Monday, August 15, 2016

Terrace gardens - and what they teach you!

I was always interested in having a garden. I want to grow vegetables mainly, but if there are flowering plants I will not disturb them. 
After a very long time my dream was realized. 2 years after moving into my own house I finally started a "garden". The initial "garden" was just a few pots and some random plants in them. Soon, plants like Papaya and capsicum, tomatoes and brinjal began to grow out of a modest area of soil layered directly on the terrace floor. As these plants began to grow furiously and take more and more space, I realized that a more specific area must be marked according to the plant growing. Thus, I got big pots and put the plants into them. They grew properly for a few weeks and then stopped. For a long time I did not understand what was going on. I gave the plants the space they required, gave the required nutrients, but they just would not grow. The plants seemed to be struggling somehow. 
I was getting clues but I did not know what to make of them. One early morning I decided I will thoroughly scan the entire terrace and figure out what was going wrong. As I sat next to the pots and began my "interrogation" I realized that the plants were attacked by pests called white flies and mealy bugs. I did my best to get rid of them, but if I removed them from one pot they would magically appear in another within a few days. I had thought that getting rid of the pests would be the end of it all, alas I was grossly mistaken. Upon further investigation I came to be enlightened by the fact that the pests had a caretaker and protector. The caretaker was none other than the humble ant. These ants would go about spreading their nest and larvae from under the compost pit to under the pots. Some of the ants went into the pots as well. At plain sight the ants seemed to be living off the compost and living under the pots like good citizens. But look at the same from the point of view of an investigator, one will see the true nature of the situation here. The ants used the mealy bugs as humans use cows. So where ever they went they picked up the bugs too. After a point of time the ants were everywhere and so were the bugs. I almost collapsed at the sight of the plants wilting and dying out and to the thought that I will have to remove ALL the plants! 
By this time I also saw that earthworms were present in the compost pit and the coconut shells that were lying around were taken over by fungal hyphae. But both these were not in the same area of the pit. There were so many other insects in the garden too. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number in such a small area. I decided that the plants need to be removed from the pots and put into large bins. While I was doing so, I noticed that the papaya and the periwinkle had intertwined their roots while at the bottom of the pot where the coconut fibres were, fungal hyphae took charge and connected both the plants through their roots. This was something new to me! Upon further investigation, I found out that plants and fungi live a symbiotic relationship and that they communicate with each other like a neural network! 
The periwinkle and the papaya with the help of the fungal hyphae were exchanging information, resources and were helping each other to grow better! From here onwards, started my "education" with the plants as my teachers. 
Nature has always something to teach – provided the person is ready to learn. Nature is always telling us something – it is up to us to listen. My terrace garden has taught me a couple of things in the past few days (though I have a garden from the past few years – my perception has changed a lot of late)

Things I learnt from my garden plants –
1] Pineapple – from the pineapple plant I learnt patience. It took the plant one year to start boasting a crown. This plant has taught me to give time to certain things and they will bloom just fine.
2] Avocado, Papaya and Mango – No matter whether you are in a pot or in a large space of good soil, healthy or slight pest attack, you must keep growing no matter what. Limited resources? Then branch out !!
3] Brinjal and Capsicum – one must provide good fruits of labour at regular intervals. The importance and respect you get are tenfold.
4] Ajwain / Doddapatre  and Onion– one must have strong enough within to repel pests like negative thoughts and actions and grow like crazy.
5] Lemon – a)No matter how many defences you might put up to protect yourself, you will always have those few people who pass those defences and feed on your leaves of knowledge.
b) You will be effectively helping someone to get out of their cocoon and fly away like a butterfly.
c) Do not get attached to either the caterpillar or the cocoon.
6] Chillies (normal and birds eye) – your face value need not be showy today, but your fruits of labour must impact someone tomorrow in a big way.
7] Vinca rosea – always have a pleasing appearance and be willing to grow anywhere with anyone. Always strive to bring the colour into life.
8] Desert plants – low resources? Harsh conditions? That should not stop one from LIVING ! what does not kill you only makes you resilient and stronger
9] Cucumbers and gourds – grow out of compost, grow out of rich soil, grow out of anything but GROW!! LIVE!! Take every opportunity to grow and proliferate.

10] Orchid and Tulsi – Always be special and unique !

To see photographs about my terrace garden please visit