CHENNAI: As we enter a duplex house with both the balconies filled with at least 20 ornamental plants, each alternate stair has a pot. We open the door and notice Sansevieria — mother-in-law’s tongue — in the living room, staring right at us as Varalakshmi (39) welcomes us inside to talk about terrace gardening, which she claims to love more than her children!
She has been doing terrace gardening for the past eight years. “I started with 50 flowering plants to get flowers during poojas at home, and then vegetables came into the scene. Slowly, I also started growing fruits and cacti. Now, I don’t even know how many plants I have. May be more than 250,” she says, as she shows us her beautiful garden.
The place where plants are from is important to know its quality. She says, “Kilpauk nursery, Madhavaram horticulture society and horticulture society on Radha Krishnan road are some reliable places to buy my seeds. A plant lover can take a plant from anywhere and get a good yield.” Medicinal plants, herbs, ornamental plants and a few vegetable plants have taken over her garden, for which she uses organic pesticides and homemade manures once in 15 days.
“I prepare compost by adding old flowers, rotten vegetables, greens and browns. Soil and coco peat are added layer by layer and jaggery water and buttermilk are sprinked. After fermentation, I use it as manure.” She also uses Panchakavyam, which is made of cow dung, cow urine, milk, ghee, banana, vermi compost and ghanajeevamrutham — made from cow dung, besan flour and jaggery — to enrich the soil.
Initially, she was prone to blunders as she followed everyone’s suggestions. “Roots weren’t supposed to be exposed to epsom salt, which I didn’t know. I bought it and just mixed them with sand. But I learnt a lot after I joined some Facebook groups. I watched interviews and read articles,” she says.
Varalakshmi spends at least five-six hours a day in her garden. “If I am not inside the house, my children and my maid know where to find me,” she laughs, adding that summers are a bad time for gardening, “Most plants don’t survive then.”
What to grow
If your kitchen is exposed to sunlight, you can grow mint, green chilly, pasalaikeerai and pulichakeerathandu.
Balcony garden: Bougainvillea, short variety palms, modakathankeerai and Sansevieria.
Summer tips: Grow jasmine in summer. Loosen the soil and water them sufficiently in the morning, as watering in the evening invites bugs.
For beginners — Use vegetables and the stock from pulses and rice to add nutrition to the plants. To eradicate melee bugs, use 3g of paste made of green chilly, ginger and garlic, diluted in 1: 10 ratio of water, a night after preparation.