“Try and loosen the topsoil of your garden plants on a regular basis,” – anyone who is into gardening is probably acquainted with this advice from their gardeners or local nurseries. However, YouTuber Dr Ekta Chaudhury goes a step further and tell you the reason behind.
“This allows aeration of roots and improves water absorption capacity,” she says in one of her videos.
In another video about air-purifying indoor plants, Ekta narrates the interesting 1989 experiment by a NASA scientist that proved the efficiency of these plants in filtering the air of toxic pollutants.
You may find a plethora of blogs and videos speaking of plants that have such properties, but on Ekta’s Garden Up videos you will get to know the science behind it.
And why not? For the passionate urban gardener holds a PhD in Ecology and can quote scientific studies to back up her tips!
From a 1000 sq. Ft. apartment in Mumbai, Ekta has helped elevate urban gardening from a hobby for the retired generation to a fad among the Indian youth. With her expert tips on organic gardening, aesthetic videos and interactive narrative, she has garnered over 6.5 lakh subscribers on YouTube and 113k followers on Instagram.
Encouraged by the success of her videos over the last two years, Ekta has also started an enterprise under the brand name – Garden Up – where she sells beautiful, sustainable garden decor handcrafted by women artisans across Mumbai and its suburbs.
In a conversation with The Better India (TBI), Ekta shares her journey from being a dedicated academic to a full-time entrepreneur – simply through the love of plants.
Falling in love with Plants in the Hills
Ekta hails from Haryana, but she spent a significant portion of her life in Noida, Faridabad and other parts of NCR. Her connection with plants came from her childhood memories.
“I remember that water supply was not available 24×7 at my home. It would come only at a particular time of the day when I was entrusted with the task of watering the plants. This habit stayed with me, so did the know-how about plants. However, I never wanted to pursue it as a separate vocation,” recalls Ekta.
She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences from Delhi and moved to Dehradun to pursue her Master’s in Environmental Science from the Forest Research Institute. It was during her fieldwork across the alpine forests of Uttarakhand that her passion for plants intensified. She started growing plants in small pots in her hostel room, and taking care of them provided her with a deep sense of relaxation, almost synonymous with meditation.
Incidentally, she was not far off from the mark. A meta-analysis conducted on the effects of gardening on human health stated that it has a wide range of positive health outcomes, such as reductions in depression, anxiety, and body mass index, as well as increases in life satisfaction, quality of life, and sense of community.
“My garden expanded after I moved to IISc Bengaluru for my PhD. My hostel room housed nearly 30 plants then, as well as a little kitchen garden in my lab. Research work in itself is very cumbersome, and my garden provided me solace at the end of a tiring day,” shares the always-smiling Ekta.
Science Meets Aesthetics in Ekta’s Videos
Around 2017, Ekta started making YouTube videos on gardening as a hobby. On weekends, she would film her videos on tips and techniques of gardening. She enjoyed the activity so much that she would often find herself waking up at 6 AM to rush to the laboratory to capture the perfect light on her plants. The reference about the science involved in every step of gardening made her videos stand out among similar content on the internet.
“We all do trimming, cutting, grafting, manuring and a whole lot of other activities for our plants. But we hardly wonder about the beauty of science being manifested in all these procedures. That’s the gap I tried to address in the domain of gardening, informing the urban gardeners about the why and how behind gardening.”
After completing her PhD in Ecology in 2019, Ekta settled in Mumbai where she focused solely on expanding Garden Up to a one-stop solution for one’s urban gardening queries and requirements.
“Wherever There is an Empty Space, Keep a Plant”
Presently, Ekta has around 100 indoor plants, excluding the numerous cuttings and overgrowths which she generated from the original plants. She also manages a small kitchen garden with nearly 40 vegetables and herbs. She advises buying plants from local nurseries only, as they always have fresh plants with less presence of chemicals and no artificially simulated environment to sustain their growth. “Also, the nursery people have astonishing know-how about all plants known!”
She adds how her sense of aesthetics revolves around a lot of white background with plants adorning them. Her stunning home decor with plants is quite evident in all her videos.
While searching for artistic decor for her home garden, Ekta came across many artisans, particularly women, who design ceramic pots, planters and decorative items as a vocation. She decided to provide a platform for them to showcase their skilled creations while also earning a decent monthly income. That’s how the Garden Up shop was born.
“Our sales were affected by the COVID-19 situation, but we are hoping to unveil more products in June and make up for the unprecedented loss,” admits Ekta. She is particular about the quality and sustainability of the materials – and ensures using as little plastic in her packaging as possible.
Ekta now has an operating team of five people for Garden Up. Her popular YouTube videos and business venture help her comfortably sustain herself as well as her team. She also conducts online and offline workshops on urban gardening across India. The passionate gardener began these classes with the firm belief in the power of positivity inherent in gardening and the need to help people create their own havens.
In fact, a lot of psychologists advise gardening as a therapeutic gateway for patients with clinical depression or anxiety disorder. “Garden helps relieve a lot of stress and instils a feeling of satisfaction in your mind,” says Dr A Chakraborty, a counsellor from Kolkata.
Nurture Your Plants with Homemade Compost
The urban gardener is a staunch advocate of organic farming. In fact, she herself has nurtured the habit of home composting.
“In a terracotta pot, add the wet waste from your kitchen, along with a considerable amount of curd (for the healthy bacteria) and some soil. Your compost will be ready in just a few weeks,” she advises. “Make sure to add some cocopeat or dried leaves occasionally to keep away any smell,” she adds.
Neem oil is a good investment for all your pest management needs – believes Ekta. Judicious use of neem oil solution has helped her prevent all pest infestations so far! It’s all about taking baby steps and learning on the go.
For the beginners in urban gardening, Ekta advises, “Start with a couple of low-maintenance indoor plants. When you develop a general intuition about plants – like when to water, how much sunlight a plant needs or how frequently you should add compost – then gradually move on to outdoor plants and kitchen gardening.”
Any other suggestions for our readers? She chuckles and says – “Wherever there is an empty space, keep a plant. My urban gardening policy is pretty simple.”
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)