CHENNAI: Juhu bungalow surrounded by a large garden rich with naturally-grown long beans, tomatoes, bottle guards, capsicums, and limes; it was these memories of her childhood home that former Mumbaikar Anju Agarwal brought to Chennai when she moved here in 1993. And of course, years of her parents’ gardening experience. This knowledge came in handy when her own garden — consisting of two pots — took root over a decade later. Over the years, the two pots have expanded to an elaborate terrace vegetation system with okra, chillies, tomatoes, pomegranates, drumsticks, radishes and more; thanks to her homemade fertilisers, pesticides and bio enzymes, several of which she shares in her new book A Beginner’s Guide to Home Gardening: The Natural Way.
The book, modelled after a cookbook, shares “recipes” — using mostly kitchen waste (illustrated by Anchal Sandeep Bansal) — that empower you to manage your plants with self-sufficiency. “The book contains a little bit of everything. How to make your own fertilisers, pesticides and also how to use the ones that are purchased off the shelf. It’s for beginners or those who are already into gardening. I wanted people to have one place to go for all the recipes and since they are used to reading recipe books. I wanted to give them an easy format like that,” says Anju.
Era of experimentation
From fish amino punch and coconut buttermilk colada to blooms booster and turmeric blast, the names of the recipes inspire the same gluttony a cookbook does (till you read the purpose). Unfortunately, these are not magical concoctions but plant solutions well-known to organic gardeners that she has learned from her parents and the Internet. So, what is the novelty of this book amid the information overload of the World Wide Web?
“Not everything on the Internet is perfect. One has to learn and know which one is the best solution to use. When I came to Chennai, we had no garden and I was clueless about a terrace garden. So, it (my knowledge) has been a step by step experiment process. I would maintain a diary of what worked for me and what didn’t. A lot of trial and error has gone into it,” she explains, adding that her mother motivated her when she was hesitant to write this book.
Her experience also extends to several gardening events that she has hosted as a member of the Green Goddesses, a platform advocating a self-sustainable and natural lifestyle. “Through the events I realised that many people did not know about something as simple as the 3G spray (ginger, garlic, green chillies). When I told them about it and they saw positive results, I thought maybe there is a need for a book that people can resonate with and understand,” she narrates. Along with tried and tested universal recipes, the book also offers substitutes for ingredients and other tips for the garden.
Need for natural
Growing up in a gardening household has helped Anju cultivate a special relationship with plants and home cooked meals through the years. When she was not helping her parents with the vegetables, you could have found her at relatives’ houses helping and advising the gardeners as an 11-12-year-old (an earlier, verbal rendition of the book, perhaps?) at their request. They would also invite people over — and keep them coming — with their delicious homegrown yield. “I remember my uncle from Peddar Road would come home every Sunday evening only to have lemon juice made of the lemons grown on the property. I didn’t get a chance to graft it so I’m still searching for that taste. You know, there is a subtle difference in the taste between the market bought and homemade. My daughter was ill a few years ago and I made her spinach soup from the ones at home. The next day, she wanted it again and this time, I used market spinach and she did not enjoy it as much as the first one. There’s not a huge difference but there is one,” she shares.
A green thumb for decades also affects your life, makes you consider a more sustainable lifestyle. For several years now, Anju has practised this, even creating her own products — floor cleaner, addition to deepam oil, utensil cleaners and more — with yield from her garden and its waste. With a bucket for composting and even reusing her rice and dal water for the plants, her recipes all use her kitchen waste. “This also helps you reduce waste since it uses the scraps from your kitchen,” she says. It’s quite assuring to know that the author you might refer to practices what they preach.