manure, compost, de-worming, and crop rotation and organises meet-ups. “Prior to these meet-ups, we list the extra seeds and saplings that we have, and the ones that we need. When we meet, we exchange these among ourselves.”
When she started out, her first challenge was to fend off worms without store-bought fertilisers. “I would look everything up on Google, but now this group has become my search engine,” she quips. Today, she posts pictures of the problematic plants and her predicaments, and can expect immediate responses from other experts around India.
It was with the group’s help, and through trial-and-error, that she learnt to make her own compost. In a small room with green wooden doors, she keeps three four-feet high drums of home-made manure. “I collect vegetable and fruit peels in it, and in the summer lay it out to dry, and mix red soil or coir with it. This is what I add to the seed beds,” she says.
“A garden can’t grow without the entire family chipping in. It’s not a task for an individual,” says Sujatha, adding that her husband 63-year-old R Ravi does as much for the garden as she does. Her son and daughter-in-law take care of the garden in their absence.
The family has been living in this house since 1987, but for the past couple of years, they can feel the change the garden has brought. “My son and daughter-in-law live on the first floor, and they say their room is now much cooler,” she says.
Though she lives on the ground floor, and has a slight congenital limp, she makes sure to visit the terrace every day. “They are like my babies, I know they wait for my affection every day.”
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