Welcome to My Garden Series by The Better India, where we feature stories about gardening and homebound farming initiatives submitted by our readers. If you have any stories to share as well, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Anju Agarwal, the love for gardening started right from her childhood days, as she grew up seeing her parents working in the kitchen garden of their bungalow in Mumbai.
Speaking to The Better India, she says, “There was never a need for us to purchase vegetables from the market as my parents grew anything and everything. From bottle gourds and beans to even capsicum, everything was grown here organically. So, I think that is where it all began,” she says
In 1993, Anju got married and moved to Chennai. Shuttling between household responsibilities and taking care of her children, there was never a free moment for her to invest in gardening or even consider the thought seriously.
It was finally in 2008 when the need to pursue the hobby returned to her life unexpectedly.
“Both my in-laws had taken ill and needed constant attention. It was a very stressful time, and I decided to take up gardening, as it was the only thing in the world that gave me utmost joy,” she remembers.
Today, Anju has a sprawling terrace garden of her own at her home, where she nurtures over 50 different varieties of vegetable and fruit-bearing plants as well as herbs, including different types of spinach, tomatoes, carrots and beetroot to spring onions, cabbages, cauliflowers, papaya, bananas, guava, lemons and sweet potatoes. She is truly carrying forward the legacy of her parents.
She even grows turmeric, which goes straight to her masala box in the kitchen after she has dried and powdered the bulbs!
“However, it took some time for me to understand how things worked, as climatic conditions in Chennai was quite different. I teamed up with some friends, who were as enthusiastic about gardening as I was, and learnt a lot. The process wasn’t just healing for me but also my father-in-law, who was very enthusiastic about what I was doing,” she happily shares.
Eight years later, Anju and her friends, Raghu Kumar and Shobha went on to establish The Organic Garden Foundation, an online forum that not only shares gardening hacks and solutions but also arranges terrace visits for enthusiasts, so that they can learn directly.
In a span of two years, the group has certainly managed to evolve as a community and has over 30,000 members!
One fun fact that Anju shares with us is that she can never really predict which plant in her garden is ready to be harvested.
“It’s a continuous process, and I keep experimenting with different crops all the time. Every once in a while, in addition to crop rotation, I try to air the soil to help it regain any lost nutrients. Like my parents, I too practice organic farming, and my husband has been the biggest support all these years. In fact, sometimes, I feel he is more involved in the kitchen garden than I am,” she laughs.
Besides meeting the culinary needs of her family, the garden produce also serves another purpose for Anju—she uses it to prepare organic soaps, and makes the essential oils herself!
“These are naturally made handcrafted soaps from produces from my garden. Doing a little personal research, I learnt how to make these and here too, my husband pushed me to pursue it. From roses and calamine and aloe and turmeric, we have a range of organic soaps that you can purchase through Facebook,” she adds.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)