Sunbirds and butterflies visit her fruit trees

Priya Gopalen always grew up  with a garden around her.

Published: 07th March 2017 10:48 PM  |   Last Updated: 08th March 2017 06:09 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Priya Gopalen always grew up  with a garden around her. “We  are the kind of family that  would stop even when we were  driving, just to admire the  trees! All through my life, I have had to have some kind of  natural green around me all  the time,” says the co- founder of The Magic Bean, an  organisation promoting  environmental sustainability  through urban organic gardens.  

pics  by Romani Agawrwal

An urban planner by training  with a focus on housing, she  also delved into urban food security, but her foray into  urban organic gardening in  her own house started when  she once asked her young son where strawberries came from.  “He and several of his  friends replied - from the  supermarket! That completely  freaked me out!” she exclaims.  That made her decide to grow vegetables in her house as a  personal choice. “I wanted my son to know where his food  comes from.”

This was also partly because  she felt that children form a certain socio-economic  background and above were disconnected from the earth. “ In fact, we tell children not  to play in the soil! That was  the impetus for me to do this  on a certain scale in my  house and introduce my  friends to it too! And once  you’ve tasted something you’ ve grown, nothing ever tastes the same,”she adds.
Today in her  own garden both in her  courtyard and on the terrace,  she experiments with the same  using waste produce such as  coconut shells and sugarcane  waste. “It so happens that my  professional life and  personal life became  intertwined!”

In her courtyard  she has a mix of ornamental  as well as fruit-bearing  plants including banana,  papaya, nochi (which is a  mosquito repellant).
“Because  I have so many trees, I even  have varieties of birds  coming - including a sun bird  couple - and lots of  butterflies!” In her first  floor balcony are quaint  additions like saunf, lemon  grass, chicken spinach, basil  and such. But her real  harvest is on the terrace  where she had cultivated her  own rooftop farm. She proudly  plucks a few pink radishes  and displays them.. “Salad  leaves, pasala keerai,  chillies, red ladies fingers,  tomatoes of several varieties, my son’s  school(where she has  introduced the programme) the  tomatoes are as big as a  pomegranate!” she exclaims.  She also does a lot of seed- saving to obtain seeds from  plants.

“If I am told something will  not grow in Chennai , I  absolutely have to try it.  But most importantly I  want everyone in my family  and others to know how easy  it is to do it. For example,  I now  make my own Bokashi bran (used in composting) on  my own,” she laughs. "Kids especially, when they are taught to value the hard work behind growing their own greens, will automatically take care of the plants themselves."

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