By Sneha Mahale
City gardeners share tips on how to turn tiny corners of your home into lush green spaces
So, you live in the city? You have a job that keeps you away from home for hours? You are out a lot on the weekends. Your apartment doesn’t have a backyard or access to a terrace? All valid arguments, but as they say, where there is a will, there is a way. Our urban gardening hacks will leave you with no excuses. “Just remember to start small and grow what comes easy initially. Take it from there,” says Linesh Pillai, founder of UGF Farms, an urban farming company.
Go on, get your green thumb on.
Space it out
City apartments have many nooks and corners that are ideal for growing small gardens. While window sills, terraces and balconies are popular choices since plants have direct or indirect access to sunlight, you could turn a part of the living room, bedroom or even bathroom into a mini garden with a few potted plants.
“Mini gardens are modular gardens that are perfect for small spaces and easy to maintain. Place them on the side table in the living room, the study table, or even your office desk. When you are setting off for a vacation, simply move them to your neighbour’s home,” says Ankur Tiwari, founder of Balcony of Joy.
By the roots
According to Diipti Jhangiani, a Bandra-based digital marketing consultant, the only limitation to growing a variety of plants in urban areas is the amount of sunlight that reaches the space. “Most vegetable plants, for example, require at least five to six hours of sunlight, and my balcony receives only three to four hours. So I have stacked up my plants in such a manner that they receive maximum sunlight,” she says.
Picking the right plants is vital. Dadarbased Smita Shirodkar, who founded Earthoholics, offers a simple hack. “Remember it this way. Show plants need the least sunlight since they have only leaves. Plants with leaves and flowers need more sunlight. And if a plant produces leaves, flowers and fruits, it needs abundant sunlight,” she explains.
So choose plants based on available sunlight and space. A few easyto-maintain indoor plants include money plant, bamboo plant, peace lily, aloe vera, ferns and areca plants. Flowering plants like petunias, lantanas and portulaca need almost five hours of direct sunlight, while leafy vegetables and herbs grow in 3-4 hours of direct sunlight.
Smita Shirodkar poses with her open wall garden at her office in Dadar. Pet bottles have been used to grow flowering plants that do not require much root space.(PIC:SMITA SHIRODKAR) ; Diipti Jhangiani with the produce from her garden; PIC: DIIPTI JHANGIANI
Urban homes can be strapped for space. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t use every inch that is available. Kavita Karnik, a horticulturist, lists options available.
Vertical limit: Stack planters, railing planters and vertical wall planters for a beautiful balcony garden made up of ferns, succulents, vines and begonias.
Build that wall: Invest in climbers and vines or even edible plants such as gourds and beans to hide a balcony wall or railing in an aesthetic manner.
Bowl-ed over: A succulent bowl is low maintenance, needs minimum space and very little watering. It can incorporate a variety of plants that are bursting with colour and add value to any space, be it balcony or living room.
Hang around: Get a few hanging baskets and place flowering plants in them to jazz up your balcony instantly.
Shelf life: Install shelves on the balcony wall and fill them with containers of lucky plants and cacti. It adds a dash of green while creating the illusion of a spacious balcony.
Mix and match
Well-fed plants are healthier and tastier. “Create your own potting soil by mixing soil, compost and cocopeat (coconut husk that is powdered and available in the market Cocopeat helps in retaining water for a longer period of time,” says Andheri-based Priyanka Amar Shah, who founded iKheti. Regularly mulch your plants by adding dry leaves. Mulch serves not only as a weed suppressor, but also as a barrier between soil and the heat, cold and wind from which you want to protect it. Alternatively, potting and nutrient mixes are available in stores and online too.
Jhangiani’s balcony in Bandra receives only 3-4 hours of sunlight. The pots are stacked in this manner so that they can make most of the light. (right) A soda bottle used to grow a flowering plant
Water it right
The water requirement of each plant varies based on type, its size and at what stage of life it is in. Tiwari has a few tips for beginners. “Water a plant only if the top soil is dry up to a depth of half an inch. Excess water will cause the roots to rot.” When a plant is over-watered, it starts shedding leaves. Reduce the water right away.
Also, try to water plants at around 5 pm. If you water them in the morning, the water heats up because of sunlight and the soil temperature increases. Water the top soil. Do not water the top of the plant or its leaves.
Reuse and recycle
Keep a few things in mind while picking a container. First, anything that holds soil and drains out excess water can be used. Based on the plant life cycle, you can choose the appropriate material. Every plant requires certain amount of space to grow, therefore select your container accordingly.
Now if you are on a budget, you are in luck. You can fashion containers from household items. “For example, egg cartons are perfect for seedlings or plants with a limited shelf life. Oil cans could be used to grow curry leaves, rosemary or chilli. Pet bottles have a long shelf life and can be used to grow any plant that doesn’t require long root space. Or place cane baskets over old plates and grow spider plants or peace lilies in it. Even tyres, old drawers and mango crates can be used to create vegetable patches,” says Shirodkar.
GROW YOUR OWN MICROGREENS
What you need:
A tray or container at least two to three inches deep (use old drawers, take-away food containers, used soda bottles or egg cartons), potting soil, seeds of your choice and water.
Drill holes into the bottom of the container to drain excess water. Fill your tray with soil. Scatter the seeds and gently cover them with soil. Water thoroughly and ensure the soil is moist at all times. Keep the tray in the sunniest window or balcony of your house. Protect the tray from birds by using a mesh cover. After two to three days, the seeds will start to germinate. After around seven to 10 days, uproot all the seedlings, wash and toss them into a delicious salad, sandwich or soup.
DIY SUCCULENT BOWL
What you need
A wide-mouth bowl, succulent potting mix, a variety of succulents with different textures and shapes, gravel and water.
Place a two-inch layer of gravel on the bottom of the bowl. Add a healthy layer of the succulent potting mix. Plant your largest succulent first. It will offer you the focal point to build on. Place your remaining succulents around it. Don’t worry about planting too close. Water it. The root systems of succulents are good at providing moisture to the plants, so do not overwater.
DIY INSTANT COMPOST
What you need
Blender, banana peels (chopped), egg shells, coffee grinds and residue, and water.
Put all the ingredients into your blender and blend for 1-3 minutes. Fill it with water until it’s thin enough for you to pour easily. Dump this mix into a water can and sprinkle it to give your plants a pick-me-up.
INSTANT HACKS FOR URBAN GARDENERS
► Fill an empty wine bottle with water to its brim. Quickly turn the bottle upside down and shove it deep into the soil. As the soil dries out, it will gradually drain the water from the bottle.
► Fashion a watering can from your old plastic milk jug by heating up a needle and poking holes in the lid.
► Poke a hole in the bottom of an orange peel for drainage, fill it with potting soil, then sow seed and sprinkle water. The peel will decompose and nourish the young plant as it grows.