There are moments in life—connected to places, smells, and feelings—that we file away in some corner of our minds to be recalled at leisure. Sometimes, these memories leave us wistful, at times listless. However, some memories inspire us to do something, help us work toward a goal and kindle a fire in our hearts to bring a change.
For Rajendra Singh, a retired government officer, it was the memory of his visit to Chandigarh’s famous Rock garden that propelled him to change the face of his terrace which had been, until three years ago, a dumping place for construction waste.
Today, Singh’s 100 sq yard garden in Sonipat, Haryana, boasts of over 2000 pots, most of them made from waste or discarded materials and 400 varieties of plants including vegetables, ornamentals, flowers, cactus, and succulents.
Every morning, Singh spends an hour or so amidst his green terrace which is teeming with hundreds of plants. He harvests fresh vegetables and then water his plants. In the evening, he repeats the process.
“Spending 3-4 hours in peace and serenity is my way of meditating. This has positively affected my health. Gardening has been a passion for me since childhood. Due to paucity of time, I could not satiate my desire to maintain a kitchen garden and to have a good number of species of plants,” Singh tells The Better India (TBI).
Best out of Waste
It was not as if Singh had never seen the massive amount of waste cluttering his terrace, but one day, his eyes really took in the eyesore his terrace had become, and he knew he had to do something about it.
“Usually I would walk in our backyard and rarely any of us would visit the terrace. That one day in 2017 when I visited the terrace something got into me and I decided to reuse all the waste and turn it into a garden,” says Singh.
The next couple of months, Singh visited local kabadiwalas and collected waste containers, plastic bottles, tires etc to plant saplings.
Singh had understood the concept of best out of waste when he first visited Chandigarh’s famous Rock garden built entirely of industrial and home waste and discarded items in his youth. The beautiful sculptures crafted from ceramic pots, glass bangles, bottles, electric waste and tiles, fascinated him.
Taking a leaf out of the Rock Garden, Singh used plastic bottles, jars, mugs, buckets and ceramic pots to plant his garden. To make up for the little knowledge he had about plants, Singh even joined a few gardening groups on Facebook and came in contact with sellers of xerophytes.
He got so involved in gardening topics that he bought 60 old journals from the Indian Society for Succulents and Cactus in New Delhi and read them to soak up as much of know-how as he could about these plants.
Interacting with like-minded people on social media also gave him the confidence to order plants online from nurseries across India.
“I purchased succulents including cacti and euphorbias. I have 90 species of euphorbias with me which I bought from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand, West Bengal, Kerala and Puducherry,” he says.
To share his expertise and continue the learning process, he even created a gardening group on Facebook called ‘Terrace Gardening Tips’ in June 2018, which now has over 39000 members.
Today, Rajendra’s pride and joy comprises of euphorbia, mammillaria, Gymnocalycium, opuntia, aloe, agave Senecio Kalanchoe, Senseveiria, Haworthia among other plants of flowers and foliage.
The Fruits of Labour
Among the crops which Singh grows in his terrace garden are radish, turnip, spinach, fenugreek, brinjal, and beet roots during the winter season and sponge gourd, bottle gourd, radish, okra, French beans to name a few during the summer season. He has even planted fruit-bearing trees like mango, lemon and guava in his houses’ backyard.
To safeguard his efforts and plants, Rajendra uses organic fertiliser made from his kitchen waste.
Singh also came up with an irrigation method that saves him water, “Watering so many plants with a pipe or using a jar consume thousands of litres of water every day. So I came up with a self-watering system.”
Singh repurposed an old pipe and connected one end of the pipe with the tap. He closed the other end. Next, he drilled tiny holes in the pipe to facilitate water flow to the plants. So now, every time Singh wants to water is plants, he opens the tap, and adjust the pipe around the plants to be watered and water directly reaches every plant through the pipe.
While on one side, Singh gets overwhelmed every time he realises that the monthly yield from his terrace garden fulfils the nutritional needs of the four-member family, he also feels unhappy about the space.
“With so many plants, the terrace is running out of space. My garden seems incomplete as I don’t have many other plants. A couple of weeks ago, I found a solution in vertical gardening,” he adds.
When Singh decided to venture into gardening he had no prior experience and names of the plants were all Greek to him. His original plan was to get rid of the waste which eventually turned into a spectacular gardening initiative, that he will cherish for the rest of his life.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)