Once famous for its green spaces, the City has now turned into a concrete jungle. High rise buildings and space restrictions have taken away the charm of gardens, which once adorned almost every home. It, however, has not discouraged a few gardening enthusiasts, who display their love for greens by turning their terraces and small spaces in the backyard into beautiful gardens.
Prof. Sahni (from Delhi) is probably the first green enthusiast of the City. She started off with the concept some 30 years ago. Prof. Sahni says, “I wanted to cool my terrace, as it used to increase the temperature in the house. Hence I shifted some of my plant pots to the terrace. This helped, so I decided to continue with the concept.” Prof. Sahni has some rare varieties of vegetables in her garden – such as black carrot, red lettuce, and Thai ginger.
The terrace garden of Raksha Bhutt, on the other hand, has been declared by the Gurgaon chapter of All India Kitchen Garden Association (AIKGA) as the garden with the most unusual variety of vegetables. Currently, AIKGA has more than 100 members – all of whom have cultivated full-fledged kitchen gardens at their homes.
Bhutt was inspired by a flower and vegetable show at Hauz Khas village five years ago. She has grown a brinjal the size of a coconut, and a pumpkin that weighs over 20 kg – making it to the Limca Book of Records. “I bought six unusual varieties of vegetable saplings from the show. However, only two could survive. I displayed ‘Radha’ (a big sized brinjal), and ‘Khush’ (an over-weight pumpkin) in the same show this year,” says Bhutt. She has given a special name to each sapling, as she feels that plants are like kids, and they too need a lot of love and care.
Krishan Singh, an official of the Forest department, who has turned his terrace into a kitchen garden, reveals that he has not bought any vegetables from the market in the last one year. He has grown an assortment of vegetables – brinjal, tomato, bittergourd, gherkin, spinach, and other leafy vegetables. As he grew up in Uttranchal, he sorely missed nature in the City. “I wanted a big garden, but space was a major constraint, so I turned my terrace into a kitchen garden.” Today, Singh takes free workshops on gardening, in Sector 4. “The number of gardening enthusiasts is increasing in the City. I receive at least three calls in a week requesting for a workshop on kitchen gardens,” says Singh.
Dr. Arora, a physician based in DLF Phase I, urges everybody to have a small kitchen garden. “Plants require 17 types of rich nutrients to grow. Many chemicals are used in the fields. As a result, these chemically treated vegetables can lead to liver toxicity, headache, gastro-enteritis, and kidney and central nervous system-related problems. A kitchen garden, on the other hand, survives on natural manure. That is why vegetables grown in a kitchen garden have 90 per cent less toxins as compare to those grown in a field.”
Although the awareness on kitchen gardens is picking up in the City, people still have many apprehensions. Most people are apprehensive that their terrace will not sustain the weight of the garden, and that the water content will cause seepage/leakage. “If your terrace can sustain the rains, growing a garden would not cause any leakage”, says Hema, a member of AIKGA, who has assisted over 40 households in setting up kitchen gardens.
Since Hema’s kitchen garden concept works on the potted plant model, it avoids the need to waterproof the roof. She also suggests that we grow plants in light-weight plastic bags and plastic containers, which even senior citizens can lift comfortably. Besides helping people in setting up kitchen gardens, some gardening enthusiasts are also giving away small saplings as Diwali gifts. “As October-November is the best time to plant saplings, we have decided to gift potted vegetable plants to many corporate groups and families,” says S. Murthy, a green crusader and a retired teacher.
What needs to be done
A volunteer at Navdanya, an NGO that helps establish community seed banks, Rakesh Mitra believes that there is also a need to set up more seed banks in the City. “Currently, seed banks are limited to village areas. However, we need to have at least one seed bank after every three kilometres in the City. Experts also feel that the authorities should establish kitchen gardens in all schools, to provide nutritious vegetables for the mid-day meal programme. “Kitchen gardens provide healthy and non-toxic food. Setting up kitchen gardens in schools will also inculcate the habit of gardening among the children. Reconnecting our children with nature in their everyday lives is a good first step in environmental education,” says S. Sudha, Principal of Govt. School No. 2, Sector 10. She started off this concept some 10 years ago, and has set up kitchen gardens in over 10 schools – in Gurgaon, Rewari, and Manesar.
In today’s compact urban spaces, kitchen gardens are great natural greenhouses. Not only do they give a green touch to the house, they are also therapeutic.