Before starting a hectic day at her boutique, Anu Chhabra heads to her terrace garden. Every morning, she spends a considerable amount of time tending to her plants which helps set a positive tone to the day.
A pleasant breeze rustles through the shrubs and blooms in her picture-perfect terrace garden. The wind carries a whiff of the fresh tomatoes, capsicum, chillies, mustard, spinach, cilantro – thriving with her magical touch, and a little bit of organic assistance.
In her 1700 sq. ft. terrace, this Bengaluru-based fashion designer, has created a beautiful organic garden, growing over 250 varieties of vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers and even microgreens. She is also an active proponent of urban gardening, often sharing tips and strategies on social media. In fact, Anu has garnered quite the fanbase across India in the recent past, when she started streaming live videos of different gardening techniques.
In a conversation with The Better India, the mother of three shares twenty tips to create a terrace garden, meticulously shortlisted from her elaborate gardening guide – 100 tips and tricks of gardening.
20 Tips to Grow A Terrace Garden
1. Let the Local Season Decide Your Plants
If you wish to grow a kitchen garden on your terrace, Anu advises selecting your plants as per the local seasonal patterns. “For instance, Bengaluru’s pleasant climate allows me to grow herbs like spinach, fenugreek, amaranth, coriander, mint and vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum, beans, cabbage, cauliflower etc all year long,” she shares.
2. Let Sunshine be Your Guide
Each plant thrives in different amounts of sunlight. While some prefer shade, others grow well in prolonged exposure to bright sunlight. In a terrace garden, you have to make sure your plants get both, especially shade. One tip Anu gives is to keep rotating the plant frequently so that all the branches will have buds growing on them.
3. Bite Little Before You Can Gobble
As a beginner, one should start with plants that are low-maintenance, resilient and easy to grow.
4. Stop Fussing! Let Your Plants Breathe
Sometimes, too much care can also sound doom for a plant. The best method is to water them regularly and add other organic additives in measured amounts. Allow the plants to grow on their own.
5. Off With Their Heads! (We mean the withered bits!)
Deadheading, that is pinching or cutting off the withered flower stalk, should be done regularly to encourage more flowering and healthier plant growth.
6. Keep It Simple. It’s Simply The Best!
The easiest way to growing a terrace garden, or any urban garden for that matter, is to use simple methods. Avoid opting for overcomplicated solutions available on the internet or elsewhere.
7. Prune The Infections Away
Prune (trim) the flowering plants regularly with a rust-free scissor/cutter to ensure bushy growth with lots of flowers. Also, cover the pruned tip of the stem with some soil to protect it from infections. Add some compost to the soil immediately after pruning to boost the growth of the plant.
8. Caution: Overwatering May Kill Your Plants
Over-watering seems to be one of the most common mistakes that novice gardeners make. To avoid it, Anu advises – “Put your finger in the soil before watering the plant. If the mud sticks to your finger, the plant doesn’t require water for 1-2 days. Please avoid over-watering as it may kill the plant.”
9. Grow What You Want To Eat
While growing vegetables/fruits, choose plants according to your family needs. Anu advocates sustainable consumption and preventing wastage.
10. Strength in Unity
Plants must be grouped together, instead of isolating them from one another. In a terrace garden, it is easier how you want to group your plants as we use pots and planters. It is important to strategically cluster houseplants together, just as they do naturally in the wild, according to their growth requirements.
11. Composting is Essential
Not only because it acts as a continuous source of nutrition to plants, but also because it is our moral responsibility to reduce waste in the environment. To enhance the quality and rate of composting, cover the kitchen waste with a mixture of dried leaves, dried cow dung and honge (Indian Beech Tree) flowers. This process will ensure the compost is ready within 1.5 to 2 months.
Another effective way of enriching a plant is to soak banana peels and potato peels in water for 2-3 days, then strain it and spray it on the plants (diluted in the ratio of 250 ml in 1 litre of water). This will provide the plant with a rich source of calcium, phosphorus, potassium and other essential nutrients. The residual pulp can be added to the compost bin. Before adding compost to the plant, rake the soil evenly so that maximum absorption takes place.
12. Unity in Diversity
A healthy garden must have a variety of plants. Biodiversity attracts essential pollinators. “For example, plant a few flowering plants in your vegetable garden to attract pollinators (insects that move pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma of a flower).”
13. Plants Get Lonely Too
It is necessary to build a connection with your plants by spending time on your garden. Try to water your plants yourself, and take care of them on your own.
14. No Matter How Green The Other Side Looks – Mind Your Own Grass
While gardening, do not compete with peers regarding the quantity of produce. Gardening must be a recreational activity to relax your mind. It is not advisable to compete with your gardening peers over the quantity of their produce.
15. Find Your Ideal Gardening Technique
Not all gardening techniques work for everyone. Keep experimenting with various plant techniques and observe closely to see which one is the most viable for you.
16. Plants as Pest Repellants
It is advisable to grow aromatic plants if one is planning to have a vegetable garden. Aromatic plants ( E.g.- Curry leaves, Doddapatre, Lemongrass, etc) have a strong aroma that helps to confuse the pests.
17. Patience is The Key
Gardening needs patience. Do not rush your gardening activities.
18. Practice Crop Rotation
Practice crop rotation (the process of growing different crops in the same pot so that nutrients in the soil are retained for a long period of time) so that the soil is not completely devoid of particular kinds of nutrients.
19. Adjust The Potting Mix
The potting mix must be adjusted according to the needs of a particular plant. From kitchen herbs to ornamental succulents, each type of plants needs different nature of potting mixes. Prepare them accordingly.
20. Enjoy Your Time In Your Garden
Gardening is ideally supposed to be a relaxing activity to unwind oneself from the daily drudgery. Worrying too much about your plants is not recommended. One should enjoy gardening as their hobby, not as a task with a deadline.
“I focus on the basic mistakes done by people”
Anu Chhabra, who designs wedding trousseaus, ventured into gardening around eight years ago. “I started gardening after my children grew up and I managed to earn some extra time on my hands,” she shares.
Without help from professional gardeners, Anu single-handedly manages her 1700 sq. ft. wide terrace garden and grows a bounty of vegetables, herbs and fruits. She practises sustainable gardening by indulging in vermicomposting, aerobic composting and other methods. “I do not use a single drop of chemical in my garden,” she proudly asserts.
Once a month, Anu shares her surplus produce (after household consumption) as well as seeds and flowers, with the members of her organic farming community – Basavanagudi Organic Terrace Gardeners.
Additionally, she also conducts regular workshops on terrace gardening, terrarium-making, growing microgreens etc. You can catch her live on Instagram every day between 7 to 8 AM, with fresh tips and strategies on gardening.
“While advising people, I tend to focus on where people generally go wrong with gardening. If they correct their mistakes at the beginning, then maintaining a garden will be much hassle-free later,” shares Anu.
Got any query about organic gardening? Connect with Anu Chhabra at email@example.com or follow her on YouTube.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)