Apr 10, 2018

The Reluctant Gardener

Everyone in my family is born with a green thumb. My grandmother had this huge garden, one side of it dominated entirely by flowers and the other side with less ornamental but more practical things like chilies, spinach, carrot, cauliflower, tomato and other assorted vegetables, not to forget the lemon, mango and papaya trees. The lemons out of my grandmother’s tree were as big as oranges and there was not a more teekhi mirchi or a sweeter carrot for miles around.

Living in Delhi and nostalgic for the gardens of their childhood, my parents tried to replicate the same greenery in our small flat in Delhi. We always had plants, shade loving ones inside the house and the more sturdy ones outside in the verandah. There was even a corner dedicated to herbs like mint and coriander and lemongrass. Every weekend they painstakingly watered and mulched and pulled weeds, doing pretty much everything but crooning to the plants.

My role in all this was small. I hauled plants from one place to another and helped weed and water them under the eagle eye of my mother.

I realized how much plants really meant to me when I moved to Japan. In Tokyo I was surrounded by concrete and glass with just some sad looking trees here and there. I could live with that but I hated waking up to a balcony that was devoid of any sort of greenery. It seemed too forlorn and the window sills seemed desolate without any plants. I tried filling the void by buying flowers every week and putting vases full of them all over the house. But I still yearned for plants. The house looked too empty and too impersonal without them.
So I went to a flower shop cum nursery near my house and randomly picked up a few pretty looking plants and came back with detailed instructions from the owner on how to look after them.

It was then that I realized that plants die on me. Like just curl up and Die. Whatever I did, water them diligently, move them religiously from sun to shade and shade to sun, talk to them, sing to them they just refused to smile.

There was one particular plant I really loved. It had little pale pink and reddish leaves that looked all dainty and pretty. I took special care of it and kept in a sunny corner of the window where I could admire it all the time. One fine day I came back from work and found it drooping. I assumed I had been giving it less water and watered it some more. By next evening the plant was lying lifeless and no amount of watering or putting it in the sun could save it. I was broken hearted. Next to follow was a bonsai like flowering plant. It started shedding leaves and then there was just a stump left that withered and died within a few days.

After a few months of steadily killing the plants I had bought, I went back to the shop and asked for some sturdy plants that needed the least care. The shop owner gave me a dirty look that screamed “Plant Killer” but nonetheless gave me a few plants which she said could never die. All I had to do water them regularly.

Of course the plants died. No matter what I did over the months, the plants kept dying as if they had a personal vendetta against me.

The green thumb in the family seemed to have skipped a generation.

By the time I was back home in India, my parents had decided to shift to another city. My mother was very concerned about leaving her plants in my tender care but she really had no choice. I was given detailed instructions on when to water, how much to water and when to move to plants in and out of shade.

It goes without saying that over the years, with my parents increasingly out of town, our plant population has gone considerably downhill, leaving only a few tough plants that have managed to survive inspite of me.

Meanwhile, I realized that I sorely missed gardening. I missed the cool calm mornings spent watering the plants, the smell of wet mud and the joy of seeing a rose or jasmine plant bloom. I missed those days when the house overflowed with plants and the neighbors dropped in just to admire them.

Things were not made easy by my friends who all seemed to be avid gardeners and inundated the social media with their prettily flowering plants and bragged about their leafy palak and rotund pumpkins.

I was determined to make plants love me, come what may.I decided to give gardening another shot and bought a few plants over the internet. The picture showed smiling plants in the best of health but what I got was their drooping wilted versions. Obviously they were beyond any resuscitation. Then I went ahead and ordered a particular plant because I loved the flowers on it. When the plant arrived it was bare save a few leaves. The Gardner who looks after the society lawn told me that this plant flowers once a year and I would have to wait six months for that. Before the six months were up, the plant was history!

But I wanted plants. I really did. It’s not as if I wanted to turn great stretches of arid land into a beautiful landscape (Well in the distant future, I dream of doing that actually), all I wanted was a verandah full of greenery, some flowers and most importantly the simple pleasure of gardening, and watching things grow and bloom.

But I really didn’t want any more plant deaths on my head!

To console myself, I continued to visit Lodhi Garden – The mecca of Gardens in Delhi and rejoiced when the famous Sundar Nursery opened near Humayun’s tomb. But something in me was still not happy.

So I decided to give my relationship with plants one last chance. I spoke to the gardeners in my family, for once taking their advice seriously. I started with baby steps, In the beginning just trying not to kill the existing plants, before moving on to planting new ones.

Among the plants that my parents already have, there is now a sweet little marigold cheerfully waving it’s  flowers, a rose plant showing great promise of white roses and some mint and coriander leaves peeping out of the soil. And yesterday, I plucked a few home grown lettuce for my salad.

I think the plants and I are slowly becoming friends.

Simple steps, hopefully that will lead to a greener and more colorful future !


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