Author Bio: Dhruv is a resident of Uttarahalli in South Bengaluru
A few years ago, our Resident Welfare Association (RWA) requested all owners of vacant plots (land on which a home has not been constructed yet) to ensure cleanliness and raise walls to prevent further garbage dumping. When I heard of this RWA circular, I wondered if the plot adjacent to my house could be cleaned as well. Here’s how my simple thought was converted into a beautiful garden.
1. Identifying a plot: The first step is to identify a vacant plot in your neighbourhood, preferably closer to where you live so that you can monitor it and also logistically aid it (like watering etc). The plot I identified, a 60x40 site, is adjacent to my plot where I reside and had been in touch with the neighbour, who is a Non Resident Indian (NRI), since 2019 about using the plot for gardening. In the meantime, I made note of the issues that concern this plot; the primary issue being that of garbage dumping and growth of weeds such as parthenium, locally known as congress weed, which grow aggressively and have no economical or agricultural use.
2. Obtaining permission from owner: I then contacted the owner this time making a proposal to plant on his vacant plot, which will not only ensure it remains clean and beautiful but also significantly reduce his burden of bringing in excavators for clearing out the weeds every few months that can cost around Rs 2,000 every visit. This way, the plot will remain clean at all time, not attract further dumping, and will yield crops that benefit the recipients.
On the left is a plot that has not been fenced and is unkept. On the right is my neighbour’s plot that I have cleaned and used for gardening.
Securing the plot: To secure the plot, we suggested to the owner that a wall be built. He readily agreed and built the wall through his contractor. For securing a plot, you can go about two ways based on the owner’s requirement and financial investment:
- Securing permanently: This can be done by using bricks, stones, and cement slabs
- Securing temporarily: Fencing shade nets (green nets), bamboo, metal sheets (they are expensive) are some quick ways of securing the plot, mainly to prevent the entry of cows, any unauthorised entry, and garbage/debris dumping
3. The idea of a garden: Since the plot was now secured, we suggested to the owner that I, along with the support of my family, could build a garden here. Once he agreed, I got to work and cleared the plot for sowing seeds. My primary purpose of building a garden was to get flowers for pooja [worship] at home and feed my curiosity of growing vegetables — you might have a different intention to grow a garden such as planning show-plants, just flowers or fruits, or for commercial purposes. I have now ended up having a mix of these intentions.
Since this was my first experience of gardening, my driver, who is an experienced farmer, and family members helped me with the valuable inputs based on their experience of farming and gardening. Ideally, here are my thoughts on why it is important to have someone experienced guide the process of gardening:
- Guidance from experienced gardener/farmer: Gardening is a field that initially requires some knowledge and guidance. However, overtime one can learn to grow.
- Personally, for me, YouTube videos and several online videos didn’t help much because they are not entirely practical. The case scenarios vary from time to time. However, it could work in some cases.
- In my experience, anyone in the field of farming can be useful. These people are usually around us — like the park watchman, driver, grandparents, househelps, anyone — just need to ask for help!
- Where can you go wrong: Spacing the sowing of seeds and plants is where I made initial mistakes. I was more concerned about saving space while sowing, which meant that I was compromising on the space required for the plant to grow healthily. Always plan for giving enough route space based on the plant size and growth, gradient [the levelling of the ground], and watering at appropriate intervals and quantities.
- Planning what to sow: Before asking for help, decide what the purpose of this garden is, which will help you decide spacing, types of plants, and time required.
4. Landscaping the plot to sow: I then figured out how to go about planting. Since the purpose of this plot is to be a garden and not anything else, it was easy to divide the available space to specifically plant flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Such division of space ensures that the different types of plant can receive water and nutrients based on their specific needs.
Note: It is good to keep in touch with the plot owner and keep him informed about the plants. In my case, since the owner is an NRI, the choice of plants are those that are temporary and semi-permanent, no tall trees or deep rooted plants, which means that in the near-future when the owner returns the plants can be easily removed or transplanted. So, you need to keep in mind the nature of your plot and the owners intentions.
Spacing between the plants and route space created by placing stones and bricks.
5. What to plant: In Total, I have about ~50 varieties of plants, vegetables, and flowers. Here are some that can be easily found at your local nurseries, at your neighbour’s garden, or can be propagated:
Fruits: Banana (these are the easiest to start with. It takes 9-12 months to fruit, and is rewarding to see the fruition); Papaya (takes 3-5 months) — can be found in local nurseries or neighbouring gardens.
Long term fruits: Sapota (chiku), guava, water apple, dragon fruit, papaya
Greens and Vegetables:
- Greens (Soppu): methi, sabbaki, coriander, palak, dantu,
- Underground: carrots, beetroot, radish
- Vegetables: Brinjal, tomato, chilli, capsicum (these are better to buy saplings than seeds)
Beans, ladyfingers (easy to grow with seeds)
In the last three years, I have spent about Rs 10,000.
6. Maintaining the plants: During rainy seasons, I don’t water the plants at all depending on the rain. Other months , watering depends on how much the plants dry up which varies and one learns with time — I started with alternate day watering for some, daily watering for some. During rainy seasons, continuous de-weeding is essential. Spraying organic fertilisers, manure, neem oil and cake, and nutrients such as cow dung and urine frequently is a must. Initially, I thought of buying ready manure from nurseries, but it can be bought from gaushalas near your house.
- So far, I haven’t encountered any disagreements or issues with the owner or the contractor. I’ve been in regular contact with the owner for a long time, and I keep him updated. However, you might face challenges, such as securing permission and convincing the landlord. In my experience, with good intentions and a polite attitude, you can overcome many obstacles.
- Organic farming on the ground is quite challenging in reality. It requires a certain level of dependency on fertilisers to achieve better and guaranteed results. In my experience, organic farming hasn’t been very successful, especially in an open space where it’s more susceptible to plant diseases.
- Before visiting nurseries, do your homework. For instance, when buying seasonal plants like shevanti and marigold, be mindful. We often purchase plants that look beautiful and have already flowered, but we should identify plants that are yet to flower so we can transplant and nurture them. Many times, we end up buying the wrong or already flowering plants and feel disappointed. It’s also advisable to bring along someone experienced who can help you select the plants and knows the local prices. Determine the quantity you need before buying seeds. I once bought too many seeds, and they expired because I had miscalculated the requirement.
- If you’re afraid of snakes and rodents, avoid planting excessively. Leave ample space between plants and for walking. Always keep the garden clean and free of weeds.
- Initially, we buy manure from nurseries. However, I recommend avoiding this because it can be expensive. Instead, you can find more cost-effective alternatives such as mulching, compost, and cow dung (which you can source directly from cowsheds or gaushalas).
- Be prepared for the fact that gardening is time-consuming. You’ll need a lot of time, and it’s better to do it yourself so you can learn about the plants and maintain them rather than relying on others. In the beginning, setting up the garden takes time, and even after that, you’ll need to invest time in watering and maintenance.
- Three to four people visit the garden every morning to collect flowers. This indicates that the garden doesn’t just provide for one family but benefits approximately three to four families.
- Several elderly residents in the neighbourhood take joy in the garden and bring their grandchildren to visit. They enjoy showing the youngsters how plants grow. One child was even curious enough to pull a carrot from the ground to observe how it grows and tastes.
- Two people from my neighbourhood have borrowed banana plants from my garden and planted them in empty spots near their homes, attempting to replicate what I’ve done. While their efforts might not match the scale of my garden, these small actions are meaningful and serve as a source of inspiration.
Whatever be the challenges faced and cost incurred, ultimately gardening gives you a great amount of satisfaction and joy.